update: my coworker treats our Spanish-speaking clients more poorly than other clients

Remember the letter-writer whose coworker was treating their Spanish-speaking clients poorly? Here’s the update.

Right after I sent in the letter to you I was feeling really uneasy and couldn’t focus, so I did the less-than-brave option of writing in an anonymous complaint because it felt like something I could do right then and there. The same day that my letter went live on AAM, my boss came in to speak with me about the the coworker – they had gotten my email and wanted to know about how my interactions with her and Spanish language clients in a translation capacity had gone. I gave them my story, and laid out my fears about the message we were sending – 100% bolstered by the kick-in-the-pants I needed from your response and the comment section to be truthful and stand up for those who needed it; in my worries about not wanting to upset the boat that provided my livelihood, I had gotten really myopic about the bigger human issue. We ended up having a good conversation about the coworker and what we could do to be more welcoming to non-English speakers who came in for services and programs, and my boss promised to follow up on the issue.

Beyond that event, I can’t tell you much as an employee – I got offered and started a new job that was a much better professional fit shortly after, and left on good terms with my bosses. The former coworker was reprimanded but not removed, and I can’t speak as to what internal long term plans were put in place to deal with it. But I still volunteer there with specific programs and keep an eye out for issues, speaking up when necessary (and with my name, instead of anonymously). The last thing I want is for the place that I worship at – and more importantly, the one that I worship – to be associated with prejudice. It’s 2017, there isn’t time for any of that nonsense.

I’m very grateful for your smart and urgent response, and a comment section that was filled with truly gentle/humbling/encouraging responses. Not only was it helpful professionally to get my head screwed on straight, but I needed it emotionally too.

{ 138 comments… read them below }

  1. Snark

    Good job, OP! I’m glad you found it in yourself to upset the boat a bit – though I think you were possibly overstating the degree to which you’d have been doing so.

    That said, though….upper management types out there, just fire people for being racist. Reprimands are for errors, not conscious mistreatment. If people act like OP’s coworker, fire them and hire someone else. It’s really not that hard to do the right thing.

    1. A

      +100

      A reprimand isn’t going to resolve unconscious, ingrained bias against Latinx people and immigrants. At the very least the employee needs some serious sensitivity training.

      1. Kateshellybo19

        I am not fully certain she was being racist. Her main issue seemed to be having to deal with people who do not speak English.

        What she did was not okay and should not be tolerated. If she was treating people this way even if they did speak English then yes she should be fired. If she was just frustrated at having to attempt to communicate in a language she did not know then she should be reprimanded, retrained, and given adequate resources so she could actually help those she is there to serve.

        And before you jump in and say she had OP, they were not there to be a primary support for her. It is entirely possible she had reached a level of frustration by the time they came along that having intermittent support only added to the frustration.

        And to reiterate none of what she did was ok but it might have been a frustrated burnt out lady with not enough support rather than a racist.

        1. Murphy

          That’s still racist. She was also offered resources for communicating with these clients (e.g. translated documents) and refused.

          1. Kateshellybo19

            As I stated in my comment, intermittent help that doesn’t address the full issue can sometimes cause more problems than it helps.

          2. Specialk9

            I did love that this OP spoke up, anonymously and then on the record. I’m bummed the pastor didn’t fire the co-worker, or at least find a way to reroute that task to someone else if at all financially possible. But kudos to OP!

        2. EddieSherbert

          Maybe, but it sounds like OP offered to help several times and even offered to translate documents so this woman could give people documents in Spanish instead of trying to verbally explain despite the language barrier – and she turned down all the OP’s suggestions.

          Either way, even if she’s just burnt out, she’s coming across as a racist, which is really bad for a public-facing role.

          1. Snark

            I know you’re aware of this, but for everyone playing the game at home: coming across as racist is still racist as hell, yo.

            1. BedMadeLie

              Right?! I really wish that people would get that intent is not impact, and it is the impact that matters.

              1. Maya Elena

                That is so philosophically flawed and so deeply problematic. If only outcomes mattered, there would be no mitigating circumstances in crime, for instance. You killed him and that’s it- who cares if it was self-defense. If outcomes mattered, we should be defunding a lot of broken social systems. But I bet you wouldn’t advocate either.

                You mean “the outcomes I want” matter.

                1. Indoor Cat

                  Right: intent matters because, even if two outcomes care the same, there are different effective solutions to the problem. Outcome also matters.

                  So, negligent manslaughter is a different crime than premeditated murder, because the way to address frequent negligent manslaughter in a community requires different tools than frequent premeditated murder. For instance, if many people are killing people because they’re texting while driving and hitting pedestrians or getting in accidents, that’s negligent manslaughter. That’s a felony, and it’s necessary to de-incentivize texting while driving by imposing serious consequences for manslaughter in this context. It is also necessary to hand out fines for texting while driving that doesn’t result in manslaughter (same action, different consequence). It is *also* necessary to effectively educate the public on the dangers of texting while driving, and figure out the best way to do that. Perhaps punish non-lethal texting while driving by suspending drivers’ licenses, similar to DUI’s, to effectively remove that danger for a set period of time. Or, maybe seizing someone’s smartphone for a period, as some judges have.

