my coworker thinks I insulted adoptive parents, am I embarrassing my boss, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My coworker thinks I insulted adoptive parents

I am a remote worker who recently started at a new company. Less than two weeks after I started, my team did a “bring your family to work” event where we all had a chance to introduce our various children, pets, spouses, whatever you wanted over a video call. This will be important to the story: I am a white woman married to a black man and our son has brown skin.

After we did the event, we were turning back to work when one of my coworkers, “Sue,” said she was happy to have another adoptive parent on the team. I was confused for a moment, then realized she was talking about me. I laughed awkwardly and said that he was my own son, he wasn’t adopted. There was a bit more awkward silence, then we all moved on, or so I thought.

A few days later, another coworker, “Monica,” messaged me privately to say that Sue was saying I had laughed at her and insulted adoptive parents. Monica said Sue takes things too personally and I should apologize and smooth things over. I called Sue and explained that I was just surprised at her comment and laughed to cover my awkwardness. I told her I have the utmost respect for adoptive parents, I’m just not one myself.

Yesterday, my manager (who had not been on the original call) told me Sue had made an official complaint against me and Manager wanted to do a three-way call with Sue and I to talk this through.

Was I in the wrong? I think Sue’s comment was presumptuous and more than a little rude. I think it was also racist, since I’m sure the only reason she said what she did is because my son appeared to be a different race than I am. And how do I get out of talking about this anymore? I feel like this whole incident has tinged my start at the company. I’d rather put it behind me and move forward, so if you tell me the best way to do that is apologize to Sue again, I’ll do that.

You weren’t in the wrong, and you don’t have anything to apologize for. Sue made an assumption based on your race and your son’s race, you explained she was mistaken, and that should have been the end of it.

Is your manager clear on what happened? If not, I’d explain it to her and use the words, “Sue made an assumption based on my son’s race. I explained she was mistaken. I didn’t comment in any way on adoption. I’d prefer not to have to have a meeting about someone’s assumption about my son’s race — is this necessary to do?”

If she insists the meeting go forward, I’d go in with the stance of Surprised And Confused, since this is indeed surprising and confusing. How to proceed beyond that depends on the internal politics there; if Sue can make your life really difficult, I’d put more energy into smoothing things over than if she can’t. There’s no harm in saying you’re horrified that she got the impression you don’t support adoptive parents because you do, and that you regret the misunderstanding. But you have nothing to apologize for.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Am I embarrassing my boss by knowing things she should know?

I started a new role in my company a few months ago and have taken to it pretty well, from all the feedback I hear. I’m detail oriented and tech savvy, so people rely on me for tech support, links, keeping track of assigned tasks, etc. I can’t do everything, of course, but I know my stuff and take pride in it.

My boss is not that person. She constantly forgets meetings, details about our clients (she works with way more of them, but still…), requests I’ve made, tasks we were assigned, our schedules compares to hers, etc. She asks me for details on the same clients over and over again and seems to forget previous conversations even a day later. A number of times, she’s asked me to interview a client who I’ve already interviewed and she could have checked the results of on the shared document we use. She offended my new coworker by saying she hadn’t started working with clients yet when she’d had her first client the day before.

When I see she’s forgotten a detail in a conversation, I give her the correct information. If I see a link is wrong, I offer the correct one. If she says something incorrect, I ask clarifying questions and try to figure out what we’re not connecting on (usually she just forgot something). I try to keep my tone warm and helpful, but do you think I should handle this differently? Should I frame myself as uncertain when I know 100% she’s wrong? Is there a time when I should just keep quiet when she’s incorrect? At first, she was telling me I’m an asset and she couldn’t do this without me, but I’m starting to worry it’s embarrassing her and making me look like a know-it-all.

Has she stopped seeming appreciative and started seeming annoyed? If not, I’d assume you’re fine and should continue what you’re doing. If you’re correcting her a lot on important stuff, there might be wisdom in letting stuff that truly doesn’t matter go, but when it does matter you should offer what you know, and you don’t need to pretend to be uncertain when you’re not. That’s the kind of support a decent boss will be grateful for, as long as your manner continues to be warm and cheerful and you don’t start sounding frustrated or put upon.

That last part is key. It’s not unusual for a manager not to remember the granular details that someone a level of two below them will remember. Often the manager is juggling more things, dealing with bigger picture issues, jumping from one meeting to the next, while the employee is more steeped in the day-to-day details of a project. I don’t know what your manager’s job is so maybe this doesn’t apply to her, but a lot of managers could be hitting it out of the park on the primary goals for their role and still forgetting the things in your examples. (The thing about your coworker having had her first client the day before, for example — it could be entirely reasonable that that’s not top of mind for your boss.)

There are situations where this isn’t the case — where a manager is forgetful in ways that are genuine problems and reflect bigger issues with her work. And maybe that’s the case here; I can’t know from the outside. But the more you approach it non-judgmentally, the more helpful you’re likely to be to her (and becoming incredibly useful to your boss is generally a good thing for your career).

Read an update to this letter here.

3. I was skipped during the office talent show

I’m wondering if there’s a professional, not-petty way to let coworkers know when they’ve slighted you. My office held a virtual talent show, and I volunteered to participate, partly because I thought not many people would volunteer (I was right about that) and partly because I’ve been feeling kind of alienated from my coworkers and I want to put in a little more effort. I received a confirmation email. Then I practiced my instrument almost every day for a month, which was not easy because I also have a one-year-old, so many of my practices ended with tears of frustration. All that is to say that, for me, this casual workplace activity felt like a big deal. And then I logged on, watched my coworkers do their talents and realized that that I wasn’t in the line-up. I sent a direct message to the host reminding her that I also volunteered, and she immediately nodded and did a silent thumbs-up that seemed like it was meant for me, but she didn’t introduce me or invite me to perform.

And Alison, I was sad! I know the stakes aren’t high, but I feel lousy about it. I’d like to let the organizers know what happened, but it also feels very petty. It’s over now and I’m sure it was a mistake and not a personal slight. Of course, the first thing I’m doing is waiting until I don’t feel quite so raw, but is there ever a professional way to say, “Excuse me, you accidentally hurt my feelings?”

Yes! And oof — it’s not good when an event meant to boost morale and team cohesion ends up making someone feel excluded.

It almost certainly wasn’t a deliberate slight — the organizer was likely harried or short on time or who knows what — but it’s still useful for her to hear what happened and that you were disappointed, so she can realize that she needs a better system for anything similar in the future. And really, if you were in her shoes, wouldn’t you rather hear from the person who felt slighted than continue on obliviously with no idea that something went wrong?

I would say it this way: “I’m not sure if you realized I’d signed up for the talent show and was really looking forward to participating! I’d been practicing daily in preparation, so I was disappointed not to be in the line-up. Did we cross wires somewhere?”

4. Can I say my end date was the date my severance pay ran out?

I held a management role at a company until March when my job and the jobs of many of my colleagues were eliminated due to COVID-19-related circumstances. I left with a severance package and received severance pay until July. As I conduct my job hunt now, I’m afraid that my March end date scares off potential employers who think I’ve been out of work for too long. Because my severance ended in July, and I was paid by the company until then, is it okay on my resume to say that my relationship with the company ended in July so I don’t look like too much of a slacker?

No — your company presumably would tell a reference-checker that you were employed through March, not July, and information you provide needs to line up with that or you’ll (correctly) look like you were trying to mislead the new employer. Severance pay doesn’t extend your employment in that sense.

But you’re not going to look like a slacker for having been unemployed since March. Loads of people have been unemployed since March because of Covid; it’s incredibly normal this year. (Even in any other year, you wouldn’t look like a slacker. It’s true that employers do sometimes have concerns about people who have been out of work for a while, but it’s not usually about being a slacker. It’s about things like whether your skills are still fresh, whether there’s a weakness that other employers are spotting in you, etc. Anyway, it’s all moot this year.)

5. Can I give my boss a bottle of homebrewed wine as a gift?

I homebrew wine as a hobby. My manager (whom I have a fairly good rapport with) and I have chatted about it and our alcoholic beverage preferences before. Would it be inappropriate to give him a bottle of my wine as a gift? I’m worried that gifting alcohol may be crossing a professional boundary. What do you think?

Give the wine! Alcohol isn’t inherently off-limits as a gift at work; you just want to be careful about not giving it to an alcoholic or a teetotaler. In this case, you know he drinks and you’ve shared conversation about it before. Giving him a wine you’ve made would be a lovely gift.

{ 831 comments… read them below }

  1. fhqwhgads*

    Assuming the exchange in #1 was quoted verbatim, I suspect the bit Sue took issue was with “my own son, not adopted”…because she’s presuming this means OP meant to imply an adopted son is not Sue’s “own” which ain’t great, but also is a harsh interpretation on Sue’s part given the context for why this exchange happened in the first place. Given that Sue was being fairly racist in her original assumption, the reasonable thing would’ve been for Sue to realize she’d stuck her foot in her mouth, and that even if perhaps OP did too, they should call it a wash and move on – not escalate this as some sort of Official Complaint. Frankly that’s a can o’ worms she shouldn’t want opened if she’d thought it through at all because it makes her look like an ass.
    And if that exact wording was not in play, if OP simply said “he’s not adopted” and/or “he’s my biological son” then Sue’s even more ridiculous, and definitely not reasonable

    1. AcademiaNut*

      Yeah – Sue assumed that the OP’s son was adopted because he’s biracial. The OP was startled and responded awkwardly. But Sue comes across as very… blinkered at best, being so focussed on her own hurt feelings that she’s oblivious to the fact that she comes off worse in the exchange.

      I’d probably go with a factual and very matter of fact response. “Sue assumed my son was adopted because he’s biracial. I was startled and didn’t use the best phrasing to correct her. I’ve apologized for my wording; if she apologizes for her own mistake I’m happy to let this go.”

      1. Artemesia*

        This. Both erred but Sue’s was the more offensive and the LW should not be defensive but should lead with the key idea that the whole thing started when Sue made a racist assumption. Escalating it is outrageous.

        1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          Sue doubled down when she realized that she made a racist comment. The best defense is a good offense.

          OP, you don’t need to go as far as Sue to make your point, but realize that as sensitive as she is about adoption, she is also desperate to cover a racist blurt.

          1. somanyquestions*

            Exactly. Racist is just freaking out that she was openly racist so she’s trying to make someone else the bad guy. I would push back HARD because she’s a racist that implied that a biracial child must be adopted, which is just weird and gross.

            1. AnonEMoose*

              This is where I’m landing on this one. She’s trying to make OP the bad guy in order to cover up her own, far worse, gaffe.

              1. Koalafied*

                Hundo P the impression I got. She feels like she was embarrassed in front of coworkers and
                she’s looking for a way to blame another person for causing that icky feeling rather than acknowledge her own misstep caused it. It’s an extremely common psychological defense mechanism.

              2. Koalafied*

                In fact, on second reading I noticed that she didn’t lodge the formal complaint until after she’d already gone behind LW’s back to badmouth her character to other coworkers and LW went and talked to her directly to try to put the issue to bed. Most likely when Sue realized that word got back around to LW about what she was saying, she was once again embarrassed and the formal complaint was her second attempt to save face and not look like a gossip. Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

                1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

                  This! Sue 1) made a racist assumption 2)gossiped about it to coworkers 3)has a history of difficulties with coworkers to were LW is advised to smooth things over with Sue by coworkers and 4) had already received an apology and clarification before filing her complaint. Oh I’d have that meeting and I’d expect all 4 of those things to be addressed during that meeting. I’d phrase it as “I’m sorry you misunderstood my comment to mean x when I was saying Y. Now lets address my discomfort over your racist statement, your gossiping to coworkers, your history of drama with coworkers, and the fact that you waited until I apologized/clarified to file your complaint.” I’d spend the entire meeting redirecting Sue’s deflections back to Sue’s behavior and how it was going to be stopped.

            2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

              That was exactly my thought. She’s going on the attack to try and shovel a whole huge pile of manure and distraction on top of her racist assumption to bury it. Classic. “How DARE you imply I’m racist! You’re the racist!”

            3. pleaset cheap rolls*


              We can all learn from mistakes – i could see myself making the “own” error too.

              How we deal with the mistakes is important.

            4. Autistic AF*

              Sue’s pulling a definite DARVO here (“deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender”). OP, there are lots of resources if you search DARVO online.

          2. Anon For This*

            Another person reading it this way. My daughter is biracial and people have indeed said stupid things. The correct thing to say post-stupid is a variation of “I’m so sorry, that was stupid” and on we go. But OP said “own” son not “biological” son so there’s an opening for Sue to go on offense. Which frankly makes me thinks she’s not just garden variety racist but very intentionally racist. The message here is it’s ok to adopt a child of another race but not ok to bear a child of another race. Gross. Go on offense, yes. Make her own her assumption and why BEFORE you get to your own minor gaffe.

            1. pleaset cheap rolls*

              “The correct thing to say post-stupid is a variation of “I’m so sorry, that was stupid” and on we go.”

            2. pleaset cheap rolls*

              “The correct thing to say post-stupid is a variation of “I’m so sorry, that was stupid” and on we go.”


              “Make her own her assumption and why BEFORE you get to your own minor gaffe.”


            3. Some dude*

              I will say that sometimes kids look nothing like one of the parents, and if you throw in the fact that they might be a different ethnicity than the parent, it can be an honest mistake to think that the parent is not the biological parent. An honest mistake that one doesn’t need to verbalize. I have friends who are of different ethnicities, and their kids not only don’t look like the white parent, they don’t look like the BIPOC parent because she is biracial and they inherited genes from ethnicity X aren’t as pronounced with her.

              These are fun things to ponder in your head and not say aloud.

              1. PJ*

                Your comment reminds me of something someone said to me the other day. I have 5 kids, one very blonde, one red head, one light brown and two dark brown. One of my kids with dark brown hair is also darker skinned and has been taken for Native American. They are all the children of my husband and I but people look at our family picture and say in a very snarky, sneering tone… “Your kids don’t look like you, they don’t look like they even belong in the same family!” It’s amazing what people feel free to comment about and what am I supposed to say?? Thank you??

                1. GS*

                  My family was on a trip and my sister has red hair – none of the rest of us do (though my grandpa did) and this mother of another family in the group joked that it looked like my sister was more a part of their family than ours. Once – ha ha. By the 15th time she made that joke we were like …ok…are you…trying to take her with you??? Like I get that you feel she doesn’t look related to us, but commenting on it multiple times a day is just BIZARRE.

                2. Tabby*

                  PJ: Yup. It’s pretty common in my family (Black) for a few people to not look like either parent, despite having the same parents. Its also pretty common for some of us to be a dead ringer for someone else in the family (for instance, I look very much like my paternal grandmother, though I am darker than she was. Weirdly, my eyes are crossed like my maternal grandmother’s)! I always remind people that looks mean nothing as a way to tell who is related to whom, and that it’s rude as hell to say things like what you just said for that reason. People are aggravating.

        2. NoviceManagerGuy*

          Yes on the scale of who screwed up here it’s like:
          All good |—OP—————————————————–Sue————–Worth involving HR|

          1. Momma Bear*

            Right. Why did Sue think it was best to make an official complaint. I feel like Sue’s insecurities are talking and it’s not really about OP at all. There was no reason for Sue to double down and involve management in a simple misunderstanding about someone’s family. I think OP has nothing to apologize for. OP tried to make amends like a professional adult and Sue went off the rails.

      2. GammaGirl1908*

        Agree. If indeed LW used the phrase “my own son,” that was a bit awkward, but totally forgivable given the context and the fact that she was surprised and it just popped out; it’s not like this was, say, a prepared speech or a pointed dig or a repeated comment from someone pretending to be “funny.” It was not intended as a slight.

        That goes double considering that parents of biracial children frequently are the targets of ugly microaggressions and digs and weird assumptions about the “source” (ugh!) of their children just as adoptive parents are. And that’s before the number of people rudely assuming the parent is the nanny — or kidnapper! — of a child who doesn’t look like them. Parents of biracial children often find themselves having to assert their parenthood just like adoptive parents, which is really gross, but here we are.

        Anyway. LW’s error was about a 2 out of 10. Sue has dragged hers out to about an 8.

        1. Tabby*

          Exactly. LW was caught off guard, here. The wording was mildly offensive, and unintentionally so. She wasn’t attempting to downgrade adoption, she was attempting to say that she’d given birth to her child. Sue is being a jerk, here: first, in assuming that LW could not possibly have given birth to her son, and then compounding that with insisting on dragging this out. It’s almost like Sue is insulted that LW dared correct her presumptuous attitudes.

          1. Caroline Bowman*

            I just do not think ”my own” in the context of adopted versus biological is offensive. Evidently Sue was confused (and racist and also insensitive because she doesn’t know the OP at all and has made statements around her having adopted and the perceived make-up of her family) about the nature of the relationship between OP1 and her son. ”My own” in this context clearly means ”I gave birth to”. It’s Sue who is singling out adoptive families versus other types of families and she has been incredibly insulting in doing so.

            But as is so often the case with people like this, her own feelings are desperately sensitive to any perceived slight, made of wafer-thin glass in fact.

            OP1, just refuse flatly to apologise for the racist assumptions of others.

            1. Totally Minnie*

              I have a close friend with fertility issues and adopted children, and I can assure you that the phrase “children of your own” is often wielded aggressively toward adoptive parents. “Yes, these children are lovely, but don’t you want to have ‘children of your own’ someday?” So the phrase “my own child” probably would sting a bit in a conversation like this one.


              OP was very much not doing that in this conversation. And Sue is a grown up who should be able to distinguish a belittling and othering comment from an awkwardly worded one.

              I like AcademiaNut’s script of pointing out that Sue made an erroneous assumption about OP’s child because he is multiracial and OP was simply trying to correct that misconception and has already apologized to Sue for her part in the miscommunication. I don’t know what else Sue is really asking for here.

              1. Koalafied*

                Yeah, I think it would have been one thing if Sue had said in a kind tone, “My adoptive children are my own children, too, but I take your meaning,” but another thing entirely to be badmouthing LW behind her back to other coworkers and then lodging a formal complaint when the gossip got back around to LW, who then tried to address the issue with her directly.

                1. GammaGirl1908*

                  Exactly. It all would have blown over and been forgotten by now if this had happened. But NOOOOOOOOOOO.

                2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  Yes, I remember saying something similarly tactless to a friend and she responded immediately like that. I quickly apologised, saying it didn’t come out right, that I was speaking faster than I could think, I then rephrased and all was well.

              2. all the time*

                I have an adopted Son and the biggest hurt during his childhood was when someone told me “you don’t know because you don’t have any real children of your own” UGHHHHH.

            2. pleaset cheap rolls*

              “I just do not think ”my own” in the context of adopted versus biological is offensive.”

              That’s your prerogative, but it’s worth realizing that an adoptive parent might legitimately feel differently.

              Even though Sue is way out of line here in escalating this (and also kinda racist) it doesn’t mean what she said is not real.

          2. Anon Anon*

            Honestly, as an adoptive parent, I find it pretty offensive. Mostly, because there are a lot of qualifying statements made towards adoptive parents and adoptee’s about their parent/child relationship. So any time anyone makes a comment that implies that my child isn’t mine drives me crazy.

            However, with that said, it was a poorly worded statement in response to an assumption and prejudicial point of view, and the LW apologized. But, Sue is going completely overboard.

            1. Shirley Keeldar*

              Another adoptive parents chiming in to say that, yeah, I think OP and Allison might not realize that “he’s my own” vs “he’s adopted” tends to get under adoptive parents’ skins. (Along with its companion, “real parents,” as in, “But what happened to her real parents?” Hello, I’m not imaginary.) Although, for the record, Sue is being ridiculous and is completely blind to the offensiveness of her own comment. Sue, please quit, you’re making us all look bad.