                  NONE of these methods would be effective in a community plagued by premeditated murder. Areas with high degrees of premeditated murder have, generally speaking, a problem with gangs or a problem with widespread domestic violence. In these circumstances, entirely different tactics need to be used in order to increase safety in the community. Explaining the tactics is going to get into too much of a tangent, but suffice it to say it’s very different, and a much more challenging problem to solve.

                  To bring it back to racist employee: just as negligent manslaughter and premeditated murder are both crimes that result in the victim’s death, racist actions due to burnout and a lack of structural support, versus racist actions due to a deep, internal prejudice against Spanish-speaking immigrants and refugees, both result in the needs of the victims not being met. However, in the former case, there is a set of actions that can be taken that will solve the problem long-term, and in the latter case, there is a different set of actions– one that probably has to include firing the employee.

                1. Detective Amy Santiago

                  Intent doesn’t change the Impact, but I think that there are people out there who can learn from being educated on the impact they have caused by their words/actions.

            2. Maya Elena

              Not touching in the specific person above (where the person probably is racist), but as a goal in itself, “don’t come across as racist” comes across as a desire to shut down dialogue on a complex issue.

              1. LBK

                Hmm, I’m not sure I understand what you mean by that. What’s complex about it? Intent matters insofar as the offender being able to self-evaluate what’s making them think that way so they can do better, but ultimately saying something racist from a “good” place versus a bad place is still racist. You don’t get a total pass just because that’s not what you meant, or you didn’t realize that’s what you were implying with your actions.

                1. MerciMe

                  No one is arguing for a total pass. They’re arguing for nuanced engagement that meets people where they are.

            3. Lissa

              Hmm, I think I see what you’re saying, but “coming across as” is a subjective thing, whereas behaviours aren’t. I mean, I can “come across as” a jerk, cold, aloof etc. to some people, but not all, and I don’t think it’s fair to say that I *am* those things because I have ever in my life come across that way?

        3. Snark

          “I am not fully certain she was being racist. Her main issue seemed to be having to deal with people who do not speak English.”

          Porque no los dos? Do you seriously not realize that having an issue dealing with people who do not speak English is racist?

          “If she was just frustrated at having to attempt to communicate in a language she did not know”

          That is not a legitimate frustration for someone in a client-facing service provider position dealing with immigrant and/or minority communities. She has no business being in such a role if that is a source of frustration to her.

          “And to reiterate none of what she did was ok but it might have been a frustrated burnt out lady with not enough support rather than a racist.”

          I’m genuinely confused why you think it’s one or the other. Seems to me the root of her frustration and burnout was the friction between her (racist) expectations that the served community should learn her preferred language to deal with her on her (racist) terms and the multilingual and diverse reality she was refusing to deal with. And if her frustration and burnout was leading her to act harshly, unhelpfully, and rigidly with a certain ethic group, THAT IS RACIST. That is the definition of racism.

          1. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors

            Por que no los dos? THIS.

            As the daughter of an immigrant and a dyslexic one to boot, gotta call her actions and behaviors for what they are: prejudice. Period.

            I doubt sensitivity training, if any is even available to her, would do any good. She has shown a huge lack of empathy for those she is supposed to be helping. Her views are pretty deeply ingrained at this point, imho.

            1. A

              Normally I wouldn’t suggest sensitivity training for an individual in this type of instance, but the OP mentioned in the first letter that the social worker is not white, and the ways that different communities of color are pitted against each other is a direct result of white supremacy so I feel like some deep training and guidance might be a positive first step before firing a person of color for racism.

          2. Snark

            And! AND! It’s not just racism in her views! It’s already causing clients to seek services elsewhere, depriving them of the same standard of prompt and decent service they expected from other workers, and potentially depriving discouraged clients of services. That’s how cask-strength institutional racism works, folks!

          3. Mints

            Yep, for some mysterious reason* people who get frustrated with Spanish native speakers (or Asian people, etc) don’t seem to get flustered with heavy French accents or Italian accents or whatever. And often think those are classy and desirable.

            *racism

          4. Julia the Survivor

            To determine if her problem is racism: See how she deals with white immigrants who don’t speak English.
            May not have been an opportunity to observe that, but I’m just saying.

              1. Jesmlet

                This.

                Xenophobic? Definitely. Racist? Probably. Distinction? Irrelevant.

                There’s still something wrong here that needs to change and the label that’s put on it is not going to have an impact on whether or not it changes.

        4. Lil Fidget

          I think this sounds like an institutional problem as well – the church has a lot of Spanish speaking clients but didn’t hire a social worker who speaks Spanish and made no particular accommodations (like having an interpreter available).

          1. strawberries and raspberries

            That is also super-problematic, and would be even if the social worker wasn’t an open bigot.