              Recently I was taking a survey which asked participants if they had children and if they were “your own or adopted.” I wrote a polite e-mail noting that wasn’t the best phrasing and asking if they’d change it to “adopted or biological.” They apologized and thanked me for raising it. I thanked them for being so receptive. We practically fell over ourselves thanking each other. Because that’s how mature people handle these things.

              1. Caliente*

                Well someone assuming a kid who isn’t the exact same color as you isn’t your biological child can get under a biological parents skin, so Sue is in the wrong here and should be contrite, not trying to get on OPs case. Sue brought this crap to the table with her racist assumptions and is now trying to make it OPs problem. Sue sucks.

              2. Tabby*

                This is why I wish we could stop even asking, Shirley K. They’re your kid, whether they came from your body or not. It literally never occurs to me to ask that; but then, my brother is parent to 8 kids that didn’t come from his body, and 3 that did (yes, that’s 10 children total!), so I am very much uninterested in the “of your own” needling. I always say I have 10 nephews and nieces, because I do. I have hopefully made it clear to them all that I do not differentiate between them on the basis of who their dad was. It doesn’t matter in the sense of whether Im their aunt, they’re part of my family now too. They have ANOTHER aunt to go with the rest.

                1. Tabby*

                  Frank Doyle: lol yes, you’re right. Eleven. Sometimes I don’t math right– there are A LOT of kids over there, and I can’t keep up. :D

              3. SophieChotek*

                As an adoptee (different race than my Mom) I definitely can see where the “own” versus “adopted” might seem offensive, but I also totally understand how the OP intended it in the context.

                Sue is being ridiculous; given the context I understand OP’s phrasing.

            2. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

              What phrasing should OP have used in the moment? I admit I probably would have used the same language off guard, but I’d love to hear about alternates that’d still convey the meaning “I gave birth to this child.”

              1. KimberlyR*

                I would’ve said, “Oh John is my biological child!” There doesn’t need to be implications about other children and their parentage. I realize the LW was shocked and said something off the cuff, so I’m not trying to bring her down about it. But thats the kind of phrasing one would want to use.

                1. Cercis*

                  Or, “oh, I gave birth to him”. There’s a lot of paths to become a parent, so it is difficult – “biological” could be through a surrogate and “gave birth” could have been through a donor egg (several in my friend group have used donor eggs). There’s probably no one right answer. In the moment the best would have been to say “why do you assume I adopted him?” and then return the awkward to sender.

                2. Anonymous Today.*

                  Great that you would be so thoughtful after a racist remark. I don’t blame OP for her phrasing and I consider all adoptive kids to be their parents’ own kids.

                3. TeapotNinja*

                  Nobody who’s never been involved with the adoption process at all in any way would say that in the moment. My kids are mine, not “biologically mine”, and that’s what I would respond with as offensive as Sue’s was.

                  My kids are bi-racial as well, and I get an odd comment about that once in a while, though never quite anything as offensive as what Sue said. I usually respond with something as short as possible, single yes or no, if appropriate and let them stew in their own idiocy.

              2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

                The alternatives are so not-suitable-in-this-setting, as far as I’m concerned.

                Pretty much all of them are connected to NSFW (or at least NSF-out-of-context-conversations-in-the-workplace) topics like genitalia, possible medical procedures, and interpersonal interactions — or are awkwardly scientific and too multi-syllabic to deal with when someone has just stunned you with a presumption as big as this one.

                At this point, I’m thinking the only sensible option is to make the Surprised and Perplexed face be your default for all such questions, and just throw the awkward back at the asker.

                For ACTUAL, in-context conversations, it seems sensible to include just the most relevant bits as appropriate.

            3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Yes, it’s the going overboard that’s ridiculous. OP has already apologised for her part, it doesn’t seem like Sue has apologised for assuming adoption just because of a difference in skin colour.

      3. Amaranth*

        This. Frankly, I like OP needs to refrain from being so conciliatory that this point is completely lost. There is already office gossip painting her as the ‘bad guy’ here. I think its key to be generous but firm. And, I suppose, if Monica is the town crier, kindly set her straight that both parties apologized and have moved on.

      4. Mookie*

        Yeah, the dissonance there is not surprising—and it’s okay for Sue to momentarily privilege her own reaction rather than her own behavior preceding it—but it is ridiculous in the clear light of day to report her offense at a response to her offensive comment. And she doesn’t seem to realize or care that it was an offensive, racist comment. This could be her Streisand moment; she should never have put the LW in this position, especially publicly, and asking that the LW be disciplined is profoundly entitled, harmful, and vindictive. I don’t see a lot of evidence of Sue’s good faith given that she’s also been telling colleagues (just the ones that witnessed it firsthand?) her sob story and possibly even recruiting them as messengers. This is the behavior that needs disciplining.

        1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          I agree with all of this, and I will even admit that I wouldn’t feel all that bad to hear that this has blown up in Sue’s face. I don’t have much sympathy for people who commit racial microaggressions like this and then play the victim.

          The older I get, the harder it is to find any forks to give about the feelings of people with thinly disguised racist attitudes. I don’t particularly like this about myself, but as GammaGirl1908 said, here we are. :-/

          1. Justme, the OG*

            Yep. Although I wouldn’t call them microaggressions. I don’t think it’s micro in the slightest.
            White mom of a biracial child who has been asked all sorts of things about my kid from complete strangers

            1. For goodness sake, wash your hands!*

              I relate completely! It’s so invasive! I also have a bad trigger for “mixed babies are the cutest.” Like, please don’t objectify my 2 year old.

            2. Gyratory Circus*

              Same. I’m white and my first husband was Asian, so our kid is biracial. I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve had people assume that a white mom with an vaguely Asian kid = adoption. The most egregious was a guy who – at my grandmother’s wake – asked me how much I paid for my daughter.

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                I… I’m sorry, what? My jaw is on the floor right now so it’s difficult to type. What a (redacted) (redacted) (redacted).

              2. Kimmybear*

                Yup. Or we’ve had the school system schedule an interpreter when we say kiddo speaks a little Korean with grandma and pale blonde mom walks into the meeting.

              3. Lentils*

                Ugh, my sympathies. My dad is Chinese and when I hit older teen years, people started sometimes mistaking me for his WIFE. And once my dad and teenage brother got held at the Canadian border for hours, because my dad is darker-skinned than us and they thought he was kidnapping him.

              4. Frieda*

                Almost 20 years ago I mentally (silently!) classified a mom I met for the first time as apparently having an Asian partner – girls were Asian, she was white. Nope, she mentioned she was single. Ah, I reclassified silently, evidently her girls are adopted. Oh, I thought, she’s breastfeeding the little one, I haven’t ever met someone who breastfed an adopted baby before although I’ve read about that.

                Nope, all wrong, she had selected a sperm donor (same for both girls) who happened to be Asian. She was quite open about her life as a single mom, and was an interesting, smart person. I was glad I’d spared myself the foot-in-mouth moments that were right on deck there, and it was a very good reminder that people’s families are created in all sorts of ways and none of it is anyone else’s business.

            3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              Try being the non-white mom with a child who is paler. No, we are not the nanny or maid or servant

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                I’ve heard of these questions being asked of non-white mothers. It’s so bad.

              2. Jenny*

                This happens to my sis in law all the time. She has dark hair and eyes but my nephews were little blonde blue eyed babies (they look more like her as they get older). She got asked if she was the nanny all the time.

              3. Anon govt workerbee*

                Biracial person with very light skin here. Sorry late in the game here but I just have to add this: an even more depressing reality is the darker dad is not the nanny, he’s the kidnapper. Yep. My dad was absolutely accused of trying to snatch me from public places when I was young.

              4. Media Monkey*

                my mixed friend had this with her white-appearing daughter when she was a baby – “oh how nice of them to bring the nanny on holiday”. grrrrr

          2. MusicWithRocksIn*

            I would love an update on this one. I just cannot imagine anyone taking Sue’s issue seriously, so it would be nice to be reminded the world is still sane in this most accursed year.

            1. Artemesia*

              Me too I was horrified that HR or the manager were taking this to requiring a discussion with Sue over her fee fees. Monstrous.

        2. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

          I agree with this. People say stupid, awkward things in the moment, and it sounds like both of them did, which, people say stupid awkward things in the moment. What you do next is take it as a personal teaching moment, apologize, and move on.

          What does it say that Sue can’t see her own stupid, awkward, casually racist assumption started all of this?

      5. .Sam.*

        Your second paragraph is the approach I would take, too. To be clear, if OP said something like “my own son,” and OP has not apologized for that, specifically, she should do so. The implications of that wording aren’t ok and I think that should be acknowledged, even though I also think fumbling your wording is understandable in those circumstances.

        1. iceberry*

          Yes being caught off guard we may not say things perfectly. It is as though OP is being expected to perform perfectly when she is at the receiving end of racist remarks in the workplace. While there may be an ideal response, I don’t know that it can be reasonably expected.

          1. hufflepuff hobbit*

            I’ve noticed that people who are being subjected to racism are nearly always expected to handle everything perfectly, or somehow the racism doesn’t “count” — which is SUPER unfair, and that’s what happened here.

            Of *course* adopted children are real children. However, when one is stunned/hurt, one doesn’t always respond perfectly. If she’d said, no, [child] “came from my vagina” as one brown mom recently said of her less-brown child in an article I read last week, she’d get policed for being crude. Why is it her job to respond perfectly to racism and not the other person’s job to NOT BE RACIST?

            1. wee beastie*

              I agree. I feel an inclination to roll my eyes that there’s an expectation that OP would should have responded perfectly to a racist/rude/presumptuous observation by Sue.
              In fact, I would argue that OP’s response was the best answer because Sue’s assumption that her son was adopted implied he was NOT her own. Consider…If OP ever opened a conversation with an adoptive parent and made a statement like this, sure, it would be profoundly rude and insulting. But we cannot divorce her statement from it’s context—the fact that it was a response to Sue’s implication that a nonwhite child couldn’t have come from her naturally. (Such a gross thought, I don’t even like writing it.) I understands why adoptive families aren’t bothered by the phrasing, but I think this context still puts it all back on Sue.
              Full disclosure: One of my brothers was adopted and no one in my family—not my parents and not my siblings nor I —ever open a discussion with the fact that he was adopted. It only comes out if someone probes. (Or, apparently if i’m commenting on a website?!) I find it very surprising and interesting that Sue lead with this info about herself while making a rude presumption about someone else. Everyone walks their own path and cultures are not monolithic…it’s just in my family, off one of us drew attention to my brother’s adoption it would be tantamount to implying he isn’t really one of us.

              1. wee beastie*

                Sorry, fat thumbs and autocorrect. I meant to say “I understand why adoptive families are bothered by the phrasing…”

    2. LW1*

      LW1 Here!

      I did say “own son”, which I immediately felt bad about! My nephew is adopted and I definitely know better that to say stuff like that. I think I just felt so uncomfortable and slightly defensive in the moment that I wasn’t thinking clearly. I 100% know that adopted children are our own children!

      1. AirKule Prott*

        Sue was the one who brought up that her child was adopted, not you. To my thinking none of this is down to you!

      2. Emma*

        It happens to everyone – we all sometimes slip up and use not-great language, especially when put on the spot in ways we’re not expecting, and even more so when reeling from a wholly inappropriate assumption…

        I do think it’s worth apologising for the choice of words, though, both because it’s always good to apologise when this happens, and because once you’ve done that, Sue will have absolutely nothing left to (legitimately) complain about.

        1. Jen*

          Agree with this. If you didn’t specifically apologize for the phrase own son i would clarify that is what you were apologizing for. People will apologize for someone getting upset even if they don’t think the person had reason to be because they feel bad the person is upset. Letting her know you realize your son was a poor word choice (which is understandable) may help

        2. Jen*

          Agree with this. If you didn’t specifically apologize for the phrase own son i would clarify that is what you were apologizing for. People will apologize for someone getting upset even if they don’t think the person had reason to be because they feel bad the person is upset. Letting her know you realize your son was a poor word choice (which is understandable) may help

        3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Exactly this.

          But unfortunately Sue is the established member of staff, and if she has been bad-mouthing LW to colleagues who were not present then it may take some repairing. You ought to be able to expect management to take on some of that repair as they’re familiar with the personalities involved.

          1. Observer*

            If people are reasonable, it actually would NOT take “some repairing”. On the other hand, if people are not reasonable, I doubt it’s going to matter much WHAT the OP does.

            Unfortunately, if sounds like people may not be reasonable. Unless the OP’s manager simply doesn’t have the whole story the idea of having a three way conversation to hash this out is just ridiculous.

          2. Not Me*

            Sue is an established member of staff who is known for taking things too personally, so the familiarity may not work in her favor here.

      3. Mainely Professional*

        “Own son” was still in response to her assumption that white people don’t have brown children. I honestly don’t think it’s offensive in that context. She’s in the wrong, she knows she’s in the wrong, she’s trying to make it like you did something wrong.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, she made a huge misstep and she is trying to turn the tables on OP to draw attention away from herself.
          To me this reads like, “I made this racist assumption and I was rude to you BUT let me show you how much of a jerk you are.” It’s not flying well with me.
          The best defense is a good offense? That’s what it looks like from here.

          I also want to know why this involves so many other people. Why does she have to run this story all around to everyone? At most this should be between her, OP and the boss. Considering her initial comment and her behavior afterwards, I have to question how much of an asset this person is to the company. Her willingness to get along with others is very low.

          OP was trying to work past the racism in the remark and trying to keep things on an even keel. I bet that is the last time OP does that given what this woman did. OP, I could see myself doing the same thing, in trying to work through one thing I accidently plow into another thing. Next time just say, “Oh, do you mean because my son appears to be of a different race that must mean he’s adopted?”

          It strikes me as interesting that the woman does not apply her own standards to what she herself says. She can use whatever words she wants but OP better watch every single word OP uses.

          I hope you file a complaint of racism, OP. I really do. Don’t tiptoe around this person, if you try to keep things calm she will continue to have issues with everything you do/say. Her inability to do some introspective thinking is a problem. For what you said and the given context, this is way too much reaction on her part.

          1. Blackcat*

            “I also want to know why this involves so many other people. Why does she have to run this story all around to everyone?”

            So having recently seen this both in my workplace and in social circles, this seems to be a normal response to being called out on racism! They offender has some need to be “right”/”not racist” and tries to rally people to their cause. I’ve watched this play out multiple times now, and unless the offender apologizes right away (which is common), they dig in and recruit people to their cause. I think there’s this deep need to prove their not racist, and their first move is to get reassurance from others that they’re not racist. So then need to tell a version of the story that puts them in the best light to as many people as possible.

            1. londonedit*

              I’ve recently been reading Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, and this is a thing she specifically goes into. White people (and I am one) see ‘being called racist’ as the absolute worst thing that can happen to them in any argument, so as soon as anyone makes a nudge in the general direction of ‘I’m sure you didn’t mean it, but that comment was problematic’, the ‘OMG SOMEONE SAYS I’M RACIST’ alarm goes off in their head and all rational discussion goes out of the window because it becomes all about them proving they’re absolutely not racist.

              1. Batgirl*

                I mean… a lot of white people (like me) grow up in entirely white neighbourhoods, with older racist relatives only really learning about racism off the telly. Its not a great background to then somehow expect you will never have any missteps or criticism, ever. If I do, or show bias or am unintentionally racist it’s on me to accept and learn. The very, very graceful and face saving lesson OP gave to Sue was a pure gift. Now she knows not to say that again! Like you say it’s instead seen as a crime against her ego.

            2. learnedthehardway*

              OP#1 – PLEASE use Blackcat’s statement in quotes, along with all the other excellent advice you’ve been given here. It really needs to be called out to the manager and HR’s attention that not only did Sue say something racist, but she also has tried to make others think badly of the OP.

            3. EPLawyer*

              I get why SUE is escalating this. But WHY on earth is everyone else entertaining Sue’s nonsense. The MANAGER wants a three way conversation. Over a couple of sentences said in one meeting? Is Sue refusing to work with OP until OP “apologizes” and so manager wants Sue to work so is indulging her instead of saying “you don’t have to like OP but you do have to be professional?”

              OP is new so doesn’t know the backstory. But I am betting that Sue has a history of escalating things and the bosses have a habit of indulging it just to get Sue to shut up and get back to work. IF this is true, it is indicative of the management style and something you need to consider while continuing to work there.

              1. In my shell*

                “But I am betting that Sue has a history of escalating things and the bosses have a habit of indulging it…”

                Yes! Sue is gossiping busybody, but the manager is the real concern here.

              2. Blackcat*

                “I get why SUE is escalating this. But WHY on earth is everyone else entertaining Sue’s nonsense.”

                White people often stick together….

              3. LTL*

                Yes, I was confused by the coworker who told OP that Sue takes things too personally but that OP should smooth things over. That’s when the first alarm bell went off.

              4. No one*

                This. I work at a place where it can be he who complains first is always right so here’s a bunch of bad advice on how I survive.

                Rule number one: my feelings and thoughts do not matter at work.

                “Sue” would go on my list of people to simply not engage with. Every interaction would read like a corporate communication.

                The other coworker though is interesting. What’s her motivation for warning about “Sue”. I wouldn’t trust her just yet.

                If OP wants to know if her place is a place like that, she can talk about Sue’s comment for what it was, ridiculous and racist throwing her off. Her managers response will tell her. If it’s like my place of work, OPs perspective doesn’t matter. She didn’t complain first so, her manager will likely say, she can handle herself. This is to avoid spending more time on complaints and to avoid encouraging the strategy some of my closer coworkers admit to and have encouraged me to use ‘complain first just in case’.

                If further Sue situations crop up, OP is best to simply reply with, “yes ma’am. thanks for the feedback ma’am. I’ll do my best to be more sensitive in the future, ma’am.” Walk away with a hard eye roll and refer to rule number one, my feelings and thoughts do not matter at work.

              5. Empress Matilda*

                SERIOUSLY. The amount of time they’ve all spent on this is just mindblowing. It was a stupid awkward exchange – OP and Sue could both have used better words at the time, but still it’s nothing more than a stupid awkward exchange. This kind of thing happens all the time. Most people just forget it and move on – unless it turns out to be part of a pattern of course, but it doesn’t sound like it is here. The whole frigging office seems to be involved, and they’ve blown it up into something waaaaay more than it needs to be.

                OP, I don’t know if you still have options in your job search, but you may want to keep them open if you do. This is not a healthy workplace. And if they’re showing signs of it this early, you can guarantee it’s not going to get better. It might not be a bad idea to cut your losses and get out of there if you can!

                1. PVR*

                  Actually no. OP and Sue are not equally at fault here. Sue didn’t make a bad language choice, she made a deliberate decision to voice a racist assumption. Perhaps that assumption was unconscious, but it is still deeply problematic and frankly, offensive to the OP. Why are we expecting aggrieved parties to respond with perfect language? It’s ridiculous. OP tried to be nice and smooth things over, Sue doubled down. OP needs to push back and push back hard or else this won’t be the last altercation with Sue.

                2. Empress Matilda*

                  @PVR, I agree with you! I deleted my original thoughts on that, but definitely this situation is all down to Sue. She’s the one who made the racist comment, and OP is the one who was put on the spot in a new job where she doesn’t know people very well. And given that Sue is the one making the mountain out of this particular molehill, I agree that OP should absolutely push back.

                  My point was, the whole office seems to be all about Sue and her drama. The exchange OP describes *should* have been treated as an awkward moment and forgotten as soon as it happened. But instead, there has been gossiping and formal complaints, and now OP has to do this ridiculous phone call to “talk things through.” OP should definitely shut it down, but also it should never have gone this far in the first place.

          2. Artemesia*

            Yes. I would file that complaint about racism BECAUSE Sue is escalating this to hurt you in the workplace. It should have been an oops — I didn’t realize on both sides and been done. Sue has made that outcome impossible and so the OP needs to be on the offensive here and not let Sue take her down.

        2. Just no*

          Yeah, this is where I’m coming down on this too. OP, this looks like DARVO behavior to me. She knew she screwed up, and she immediately went on the offensive.

        3. Epsilon Delta*

          This is where I’m coming down too. Context matters, and in this context I just can’t see how it’s a dig at adoptive parents. It’s a surprised reaction to a hurtful comment implying that your child is not in fact your own in the biological sense. There are a number of reasons people’s children may not look like them, and adoption is just one.

          OP, this is really twigging some Feelings in me (as I’m sure it did for you), so from where I’m at I say do not apologize. You have nothing to apologize for in this context. If you are forced to, I would go the non-apology route of “I’m sorry you were upset by my wording.”

        4. Momma Bear*

          I think it comes down to Sue being so over-reactive that other employees (Monica) feel they need to warn people (LW1). It makes me wonder what else Sue has taken too personally and how that affects the team. I wonder how many of these three way mediations the manager has had to do for Sue’s ego. Secondarily, I’d watch my back with Sue if I were LW1. She’s proven she’s spiteful.

      4. Akcipitrokulo*

        Good on you for recognising it!

        I’d apologise for the wording, showing understanding of why it was an issue, and explain that it was a slip caused by Sue’s casual racism towards my son.

        (I’m a little peeved on your behalf!)

      5. Emmie*

        Forgive yourself for not having the perfect reaction to a pretty racist comment. Her comment about your kid was wrong. It’s odd that she’s discussing this with others when she made such an offensive comment.

      6. Blackcat*

        You were flustered in appropriately responding to her racism. That happens!
        You’ve apologized for your wording, but she has *doubled down* on her racism. Lately I’ve had multiple incidents like this–someone is called out on saying something racist in a pretty mild way “Hey, can you not do X” or “Y assumption you made is wrong” and then the offender–always a white woman in the cases I’ve seen–digs in with some need to prove they’re right. And they want to punish the people who call them out, too. I’d bet good money that’s what’s going on here.
        Unfortunately, even as a white woman, I haven’t found an effective way to diffuse that cycle once it starts. So I think your moves need to be about protecting yourself, not about smoothing things over with her.

        I would talk to your manager and HR. Explain everything, including that Sue is now making your life difficult after she made assumptions based on your son’s race. Name it as that.
        Good luck!

        1. EPLawyer*

          Don’t indulge it. They want to “prove” they aren’t racists, just shut it down. “I am not going to discuss this any further. I have told you that your comment is not good, you can either accept it or not, but I am not going to debate it with you.” They want a debate. Don’t give it to them.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          1) To diffuse the cycle, just repeat, “It came across as racist. Now you know that, you can avoid doing it in future. About Work Thing X…” Don’t try to get into a big picture argument, just, “Now you know and can avoid!” like it’s just a social faux pas. It’s not just a faux pas, but this is the way to get past white fragility. Src: another white woman who’s working on her fragility.
          2) Document. Date, time, audience, exact words used as well as you can. Same for the apology or other follow-on incidents.

          1. Blackcat*

            “To diffuse the cycle, just repeat, “It came across as racist. Now you know that, you can avoid doing it in future. About Work Thing X…” Don’t try to get into a big picture argument, just, “Now you know and can avoid!” like it’s just a social faux pas. It’s not just a faux pas, but this is the way to get past white fragility”

            See, when I’ve done that, people change the subject BACK to the racist thing to argue it wasn’t racist. Even with pretty forceful redirection, I’ve had to simply walk away (or… close zoom. Because that’s how one walks away now)

      7. stiveee*

        That phrase stood out to me but I assumed you were so flustered you just said the first thing you could think of. I get the same way when people assume I have a husband instead of a wife. Your brain is doing the calculation of ‘should I be upset? Should I say something or smooth it over or just shrug? Am I overreacting?’ and it’s all happening within a second or two. It’s easy to slip up.

      8. CC*

        Adoptee here – a few thoughts:
        1) Sue’s bringing it up in a racist context is really problematic and that puts the fault on her.
        2) The “own” comment is triggering for some adoptees. Personally that’s the kind of thing that I might need to process for several days before I’m ready to have a warm relationship with a colleague — just like an offhand sexist comment from a colleague would break my trust and desire to be friendly with them. I totally appreciate that it was an unintentional poor word choice and Sue blew it way out of proportion for what is a reasonable workplace response, especially since she brought up the subject. But just want to name that it’s not a small thing for some people.
        3) For a little bit of additional context, I can’t even tell you how many micro-aggressions toward adoptees I hear on a weekly basis at work. The worst was when I shared that I was adopted with a colleague and her reaction was, “So, like, you’re an ORPHAN!?” Nearly every time I’ve told someone at work, I have to deal with an extensive boundary-violating conversation — like why would my “real” parents give me up? Why would my biological parents have a biological son and an adopted daughter? etc. And the side comments (“I feel so bad for anyone who can’t have kids” etc.) are a Thing every time talk at work drifts into family or kids. So while Sue’s assumptions were grounded in racism and that is NOT okay, it might help to see if you can empathize with the fact that your comment could have been one of many that pushed her over the edge — especially if kid and family talk is common at your workplace. She also may have been looking for an opportunity to connect with someone she thought had a shared (and often invisible) experience.
        4) If you want to rebuild trust with Sue but don’t want to engage with her racist framing, one option would be to keep your finger on the pulse of kid and family talk at work and when you witness passive-aggressive comments about adoption, intervene.

        1. Observer*

          You’re putting a LOT on the OP. I hear what you are saying but the fact is that the OP didn’t do any of the ridiculous things you describe*, and it’s out of line for Sure to act as though she was (if that’s even what’s really setting her off.)

          Given the context – the the OP was flustered in trying to respond to a comment that was also triggering and boundary crossing AND that the OP APOLOGIZED already, it’s really hard to make the argument that she’s the one who needs to do the work of making all right, much less becoming the defender of adoptive families.

          *To be clear here – I totally believe that these things happen. And ridiculous is often faaar kinder than the people who say this stuff deserve.

          1. fposte*

            FWIW, it doesn’t actually state in the post that the OP apologized, just that she explained. Hopefully there was actually an apology in there.

          2. CC*

            Actually I’m not putting anything on the OP besides considering their language choices more carefully next time. I never said the OP is being ridiculous and I agreed that Sue’s response is out of line. I agree that it’s not on the OP to fix, but my response was grounded in the OP sounding like they might be interested in smoothing things over.

            I’m just providing context that things that feel small can hurt more than you realize. And since “adoptee” is not a particularly “seen” group identity in our culture and our experiences at work are often invisible, it might be helpful to others to know how these comments read.

            1. fposte*

              Yes, I think there’s an irony in that some people are buying into Sue’s framing of the situation as a zero-sum game. She’s wrong about that too.

            2. serenity*

              You’re probably well-intentioned here, but this is all predicated on people being reasonable and/or thoughtful in their behavior, which does not seem to be the case with Sue at all.

            3. Paperwhite*

              Adoptees vs biracial people was not the ‘competing access needs’ situation I expected to see today.

      9. The New Normal*

        You did say “own son” but it was in direct response to her racist assumption that a white woman couldn’t have a multiracial child. The fact that she is now going around the office discussing this and asking for sympathy without offering an apology is harassment. She is intentionally trying to damage your reputation at work based on her racism. I truly hope you sit down with your manager and explain this situation.

      10. ssssssssssssssssssss*

        But it’s so hard when put on the spot how to reply to “Where did you get your child?” or “Is she yours?” from curious well-intentioned but rude people. It hasn’t happened in years but I struggled a lot with the right reply when my biracial daughter was little and ended up stammering something along the lines of “She’s not adopted…” or “She’s mine.”

        I was so annoyed that people would assume the child wasn’t mine if adopted and would explain to anyone afterwards that if she had been adopted, she was still *mine.*

        The odd thing was I got this only for my daughter. My son – same set of parents – was always assumed to be mine and cooed over by strangers. My daughter was often assumed to be adopted until she got older.

        You did what you could in the moment. Sue is clearly wrong.

        1. Zanele Ngwenya*

          Exactly! Fellow biracial mom here. You’re so stunned at having to explain your child is your biological child when the other parent isn’t out in public with you for people to make the biological connection, or your new coworkers haven’t seen photos of your husband yet. The things they say before they know your child and husband aren’t white (or their shock to learn that you’re not a single mom to a biracial kid)….I NEVER would comment on a child’s presumed adoptive status, either, so what Sue said is gross both for the racist element AND the attempt at adoptive parent affinity when maybe an adoptive parent shouldn’t be called an adoptive parent and should just be called a parent. Sue literally could not conceive of a world in which black and white people have children together and then would not accept what we can only assume to be a sincere apology for accidentally offending her.

      11. NotAnotherManager!*

        FWIW, I think your reaction was normal and understandable. Ideal language? No, but, really, how many of us are on our best game when thrown for a loop like that? I know I’m not.

        I have no idea why Sue has amped this up to 11, particularly when she made a pretty racist assumption about your family that no one seems to be acknowledging, but I’d put in a call to your boss to head off the call with Sue, if you have that kind of relationship with your boss that would allow for that. Had Sue raised the issue in a nonconfrontational way to let you know your comment upset her, it’d have given each of you a mature, adult way to clear the air and move on. Now she’s made an issue of a situation in which her behavior is more questionable than yours.

      12. Anya the Demon*

        And you already apologized for that, like a normal, mature adult. You were caught in an awkward moment, you responded to a racist (and honestly, just overly personal and boundary-crossing) comment, and when you heard she was upset, you apologized. Your co-worker has a history of being problematic, so this isn’t really about you. She seems very reactive and like she is looking for conflicts with people.

      13. Susana*

        You are being way too hard on yourself, LW1! I can understand being taken off guard – and the far worse transgression here is that she made an assumption based on race, the complained about YOU behind you back and then didn’t even accept your apology – which wasn’t even really necessary! Then she COMPLAINS about your formally? Oh, I’d have the 3-way so I could ask her about her bad behavior.

      14. Riani*

        My husband is Japanese and I am white. When I out with my daughter a woman came up and said, “What a beautiful baby!’ And I replied with thanks. She followed right up with, “Is she adopted?” And I know I said, “no” but beyond that I am not sure what I said because I was thinking, “Who do you think you are, stranger, to come up and ask that?” Whatever I answered, it was not good enough or believable enough, because the woman frowned and said in an accusatory tone, “Well she looks awfully Asian.”

        It’s hard to say the right words in the moment while your brain is going “wha?”

      15. wee beastie*

        LW1, please please write to Alison to update her when this all resolves. It will be very telling how your company reacts when they know the whole story. I wish you well. I’m sorry Sue has been so awful.

    3. JC*

      Can you preempt the phone call and just email manager and hr laying out the facts. Surely they will see this is her at fault (and borderline rascism and making you uncomfortable by stirring office gossip). I can’t see what Sue has to gain by formally complaining, she just seems either a bully or very naive. Please update us on this!

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Surely they will see this is her at fault (and borderline rascism and making you uncomfortable by stirring office gossip).

        Not necessarily. They could be as casually racist as Sue is. And the OP is new while Sue is an established employee – they don’t know OP well enough right now to know for a fact that her version of what happened is the truth. Still, OP absolutely needs to lay it out for HR exactly what was said to her and point out the racism inherent in the assumption so that it’s on record that this is truly why the conversation with Sue went off the rails from OP’s perspective, then hope for the best.

      2. Malarkey01*

        I would absolutely try to preempt this call because it could easily go off the rails. I would email and call manager and HR and say Sue made a racist assumption about my family. I would rather not have a meeting where I am on the defensive about a racist statement made against my family. It is very possible that manager and HR haven’t thought about it that way. It’s not an Olympics of suffering, but if the managers have been going along with Sues sensitivity BS for years, pointing out to them that there is an actual protected race issue here might make them back off and think about this for a minute.

        You should absolutely not be in a position where you apologize for racist behavior against you. If I heard from someone that Sue was upset I’d say I was really flustered that the race of my son was called out publicly and push back on the idea that only Sue can have feelings around poor words.

        1. Malarkey01*

          Just to clarify not that Sue shouldn’t be sensitive about adoption language, but sensitive to the point of spreading her anger around, refusing an apology, escalating it to a formal complaint, and making this into a huge issue while not acknowledging her own behavior. If everyone says this is just Sue, to me that seems ridiculous and not a single case of valid concern.

            1. Empress Matilda*

              I don’t even know her, and I’m exhausted by her! It’s just too bad that the rest of the office seems to be playing into her drama, rather than shutting it all down.

        2. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

          Malarkey01 I like your idea. I’d want manager and HR aware of Sue’s comment, the gossip, and the apology. If it doesn’t shut down the 3 way call at least the call should be about addressing those facts.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      That was my thought too, but you know what? Few of us can think quickly on our feet when a coworker at our new job comes at us out of the left field with a racist comment. OP probably would’ve used different wording if she’d had a chance to calmly think it through. But she used far better wording than I probably would’ve (not intentionally, just what I think would’ve come out of my mouth for me to regret later).

      Pretty angry at Sue right now – an official complaint? It’s true what they say, the best defense is a good offense!

      OP – absolutely tell them what started the interaction. If the company then insists you’re at fault, then you’ve learned something new about the company, but I really hope it won’t.

    5. BlindChina*

      This was my take as well. I would have corrected her for the “my own” comment because it is hurtful, but then again I never would have assumed her child was adopted. I would like to say that thinking a family is build the same way as your own family was built is not racist, it is normal for people to wear blinders and assume others are like them. Where the coworker is weirdly in the wrong was a: stating that assumption, instead of asking privately. and b: taking offence and making an ongoing big deal, instead of just correcting wording and forgetting about it.

    6. Myrin*

      I already said this in another comment but I actually feel like it fits better as a direct reply to this.

      I feel like this comment, by virtue of being the very first one, kind of set the tone for a majority of the other comments when in actuality, we have no idea if the OP’s wording of “own son” was even what Sue felt offended by – that’s pure, though reasonable, conjecture by the commenters.
      To me personally, it actually sounded like Sue is more fixated on OP’s uncomfortable laugh and somehow twisted that into “OP is laughing at the idea of people’s being adoptive parents” and while that, too, is just speculation on my part, I think it’s important to keep in mind (not that that ship by now hasn’t already sailed regarding this particular comment thread, what with at least 400 comments debating nothing but her choice of words, but I really think it’s a point worth making regardless).

      1. Myrin*

        Aaaand, I’m seeing now that OP has already commented on this way down and that my hunch was indeed correct, which is cool for me I guess but also embarrassing because I totally and utterly missed that. Oh well.

    7. JSPA*

      Sure, the right term is “biological child.” But the moment of being floored by someone’s racist assumptions is not the ideal moment to come up with the perfect term.

      Also, if there’s push-back along the lines of, “you must certainly have encountered this before, and have a perfect, canned response”–nope, there’s no “obvious” to that, and to insist otherwise is also–and separably–racist.

      I’d go with,

      “I was floored by Sue’s presumption that my biological son wasn’t my biological son. And of course, flooded with anxiety about how to address the awkward likelihood that she was making a racially-based assumption. Given that context, it’s surprising that I could formulate a coherent sentence, let alone come up with ideal wording.

      I would never use that terminology in any normal circumstance. An adopted child is as real a child as any other child.

      However, a mixed race marriage is as real–and normal–a marriage as any other marriage.

      I would hope Sue is as sorry for implicitly invalidating my marriage with her assumption, as I am, for using incorrect terminology to clarify that point. And with this in mind, perhaps she will reconsider whether my laugh is likely to indicate humor in any way. I can assure you there was nothing funny to me, about the exchange.”

      If your son is old enough to understand your words and if he was still in hearing range, there’s also the issue that “biological son” is a very clinical way to say, “came from my body.”

      You absolutely also had a duty to him, to let him hear, “he is my son,” in a way that has no qualifiers.

      Sue, too, can say that about her son, FWIW. Every child ideally gets to hear, “this kid is MINE,” said with pride and joy.

    8. Biscuit*

      From an adoptive mom- I do find it insulting when people say someone is their “own” and therefore not adopted. My (adopted) kids are very much my own! Instituting a formal compliant was probably a bit harsh, especially when she made a racist presumption, but those “my own” words can sting.

      1. STEMprof*

        It was more than a bit harsh. It was completely unreasonable, especially given that she apologized already. I’m the mom of a biracial child, and every time people assume my daughter is adopted it’s like a gut punch – because it erases my family or assumes my family is an impossibility (also it is usually said in front of my daughter). I literally cannot remember what I have said on any of these occasions because I am just frozen and then trying to end the conversation and get the hell away from the person as quickly as possible (and I’m white – my husband has it 10000x worse). The wording was not okay, but she was put in a really difficult situation and apologized once she realized what she had said.

      2. PVR*

        It probably also stings when people assume that your biological child is not your own due to race. Which probably happens just as frequently as the “not your own” comments. BOTH are hurtful, but it’s pretty easy in this case to see how one prompted the other.

      3. JSPA*

        That’s a reason to have a strong reaction in the moment, or a conversation later. But unless someone doubles down, with intent, it’s not a reason to go to HR days later. And I’d say the same to OP, if (without having a conversation) OP were going to HR about the (likely unintientional, but not therefore somehow OK or not-hurtful) racism.

    9. Valerie*

      Boom. Also adopted. Can’t expect people to have a perfect answer on the spot but the reason for the offense is “my own son” and it was all handled with pure dramatics. That’s a person who wants credit for adopting, and she is ignorant in her assumption.

    10. lazy intellectual*

      You make a good point about the wording, but Sue’s behavior is still ridiculous. She shouldn’t have assumed in the first place, and if her issue was with LW1’s wording, she could have communicated that to LW directly instead of accusing her of “making fun of” adoptive parents. LW1 was just responding to Sue.

  2. Person from the Resume*

    LW#1, you were NOT in the wrong. Sue made some racist assumptions that she should feel embarrassed about. Sadly I don’t think she is because of she were she’d drop it.

    Go into that meeting knowing you were in the right. And just be clear about what happened (maybe go first with your depiction of events if possible.). Stick to the facts which show you’re in the right.

    Only problem is of sensitive Sue has political clout, they still may want you to smooth it over to keep her happy, but if that’s the case repeat what you’ve said. But go in knowing that you’re on the right side of this.

    1. Marrisa*

      My instincts are that Sue IS embarrassed and her actions are in larger part due to do with her sensitivity on being corrected on her racially biased comment. The writer doesn’t mention Sue’s race, but the ‘best defense is a good offense’ strategy is white fragility 101. It feels especially telling that the official complaint was lodged after the LW had a call with Sue in which she explained her reaction was due to being made to feel awkward by Sue’s comment – it could have been interpreted as a calling out. It REALLY doesn’t take much to raise those defenses, and once raised, deeply illogical behavior follows. Sue’s sensitivity around being an adoptive parent certainly may be a contributing factor, but it is not an acceptable excuse.

          1. LW1*

            I almost gave her the name “Karen” but thought it might be too on the nose!

            Also, I really appreciate your various comments on this situation. It’s so nice to hear from people who immediately see the racist bullshit in Sue’s statement and don’t talk about Sue’s “thoughtlessness”

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              I’m a black woman, so believe me, I pick up on this racial shit a lot quicker than other people – we get it every day, all day.

            2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              “Sue” is very fitting, too. As in “I will sue you!” (Or, if that fails, file a formal complaint.)

              I’m so angry on your behalf, LW. Hope you have a positive update to share with us soon!