            1. Lil Fidget

              I think it’s easier to identify individual people than to think about the big picture, but ultimately the big picture is more important and impactful. A bad system is what creates opportunities for racists to be racist.

        5. AKchic

          It was a clear bias. The person who was supposed to be helping people refused to use the translated documents, was harsh, and clearly stated (at least once, and probably on multiple occasions if they felt the comfort level to say it once) “they just need to learn English better”. That is racism. Just because the person doing it was a person of color as well doesn’t mean that the person couldn’t experience xenophobia. That’s like saying that I, as a woman, can’t fully espouse patriarchal-thinking, and we all know that there are women out there that still wholeheartedly believe in that line of thinking.

          I can agree that this person may have been burned out, but the only complaints received were from the Latinx community that we know of. Why did none of the English-speaking clients complain about the harsh treatment? Or any agencies not working with Latinx clients complain?

          I’m calling xenophobia.

          1. Snark

            And this is not directed at you, but whether it’s technically racism or xenophobia, it’s all the same nonsense we got no time for in 2017.

    2. New Bee

      I know you mean well, but it’s not that simple since racism is imbedded in the fabric of our society, and thus, in most (all?) workplaces. Firing one person doesn’t address larger issues of accessibility, diversity in hiring, or cultural competence, nor does it hold privileged folks accountable for doing the ongoing work of anti-racism in the workplace.

      1. Snark

        Of course it’s not that simple. But that doesn’t mean firing racists isn’t a peachy idea in situations like this, and it doesn’t mean we can’t fire racists when they’re racist AND address larger issues of accessibility, diversity in hiring, and so on.

        As an aside, I really don’t merit your condescending tone, so maybe don’t.

        1. New Bee

          I’m honestly not seeing where you took my tone as condescending, but it’s disheartening to see another round of Whitesplaining on AAM.

          1. Snark

            Well, when you say stuff like:

            – “I know you mean well, but” followed by a statement of obvious
            – “it’s disheartening to see another round of Whitesplaining on AAM” after you condescendingly explained the obvious to me, and after I did nothing of the sort

            That’s insultingly condescending, as I suspect you well know. So are you trying to alienate allies, or does it just come naturally?

            1. New Bee

              Whoa, nelly. Ally isnt a self-designation, and you aren’t being one right now. This is a golden opportunity for you or someone else to educate yourself on why “alienating allies” is hella problematic.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                Oh dear. Could you both maybe call a time-out and hash this out in the open thread? This is quickly devolving and derailing, and I think it’s coming from both of you feeling disrespected or condescended to. I’m worried that if you both keep at it, it will escalate in even worse ways.

              2. Snark

                This is a golden opportunity for you to interrogate why you were needlessly condescending and passive aggressive, instead of taking a “Of course the person should be fired, but I want to point these larger issues that a simple personnel action wouldn’t fire.” You created this needessly antagonistic situation, and you can resolve it with a simple apology or not, but I’m not going to self-flagellate for sticking up for myself.

              3. Snark

                This is a golden opportunity for you to interrogate why you were needlessly condescending and passive aggressive, instead of taking a “Of course the person should be fired, but I want to point these larger issues that a simple personnel action wouldn’t resolve….” approach that didn’t dismiss me.

                You created this needessly antagonistic situation, and you can resolve it with a simple apology or not, but I’m not going to self-flagellate for sticking up for myself.

              4. Specialk9

                Hmm, I just looked up exactly those things, “alienating allies problematic” and “ally isn’t a self designation”. Good food for thought for me there. Thanks!

                1. Snark

                  I did too, and I learned a bunch – and I’ll refrain from using that word.

                  But…when someone is obviously, if imperfectly and incompletely, arguing against racism and broadly sympathetic to the point of view that it needs to be vigorously addressed, in what world does it advance anybody’s interests to let them walk away from an interaction feeling antagonized?

                2. Specialk9

                  New Bee, thanks for the links!!

                  The first one sounded intriguing but the “Read more” link was for a book instead of the rest of the blog post.

                  Lots of good stuff in the second link.

                  Thanks for being willing to educate. It’s not your job, but appreciated!

                3. New Bee

                  I know, I keep forgetting she published that one in her book. And I led a training using the second one as a focal text a few years back.

                  Ha, I’m an educator is my job, just not for people on the internet!

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          I’ve had a chance to read this more thoroughly now, and I want to add: New Bee’s comment didn’t read as condescending to me at all! So I think this is a case of tone just being misread.

          New Bee is also a person of color, and I imagine it’s pretty frustrating to participate here and feel like white people are pushing back on her input about racism.

          1. Snark

            I think New Bee chose wording that could be legitimately interpreted as dismissive. Which happens, tone and intent is a tricky thing. Clarifying that would have been quick and easy, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

            And her tone, not her input, was what I pushed back on.

            1. Casca

              I’m in a different timezone so I don’t know if anyone’s still on this thread.

              However, when I was reading through the comments and got to your “As an aside, I really don’t merit your condescending tone, so maybe don’t”, I was really taken aback. It seemed really aggressive on a fairly innocuous post. I went back to read New Bee’s post and couldn’t see what the issue was.
              And then you doubled down with a whole tone policing thing but saying that New Bee was the one doubling down

              I think if you came back and read this thread in a week, you might you read it differently to how you intended

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Sure. But by analogy, look at the #metoo moment. Will firing all these predatory men change the underlying institutional and systemic problems related to sexual harassment and gender equality in the workplace? No. But will it remove an immediate safety threat and send a message that such behavior will not be tolerated? Yes.

        To quote Snark, “¿Por qué no los dos?” I’m ok with firing the “one persons” and working on the larger issues.

        1. New Bee

          I didn’t think I needed to include the sentence I ultimately erased which said something about it being “both, and”, especially since I didn’t say “don’t fire her” (though I think the point made above about the implications of horizontal racism between POC is a good one).

          On a macro level (meaning not directed at any one commenter), I see larger implications about White commenting spaces that seek out and self-congratulate the capital A anti-racism fight but get defensive when POC demand more, but there’s a lot to unpack there.

          1. Snark

            It would come off a lot differently if you took a “yes, and” approach rather than the dismissive approach you took. If you’re confused about the defensive reaction, look to that, not to your discussion of larger, institutional/social drivers.

            1. LBK

              For what it’s worth, you didn’t take a “yes, and” approach either – your original comment here does frame it as though firing racists is the only step to take in order to do “the right thing”. You outright say it’s not hard to do that; I think New Bee’s point is that that’s one piece of a larger problem that is a lot harder to fix. If you’re confused about the defensive reaction, maybe look to that, not getting mad at an actual WOC for suggesting your “woke” perspective might be incomplete.

              1. LBK

                (This feels a little bit like a repeat of the letter where the OP’s colleague was pressuring her about hanging out and where you defended the guy up and down despite the bevy of women saying “these are all red flags of creepy behavior.” Maybe consider whether this is another area where you have a blind spot before you get angry at someone to whom you claim to be an ally actually speaking about their lived experience.)

                1. Snark

                  There is a difference between my response to what I legitimately interpreted as condescension and my response of her insights and lived experience. I can take offense to her approach while fully accepting and understanding her points, and do.

              2. Snark

                That’s a decent point; I was not intending to exclude other, broader responses or suggest that firing alone was the only right thing to do, but as I didn’t explicitly mention them, I can see how someone might have wanted to clarify whether my point was inclusive of other approaches.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I think some of the backlash has to do with how the first comment was framed. I don’t at all mean to tone police, but I think the critical responses are coming because Snark is on-record as supporting doing more than condemning individual incidents of Governor-Wallace-style racism and addressing systemic and institutional issues.

            As a result, I’m not sure it’s fair, in this specific thread, to suggest he/others are being defensive when POC demand more and more comprehensive antiracist advocacy from allies. But your broader point, as a general comment on White-dominated spaces, is well-taken.

        1. Lil Fidget

          I guess if they’re going to hire another non-Spanish speaking person who’s just less obvious (but still doesn’t have access to an interpreter or any support services) than firing this one person is not going to solve the bigger issue. She may also suck and need to be fired, don’t get me wrong. But that’s not the END of the problem.

        2. Snark

          I think it was more just a matter of making sure everyone understands just who the most woke person in the thread is.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          I know I’m not New Bee, but I want to jump in because I’m worried we may be going down a misunderstanding path.

          I don’t think New Bee is saying don’t fire the employee (although it can be read that way). I think they’re saying that firing someone is not enough, and that the employer has to do more and be proactive about addressing institutional racism and implicit bias. They’re saying that it’s not enough to think of ourselves as good guys and to cast racism as the individual problem of a blatantly bigoted employee—we have to acknowledge that racism can also be more embedded/normalized and subtle. I think this is the Avenue Q argument: “Everyone’s a little bit racist.”

          At least that’s how I’m reading the comment.

          1. Specialk9

            Ah, I can get behind that. Indeed, racism isn’t a mythical boogeyman problem, it’s all of us. Myself included. (That said, fire this lady AND keep working on fixing ourselves and our communities.)

        4. New Bee

          Can’t tell if you’re asking me, Paul, but if so, no*. I’m just offering (from my lived experience as a WOC and a Spanish-speaker, if that’s relevant), additional pathways to explore for the people not in a position to fire.

          Though I appreciated the point made upthread about lateral racism, and it would be worth it for the org to explore–sometimes there’s an unfair expectation that marginalized people should be more empathetic to one another’s plight.

          1. Delphine

            Adding my voice as a woman of color here, too. For me, firing in and of itself is often the “easy” way out for organizations that aren’t interested in assessing whether or not their culture as a whole is contributing to a problem. It’s possible, here, that not firing the employee and finding ways to improve her behavior and treatment of Spanish-speakers would actually send a better message to others in the organization.

            And frankly, I’m disappointed by the behavior of allies who feel the need to suggest they were alienated by the tone they read in a person of color’s comment, when that person of color was offering insight into a problem she has direct experience with. You’re not an ally to be catered to, and it really doesn’t matter what you’ve condemned on the record before.