            3. JSPA*

              It’s thoughtless in that it’s done without thinking, but it’s racist because it’s literally based on assumptions about race and perceptions of race.

              Racism due to thoughlessness and unchallenged assumptions (rather than deeply held intentional enmity, white nationalism, klan membership, etc) is still racism. It doesn’t mean you’re horrible. It means there’s a pattern in your thinking that’s incorrect and harmful, that can be rectified by more intentional awareness (and salved by prompt apology, if that awareness fails you).

              “My child is not of my race, I love them beyond the sun, moon and stars, so how can I be racist” does not address those patterns.

        1. Blackcat*

          As Marissa said, this is so classic white fragility, it could be an example in a textbook. This is most definitely a White Lady thing.

      1. Jen*

        As an adoptee i don’t think those who haven’t been in this situation realize how often insensitive wording and situations come up. I’m in my 40s and still have to correct medical forms that don’t leave space or an option to put unknown medical history. Just last month i had to fill out an online form that only gave yes no options for family history. When i went for the testing i explained the issue and they had no way to fix it and it leads the results inaccurate because they interpret the results in light of family history which is unknown in my case. Being upset because r lw implied that the adoptive parents child isn’t their own child isn’t being overly sensitive

        1. Ash*

          But all of this could have been avoided if SUE had not made a racist assumption about LW1 ‘s relationship to her child. People sometimes use not great language especially when flustered. What’s ridiculous is escalating this once LW had *already apologized.*

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Agree. I have to wonder why Sue has involved so. many. people in what has been already addressed.

              1. SallyB*

                While white fragility exists, I am not disputing that, I think using it like this oversimplifies the fact that people who have poor self emotional regulation and a lack of emotional maturity do things like this in any circumstance. It is actually a type of behavior boss’s should watch even outside the context of racism, as it is a clean indicator of poor judgement and an inability to be a reliable narrator. It means this employee is a risk on many levels – race AND poor judgement.

                Right now I have an employee who did the switch thing (she is white and he is black), but she also has shown poor emotional reasoning on almost every single thing she does. She is racist, but she is also very untrustworthy. And because of this, I hope OP’s manager recognizes this in her employee and reacts accordingly.

                1. Batgirl*

                  White fragility IS poor self emotional regulation and a lack of emotional maturity.
                  That Venn diagram is just..a circle.

          2. fposte*

            “Own child” isn’t just “not great language”–it’s also a microaggression, just against a smaller group. Being flustered isn’t a sufficient justification for a microaggression. (I’m presuming the OP did actually apologize in real life, but what she describes in her post was an explanation without an apology.)

            There’s no question here that Sue is an asshole. But because Sue is an asshole (and because the relevant in-group is a comparatively small one) a lot of people are underplaying the OP’s words. Sue can be way out of line without invalidating the problem of the OP’s comment.

            1. Ash*

              That may be, but it’s completely within LW1’s right to decline a “mediation” meeting about it. She apologized sincerely and Sue chose to escalate anyway for god knows what reason. Has Sue apologized to LW1 for *her* microaggression?

            2. Tiny Kong*

              If OP had said that to Sue apropos of nothing, sure. But the wider context is that Sue made a racist assumption and is now doubling down and trying to ruin OP. OP already knows it’s not the right thing to say. Is criticising someone’s response to a racist comment the best use of our attention here?

            3. JSPA*

              Sue is the one who straight out declared that adoptive families and adoptive parenting are a special and different sort of family, though. (And that they’re magically detectable. And at work, no less.)

              At that point, Sue rather loses the high ground on, “every family = every other family.”

              Sue set up the “othering.” Thus, the blowback on Sue.

              If OP had learned in passing that Sue’s kid was adopted, or had assumed Sue’s spouse was of another complexion, due to a photo of the kid, and used that “my own” language, the onus would be on OP.

              Here, it’s not.

            4. Zillah*

              I get where you’re coming from, but I feel like there are also serious problems with expecting people to respond perfectly in the moment when they face casual racism. Expecting someone to apologize to someone else who made racist comments about their family leaves a really bad taste in my mouth.

              There are some reactions for which an apology would still be warranted, but I think the bar for “sorry for my response to your racism about my family” needs to be a lot higher than “I used clumsy wording to correct your racist assumption and it was an unintentional microaggression.”

        2. Boof*

          It is oversensitive to make lw apologize over and over through 3rd parties and escalate to the manager for a slightly insensitive remark when lw was caught off guard by an at least equally biased remark. Sue is being ridiculous to the point that i think lw needs to push back a little this sounds like some weird dominance display. And when i say push back, i mean start clearly apologizing for mispeaking “in response to sue’s racist remark” and report it to hr if sue won’t let it die

          1. miss chevious*

            Yeah, I like this response. OP should point out that she apologized for misspeaking in response to racism, that she’s willing to take responsibility for her poor choice of words, and she expects that the point of the meeting is for Sue to do the same, especially if OP can do this is a completely reasonable and confident tone of voice. Sue wants to play offense? Time to hit the ball right back at her.

        3. Batgirl*

          Exactly how should one say a child is one’s biological child ,when trying not to call out someone’s racism, on the hoof, without implying that adoption is negative? I appreciate you can’t say “Nooooo way!” (and I dont think they did) or should you be saying “I made them from scratch?” Probably “biological child” and “they aren’t adopted” are better than “my own” but saying that isn’t a slight on adoption. Give the OP a break.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Yep. Sue should be able to come up with what OP “should” have said.
            I love (NOT) how OP’s word choice matters So Very Much. but Sue can say Whatever and it is okay.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            “oh, no, no, he came out of my hoo hah, sorry for the misunderstanding.”

            @Not So NewReader: I love (NOT) how OP’s word choice matters So Very Much. but Sue can say Whatever and it is okay.

            Right?!?? Exactly!

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              My very lovely technically-my-stepmom-but-nah-she’s-my-mom, when people kept asking about me, because I’m a lot older than my siblings, and my dad had me pretty darn young:

              “Why are you so worried about whose vagina she came out of?”

            2. DarnTheMan*

              My cousin has three daughters who are biracial and after a lot of assumptions with the first and second about them being adopted, she started adopting a very Pollyanna tone of voice and saying “Oh no they’re the result of [insert number of hours of labor per individual baby]. Want to see my stretch marks?” People usually left it alone after that.

              1. not myself*

                Someone I know would sometimes say “They came out of me, but they don’t look like me.” about her kids.

            3. kt*

              Right, I’m afraid rather than euphemistic phrasing like “biological,” my mind leaps directly to the non-euphemistic descriptions of method of birth. Which is not really professional either in our culture.

            4. Jennifer*

              Exactly! What the hell was she supposed to do? Pull up the birth video on her phone? Maybe she has DNA results handy in her purse? What she said was fine in that context.

            5. Metadata Janktress*

              Very white looking child of a brown-skinned, mixed white/Latina mother here: when I was a baby and you couldn’t see the facial resemblance yet, she was asked if I was “naturally born” by a colleague. She responded with “yes, she came out of me.” My mother has wonderfully blunt responses sometimes.

          3. SimplytheBest*

            Is it really that hard to say “no, he’s my biological son”?

            Sue’s comment was a racial microagression, for sure. But LW1 also said something offensive. It’s strange that so many people are handwaving that.

            1. PVR*

              Sue’s blatantly racist assumption and comment were the trigger that started this whole exchange! If Sue had kept her mouth shut, none of this would have happened. It’s ALSO pretty hurtful to have people assume your child is not biologically yours over and over again. That is continually discounted in these comments. Further, OP was brought into this conversation she didn’t even want to be a part of. If the fact that Sue is an adoptive mother had come up in a different way, OP probably would have responded in the correct way.

            2. Batgirl*

              Honestly I dont think Sue’s comment was *just* racial, it was kind of not a cool thing to say about adoption either. What Sue said was tantamount to ‘Oh it is so obvious to the world, isn’t it, when kids are adopted…and that though they are ours, they are not ..y’know OURS-OURS’.. And no, it is not as obvious as she thinks. She is doing what snidey people try to do to adoptees all the time (look for differences and comment on them thoughtlessly). In that context, OP saying “No he is my own” is the exact same as an adoptive parent saying “this child IS my own, actually”. OP never said Sue’s children were NOT – she just responded defensively to Sue’s implication that OP’s son is not.

              1. Hamish*

                Yeah, there’s a thing here of like… what that assumption says about Sue’s own adopted kids? There’s a certain subset of white adoptive parents who adopt not-white kids and are also racist enough to make comments like this. And that small group really worries me.

                I’m a white person currently pregnant with my black partner’s kiddo. Super excited for everything except the racism.

            3. Zillah*

              I think that for me, a big part of it is that the OP’s comment was a direct response that was conveying “no, your racist assumption is incorrect.” If there’d been a personal attack in response, sure, maybe you’d have a point, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. People who make racist comments at you don’t get to demand that you come up with the best way to say “that’s not accurate” in response.

        4. hbc*

          It *is* being oversensitive if you lead off with the insensitivity.

          I get Sue’s immediate reaction, because I’ve done the routine where I’ve said something boneheaded and someone responded by hitting a sore spot with something similarly imperfect. That mix of guilt, shame, and righteous anger is a weird cocktail. But everyone out of elementary school should know that “She hit me back” is not a reasonable accusation, and “She said something anti-X when I said something anti-Y” isn’t all that different.

          1. GothicBee*

            This. Sue put her foot in her mouth and then got upset that the other person had a knee-jerk response that wasn’t perfectly worded, but instead of acknowledging she caused the problem in the first place, Sue’s doubling down. Not to mention, the LW already apologized for her part in it, which makes Sue’s reaction even worse.

        5. Sparkles McFadden*

          This is all on Sue. Sue was the one who made a remark based on a racist assumption. She was the one who said she was “happy to have another adoptive parent on the team” which means Sue is the one who’s calling out a difference between bio-kids and adopted kids. Was she making that remark because her child is not white? Oh…that poor kid.

          I love Allison’s response: “I’d prefer not to have a meeting about someone’s assumption about my son’s race – is it necessary to do that?” I cannot think of a manager who would respond to that with anything beyond “Uh…never mind”.

          1. fposte*

            There *is* a difference between bio-kids and adopted kids, though. It’s perfectly acceptable to talk about adoptive families. It’s just not a difference that makes one your own and the other not. I get the anger at Sue for weaponizing adoption subsequently, but speaking openly about adoptive parenting isn’t a fault.

            1. Paperwhite*

              It’s just not a difference that makes one your own and the other not.

              This is very true, and simultaneously does not excuse racism, let alone Sue’s double-down formal complaint.

            2. STEMprof*

              “speaking openly about adoptive parenting isn’t a fault”
              That is not what Sue did. She *assumed* that OP’s child was adopted because they are biracial (because there’s no other possible reason a mom and child might have different skin/hair). If you’ve never been on the receiving end of that, let me just say that it is both painful and awkward. It says that your family is an impossibility, unimaginable to others. Please don’t minimize Sue’s words. They were racist.
              OP’s choice of words were not good, but Sue put her in a very difficult spot, and OP has apologized, while Sue has not. OP is the only one who should be complaining.

            3. Tiny Kong*

              Interesting that Sue assumed that OP was also an adoptive parent. I wonder what made Sue assume that….

            4. PVR*

              Speaking openly about it would be along the lines of, I’m an adoptive mother to X number of kids. Adoption has been a blessing because…. Adoption has brought several challenges, such as… etc. Speaking openly about it definitely does not include (incorrectly) assuming others are adoptive parents (especially based on race!!) and using forced teaming to commiserate about a shared connection that you don’t actually share at all.

        6. LTL*

          Being upset about the language isn’t over sensitive, but Sue’s is still acting immaturely. Why is she spreading this in the office? Why hasn’t she talked to OP directly? When OP tried to smooth things over, why didn’t she speak to OP if something was still bothering her? Why escalate to the manager when (1) she hasn’t even tried to work things out with OP herself, and (2) OP made clear that she’s willing and receptive to smoothing things over with Sue directly?

          It sounds like Sue’s trying to get OP in trouble or make OP the bad guy. And even if we give her the benefit of the doubt and say she’s simply emotionally immature, her behavior is still unacceptable.

        7. Maths person*

          Lesbian, non bio parent here (that’s significant- non bio lesbian parents get the same microagressions that adoptive parents do)

          While Lw could’ve used better wording, she was not implying that adoptive parents children aren’t their own. She was directly responding to someone who made an assumption about her parentage based on her son’s race, and the Lw clarified that the child wasn’t adoptive. If she’d said this in different context, I could see your point, but she wasn’t making a generalization about adoptive parents or adopted kids. She was clarifying an assumption. It wasn’t great wording, but it wasn’t a jab at adoptive parents. I get the whole “which of you is the real mother” all the time, and It’s horribly offensive, and it’s mortifying when people say it in front of my children! But the only reason lw1 said this was an answer to a direct assumption. This is not on the same level as someone walking up to sue and saying “so are those your own kids?” Or asking sue “don’t you want your own kids” after hearing that she adopts. Which is in fact implying that the adoptive parents child isn’t their own.

      2. Batgirl*

        It is absolutely white fragility raising it’s defensive little head. The really ironic thing is that the LW let it pass and was willing to just drop it. Now, because she’s got a cob on, Sue is forcing LW to explain her mildly surprised reaction to “adoptive parent”. When LW says: “I was merely surprised because I don’t know where you got the idea he was adopted. Where did you get that idea, btw?” Sue is going to be up the creek without a paddle.
        How on earth is Sue going to explain that one? she just sailed right past the ‘save face’ exit that LW graciously provided for her. She could have just privately reflected on what she said, but white fragility doesn’t do that.

        1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

          LW, use Batgirl’s wording here. ^ “I was merely surprised because I don’t know where you got the idea he was adopted. Where did you get that idea, btw.” Seriously, say this and then go silent. (And then report back.)

        2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          This is perfect!! Yes! LW, this is the best advice yet! It’s not defensive or aggressive, but it focuses the conversation on exactly what SHOULD be the point; why did Sue assume that your son is adopted? Sue will then have to explain her own (ignorant) assumption…and your manager will (let’s hope) realize that SUE is the one causing trouble here – not you!

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Oh lol, I just commented “the best defense is a good offense” in a thread above. Yep, I think that’s exactly what it was. I also think she is taking it way too far. (Mental note to finally read White Fragility, maybe I’ll find an explanation to it there.)

      4. Skeleton Key*

        I vote yes, she was definitely embarrassed, apparently enough to blow this whole thing out of proportion and turn it on the LW.

        LW#1, I made a similar mistake as Sue once. It was a Christmas party at work where kids were brought in. I hadn’t met most of the children yet, so when my Haitian colleague was wondering where her daughter had wandered off to, I spotted a black girl and assumed she was hers. She was not, she was my other colleague’s adopted daughter. I DID feel embarrassed, as well I should. I’m of Ghanian descent so you’d think I’d know better) But goodness, I laughed at myself and let it go. Sue is way out of line. It feels like she attacked before YOU had a chance to attack her for being racist (which she isn’t, not for just this, not in my opinion, but she IS being a giant jerk about this)

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Happened once to me too! One of my sons was friends with two girls in his class, both from Indian families, let’s call them Rini and Deepika. I was on friendly terms with both moms. One day, I was picking my son up after school and he told me, “today is Rini’s last day, her family is moving to Chicago”. I was sad to see Rini leave, so what did I do? I saw Deepika’s mom in the parking lot and walked over to her to say goodbye! She laughed and said, oh no it’s Rini’s family that is moving away. She may have said something else, but I wouldn’t know, I was zoned out from pure mortification. I apologized profusely and my son still called me racist on the drive home. It happened when he was in 2nd grade, he is now 25 years old and I still want to die anytime I remember. That this wasn’t Sue’s reaction, tells me a lot about Sue!

    2. allathian*

      Yeah. In this case I would be very tempted to ask “Why do you assume my son is adopted? Is it because he’s biracial? Not that it’s any of your business, but my husband/his father is black and I would appreciate it if you didn’t assume that a biracial child of a white woman is adopted.” Sue is racist and deserves to be called out on it. Perhaps talk to your manager again. Biracial families face enough overt and covert racism as it is, so it needs to be stamped out when possible.

      That said, I can see how Sue would be offended if you quoted yourself verbatim above in “he’s my own son, not adopted”. Maybe apologizing for this phrasing would help smooth things over? For adoptive parents, their adopted children are their own children. Saying “he’s my biological son, not adopted”, would be a more neutral expression.

      1. LemonLyman*

        The petty part of me wants LW1 to stop at the question of “Why did you assume my child is adopted?” And to wait through Sue’s awkward silence. Don’t give her the out. Make her say it.

        But that is the petty part of me. Of course I’m not suggesting that LW1 actually do that. I swear I’m not.

        1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

          Yessssss! As someone who can’t have bio kids and will be adopting, I’m still so very much on LW’s side. I think just presenting the question and leaving it there would be a big lesson to Sue. Of course, acknowledge your own mistake due to shock, but please, Sue needs to learn. Maybe she feels the need to “fight” for her validity as a parent, but that’s her own insecurity. I’d say racism is the biggest issue here.

        2. Mookie*

          The manager should be invested in finding the answer to that question, or at least making Sue understand that her intentions don’t matter. Presumably Sue’s mindset after her phone call with the LW was that she didn’t mean to be racist. That’s great. The LW didn’t intend to be normative in her response. So why is Sue making a complaint? What wasn’t resolved? A conscientious manager would ask Sue why this needed to be escalated at all.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          Okay then I will say it. “Why did you assume my child is adopted. Please explain.”
          Racism is not petty.

          Picking at people’s word choices after making a racist remark IS petty.
          Spreading the story around to get buy-in from nearby people is called bullying.

        4. Diahann Carroll*

          That’s not petty – OP would not be in the wrong to ask exactly this during this meeting with HR.

          1. Blackcat*

            It’s not petty, but I don’t think it’s wise to do this to Sue’s face unless it’s in front of HR. Sue is NOT going to respond well, and it’ll make things more of an issue for OP.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              I said “during this meeting with HR” so obviously, Sue would not be the only one in attendance, lol.

              1. Working Hypothesis*

                Yes. This question really needs to be asked, and it needs to be asked in front of the boss that Sue is demanding “facilitate” this meeting. Both because the boss’ presence may hopefully limit Sue from an inappropriately aggressive response and because if she *does* respond aggressively, it will show to her own disadvantage and not to LW1’s.

        5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Yeah, if I had the presence of mind to think my answer through, that would’ve been my answer. “Oh, why did you assume my son’s adopted?” And pause.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Adding – I actually *would* suggest that LW would’ve done that. Otherwise when is Sue going to learn?

        6. Emilia Bedelia*

          I think that this would only work if Sue actually does feel embarrassed. I could see her saying “Well, he doesn’t look like you, that’s why I assumed!” and not at all seeing why that’s offensive. Her explanation/her thought process doesn’t matter. She needs to know that regardless of why she thought that way or what she thought, it’s not okay to say what she said.
          I know that the whole “make them explain exactly what they thought” is often brought out as a response to catch people who use offensive language, but in general, I think it’s more effective to communicate exactly what you want to say, as opposed to creating a situation where making your point depends on the other person responding in a particular way. That tactic only works if the person has any level of self awareness at all, which you can’t always assume.

          1. Thankful for AAM*

            If nothing else, getting her to say in front of others why she assumed the child was adopted is helpful.

      2. Amaranth*

        The startling part is she already did call and apologize and Sue doubled down with an official complaint about the original exchange. It makes me wonder if Sue fears LW might complain about perceived racism and is trying to get ahead of that.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, I see the same thing.
          To me this means that OP needs to file a complaint about racism.