            1. Specialk9

              How would that work? She feels comfortable being cruel, and cutting people out of social services, in the name of her God. Can people be trained out of that? My immediate thought was that it can’t be done – she might change her behavior when being watched, but find hidden ways to be cruel.

              How would your way work?

            2. New Bee

              I appreciate that Delphine. I thought someone thread brought up a good point about the employee being a Black woman (as am I), and there are just a lot of questions about the makeup of the whole staff, how they are hiring people with lived experience as part of/working with marginalized communities, etc. that should influence what they so next. This scenario tracks really closely with my day job (I’m one of the few Spanish speakers, and we don’t have enough to serve our community adequately). I’ve seen well-intentioned “allies” get it wrong more often than not because the systemic issues never get addressed.

              1. Snark

                I so wish you had led with something like that last sentence, New Bee. I’m truly interested in your experiences and insights, because this is clearly a situation you have a lot of experience with, and I wish that’s the foot we’d gotten off on.

            3. Snark

              I see your point. I’d be concerned that a lenient response would be taken as leniency on racist behavior by those inclined to take it that way, not as “we’re all going to work on reforming our institutional culture together.”

              As for your second point, that entire little clash would have been trivially easy to resolve with a “Oh, gosh, I didn’t mean it that way at all.” That’s not “catering” to anybody, that’s just civilly resolving an unintentional side-effect of casual written communication. Which would have been vastly more productive than doubling down, because now here we are tiresomely hashing it over with people we fundamentally and substantially agree with.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                Snark, I’m not ok with you chiding New Bee and Delphine. You took New Bee’s comments in a particular way (defensive), and several other readers did not. That suggests that your interpretation may have been influenced by something other than the substantive content of New Bee’s posts.

                I don’t think it’s right or fair to police how New Bee contributed or to argue with Delphine over whether or not there was tone policing going on. New Bee shouldn’t have to lead with her bona fides and life experiences before others listen to her. And she shouldn’t have to tailor her comments for others—particularly not people who are self-identifying as “allies”—to avoid a disagreement. She also shouldn’t have to “civilly resolve” your interpretation of her post before you credit or listen to her points.

                This was a situation where it would have been better for the person feeling defensive (you) to take a beat to listen and process than to immediately hit back. I’m going to gently urge you to do that, now. In this moment, it’s more important to fully hear and understand Delphine and New Bee than it is to be “right.”

                1. Snark

                  I’ll take your advice, insofar as I don’t think I can respond constructively to anbody on this topic at this point, but I’m having a really, really hard time squaring this post with your usual compassion and evenhandedness. And I’m surprising myself with how much that hurts.

                2. Snark

                  Which, upon further thought, probably means I need to take a long, maybe permanent, break from commenting here.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  I’m sorry this hurts you—I never want to hurt other people. I wrote my note out of compassion because I think you’re a good person, and I had the feeling that you could see what I’m seeing, you might feel differently about the exchange. I’m very sorry that my writing isn’t strong enough to convey that. I don’t know if this will change how it hit you, but if you could imagine Alison’s radio interview voice (her calm, low, patient, measured pace), that’s the tone in which I wrote it.

                  I respect you greatly, appreciate your presence and insight as a commenter, and often adore your comments. You’re funny and sharp, good-hearted, and deploy a (very hard to achieve!) blend of kindness and sass. Because I know you’re also thoughtful and self-aware, I’m urging taking a beat because I think the breathing room may give you space to see what Delphine, LBK and I are taking issue with.

                4. LBK

                  PCBH’s comment reads as compassionate and evenhanded to me, just as New Bee’s didn’t read as condescending to me either. I do wonder if some kind of nerve got hit here that’s causing you to take what seem to be pretty kind criticisms as more personal and harsh than others are seeing them – it feels like maybe your view of yourself as an ally is being challenged in a way that’s making you uncomfortable?

                  FWIW I’ve had the same thing happen on this site where I thought my history as a commenter spoke for itself in a way that didn’t require me to justify or fully explain my view on every specific situation, and it got frustrating in cases where I felt like I was being criticized for espousing something that I knew I didn’t actually believe. I think I’ve come to understand that if I’m not writing in a way that allows each of my comments to stand on its own and be read the way I intended by any random person looking at the site for the first time, then I’m not living up to my own standards for communicating clearly.

                  Ironically, this all kind of ties back to what you yourself were saying in some of your earlier comments on this post – that I may genuinely not think the way I’m coming across, but if my actions and words are communicating something that I don’t mean, I can’t rely on anyone else understanding what’s going on inside my head to fill in the gaps. That’s especially true in a public forum where I can’t expect that only other regular commenters will be reading my comments.

                  Food for thought. I know we’ve disagreed plenty of times but I’ve generally thought it to be friendly disagreement, so I hope after a breather you are willing to come back.

                5. Snark

                  Sigh. So much for that break.