        2. Diahann Carroll*

          That’s exactly what she’s doing – she’s trying to control the narrative and get ahead of the backlash.

    3. LiberryPie*

      I actually do think the phrase “my own son” is significantly offensive, although I also get that LW1 said it during an awkward moment and realizes it was wrong. I’d suggest practicing other deflections. For instance, “oh, he isn’t adopted, see how he’s got my eyes/smile/whatever?” or “Nah, I’m not an adoptive parent, my son just looks more like his father.” or “Nope, he came from my tummy!” You’ll probably encounter this assumption again, and you could be prepared with a better answer.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        I disagree with this, the LW or any other parent doesn’t need to practice cutesy little sayings to explain the origins of their child. The better answer is “Nope, he’s mine, do you normally ask parents where their children come from?”

        1. M. Albertine*

          The thing about practicing “cutesy sayings” is to help internalize non-offensive language around adoption, which the LW defaulted to when faced with an offensive assumption. LW recognized that “own son” or “mine” is not exclusive to biological children and might be taken the wrong way in an adoption context, so she has incentive to change that behavior in herself, because lord knows she will continue to encounter racist comments in the future.

          1. Temperance*

            Why is she obligated to have practiced “cutesy sayings” when people come at her and her family with racist assumptions? Especially if her son is around when people say these things to her, as I imagine happens with some regularity?

            1. M. Albertine*

              She’s NOT obligated. She implied that she does not WANT to be the kind of person who implies that adoptive children are not “her own”. Because she does not WANT to show her implicit bias, PRACTICING not showing implicit bias is a helpful exercise. Yes, it would be great if racists did not exist and this was a one-shot scenario, but since LW lives in the real world and expects to encounter similar situations in the future, she can practice responses that are both true to her experience as the mother of a biracial child and as a person who does not inadvertently minimize the relationship between adoptive parents and their children.

              1. Zillah*

                It’s possible to do this without using cutesy sayings that minimize the racism behind those questions.

          2. GothicBee*

            While I support normalizing adoption and not implying that adopted children aren’t a parents own children, I think if you make a racist statement, you cannot be surprised when you receive a disrespectful response. Racism doesn’t deserve respect. People on the receiving end of racist comments, whether about themselves or their children shouldn’t be required to respond respectfully.

            1. LTL*

              There may be situations where the person who made a racist remark isn’t the only one around who is either an adoptee or adoptive parent.

              1. Paperwhite*

                Is our only choice between accepting racism or responding with something hurtful to adoptees? Is responding with, “do you normally ask people where their children come from” hurtful to adoptees?

                1. M. Albertine*

                  Yes, this is what I’m trying to get at. LW can both be offended at the racism and be kind to the adoptive relationship. I’m landing on “I’m not an adoptive parent” as the right language in this situation, because it centers correcting the assumption Sue was trying to make without implying a value judgement.

        2. Cercis*

          Yep, she should practice saying “that’s an odd assumption, why do you assume he’s adopted?” Yeah, it’s very awkward for the person that made the assumption, but sometimes it needs to be awkward.

          I could see following it up with “he looks more like his dad” or “he gets his complexion from his dad, but if you look, his facial features are all mine”. In my particular case, my husband and I have stereotypical white complexions, I have lots of freckles and pale skin, my husband is more pink. One son has my skin and one son has more olive tone – which he gets from his grandfather. When he’s in the sun a lot, he tans fairly dark and I’ve had people ask me about it in a way that seems to imply that he’s not my genetic son. In my case, it’s not a big deal and I can say “oh, yeah, his grandpa has olive skin, isn’t it pretty? I would kill to be able to spend time in the sun without sunburning” and move on.

          1. Zillah*

            I think that any follow up like that smooths over a situation that should be a little awkward and places an unreasonable expectation on the LW to regularly justify their family to people making racist assumptions.

      2. Tired of Covid-and People*

        No deflections necessary, a simple “This is my biological child” is sufficient.
        It’s clear to me that this is what OP meant anyway. Sue needs to go somewhere and have several seats. Black operon here, people like her get on my last nerve.

      3. Temperance*

        She’s not obligated to say annoying, cutesy crap because other people make incorrect and racist assumptions about her family. Especially not things about her son coming from her “tummy”. Gross.

        1. Theory of Eeveelution*

          Why is it that these cutesy phrases are always SO childish? Would anyone seriously expect a man to say “He came from my wife’s tummy!” Good lord!

          1. Hamish*

            Right. The cutesiness here is the cruddy thing. Having a prepared response to racism is probably a good idea, making it all saccharine and infantilizing is ridiculous.

            Being a white trans person currently pregnant with my black partner’s child, I think I’ll practice saying “She came from my uterus” in my best deep, manly voice.

      4. NotAnotherManager!*

        Unless one is speaking to a five-year-old, telling someone a baby “came from your tummy” is far too twee for shutting down a race-based assumption about your child’s parentage. I think confusion + some variation of, “Oh, no, I don’t have direct experience with adoption.” is better than trying to be cutesy while not implying that an adopted child is not one’s own.

      5. Mily*

        I don’t have a lot of civil replies to the suggestions up and down this comment section that the onus is on OP to be extra polite to racists. I get that “my own son” was poor wording, but the idea that OP has to practice polite responses to racist comments really gets my back up. If you are sensitive about comments about the nature of your family, don’t make assumptions about someone else’s.

      6. Theory of Eeveelution*

        “Why do you think that?” is the only appropriate response to this situation. Do you seriously expect or want a grown woman to say the word “tummy” in a professional context? Or any context outside of speaking to a child?

    4. Jen Lunes*

      Maybe this is due to the fact that I’m from an older generation, but I’m a little confused to how Sue assuming OP’s son was adopted is racist… A little ignorant maybe, but it doesn’t seem to convey any sort of prejudice. Rather, kids typically look like their parents, and so seeing a child that looks significantly different from their parent would often mean they were adopted.

      (Want to say this is a genuine question. I’m not wanting to stir anything up or anything like that. I’m just trying to understand better to correct my future behavior. Also, Sue is clearly in the wrong with her subsequent overreaction.)

      1. kt*

        It’s racist because it presupposes that interracial marriages are still uncommon, or, say, illegal, as was true in the past. Interracial relationships were taboo for a long time: black men were lynched for ‘looking’ at a white woman (that being a convenient excuse for any other reason whatsoever); black women were sexually exploited and raped and had no recourse because of the structure of laws and the ease with which society simply dismissed interracial sexual interaction as impossible/insignificant; people with loving interracial relationships were unable to establish families; the panic over “white slavery” and sex trafficking by dark men (foreign or American) was used to justify repression in the US and restrictions on immigration in the 1880s-1910s (and is a significant ingredient in the latest QAnon recycling of the motif).

        Kids who are biologically born of their parents do typically look like their parents. My biracial baby looked exactly like her dad when she was born, who looked exactly like his dad when he was born, even though the ‘racial’ mix has changed along the way. You know what’s more unique than skin color? Eyes, mouth, cheeks, nose, toes! Look at the kid, for heaven’s sake, not the kid’s color!

        1. Lifeandlimb*

          You know what’s more unique than skin color? Eyes, mouth, cheeks, nose, toes! Look at the kid, for heaven’s sake, not the kid’s color!

          So true.

      2. Lifeandlimb*

        In a way I see what you mean, and it’s an interesting question. Only offering my opinion as an observer not a racial studies expert, but I’ve noticed over time, racism has taken on a broader meaning than it did a a generation or two ago. People are more sensitive now as a result of being more aware of the effects of systemic racism on everyday life.

        Racist may be a strong word for Sue overall, but her ignorant comment shows some race-based prejudice and is at best, presumptuously rude. From the get-go, her remark alludes that she dismissed the possibility (and honestly, high likelihood, nowadays) of OP having an interracial relationship and her son being a product of that. There’s also a subtle prejudice in assuming because her son has darker skin that he must have come from unfortunate circumstances and needed to be adopted by a supposedly well-off white woman, instead of being born to a loving biracial relationship.

        1. Also an older generation*

          This matches my understanding. The definition of racism has evolved and expanded.

          My take: Calling Sue racist may feel too strong, but it’s used to highlight that the behavior is, in fact, harmful and pervasive. For a long time, our culture went out of its way to _not_ call this kind of thing “racist.” There are all sorts of subtle/nuanced ways to describe racial bias and race-based prejudice, but ultimately they have been used as a way to minimize or dismiss the effects. We’ve swung in the other direction, and are more willing to directly label behavior as “racist,” to make the point that it is, in fact, a serious problem and a repeated pattern. Honestly, I think the terminology will eventually shift back the other direction (with shades and degrees of racist behavior differentiated), but this is the language we need right now for the issue to stop being ignored.

          1. Also an older generation*

            I don’t think I worded that very well, but I’m trying to think through it myself.
            I struggle with calling things like this “racist,” but I’m also unwilling to say that they’re not racist. I feel like we spent the 90s and early 2000s making a distinction between “racist” and “racially prejudiced” or “racially biased” as a somewhat legitimate effort to recognize that there are more subtle forms of racism than the blatant kind. However, it also became a way to make us feel better about ourselves for “not being racist” and it became a way to ignore or even condone the less-blatant forms of racism. Where we’re at now feels like a reaction against that – let’s just call racism racism, in all its forms.

            1. Lifeandlimb*

              Yes and I think it’s important to acknowledge that “racially prejudiced” and “racist” actions all contribute to the same family of negative societal consequences anyway, regardless of whether we use a nice-sounding euphemism or not.

              Tangentially, I’d also like to believe it’s more helpful to consider an action, remark, or mindset as racist, rather than the person. “A racist” always suggested to me that “racist” is a fixed, immutable personality trait, not possible to be improved upon with learning and empathy…which seems sad and maybe only completely true in a minority of cases? Like you can write someone off pretty quickly by calling them a racist, but I’m not ready to give up on most people that quickly.

          2. Hamish*

            I don’t think that the definition of racism has evolved and expanded. I do think that as we get closer to solving larger issues, we start working on smaller issues, just as we would in any sphere. My grandparents assumed that when my mom said in the 1960s that she wanted a career, she meant as a secretary – that still would’ve been sexist in the 1760s, but hardly the most pressing issue for a young woman.

            At a family gathering early this year, my grandma and mom asked my partner (who is black, and in theater) if he thought minstrel shows were racist. Because you see, “back then, we thought they were great, we didn’t *mean* them to be racist!” Uhhhhhhhh. Yes, they were racist.

            It might seem like a little thing but I really dislike the “oh, this thing is racist now” kind of rhetoric that comes up sometimes.

        2. Paperwhite*

          I dunno. I think it’s simply and clearly racist to assume that a child who resembles a parent in eye shape, smile shape, ear shape, etc, cannot be biologically related because their skin tone is different. Skin tone is just one component of appearance, after all. Maybe I think this because, being Black, I’m used to people having distinctly different skin tones than their parents and children (a wide range of skin tones are collected under the term ‘Black’).

      3. LW1*

        If you are genuinely looking to understand better, I would look for writings from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and particularly multi-racial people on microaggressions and the effect they can have on people’s well being and mental health.

        My situation with Sue is an example of white people centering their comfort and experiences at the expense of BIPOC people. Reading this situation once over the internet, it may not seem like a big deal. But imagine you are a child growing up and frequently hearing people remark that you don’t look like your mother, or asking or even assuming that your biological mother isn’t related to you simply by the fact of the color of your skin.

        1. Jen Lunes*

          Thank you for your gracious response, LW1. I don’t know much about microagressions, but I think I’ll take the time to do further research so I can understand better. I am biracial myself but both my parents were mixed (Hispanic/Caucasian), so I grew up without the stigma and comments you’re describing.

      4. Paperwhite*

        Resemblence is about more than skin tone. We understand this when looking at two sisters who have the same nose and smile, but one is an olive brunette and the other a translucent redhead. So why do we not understand this as a society when people are different skin tones?

        A good public example is Mr. Obama and his mother’s father. When I read about his family and saw his grandfather I laughed in delight at how much they look alike (the ears are the same). They’re just different tints, mostly.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Obama and his grandpa looked like twins, lol. I was like, “Damn – they just Ctrl + C’d his face right on Barack” the first time I saw their pics together.

      5. DarnTheMan*

        To touch upon another point, it’s unlikely that Sue (or many other people) on being introduced to a child who’s ethnicity was the same as their parents would jump to the conclusion that the child is adopted (even if there was the possibility they might be); whereas biracial and mixed race families have to regularly contend with the automatic assumption that their children aren’t biological because they don’t “look like” their parents. Anecdata but I had a friend growing up who had two moms (in a time when this wasn’t super common) and even in her case people were far more likely to assume sperm donor than they were to assume that she was adopted, because she was white like both her moms.

      6. Mily*

        My biracial son has my exact face, just a different color. It is offensive that only color counts as family resemblance.

      7. NotAnotherManager!*

        It’s problematic when it’s a question that is asked almost exclusively of biracial and nonwhite people and tends to focus on the dissimilarity of skin tone only. My children strongly favor each of us. Anyone looking at my son would know he was mine, but he does not look like his father at all. My daughter is what my spouse would look like if he was a tween girl and looks nothing like me or my side of the family. But we’re all white, even if my son and I are ghostly pale and my spouse and daughter are a much tanner shade of Caucasian and both have very mom-or-dad-not-both features.

        No one has ever questioned whether either my spouse nor I were our children’s biological parents or assumed them to be adopted, even though there is almost zero family resemblance between the same-gendered parents/kids. People will twist themselves in knots trying to find ways in which my daughter looks like me, actually, whereas I’ve heard/seen the polar opposite from biracial friends – that people will keep pressing on *why* they look so different from their white parent/biracial child when the answer is the same as it is for me and my white kids (genetics).

    5. Blue Eagle*

      My husband has a saying that the best defense is a good offense (of course he was talking about football at the time). So if I was in your shoes I would turn this around and put it on Sue. When Sue made her racist statement that your son was not your biological son, you were so offended. What you really wanted to do was call her out right then and there about her racist statement but you didn’t want to cause a problem on that call so you were a bit awkward in how you responded. And the more you think about it, Sue owes YOU and your son an apology. (Which she actually does if you think about it.)
      Sending you positive energy to deal with this.

      1. Grapey*

        And from Sue’s POV, I can understand how painful it must be to hear someone insist you know their bond to their child is a biological one.

        I think Sue was wrong to escalate it as much as she did, but ultimately the problem seems to be people talking past each other here. There’s a conversation to be had on intersectionality and what it means to field assumptions as parents that may or may not look like the young humans they are raising.

        1. Paperwhite*

          I keep seeing it assumed in the comments that biracial children don’t look like their lighter skinned parents. I think that’s interesting not least because it’s so wrong. In my experience biracial people look as much like their parents, siblings, etc, as anyone else, except that they may have a different skin tone.

          In college I had a biracial friend. Her dad is retired US military, and Black; her mom is a Swedish scholar, and they met while he was in the service. When I met her mom I was stunned by how much my friend looked like her mom in eyes and cheekbones and smile — she was just darker with curly black hair and a broader nose. But the features were totally there. Even her nose resembled, it was just a bit broader. When she told me how many people couldn’t believe her mom was her mom because they “Don’t look alike” I was stunned. A mere palette swap doesn’t erase family resemblence.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I don’t think that people in the comments are assuming that, I think they’re pointing out that people like Sue are not able to look beyond skin tone to see the actual family resemblance and make an assumption of biological parentage based entirely on skin color (and, in Sue’s case, then make a federal case out of being wronged and hurt by the person who corrected her).

        2. Zillah*

          This comment really confuses me. Even if you want to take racism out of it – which you absolutely should not – Sue made an incorrect assumption because the LW has a biracial child, and the LW corrected her. One doesn’t get to open a conversation with “hi it’s nice that you’re also an adoptive parent” and then be hurt or claim that they’re “insisting you know that their child is biological” when they correct you.

  3. 10Isee*

    While I don’t feel LW1 was in the wrong here, I can definitely see why her wording might have rubbed coworker the wrong way (“my own son”). If that’s the wording that was used, it’s a little insensitive. Her kids are her own, too. Several of my friends who’ve adopted their children have mentioned how alienating terminology like “my own kid” or “my real kid” can be.

    1. Chriama*

      For an assumption that Sue made (based on race!) and then voiced to OP, it’s pretty clear that “own son” is meant to signify biological. And while I agree that an adoptive parent might chafe at the unspoken implication, nothing about the wording warrants an official compliant and the fact that Sue felt justified in raising one makes her so unreasonable that any valid point she might have wanted to make is lost.

    2. Artemesia*

      yeah people don’t always get their words right when someone makes a racist comment about their child.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. But the comment “my own son” does mean that it very much sounds like the LW also has some assumptions about biological vs. adopted kids. Language can be very revealing when it comes to our subconscious biases (just because you have the utmost respect for adoptive parents doesn’t mean that you don’t differentiate between adoptive children and someone’s own, as in biological, children in your head). That said, it would be unreasonable to expect people to express themselves in a woke way regarding adoption when someone makes a racist comment about their biological child. However, parents of biracial children no doubt need to learn how to navigate this minefield, because this will hardly be the last time someone makes assumptions about the LW’s child.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I’d be willing to bet that this was much tamer than what OP wanted to say.

          Ya know, I have been in a few situations where I have really messed up my word choice. And the first thing I noticed was how gracious the person was in forgiving me when I apologized and rephrased.
          I hope Sue says everything in a totally correct manner the first time she says it. However, I don’t think she is going to meet many people who pick the right words each time, every time. She will probably be rather lonely.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I hope Sue says everything in a totally correct manner the first time she says it.

            The ship has already sailed on this one.

    3. Ginger Baker*

      I am sure that you are right and that phrase can seem alienating to adoptive parents…but so can someone commenting that your biological child must be adopted. These kinds of moments happen and it’s unfortunate (and it’s happened to me, a white mom with black kids), but it’s the sort of thing you chalk up to an adoptive parent being overly excited to maybe meet another adoptive parent and you have the awkward moment, move on, and let it go, because when it’s an adoptive parent you know that it’s likely they didn’t intend to be offensive and racist. Obviously, that grace should be extended on both sides. It clearly here is *not* and Sue is exceedingly in the wrong.

      LW1: You’re absolutely right to be thrown by Sue pursuing her racist assumption and your flustered reaction as something to discipline *you* for. I hope your manager reacts appropriately when you flag that for her, so that you can set this behind you and move on to a better start with less casual racism and weird defensiveness of same at your new company. <3

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        Not for nothing, stories abound of the minority person being the one who gets in trouble for calling out the majority person’s racist / misogynistic / homophobic / ableist / et cetera behavior.

        Likewise, plenty of times the person in the right gets the shaft because the person in the wrong cried some crocodile tears / threatened a lawsuit / was chummy with the HR person / was (d)ucking the manager.

        Sue sounds very ready to double down and sob that she was wronged and is the one experiencing discrimination and being shamed as an adoptive parent.

        Beware. Be aware. Be VERY aware.

          1. GammaGirl1908*

            I purposely didn’t assume that white people are immune from this phenomenon. Minority doesn’t just mean racial minority. (See: Harvey Weinstein’s accusers, most of whom are white women who had their careers ruined.) Both people happen to be white in this situation, but that doesn’t mean Sue can’t have it out for LW for other reasons. LW is new to the office. Is she also younger? prettier? thinner? higher-paid? better educated? in a position Sue wanted for herself? I can practically hear Sue wailing that LW humiliated her because clearly LW thought Sue was inferior because LW was able to have a biological child while she wasn’t! (note, obviously I don’t know Sue’s reproductive details, and they are not my business)

            Plenty of people might find themselves on the surprising end of accusations or retaliation because they are new, a woman, lower-paid, disabled, or just not in the in-crowd; none of that has to do with race (remember the letter here with the manager who froze out a new employee because she was better at the job than the whole existing team?).

            Not work-related, but I’m even reminded of a few books or advice column letters I’ve read where a new stepparent undermines their new stepkid because they are threatened, and the kid takes the blame and gets sent to boarding school.

            Anyway. LW and Sue both being the same race cuts one possible axis of attack, but by no means all of them.

      2. Saraquill*

        Like OP’s child, I’m mixed. I’d get the adoption question once people saw my blond mom. Never got it when people saw me with my much darker dad, nor do I remember people asking my mom. Just getting the question flung at me.

    4. Observer*

      What the others said. Also, the OP APOLOGIZED and acknowledged that she responded awkwardly because she was taken aback.

    5. LW1*

      I also commented above, but I know that my wording was bad! I was really taken aback by Sue’s comment and was not thinking clearly.

      I’ve been asked occasionally since my son was born “Is he adopted?” which I also find racist and rude. But I’ve always been able to gracefully respond that he is my biological son. But something about the presumptive comment really threw me.

      1. ThePear8*

        Obviously the wording wasn’t great, but I can definitely see where you were caught off-guard in this case! It’s not like she asked you “Oh is your son adopted too?” but straight up assumed that was the case, and I think most people in your shoes would have been somewhat taken aback.
        I agree with other commenters, don’t be defensive and go in knowing you’re right and that this really should just be a misunderstanding to clear up rather than some big issue that needs to be escalated up the chain.

      2. allathian*

        Thanks for commenting. It’s totally understandable that you were taken aback by Sue’s comment. Like I posted above, it can’t be easy to phrase things well when someone questions the parentage of your child.

      3. Sue*

        I agree with all the comments that you are not the one at fault here. Sue (NOT me!) was showing her own bias and she should have been chagrined and apologetic to you. The fact that she reacted to your shocked reply by complaining to coworkers and then filing a complaint (!!) is actually pretty outrageous. If I were you, I would say that her comment caught you off guard, you were not insulting adoptive families and that it would not have occurred to to you to file a complaint against her for her insulting (racist) remark. And then give this person a wide berth, she is not to be trusted and may use any slight pretext to cause trouble for you or anyone else. Ugh!

      4. Chriama*

        It wasn’t bad! It was non-optimal, but there’s no need for the kind self-flagellation that Sue seems to be gunning for.

      5. David*

        Sue’s comment only makes sense in my head if she didn’t see a picture of your husband, but even then, it was definitely a slip up, and it seems like she would have seen a picture of him or perhaps all three of you, given the nature of the activity.

        Still not a great comment, even if she did see a picture of your whole family.

        As an adoptive parent myself, I understand where she’s coming from, but I also know that I used to use the same terminology you did before our adoption journey,

        There’s much grace needed for all of us. Language is a tricky thing, and everyone should forgive unintentional slip ups.

        1. Mookie*

          It’s just… this event was supposed to be a positive,”bonding” one, where colleagues share with one another EXACTLY what they want to and no more. It was not about carving out niche groups, defined solely by the similar/dissimilar composition of their households. It wasn’t an interrogative remark—the LW wasn’t grilled—but it was an arrogant, self-centered one. Nobody’d be obliged to share that innocuous detail or any other. They’ll tell you if they want you to know. What people don’t offer up about themselves is what those people don’t want you knowing.

          1. David*

            Yeah, I definitely missed that in my comment.

            I was telling my spouse about this, and I said to her, “You shouldn’t say anything unless they say something first.” We’ve often wondered if a few of the children in our neighborhood are adopted as well because from the outside it would appear that way (both parents/adults in the house are white and the child is not), but that doesn’t mean the child is adopted. It could be a grandchild, niece/nephew, friend of another child in the home, child from another marriage or earlier in life. You just don’t know, so silence is better.

            Honestly, though, it can be difficult not to get tunnel vision in those situations because you want to find someone else who is also in your shoes, who maybe has a bit more understanding about your lived experiences.

            I guess I was trying to communicate that we could all be empathetic and compassionate to both parties.

            Sue was probably super excited about the possibility of another adoptive parent at work and made an incorrect and foolish assumption. Now, though, she’s going too far and should really apologize for taking offense in this way.

            LW slipped up and said the wrong thing, but we all do that more numerous times than we can count.

            What’s interesting is that if these two can get past this, they do have one very big thing in common: raising a POC child when they themselves are not. They’ll probably face or have already faced similar situations.

            I hope they can both move past this. It seems like one of those things where Sue should be able to say, “I’m sorry I assumed your son was adopted. That was really stupid of me to do. I hope you’ll forgive me.” and LW 1 can say, “I’m sorry I implied your son was not your actual son. I don’t mean that at all.”

            Honestly, I feel like this is more on Sue, though. She’s been in the workplace longer, and I think it’s on her to help the new employee start things off on the right foot, which can and should mean overlooking a perceived slight.

            Anyhow, I’ve said enough about this. Just wanted to clarify :)

            1. CM*

              David, you make a great point that Sue was initially seeking a connection with OP#1, and they still have something in common to connect over if they could move past this. And I agree that ideally the OP would have apologized for her wording and Sue would apologize for assuming OP1s son was adopted and they could move on. But in this case, with Sue escalating to an official complaint and telling others in the office about the story in a way that presents the OP in a bad light, I don’t see this ideal outcome happening. If I were the OP I’d try to set the record straight and avoid Sue. People who get defensive and try to hurt you are best avoided.

            2. Anya the Demon*

              Per their other co-worker, Sue is a known difficult colleague and not someone the LW should bond or connect with in any way, even if this hadn’t happened.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I was just thinking the other day how an all-virtual work environment must be difficult in the sense that, at a new job, it makes it hard to get the feel of your teammates, so to speak. It’s hard enough to figure out who you can trust, who’ll stab you in the back for an extra $1 raise etc, when you are all together in the office in person every day. It’s an impossible task in a virtual environment. Or so I thought. Then came Sue, who came to the getting-to-know-each-other meeting and made damn sure that OP would know exactly the kind of person Sue is.

            It wasn’t even a question. She just assumed and rolled with it. Then keeps doubling down on it even after OP apologized to her (at no time did Sue apologize to OP, even though her comment started it).

          3. GothicBee*

            I agree. If Sue wants to bond over adoption, there’s nothing wrong with sharing that her own child is adopted in conversation and then leave it up to the other person to respond (whether that be by saying their kid is adopted, or just a vague nicety, or that their kid isn’t adopted, etc.). But that’s not what Sue did. She made a pretty racist assumption (and one that parents of biracial children and the children themselves likely deal with frequently). And then she felt slighted by the LW’s response to her racism, which is absurd!

      6. ..Kat..*

        Given that Sue has doubled down and made an official complaint about you, if I were you, I would consider making an official complaint about her racism. I think that you are being entirely too nice and conciliatory. You are bending over backwards to excuse her tirade against you. Saying “my own son” is not the big deal that she seems to be making it. I think the bigger deal is her racist assumptions. Having an official complaint on file about her racism could protect you in the future if she pursues her vendetta against you.

        However, only you know whether it is worth it to make nice or make a stand. In my opinion, you have already tried to make nice, but she has doubled down and attacked you even more.

        Good luck.

        1. Triplestep*

          Sue is known for being overly sensitive, so it’s likely that management already thinks she is over-reacting here. I would not reduce myself to that level in the eyes of everyone else by going tit-for-tat on the issue.

      7. Jen*

        Op – what did you apologize for? I’m not being snarky. In your original post it came across as sorry i got you upset without any acknowledgement about what you said that could be upsetting. I’m thinking that’s the missing link here.

        1. Triplestep*

          Yeah, that was my thought. LW1 knows “own son” is not the right way to say “biological child” but it’s not clear from the letter if that was part of the apology. An apology has to show you know what you did wrong. Without that, “utmost respect for adoptive parents” might as well have been “some of my best friends are …” This may be why the apology just added fuel to the fire. That said, Sue is overreacting and clearly does not know what SHE did wrong!

        2. TiffIf*

          In the comments LW #1 has said she apologized with the specific understanding about how “my own child” can be alienating/weaponized against adoptive parents.

          1. Triplestep*

            There’s a really good formula for apologizing that involves saying specifically how one was wrong, and never using “but” or “if”. Even if those who are not aware of this formula specifically may find themselves groaning over public figure apologies along the lines of: “Sorry if I offended you.” or “Sorry to anyone I may have hurt”. It implies one hasn’t done anything wrong. Saying “I understand how the term ‘my own child’ can be alienating” is similar. It simply acknowledges “I understand” which what people do to get out of owning responsibility all the time.

            For what it’s worth, I think Sue is blowing this out of proportion when it was clearly just a poor choice of words. I think LW#1 is being raked over the coals by Sue simply because Sue seems to have the power to do this, and Sue is in the wrong! But unless the apology said “I should not have said ‘my own child’ – I know it’s wrong, and I couldn’t believe it when I heard myself say it!” (or something like that) it may have come across just like the public figure apologies I mention above. So, more harm than good in this case.

      8. Not So NewReader*

        I think that Sue is a workplace bully. Just my opinion, but if you don’t stand up for you (and your family) now, then you will spend a lot of time tip-toeing around Sue. She is striking back pretty hard here. Her need to be Right, even if she is Wrong, is very high.

      9. Blackcat*

        Yeah, I think you might have been able to respond better if she *asked* if he was adopted. But to make that assumption really firmly is another level of racist. And it’s okay to be flustered by that.

      10. riskym*

        No, I get being startled and using what some might say wasn’t the best wording. It sounds like she is just upset that you made her feel bad and this is the way she is choosing to deal with it. I once had a nutrition professor call me (the only black student) out in the middle of class and joke about not getting enough Vitamin D. I know he was joking, but I was so startled that I couldn’t think of a response to diffuse the situation. After that incident for the rest of the semester he was just super angry/ embarrassed around me.

      11. Working Hypothesis*

        LW1, you have every reason to have been thrown off kilter by such a rude and racist assumption about your family. I understand completely why your wording isn’t going to be as precise as usual under those circumstances, but if the fact that you’d just been startled by a frankly racist assumption has not been explicitly brought home to Sue, *she* may not realize that you were flustered or why. And in that case, she may only be seeing that you said something which is often said by people who do not, in fact, consider adoptive parents to be a child’s real parents, even though that wasn’t actually the case with you.

        All this is to say that I think you are going to need to point out the serious wrong in what Sue said in order to explain effectively why *you* said what you did. It’s not a matter of “Well, she was worse,” (even though frankly, she was) — it’s about “I’m not sure you realize how much of a shock it is to hear that someone automatically assumes my child couldn’t have been born to me because he appears Black. In the immediate wake of such a shock, my own language was not as careful as it would normally be; I felt blindsided and wasn’t paying attention to my terminology. I regret that I may have used a phrase which upset you, but please recognize that I had not expected to face racist assumptions about my family at an office event, and I wasn’t at my best in response to it.”

        Given that your boss is going to be in this call, I think you absolutely need to use the word *racist* even if it is likely to make Sue freak out. Your manager is likely to accept Sue’s framing if you don’t give her a large clue bat, and that means pointing out that Sue’s assumption was not merely rude but racist and making clear that you expect the manager to deal with this. I probably would try to find softer language if you were just dealing directly with Sue — not because you shouldn’t be able to be frank about what was said to you or because she deserves the softening, but because you shouldn’t necessarily have to deal with her inevitable freak-out. But since she’s called your manager into this, I think you will have to, and you’re better off being assertive about it from the beginning and putting it in your manager’s lap with the clear expectation that they make your colleague understand that racist comments aren’t acceptable here even if unintentional, and that she needs to be looking towards her own errors of judgment rather than yours.

    6. 10Isee*

      I’d like to reiterate that I do not see the OP as in the wrong. I find it easier to resolve disputes when I know why the other person is upset and

      1. 10Isee*

        So I suggested what might be the root of Sue’s contention. I was not agreeing with Sue’s behavior nor was I trying to brush away the racist undertones of her behavior.

      2. nonegiven*

        There was a whole paper about vitamin D deficiency in an institution back in the old-old days. The doctor assigned to the black ward gave all his patients vitamin D and they were the only ones that didn’t have a high death rate from flu, so it is a known thing.

    7. Brusque*

      I believe here several problems where clashing.
      I’ve heared lots of clumsy comments about adoptive children and also lots of similarly clumsy comments about biracial children.
      For my opinion, both parties comments at the start where equally understandable.
      Sue seemed to feel judged as not a ‘real’ mom. I can relate to that. She then went on to complain and I can relate to that too. It wasn’t per se meant racist what she said but it was definitely unconscious racism. So I absolutely get how LW felt attaced. LW surely heard that faar too often that her son must be adopted. Since she never said he was and surely introduced him as her son at the event sje was taken by suprise by what surely felt like being attacked. A natural reaction to a perceived attack is a counterattack. So she choose her words a bit harsher than she usually would. So up to this point I can understand everybody perfectly, also Sue’s reaction to complain to Monica but still… somethings fishy here with Sue. I agree that it was the right thing to apologize for the wrong wording and owning up for the mistake just like LW did but for me the situation is already scewed. Sue’s assumption was too out of the blue and she didn’t apologize. Did she really understand that LW’s son is indeed her biological son or does she somehow still believe her assumption to be true and LW’s apology was somehow another attack on her personally? Did she understand why LW was taken aback and that her comment felt racist?
      Maybe she in her mind Sue is so set that LW is so deeply biased against adoption that she can’t admit to being an adopted parent and Sue tries in her very strange and skewed way to put her on the right path?
      No excuse for that of course but maybe an explanation why she escalated this again. This is just so strange that she complained to HR. I really hope you get us updated LW1.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It’s interesting to me that Sue was pretty quick to point out adoption. If she so believes children belong to their parents then why is she telling everyone her kid was adopted??? Isn’t her kid HERS, also????

        I watched family members not mention adoption, “That’s. MY. Kid.” I find starting a conversation about adoption with a person Sue only knew for a few minutes is kind of odd. It almost feels like Sue is doing a soft brag about herself.

        1. Anonymous Today.*

          Right? I met a great friend when our kiddos were babies. My new friend was blonde as heck and her baby clearly had Asian features. I truly didn’t know if her partner was Asian or if they’d adopted their child and I didn’t care because I’d met a new friend. With a baby same age as mine! I’m not going to even tell you whether my friend’s child was biological or adopted because it didn’t matter at all that day or any day after.

          Willing to bet that if I’d assumed outright that her kiddo was adopted because she looked other than blonde we wouldn’t still be friends today, though.

        2. Hamish*

          I’m really hoping I’m wrong, but yeah on the “soft brag” comment – Sue really reads to me as one of the white folks who has adopted a POC child and wants everyone to know how great she is for doing that. I really, really hope I’m wrong.

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        For my opinion, both parties comments at the start where equally understandable.

        There was nothing understandable about Sue’s comment to the OP about her kid being adopted. If OP’s son was adopted, and she wanted the team to know that, she would have said so during her introduction – she didn’t. Therefore, whatever Sue thought about his origin, she should have kept it to herself since it’s not her place to make comments like this to a perfect stranger. What Sue did was what the idiots who go up to a stranger, always a woman, on the street with a large belly and asks when she’s due does – made an inference about someone based on appearance that’s rude and disrespectful. Sue’s ass should have been called to the carpet for this by everyone on that call because she was way out of order.

      3. Caliente*

        I don’t think op “chose” her words harshly. I think she was shocked and flustered when some racist assumed her son could not be her biological son, end of story.
        Listen, we black people experience the shock of someone saying some dumbass bs to us ALL THE TIME. And then having the nerve to actually be upset that we’re annoyed and grossed out by them for being gross and annoying. OP is white so she’s probably not used to it.

      4. Mal*

        Both comments were NOT understandable. You do not make Sue’s assumption without having some preconceptions about race.

    8. LifeBeforeCorona*

      I have a biracial kid, I married young and looked young. She did not look like me at all. After being mistaken for a babysitter too many times. I started saying, “she’s all mine” in response to nosy questions.

  4. Chriama*

    #1 – since Sue has made an official complaint, I would want my official response on record. Sue’s assumption was racist, and continuing to double down is not a good look for her. I would say something like “To be honest I’m surprised that Sue feels slighted, when she was the one who made an assumption about my son based on our respective skin colours.”

    Yes, that might make people uncomfortable, and it should be uncomfortable, because Sue has a lot of nerve acting as the injured party in this scenario and I’m not ok with that. Maybe that’s just a lifetime of microaggressions speaking.

    1. allathian*

      You put it so much better than I did in my post above. That’s a lot more diplomatic. But it’s like you said, since Sue’s already made a complaint, the LW’s answer needs to be put on record as well.

    2. Amaranth*

      I’d also make a regretful comment to the gossips that its unfortunate that Sue didn’t accept the apology and made an official complaint because of course the last thing LW wanted was for Sue’s comment to go on record, since LW is sure she didn’t mean it like it sounded.

      1. Bagpuss*

        I like this a lot.
        Maybe even phrase it as ” its unfortunate that Sue didn’t accept my apology about a poor choice of words, and has chosen to escalate because of course the last thing I wanted was for Sue’s racist comment to go on record, since I assume that wasn’t her intention, any more than it was my intention to to clumsy about word choice when talking about my biological child”

        1. Boof*

          “I’m sure it’s not Sue/the company’s intent to harass me over having a biracial family, but this is starting to feel pretty hostile” – perhaps not quite time for the big guns yet but feels close

      2. nonegiven*

        Oh, no LW should say, “I didn’t originally think Sue meant it like it sounded, but after I apologized …, now she’s made a complaint, I’m pretty sure she did. I won’t be the one making further apologies for her raciest assumptions.”

    3. hbc*

      Yeah, I think my response to the meeting request would include something like, “Are we covering Sue’s racist assumption that prompted my statement in this meeting, or do I need to file my own official complaint to have that addressed?”

      1. Bagpuss*

        Yes, I like that wording too, as it includes the assumption that *of course* the company is concerned about her racism and the only part you are questioning is whether administratively you need to make any formal complaint at this point or not.
        Either way, i think that it’s useful to actually use the word racist because it makes it much harder for them to ignore the real issue.

        1. hbc*

          The funny thing is, I’m generally very “I don’t know your intent, but this was your impact on me.” I don’t think I’ve ever accused someone of being an -ist (regardless of how well it fits) even when pointing out how unacceptable and harmful a particular action or speech is. But if you want to take my not-perfectly-PC response to your not-PC instigation in the worst possible light, you’ve set the terms and I can play by them. “For the record, this meeting is about how Sue’s feelings were hurt when she stated that my son wasn’t related to me based on nothing other than our skin color, correct?” “It sounds like I’m being scolded for not responding to racism perfectly.”

      2. Chriama*

        I wouldn’t actually want a meeting because we shouldn’t be validating Sue’s complaint. But I saw another commenter say something like “it never occurred to me to complain about Sue’s assumption even though it was based on our race, so I’m surprised she feels the need to formally complain about my word choice.” I like that because it really drives the point home that Sue’s act as the injured party is nonsense, and also tells the boss/HR to shut this down before things start getting into hostile work territory.

    4. Anon Admin*

      Agree with Chriama- put your official response on record.

      My nephew is multi-racial. Many people think due to his skin tone he’s Hispanic, but he’s got black, white, Native American and Czechoslovakian. His school principal assumed he was Hispanic and wanted to do a “unannounced home visit” because she said a lot of out-of-district Hispanic children would use an in district address so they could go to his school. I cannot explain the explosion that happened when my sister got that letter. My sister and my mother *marched into that school (I went in case bail money was needed and because that’s my family) and when they were done, the principal was put on unpaid administrative leave and the Superintendent apologized from the office to the car.