                  I appreciate that. Thanks. I I think all parties involved have seen something in each others’ posts that wasn’t there, and taken issue with what they saw, rather than what was actually there. Ultimately it still feels that I was uncharitably dismissed and then told it’s not my place to object to that, because the dismissal came wrapped around important points, but I’m not sure how else I can articulate that I don’t think what you’re seeing is actually there.

                6. Snark

                  @LBK: “Ironically, this all kind of ties back to what you yourself were saying in some of your earlier comments on this post – that I may genuinely not think the way I’m coming across, but if my actions and words are communicating something that I don’t mean, I can’t rely on anyone else understanding what’s going on inside my head to fill in the gaps.”

                  Yep. But where I think the breakdown occured was, everyone had a mismatch between intent and delivery, and everyone relied on everyone else to fill in the gaps, and the gaps got filled in the worst possible way. With the result that I feel like PCBH is telling me I can’t expect civility or even clarification because I’m a white guy, and New Bee and Delphine felt that they got shot down and rejected because their tone wasn’t conciliatory enough.

                7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  With the result that I feel like PCBH is telling me I can’t expect civility or even clarification because I’m a white guy

                  Yikes! That’s definitely not what I’m trying to say. I’m sorry it’s coming across that way :(

            4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              Totally agreed, and absolutely fair. In my experience, particularly with “hot button” topics like racism, there does tend to be this fantasy that firing the “bad actor” is enough to solve institutional racism (and other -ism) problems. It also often takes the pressure off of management to remedy those systemic problems because they get to say, “Well hey, I did the hard thing—I fired the bad person.”

    3. Whitinohio

      If you read the original post, the social worker is a POC herself. As a white man, I’d be very reluctant to fire a woman of color over ‘racism’. Simply put, what I’d be willing to judge as racist behavior in a fellow white person might very well stem from feelings and attitudes I have no idea of or ability to understand. Furthermore, it would appear hypocritical to fire someone for racism when my actions made my office less diverse.

      1. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors

        It’s a double standard if you were to treat a racist black person any different than a racist white person…

        1. Lissa

          Yeah, that’s true, but I don’t think that Whitinohio’s response to this unreasonable, either. I think that the cultural conversation around this can change very rapidly and often includes a fair chunk of “if you’re white, take a seat and let the POC lead” and that can lead to people being nervous about overstepping or seeming to be assuming something for which they have no cultural context….Or just the overall optics of the situation.

          I wish it weren’t that way, but it is pretty common.

        2. Specialk9

          A racist black person has infinitely less power than a racist white person.

          This situation is tricky because this is a non-white person (not necessarily black, unless I missed it – could be Asian or Pacific Islander, etc) who is being racist against Hispanics. So clearly they do have power and are misusing it to cause harm (bad enough) in the name of a god (worse). So it needs to be addressed.

          But let’s not pretend that we white people don’t have a lot more systemic power than people of color. We all read or watch the news. It’s not even.

  2. Detective Amy Santiago

    Thank you for speaking up, OP! You did the right thing and hopefully the management team at your former company followed up appropriately.

    1. One of the Sarahs

      +1 – and congratulations for living your faith, I hope they make changes (great you’re holding them accountable!)

    2. Pollygrammer

      Agreed! And I wouldn’t call your first action “less-than-brave.” It got immediate results, which is the best possible outcome, possibly better than immediate confrontation would have been.

      My only suggestion is to encourage clients with complaints–like the man in your original letter who suspected the social worker of discrimination–to complain directly. You can even offer to translate for them.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Very much agreed. I’m really proud of OP for saying something and being completely frank about what they saw. I hope the church does more than reprimand the social worker, but in the meantime, I’m glad OP remains engaged and thoughtful.

    4. Specialk9

      Agreed! Kudos to this OP for speaking up and working to align behavior with values. Both are hard but worthwhile.

          1. AKchic

            I dunno… I like Luci and all, but I have a hard time deciding between Lucifer and Crowley. I think it really does depend on which fandom I’m going with. Lucifer has to be snarky and fun.

            I do like Chuck, but he seems a bit pretentious.

  3. Don't Blame Me

    I’m glad you did something and have vowed to speak up more, but I can’t help but be worried that nothing much has changed. I hope I’m wrong and the management is committed to making sure Spanish-speaking clients are treated well and receive the help they need.

    1. Antilles

      I can’t help but be worried that nothing much has changed.
      I don’t think we have any real information to say that because OP wasn’t around to see what happened.
      That said, the fact the boss responded immediately to hear OP’s concerns and have a long conversation about how they could be more welcoming is certainly a very promising sign. Especially given that OP wrote it as an ‘anonymous’ complaint; it would have been very easy to ignore the complaint entirely and/or sweep the whole thing under the rug.

      1. Lil Fidget

        Flagging it for the organization is certainly the first start, and is better than nothing, which is what people would do. By flagging it, you allow the leaders to start noticing the incidents that fit the pattern, and open their eyes to the issue. They may choose not to act no matter what OP does, which is really, really tough – but I think saying this is 100% on OP to fully resolve is unrealistic, as unfortunate as that is. Suggesting the concrete steps that are the most likely to have the biggest impact is more valuable.