      *My sister is divorced and lived with my mom at the time. My mother has dementia and required 24/7 care now, so she moved to live with her sister. My sister and nephew still live at the same address and he’s a high school senior now, this happened when he was in 7th grade).

  5. Artemesia*

    Wow. If anyone should be lodging a complaint, it is you for her racist assumption. And Alison is spot on in leading with that framing when you talk to your manager. I would refuse to get into a 3 way but if you cannot avoid this nonsense then you should lead with being ‘stunned that she assumed your child was adopted because of his race.’ She is the one who is offensive here and you have the edge because racism is a bigger issue than bias about adoption. Can’t believe she didn’t back down.

    1. Chriama*

      I agree that I wouldn’t agree to a 3 way meeting. Sue has absolutely no ground to stand on, and if the manager is hoping to get them together to “work out“ their “personality differences” then they need to step up and actually manage.

      1. Bagpuss*

        I think it would be sensible for LW1 to speak to the manager ahead of any meeting. Maybe say “Of course I am happy to attend a 3 way meeting. However, I am not sure whether you’re aware of the full context. Did Sue explain that she made a racist assumption about my son, based on the colour of his skin? I didn’t want to make a big issue of it but I was offended and taken aback. I didn’t insult adoptive parents, but I did use a clumsy wording in responding, because I was shocked at her racist assumption, and I referred to my son as my ‘own child’ . I understand that that could be read as implying that had he been adopted, he would not have been my own child. That wasn’t my meaning and I have already apologized to Sue and acknowledged that the I could have chosen a better word.
        However, given that she has made a formal complaint I do feel that I need to ask that her racist comment is also formally recorded . To date, Sue has not acknowledged or apologised to me at all for her comment – can you confirm that that is something which will be addressed in the meeting?”

        1. Jen*

          And this is the part that is insulting to adoptive parents ” I understand that that could be read as implying that had he been adopted, he would not have been my own child.” So the lw did say something insulting to adoptive parents.

          Both Sue and the LW made mistakes. Two wrongs don’t make a right. I disagree with the assertion by many that the lw is completely in the clear here.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            But LW ALREADY APOLOGIZED for the poor choice of phrasing.
            LW acknowledged it, apologized, and gave Sue the grace of ignoring Sue’s own misstep.
            I do think a heads-up to the managerbefore the meeting is the right way to go so they’re not blindsided.

          2. Allonge*

            I think the issue is more that Sue went further and pressed for an official hearing and so. Yes, both of them said non-ideal things. LW called to make it right. Leaving it there was an option for Sue, but she did not. As she escalated, she gets less symphathy.

          3. Super Admin*

            Parents of biracial children often find themselves having to defend their status as a biological parent to a child who doesn’t look like them. Sue made an assumption based on race, and LW1 reacted in the way so many parents of biracial children do – by saying, no, (I’m not the babysitter, I’m not the nanny, I’m not a friend of his parents,) he’s my child. Could it have been phrased better? Absolutely. But the wrong by LW1 is not the same as the wrong by Sue.

            If anything, Sue and LW1 should be allies, in that they probably both have had to clarify that they are the ‘real’ parents of their children.

          4. Myrin*

            I might have missed something but so far, I haven’t seen even a single comment saying that the OP is “completely in the clear here” – in fact, literally everyone seems to be saying that they both erred but that Sue’s reaction, especially the escalation, is the bigger faux-pas.

            (And as a more general aside, we have no idea if the OP’s wording of “own son” was even what Sue felt offended by, that’s pure – albeit reasonable – conjecture by the commenters. To me personally, it actually sounded like Sue is more fixated on OP’s uncomfortable laugh and somehow twisted that into “OP is laughing at the idea of people’s being adoptive parents”, but that’s just the feeling I got.)

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              I haven’t seen even a single comment saying that the OP is “completely in the clear here”

              I did, and I stand by that. None of this conversation would have even taken place, especially OP’s clumsy explanation for her child’s origin, had Sue just sat there during that meeting and ate her food. Instead, she chose to verbalize a racist assumption and got in her feelings about the OP’s surprised response to a microaggression – that’s on Sue.

              1. Myrin*

                To be fair to myself (can you do that? Be fair to yourself?), you wrote your comments after I posted mine; looking through the comment section now, I do see several others in that same vein (all posted after I wrote the above comment), but still not in the realms of “the assertion by many”.

              2. Tiny Kong*

                Honestly I agree. If I say something that voices my unconscious prejudice, and in response they say something against a demographic I belong to, well, I only have myself to blame. If I hadn’t said anything we wouldn’t be having the conversation. I can’t be angrier than they are.

          5. Chriama*

            There’s a big difference between something “that could be read as implying” and someone who outright says that adoptive children are not real children. It’s not like Sue introduced her kid, said he was adopted, and OP asked something like “do you have any kids of your own?” Language is not perfect. Yes, the opposite of “adopted” should be “biological”, but saying “own” or “mine” does not indicate anything except a desire to draw a comparison between the two *in a situation where such a comparison was warranted*.

            And again, Sue initiated the conversation. Criticizing people for not using the perfect language on a topic they didn’t initiate when it is clear that no malice was intended is honestly starting to read as people intending to justify Sue’s racism and subsequent overreaction.

            1. Cercis*

              But indeed, it may not be a biological child, I have several friends who have used donor eggs and donor sperm, but gave birth to their children (the power of in vitro). Those kids aren’t their biological children, but they’re not adopted either. What’s funny is that all of us can pick out features in those kids that look like their parents – we’re coming to realize that expressions and movements carry a lot of weight in how you perceive features.

          6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            The way I look at it, is screaming in public and punching people wrong? Yes, yes it is. But, if I’m walking down the street, and someone jumps out from behind a corner and scares me, I might reflexively scream and punch. “we are both in the wrong”, yada yada, but all of it could’ve been avoided if the person hadn’t chosen to badly surprise me. LW did not see Sue’s comment coming, it startled her, and she reacted, without thinking, as startled people do. (And later apologized for it.)

            1. Chriama*

              Honestly, some of these responses seem more akin to: You’re walking down the street, accidentally step on someone’s foot, you apologize, they punch you, and then someone says you were both in the wrong. Should we try to avoid stepping on people’s feet? Absolutely! Does doing it imply any sort of contempt for contempt for the feet of others or betray an underlying assumption that others’ feet are not “real” or “valid” compared to your own? Of course not. But some commenters here are pretty close to arguing the equivalent of that in OP’s situation.

              1. Sasha*

                Nope, it’s closer to you walking down the road, somebody punches you, and as you stagger away you tread on their foot.

                Sue made a racist comment about LW1’s son. LW1 responded clumsily. She is not in the wrong – Sue should not go around making racist comments if she doesn’t want assertive responses.

                1. Chriama*

                  Haha, yes, I forgot that Sue started the whole conversation. I would be willing to give Sue the benefit of the doubt if she had been willing to do the same for OP, and the fact that she wasn’t is a key point that many seem to be ignoring in their haste to play social justice warrior for adoptive families. Their actions were not equal.

          7. Observer*

            Two wrongs don’t make a right.

            Please. That works in a context where both people did equally wrong things independently of each other. A situation where the second action is a response to a piece of totally unexpected piece of stupid rudeness is ABSOLUTELY a mitigation for a poorly worded statement in response.

            Failure to see that is one of the key reasons that bullies get away with their bullying – when you treat an imperfect response to attack as the exact same thing as the the attack the bully is validated AND it generally keeps the victim from defending themselves effectively.

            Beyond that, the OP actually APOLOGIZED for *her* error and did NOT make an issue of Sue’s extremely rude comment. Sue, on the other hand is trying to keep attacking.

            1. Chriama*

              > when you treat an imperfect response to attack as the exact same thing as the the attack the bully is validated AND it generally keeps the victim from defending themselves effectively.

              Absolutely. This false equivalency ascribes a lot of uncharitable assumptions to OP’s response, and it implies that OP somehow brought Sue’s response on herself and deserved it.

              Quite frankly Sue lost the higher ground when she went around complaining to coworkers instead of having a simple conversation with OP (“by the way, when you said “own son” it felt like you were saying adoptive kids aren’t real. I know you didn’t mean that, but I wanted to let you know how seemingly innocent language comes across to adoptive parents”). Escalating it to the manager *after* an apology (that she honestly didn’t deserve considering she chose to gossip to other people rather than approach OP directly) is beyond the pale.

                1. Chriama*

                  I mean, if Sue’s response to OP had been something like ” as an adoptive parent I find using “mine” to denote biological children is a little alienating,” I wouldn’t say she was wrong. A little pedantic maybe (b/c again it was her racial assumption that started the whole conversation), but I would apologize and move on. So there was a point where she could have had, if not the higher ground, then at least roughly equal ground. But now she’s totally sunk by her own actions.

          8. Paperwhite*

            How many times does LW need to apologize? She already has once.

            Honestly, I think Sue is angriest that the LW is in an interracial relationship (this horrifies a lot of people, one would be surprised) and/or trying to Clear Herself Of All Racism by painting LW as an anti-adoption bully. Is this really someone defensible?

    2. Nita*

      Agreed. Playing nice with Sue is clearly pointless. OP already did the nice thing and apologized for (inadvertently, of course) saying something Sue might consider hurtful. A reasonable person would have let it go at that. Sue is not that person, so it seems with her, an attack is the best form of defense. OP, good luck. I’m sorry your start at a new company is being rained on by this. You didn’t do anything wrong and have no reason to keep apologizing.

      1. Chriama*

        My concern is that manager felt it worthwhile to pull Sue into a meeting rather than shutting it down. Quite frankly I’m not sure mediation has any place in workplace unless someone is acting badly enough that the next step is being reported to HR. I can give the manager the benefit of the doubt and assume Sue didn’t tell the whole story so manager doesn’t have the racial context, but even without that I can’t imagine any version of this story where manager thinks it’s worth pulling OP into a meeting with Sue rather than telling Sue to talk to OP like a grown up— Especially if Sue’s reputation for taking things personally is notorious enough that a coworker felt a need to let OP know. I would be on the lookout for other signs that manager abdicates responsibility for ensuring Sue adheres to professional standards.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Agreed. This is particularly relevant since Sue is established and LW is new. A bad manager might think that appeasing Sue is the easy way out – perhaps this is the first time she has acted inappropriately, but maybe she is the squeaky wheel or missing stair.

        2. Sparkles McFadden*

          Oh, yes. It does sound like a very bad existing dynamic. The fact that the other employee, Monica, felt the need to give LW1 the heads up that Sue was offended, supports that. LW1 never should have heard any of this because someone else should have told Sue to knock it off. If the manager still wants a three-way-call after getting the whole story from LW1, that would be a bad sign.

  6. Maxie*

    OP, you’re the one who should be upset, not Sue. Sue made a racist assumption.
    I am a single white lesbian mom of a black/mixed daughter. Strangers, like someone in a store line or a parking lot, wouldn’t know the lesbian part. If you don’t look closely to see that our features are not similar, it would be fair to assume she is my bio daughter. When she was little, I hated when a stranger would assume she was adopted because that meant they were assuming I would not have a romantic or sexual relationship with a black man. That was offensive. I’m with Alison: the issue is that Sue made a racist assumption and you should say that clearly. Her complaining after is just insane. If I worked in your office, I would back you up very loudly and publicly.

  7. Artemesia*

    I had lots of staff not directly reporting to me but providing support for this and that and liked to give some small thing at the holidays. One year a colleague and I bought a case of champagne so we could give all the admins a bottle for the holidays. I just made sure to find out if anyone was a non-drinker and would have provided something different for them — it was one of the most popular gifts I gave over the years. Alcohol is fine as long as you know it is something they would appreciate.

    1. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

      Yup! I work in an agricultural adjacent field and have been the happy recipient of many a home brewed effort. As long as the intended recipient has expressed an interest, it should be more than fine!

    2. Not Australian*

      Even if the recipient doesn’t actually drink, a gift of alcohol is often useful when they’re entertaining guests who do.

      There’s a certain award given by UK broadcasters which is specifically a bottle of champagne. The first time it was won by a Muslim they asked him rather anxiously if there was something he would prefer instead, such as chocolates, but he replied that he often hosts people who drink and he would be delighted to be able to serve it to them.

      And, personally, I often get given red wine – which I can’t drink for health reasons – and I’m happy to re-gift it; it doesn’t make me any less grateful to have received it.

      1. Renata Ricotta*

        Still very thoughtful to ask! My very Mormon family, who do not drink, would be extremely uncomfortable serving or giving alcohol to others (or really, even having it in their home).

        1. ThatGirl*

          Yeah, my in-laws are non-drinkers who keep alcohol in their home for guests, so they would be fine. But I have relatives who would be deeply offended if someone gave them alcohol, and a friend in recovery who isn’t opposed to others drinking but does not keep alcohol in her place. It never hurts to ask.

        2. Artemesia*

          somehow my vast education failed to enlighten me on the fact that Buddhists don’t drink alcohol. I know quite a lot about the tenets of Buddhism so I am still astounded that I missed this, but it did lead me to bring a bottle of wine to dinner prepared by a Buddhist student (because we always bring wine to a dinner party). Learned my lessen then to be sure alcohol is welcome as a gift — would never give to a teetotaler, a Mormon or anyone else I knew did not drink for moral reasons. I have a close friend who is an alcoholic and she and her husband still serve wine to himself and to guests, so we sometimes bring wine when we dine there, but other times I bring fancy olive oil or chocolates or whatever so she is getting something for her efforts hosting too.

          1. Alice*

            Last Christmas, my boss gave everyone on our team a “goodie bag” with a couple of minibar bottles of alcohol, a $5 Starbucks gift card, some scratchers, and some candy that contains peanut butter. Which was fine for most people. I don’t drink alcohol or coffee, I don’t gamble, and I can’t eat peanut butter. I wasn’t offended, but I was kind of hurt. It felt like I mattered so little that she couldn’t even be bothered to get one thing that I would actually like. I just gave the whole damn thing to another coworker.

            Please, for everyone’s sake, ask before you give alcohol.

      2. Bagpuss*

        Yes, but it’s still polite to ask. While there are lots of people who don’t drink but are happy to receive alcohol to serve to guests, or to re-gift, there are also lots who would be uncomfortable, for instance if they (or am member of their household) are a recovering alcoholic, or if they are strictly observant of a religion which prohibits alcohol. Certainly I’ve had coworkers in the past who don’t drink for religious reasons and some would be fine with it and some wouldn’t

      3. Lumio*

        I don’t drink alcohol. Giving me alcohol is not a gift to me, it’s now a hassle I have to get rid off and am expected to fake gratefulness for.

        1. londonedit*

          Well, yes, but there’s also the phrase ‘it’s the thought that counts’. I don’t drink red wine, never have, and yet one friend insisted on giving me a bottle of red wine for my birthday every year for about five years in a row. I think I even mentioned a couple of times (not at the time of said gift) that I wasn’t a red wine drinker, but it didn’t seem to sink in. I just said thank you every year and gave the wine to my dad. I’m not keen on most high-street toiletries, either, but gift sets like that are very popular as a simple option, and again, although I’m not likely to use the stuff, I’ll either keep it for a future ‘ran-out-of-shower-gel’ emergency, or give it to the charity shop, or whatever. I don’t really see it as ‘faking gratefulness’; it’s not really that hard to say ‘Oh, thanks!’ and just put the gift away somewhere when you get home. Maybe that’s the culture I was raised in, though. You smile and say thank you, because it’s polite when someone gives you a gift.

          1. Colette*

            Yes, someone who is given a gift they can’t use should smile and say thank you. That doesn’t mean it’s OK to give someone a gift they can’t use, though. (And alcohol in particular is hard to get rid of if you won’t use it, short of pouring it down the drain.)

          2. Grits McGee*

            But how thoughtful is it to give someone an unusable gift (and ignoring your statements that you don’t drink red wine!) year after year? I completely understand just not getting fussed about it, but if the goal of a work gift is to show that an employee is valued and to increase morale, then you do need to put at least a token amount of effort to make sure the gift itself is of value to the recipient. Otherwise, you might as well give out framed headshots of yourself at Christmas.

          3. Observer*

            If it’s the thought that counts, that makes it worse. It’s one thing when people make assumptions, as bad as that can be. But when someone TELLS YOU that they cannot use the thing you want to get them, and you REPEATEDLY ignore that, that’s a sign that either they are actually actively not thinking or their thinking process is warped in some way.

          4. Rusty Shackelford*

            Well, yes, but there’s also the phrase ‘it’s the thought that counts’.

            Yes, and sometimes the thought is “I can’t bother finding out if my standard, easy-to-give gift is appropriate for you.”

          5. Alice's Rabbit*

            “It’s the thought that counts ” means that it doesn’t matter how expensive a gift is, so long as the person put thought into giving you something you like.
            Your example is exactly the opposite. There was no thought of your likes, dislikes, wants, or needs. So that phrase doesn’t apply there. Because your friend didn’t bother to think.

        2. Metadata minion*

          Same here. (Ok, I do very rarely have a glass of cider or something, but I effectively don’t drink and am very picky about it when I do.) I’ll probably find someone to give your bottle of wine to eventually, but I it doesn’t even really make sense for me to serve it to guests since I don’t hold big dinner parties or anything and then I’m left with an open bottle of wine minus one or two glasses and need to go find recipes to use it up in a hurry. I genuinely appreciate the thought, but given that a significant minority of people have very negative reactions to alcohol, it seems polite to double-check.

          1. Quill*

            Yeah, not everyone has a relatively nearby uncle who is a wine afficionado, or would be comfortable stuffing it in their closet until the next holiday gathering where they could regift it.

            (also, what if the alcohol is horrible? The one time I actually gave a gift of alchohol it was the beer we made in microbiology class, and… according to my dad it tasted like hospitals.)

            1. CynicallySweet7*

              I had to laugh at this! My bf recently started trying to brew mead n his first batch just came out. It was so bad! I tried to be nice abt it saying it wasn’t to my taste. And then he tried and said ‘this is to nobody’s taste unless they like hand sanatizer’ and laughed. I’m saving the hospital phrasing for if the next batch turns out similarly!

              1. Quill*

                My dad used to homebrew, which I *think* was a thinly disguised attempt to keep my brother and I from doing any underage drinking… because we could smell how vile the beer process was as it sat in the basement doing yeast things.

                My cheerfully offered “here, have lab beer” was met with caution, then dismay.

      4. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

        I think, given that this is homemade,a you really want the person to be interested in receiving the alcohol. After you’ve put a lot of time and effort into something, and you might then talk about the taste, you don’t want them to turn around and give it to their barber because they didn’t want it!

      5. Alice's Rabbit*

        Always good to ask, though. I don’t drink and, having a number of alcoholics in the family, have a strict no-alcohol policy for my household. Too much hurt and pain on that topic.
        So no, I would not be able to accept that gift, even to regift it to someone else. If others want to drink, that’s their prerogative. But I will not supply alcohol in any way, shape, or form.
        I know several people of different religions who feel the same. So yeah, definitely better to ask, and not assume, when it comes to alcoholic prizes.

    3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      My friend happens to be an entomologist with too much honey, so I have made krupnik (spiced honey vodka) for the alcohol drinkers at work, spiced honey shrubs for the non drinkers, and just plain spiced honey for folks that won’t have anything with vinegar since it was once alcohol. For the past 6 years I seem to have the only gift people sign up for in September.

    4. Ms Job Search*

      In Canada I’ve now heard of people being given weed as work gifts – albeit in less formal industries and only to staff who are known to smoke. It was illegal two years ago, but if everyone’s on board, why not?