        1. Antilles

          I think saying this is 100% on OP to fully resolve is unrealistic, as unfortunate as that is.
          If it came across like that, that’s my fault for poor wording – flagging it for the organization is absolutely the right call by OP.
          My last sentence about the ‘anonymous’ complaint was meant more as a statement that if the church didn’t actually care about the issue, they could have very easily found a reason to ignore an anonymous complaint. It’s a lot easier to rationalize ignoring an anonymous comment rather than something with a human name attached. The church, to their credit, didn’t take the easy way out of “oh well, it’s anonymous, we can’t really trust it, let’s just wait till we get more reports”.

  4. Licensed SW

    To the OP: What the social services/social worker did was inexcusable—but what is the CHURCH doing to solve this problem? Why don’t they hire a Spanish speaker to assist those who speak Spanish (2 birds 1 stone—employment and bolstering the community). Simply having Spanish documents are not appropriate when you are assessing clients needs.

    Also this will be an issue that will only get worse. In Oklahoma they are laying off hundreds of workers that work for the state government. Who will be impacted? Immigrants, elderly and children.

    To be honest my bias is that as a social worker I’m always told to do more with less. Which leads to social workers acting like this one did—apathetic and prejudicial. If I was this social worker I would have never accepted the job without support—a full time translator or access to translation services that can be done in real time. I hope she doesn’t have student loans LOL

    1. Lil Fidget

      I agree that it’s too easy to say this person is the problem, she sucks, and if she left it would be fixed. (Not to say she doesn’t suck – she probably does, but that’s not the crux of the issue). That’s a short sighted view of racism anyway – that it depends on one person’s racial animus.

      There’s a systemic issue where Spanish speaking clients can’t access the services they need (and I agree, just the translated forms alone would not be sufficient – once a client who spoke no English got to the appointment, then what was supposed to happen?).

      She’s supposed to what, teach herself Spanish? She’s probably poorly paid and the church wasn’t willing or able to pay more for someone bilingual, or provide support services to enable to her communicate with a Spanish speaking population. *That’s* the bigger, harder to solve crux of the problem. Saying “she sucks” is too easy.

        1. Snark

          Clients were complaining of feeling ignored and the office as a whole was gaining a reputation for being “harsh and withholding” of services, in OP’s direct words. There’s no other side of that story; that’s explicitly prejudicial and racist behavior.

          1. Elizabeth H.

            Agree. There is a ton of corroboration of the social worker’s behavior! From all the different areas this church social services office interfaces with!

      1. Licensed SW

        One of the jobs I had wanted us to use an admin for translation for sensitive matters. When ethics clearly state that you are to use trained people for translations, not the client’s child or a random office worker. What happened? They assigned the case to someone else. Problem solved !!

        This reminds me of the AAM letter where Another OP had to repeatedly tell her bosses that she was not to be used for translation because she didn’t know Spanish.

        But to OP, good job. I’m not discounting your actions, you did great

      2. Snark

        “She’s supposed to what, teach herself Spanish?”

        Being patient and compassionate, both in the moment when someone needs help and when considering the issues around non-english speaking clients, would be a decent start.

        And yeah, maybe a few phrases in Spanish, like, “I do not speak Spanish, but my coworker can help you in a few minutes” or “The appointment system is on our internet site, do you have access to a computer?” wouldn’t be a bad idea. And if she had a computer or a phone, Google Translate would at least get through issues of logistics. And, of course, there’s the translated forms she refused to use.

        1. Lil Fidget

          I agree, these are all reasonable expectations for the church to lay out for this employee and expect her to implement without pushback.

        2. Licensed SW

          I am not trying to be argumentative but those phrases are a bandaid solution when people need services. And what happens when the Spanish speaker answers those phrases and the worker doesn’t understand? Worker: “do you have internet at home?” Client: “I don’t have access to a computer, can I have a list of local libraries?” Worker: “sit over there, the volunteer may be with you in 5 minutes”. Wait there is no volunteer.

          This is an extreme example but when you are working with non native speakers in emergency situations it could totally happen

          https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20081119.000463/full/

          1. CM

            That article is amazing, thank you. It’s a great illustration of how solutions need to be geared toward actually providing people with the services they need, not giving them the bare minimum so you can argue that they’re being treated like everybody else.

          2. Snark

            Of course it’s a bandaid solution, but when you’re bleeding…. It would at least give the client the impression that the service worker is welcoming, receptive, and able to at least be civil and resolve basic issues. That doesn’t fix the entire problem, let alone the systemic problems, of course! But it at least doesn’t leave a Spanish speaker feeling dismissed and harshly treated, and that counts for something.

        3. Delphine

          Right, but the issue is that these steps fix only this one employee, and don’t necessarily increase the quality of services the church is providing to its Spanish-speaking members. Her racism is a problem, but then the larger problem is that her ongoing racism is a symptom of the way this church as a whole views its Spanish-speaking members. And I think that’s why fixing just this problem isn’t enough (and is the easier way out).

      3. Specialk9

        I agree. My Spanish is only middlin, and I chatted with our work cleaning team, so they started bringing me their complex English-only government forms for green card holders. Before translating, I’d go online to find the Spanish forms or instructions, cuz I mean, they exist, right? Nope. So I’d spend 1-2 hours filling out a form with them. It was really unjust, in a systematic way.

        1. paul

          I think you can get a lot, if not all of the immigration paperwork in Spanish (and a ton of other languages); the USCIS has an entire Spanish website (not including link due to moderation, but googling USCIS Spanish page should get it). I *know * the 485 is available in Spanish.

          1. Specialk9

            At the time, their forms weren’t available in Spanish. I don’t remember the specifics of the forms, but I googled mightily and it wasn’t available.

    2. nonymous

      Since this is a religious nonprofit, I wonder if the so-called social worker was being paid adequately for the position. Not that social workers get paid well as a whole, but especially in a religious community there may be a culture of severely underpaying staff in an unsustainable manner. I’ve been in places where volunteers (the SW may be called on as a ‘volunteer’ willing to accept low pay) are told their positions include X tasks, but it turns out the position requires X + Y. If the SW was/is a parishioner, stepping down may not feel like an option.

      OP can continue to advocate for the org’s mission by encouraging sustainable practices. COLA and market analysis of funding will let the org hire staff that are qualified (or train current staff up – they should be writing grant requests to the umbrella leadership of their religious org for extra support). Having a culture where they are willing to cut programs/activities to match their resources is essential. For example, a simple solution to all of this is to post a sign saying that certain days are reserved for Spanish-speaking clients while others are for English-speakers, and make sure a translator is available. Depending on their client base, it could be 2 days Spanish, 1/2 day Russian, 1/2 day Arabic, etc – whatever makes sense for their client make up. Since they contract with the City, it may be possible to request translation services (my county has a database of qualified translators that social services can call on for a pre-negotiated rate, for an hour or two at a time – the translators technically contract with the County, and the individual social services group reimburses the County). But it really sounds like the religious org doesn’t have the resources to offer help to Spanish speaking clients 5days/week and they should be okay with that.

    3. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors

      I did my undergrad in SW and burnout is very high for exactly all the reasons you mentioned.

      But it’s also impt for any SW person to have insight and recognize they are more than taking out their own frustrations with the system they work in, onto clients. This to me is inexcusable considering their college education.

      If she can’t take all the bad with this job as well as the good, and clearly her patience has really run out some time ago, then it’s time to find a new job or even a new calling if one wants to still continue serving the people in some similar capacity.

      Her attitude with clients is not good for the church/org, period. (That’s aside from my personal opinion that she is racist, regardless of her own skin color/ethnicity.)

  5. Lumen

    OP, I’m really glad you decided to speak up. I’m sure it felt less than brave to do the anonymous email route, but it was SOMETHING. It’s more than a lot of people do.

  6. MommyMD

    Anonymous accusations are unfair imo. The person reporting may have a skewed interpretation of events or an ax to grind or may not be privy to all the facts. If there is a legitimate workplace issue bring it up to management.

    1. Lil Fidget

      In this case, I couldn’t help noticing that it inadvertently created a bubble effect, where now the organization thinks TWO people reported the issue, since they went for verification to … OP, who wrote the note in the first place. Here it was a good thing, but I could see the reverse, where the writer has an axe to grind, and now it seems magnified. A good reminder to people who are trying to verify information shared anonymously – make sure you ask SEVERAL people to avoid the duplication effect!

  7. Noah

    The last thing I want is for the place that I worship at – and more importantly, the one that I worship – to be associated with prejudice.

    mmm… then there’s a lot more work to be done on that latter point.

  8. Office Gumby

    My brother lived in South America for several years, gaining a comfortable fluency in Spanish. When he moved back to the US, he got a job in a bank.

    One year later all the Spanish-speaking customers insisted on going to him for business because, not only did he speak Spanish, but he treated them with respect. Because of this, many Spanish-speaking clients ended up moving to this bank, and my brother was recognised as model employee.

  9. Former Employee

    Full disclosure: I haven’t read all of the comments .

    My question is, What race is Spanish speaking? People keep using the word “racist” to apply to the social worker who was annoyed at having to deal with Spanish speaking clients, though she was not able to understand or communicate in that language. I know of people who have fair skin, light eyes and natural blonde hair who are from Spanish speaking countries just as I know of black people whose native language is Spanish (think of the baseball players who are from the DR).

    There is no reason to think that if clients spoke French or Italian or Russian, i.e., anything other than English, that the social worker who presumably is not familiar with any language other than English would be somehow less annoyed with those clients.

    I would not be surprised if it turned out that she felt she was being set up to fail, was frustrated with the situation and ended up taking it out on the people who embodied the problem.

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