    5. nozenfordaddy*

      In normal years we have an office potluck and white elephant gift exchange and the booze is always highly sought after to the point where at least half the gifts are just… wine or booze based. There’s also a lot of chocolate.

  8. I Need That Pen*

    “Sue” was way in the wrong and something tells me her anger and complaint is a front and distraction for what should be complete and total embarrassment. What would have been wrong with an, “Oh gosh, I’m sorry, of course he’s your son,” and maybe a follow up message with “please forgive/excuse my assumption I meant no harm.” But of course I tend to write stories with nice endings. I’m the sort who would look straight in the camera and ask her to explain her assumption of adoption and see where that goes. Ugh, why are people so people-y.

    1. river*

      I agree. Some people attack when they feel embarrassed about something they’ve done, to force the other person to apologise, then they “win” the situation and don’t have to feel bad about themselves. Reasonable people realise they’ve said something embarrassing, and apologise or shut their mouths.

  9. RitaRelates*

    OP 1: Sue is acting ridiculous. She was presumptuous in assuming your son was adopted and should have just moved on after you clarified he isn’t. I would use the 3 way call to tell your side of the story so your manager knows the full interaction and will be able to tell that you were not in the wrong.

    OP 2: I’ve dealt with bosses like that and it was pretty frustrating. I agree to keep pointing out any major mistakes/forgotten details because they really will appreciate it. Any smaller, no impact things I would let slide. I would also try to avoid correcting in front of others when possible.

    OP 3: Aww that really stinks. I would be hurt too. I wouldn’t be able to help but feel purposely slighted after the “thumbs up but still no recognition” moment. If they were only going to pick select employees to perform, they should have sent out list or something so you didn’t waste time practicing. Maybe they already had a few people doing musical talents so they didn’t want too many? Idk.

    OP 5: I found the response interesting for this one. From reading this blog, I came to the conclusion that reports shouldn’t give gifts to managers.

      1. Daisy June*

        Cab you explain why? I don’t see any substantive difference there and it’s confusing. I don’t bake or make wine etc., so my colleagues who do get to give gifts to the boss and I don’t? Isn’t that unfair and likely to lead to disparate impact on our respective relationships with the boss and thus our careers?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t make the etiquette rules and this one goes way back, but the purpose of not purchasing gifts for your manager or above is because employees shouldn’t feel pressured to buy gifts for the person who signs their paychecks and employers shouldn’t benefit from the power dynamic that way. Baking something (or in this case, making wine) and sharing it with colleagues isn’t generally viewed as creating the same potential financial pressures or potential for a manager’s abuse of their position.

          1. Not Australian*

            People often bake/brew/make stuff mainly for their own amusement, and the tendency is to make far more than they need and have leftovers to distribute to willing victims … er, *work colleagues*. The distinction is in the feeling of obligation to do something for the boss, or the lack of it.

            1. OP # 5*

              Op of number 5 here– I’ll admit, my recipe made something like 4 and a half gallons of wine so I was maybe looking for an excuse to offload some. (I also just enjoy cooking/crafting and giving the goods to other people. It sparks joy, yknow?)

            2. Mockingjay*

              The same goes for garden vegetables in the summer. Each place I’ve worked, the break room always fills up with tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, more zucchini…

              1. CynicallySweet7*

                I miss this so much!! I had sooooo many extra tomatoes this year that I ended up making a bunch into relish and now I have like 30 jars of relish I have to figure out what to do w/ (the local food bank can’t take them bc they’re home made)!!

                1. Artemesia*

                  food banks will usually take fresh produce especially if you have a lot. About a third of the food given out by our food bank is produce. Obviously you would have to check next time but I’ll bet they would be happy to have it. Canned foods and the risk of botulism would be a no go of course.

              2. JustaTech*

                I was so sad to miss the giant piles of zucchini this year. I always make zucchini bread (and bring it back in to the office) but all my plants died, and no one was coming in with their extras, so no zucchini bread for anyone.

            3. Quill*

              Wine and baked goods can generally only be produced in quantities that are too large for individual consumption.

          2. Chriama*

            I think also that the assumption is that you wouldn’t be making this handmade thing if you didn’t like doing it. People who like knitting give away scarves and sweaters. People who don’t like knitting don’t. So it feels more like an expression of your own interests than a monetary exchange. I know we’ve heard the other side of things, when people are expected to bake for the whole office or someone’s boss demands an intricately knitted quilt, but those are more rare. The monetary value of homemade gifts (in terms of material if not time) is also usually pretty low.

            1. a username*

              Yes, this. I love baking, but my partner does not love the impact on their blood sugar if I don’t take it to work. I actually swerved the opposite of many and baked less during full lockdown for this reason. Being able to gift baked goods to my coworkers and supervisor is as much a favor to me as it is a treat to them.

            2. Grapey*

              “People who like knitting give away…sweaters”

              People who want to ruin relationships give away sweaters – I wonder if that would work on bad bosses too LOL.

              (I am not a knitter, but I’ve heard that if you knit a sweater for a SO, it’s bad luck and the relationship will end soon after. I saw this happen in my friend circle!)

              1. Quill*

                You don’t spend a lot of time knitting a sweater for someone you don’t want to stay in close contact with, because you need to size it and do all the stuff that I cannot do.

                You make horrible scarves for them instead.

                1. NotAnotherManager!*

                  Ha! I just had to tell my daughter, who is in middle school and just learning to knit, that perhaps her cousin might like something in addition to the first-attempt scarf she’s knitting her.

          3. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Right. This isn’t the best example, because my boss and I were somewhat friends; we carpooled for a while, and knew each others’ family, but that is not unusual at our company, and we started out as coworkers. Anyway, when I was homebrewing, I gave a few coworkers some of the beer I made, including my boss. I gave it to people with whom I had discussed craft beer preferences and favorites, as I did that at work with certain people once I knew they were interested. I think I didn’t offer at first, until I mentioned the homebrewing process, and it came up somewhat naturally.

            The only advice I have for OP #5 is not to expect or wait for compliments, as even if they like wine, not everyones’ tastes are the same. Besides, they may not open it for a while. I know I felt very invested in my homebrew, and really wanted people to like it, but remember, we all usually have styles or varieties that we like and don’t like.

          4. Kesnit*

            My wife brews mead as a hobby. She makes 1-5 gallon batches of assorted flavors, them bottles them into about liter size. A few years ago just before Christmas, she sent several bottles of her base mead (juniper) for me to give to my coworkers. I left the bottles in the break room with a note that they were free for the taking. Most of my coworkers took a bottle or two, and they all said they really liked it.

            My boss has asked a few times since if she will be sending in more mead. If she does, it would again be for the entire office.

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          I think as well as what Alison has already said, things like baked goods etc are something that the baker enjoys doing anyway and usually get shared around, unlike gifts purchased for a specific person. If somebody had gone out and learned to bake cookies specifically for their manager and only their manager that would seem a bit weird, I think.

          1. Mookie*

            Right. It’s a hobby. It’s true that not everyone has a hobby or talent that readily lends itself to little tokens, but no recipient is being lavishly “enriched” by a well-made pickle nor does a pickle cost very much in time to make nor does it represent any significant cost in raw materials or equipment.

            Class and gender distinctions, amongst others, within a single cohort can create unequal outcomes, balkanization, and favoritism in the workplace. The Baked Goods/Chair This Thankless Committee/Serve Our Male Clients phenomena are real, especially so when actively solicited. Parents lf young children or the adult children of ailing or infirm relatives may not have the leisurely time in their schedules to attend weekend fly-fish trips with the office. But that’s not what’s going on here, in my opinion, and especially not when little surprise gifts or gestures are, for most budgets, a thrifty alternative to the older, now less common habit of launching self-conscious, costly luxury items upwards.

    1. winter*

      Maybe speaking as a manager, the distinction between relevant and irrelevant corrections is indeed helpful. I have one person on my team who has trouble distinguishing when a remark is important in a meeting and when it’s not and who will often correct things that don’t make a difference (think “Yeah we purchased that product about 3 years ago” Him: “2 years and 10 months to be exactly”).

      If that happens repeatedly it’s exhausting and can even make you look out of touch because sometimes… the details just don’t matter and we’d all like to get on with the meeting.

      HOWEVER, from what I saw in the letter there’s a good chance these are mostly relevant corrections in which case do your thing. Just make sure they are adding value to the conversation by avoiding mistakes/misunderstandings or similar.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I am often the keeper of details for my group. I long ago learned to bring up the detail alongside why the detail is important. To use winter’s example above, I’d mention the discrepancy if it makes a difference. If the meeting is discussing whether to take a misbehaving piece of equipment out of service now or later, I would probably say something like “in case it affects this decision, our warranty service plan expires in 2 months.”

        1. EPLawyer*

          Information needed to make a decision v. being pendantic

          The boss might be GRATEFUL they don’t have to remember all the details because OP is so helpful. Unless OP notices a change in boss’ demeanor about it, keep doing it.

          1. Mockingjay*

            I would be cautious about being the boss’s “memory aide.” OP2 wants to be known for solid work and satisfied clients. Boss might think of her instead as a personal secretary.

            It’s a fine line that OP2 will have to navigate as they establish a working relationship. We all have to remind managers of stuff occasionally, but the amount of constant reinforcement this particular manager needs is a bit of a flag. Perhaps OP2 could sound out a few colleagues about manager’s working style – do they have to do the same?

        2. Sparkles McFadden*

          I always figured my boss was too busy to have to remember small details. It was my job to do that. Some managers like that, some don’t. I had one boss who would get a little impatient when I wouldn’t automatically supply the details he’d forgotten or correct him when he needed it. I had another who wouldn’t let anyone speak at meetings unless she specifically called on them. This even applied when someone would speak to me directly. She told me I had to ask her permission before I answered a direct question. (Yes, in front of the entire room, I had to say “May I respond to that?”) It depends on the manager and the relationship.

          …and yes, everyone else thought manager #2 in my example was crazy and she was eventually let go.

    2. KR*

      On #2, make sure it matters though – “When I see she’s forgotten a detail in a conversation, I give her the correct information. If I see a link is wrong, I offer the correct one.” sounds exhausting for your manager. This could be my own direct report, who has zero sense when arcana is not more important that the broader topic/goal/etc. Bogged down in whether that conversation happened Tuesday or Wednesday when that’s not the point is annoying to everyone involved and can hold back you being included.

  10. Ashley*

    In Letter 1 Sue is trying to save face and present herself as the victim. She realized that she made a racist assumption and is now trying to spin things to make an issue of your response to take the heat of her.

  11. nnn*

    #1: If, as other commenters have suggested, Sue’s issue was with the “my own son” phrasing, and if you do think it’s strategic to say something in the direction of apology/smoothing things over, maybe something you could include is “I was so surprised by the question that I couldn’t remember the right word in the moment.”

    1. Chriama*

      Quite frankly, that’s too apologetic. Could OP have said “biological” instead of “own”? Sure. Is *not* saying that intended to imply that adopted children are not really “your” children? No. Just like if someone had kids and step kids and said “this one is mine” it would connote “biological” rather than “the child I love”. If someone told me they felt that way I would of course make an effort to use that language in the future, but if they expected an apology for a perfectly normal use of language I would find that preposterous. The first apology OP made was enough. Continuing to apologize gives merit to Sue’s unreasonableness, and given the racial assumption she made, I’m not going to advocate pandering to that.

      1. SimplytheBest*

        Just curious… Why is LW1’s intent important, but not Sue’s? Did Sue intend to be racist? Probably not. Did LW1 intend to be offensive to adoptive parents? Also probably not. But in each case, they were.

        Sue said something racist. She should be shut down for that and she shouldn’t be allowed to throw a temper tantrum for being called out. But LW1 should (and has) acknowledge that her words were also offensive. Pretending that they weren’t is simply incorrect and helps no one.

        1. Zillah*

          It’s different because the LW was directly responding to Sue’s assumption after being put on the spot. Sue had the luxury of making her comment when she wasn’t upset and being put on the spot. The LW did not have that luxury.

        2. Chriama*

          2 reasons:
          1) Sue saw that OP’s son had a different skin colour from her and asked if he was adopted. That was a racial assumption. A charitable reading is that Sue has adopted a child of a different race and her experience coloured her assumption. An uncharitable reading is that Sue couldn’t imagine a white woman in a relationship with a black man (which is unfortunately still the case for many people). LW merely used less than thoughtful terminology. Read the post again. Sue asked if her kid was adopted and LW said “no, he’s mine”. “Mine” is clearly intended to indicate “biological” and not to imply that adopted kids are somehow less valid. The distinction is necessary as a clarification to Sue’s comment (is he adopted), and not meant to imply that adopted kids aren’t valid. If Sue had introduced her kid, said he was adopted, and LW said “do you have any kids of your own?”, it would be reasonable to say that LW was implying that adopted kids are somehow less than biological kids, because she would be introducing a comparison that was not necessary in that context (why does it matter if Sue’s kids are bio or adopted).

          To be honest, we wouldn’t need to consider anyone’s intent if not for….

          2) LW ***already apologized to Sue*** and **filed a formal complaint**. Sue has escalated the issue. At this point, the fact that Sue is trying to present herself as the injured party and paint OP in a negative light is not just unreasonable, it’s suspect. If they both just put their foot in their mouth by accident, why is Sue escalating?

          Again, if the situation had ended when OP apologized to Sue, we could consider them even. But at this point Sue’s continued aggression towards OP puts her initial intent into question.

  12. Unemployed not unemployable*

    #4 – I have just accepted a position (starting on Nov 23) after being laid off on April 2 due to COVID. There is hope!

    1. Michelenyc*

      Congrats. I was laid off 45 minutes after Cuoco made his announcement on March 20th. I started my new job on November 2nd. Thanks to COVID I landed a great position.

  13. jm*

    lw #3 i really feel for you! you should perform a song and post it on social media so your loved ones can appreciate all the work you put into rehearsing

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I love this. Several of my friends have been doing this and it’s definitely improved my news feed.

      1. Totally Minnie*

        I’ve been doing videos for my family and just sharing them from my google drive, so my family gets to see them but I don’t have to worry about the awkwardness of having it online where other people can see.

        OP3, I wish you had been given your slot at the talent show, but I agree with the recommendation to turn it into a private concert for your loved ones!

    2. PersephoneUnderground*

      This! #3 seems to have been buried by the #1 comments, but wanted to chime in that I totally understand her pain here. The suggestion to perform something anyway for her own friends is a great one. I for one really miss going out, so virtual live music performances are really special for me.

      1. JJ*

        It’s funny too, because the two letters are completely connected in my eyes: they both took place during team building events where it seems inevitable that someone will be left out (i.e. people on OP 1’s team who have no family or pets to share, who I bet feel really alone after that event.)

        OP 3 I’m sorry you didn’t get to perform! Extra awful that even after pointing it out you were omitted…I agree you should share your talent with friends/family, they’ll probably appreciate it more anyway. :)

      2. op3*

        Haha, thanks! I’m pleased to not be in any of the much more dramatic situations of the other letters, but I appreciate the empathy! I did play my song for my family, and I did the whole historical context/preamble I planned out, and I sang ALL the verses!

    3. Paperwhite*

      Absolutely! This weekend one of my roommates did a call with her extended family that was ( planned to be? became?) a family concert. It was delightful to listen to.

    4. Van Wilder*

      A couple years ago, I flew in early to a work training to participate in an innovation pitch competition. When we got there, it turned out that they had too many people, so they were going to have every table narrow it down and select 1-2 pitches from their table. Mine was selected from my table. Long story short, the leaders went around and had time for every other pitch except for mine.
      I said something to the leader and she made a sad face and said “Oh! I feel bad.” And then proceeded to wrap up the event.
      It felt extra personal because I was pushing for a promotion at the time and felt that getting recognition through this event (I thought my idea was on par with the 2nd-3rd place winners) could have helped. Plus, if I had known it was going to go down like that, I would have spent a few more hours at home with my baby, rather than fly in early.
      All this to say: #3, I commiserate. I don’t have any advice. I see that leader’s name pop up occasionally (she’s been promoted since) and I still hold it against her, in my mind. I did not get promoted that year but made it the following year.

  14. RG*

    OP #1 I hope you don’t have to engage with Sue regularly, because if this is the first real interaction between you, well…

  15. Stephanie*

    1. Both parties have made mistakes here. Sue should reflect on her racial assumption and micro aggression in regards to OP’s family. Just because one has been personally affected by adoption, does not mean families whose members do not physically resemble each other are adopted.

    2. OP, please use positive adoption language when referencing family relationships. Using the word “own” to indicate a biological family connection is offensive and ostracizing. I am a foster parent in the process of adopting a teenager. No one “owns” a child. I would be off-put by such discriminating language.

    1. Sally*

      I don’t think it’s unreasonable, most parents would not hesitate to describe their child as “mine” or “my own” whether biological or adopted, and saying your kid is your biological child is not terminology that the average person would have on the tip of their tongue. And asking or assuming that someone’s kids are adopted seems pretty rude, and would throw off most people who have biological children only.

    2. LW1*

      LW 1 here! I know that adopted children are also our own children. My nephew was adopted! Under normal circumstances I’d never say something like that. Sue’s comment really threw me and my brain wasn’t working. I apologized to her for that wording and I truly am sorry about my word choice then!

      1. LW1*

        I just realized you didn’t like the “own” comment. I’m not saying I own my child! Where I grew up it’s a common English quirk to refer to relatives as “my own brother”, “my own daughter” etc. Apologies if that’s confusing

        1. Chriama*

          OP, you’re not wrong. Responding to “is your son adopted” with “he’s mine” or “he’s my own” is very clearly stating that he is biological as opposed to adopted. The fact that you didn’t say “biological” isn’t a failing on your part. You didn’t say the wrong thing.

          There’s a difference between a single sentence in response to a direct question and, for example, asking someone who’s adopting whether they want any “real kids” or “kids of their own”. Let’s not conflate the two, especially when it means giving validating someone who thinks this is worth launching a formal complaint at work.

      2. Pennyworth*

        Given that you have apologized to Sue and she hasn’t apologized to you, I think you should go into the 3 way meeting making it clear that you are expecting an apology from her as the first item on the agenda.

        1. Totally Minnie*

          I support this. You realized that you accidentally said a hurtful thing and apologized to Sue for saying it. Her response to your apology was to file an official complaint against you rather than apologize for her own hurtful words. It is absolutely reasonable for you to make it clear to your boss that you’ve apologized and Sue hasn’t, and that your condition for moving forward to resolve the issue is that Sue has to do her part now.

    3. Chriama*

      Being put off by common use of language must be exhausting. Of course it would be better to say “biological”, but expecting someone who has not had experience with adoption to think of the implications of common vocabulary is unreasonable. OP already apologized to Sue, and I don’t think she needs further chastisement. It wasn’t an inherently inappropriate comment.

      Also: We don’t own people, but we do own relationships. My sister, my boss, my friend… the possessive form is pretty well understood to refer to our relationship to someone rather than any imply any sort of possession.

      1. Ash*

        Common use of language can be hurtful and should be changed. The important part here is that LW did already apologize for her poor choice of words, which were precipitated anyway by Sue’s racist assumption.

        1. Chriama*

          Yes, but let’s look at the actual situation. It’s not like Sue introduced her kid, said he was adopted, and OP asked something like “do you have any kids of your own?” Language is not perfect. Yes, the opposite of “adopted” should be “biological”, but saying “own” or “mine” does not indicate anything except a desire to draw a comparison between the two *in a situation where such a comparison was warranted*.

          If she had respectfully brought up that she was hurt by OP’s wording, of course OP should apologize and make an effort to do better. And it’s fine for commenters here to point out why such wording can be hurtful. But “offensive”, “ostracising”, and “discrimination” are really strong words to describe what OP said. Criticizing her for not using the perfect language on a topic she didn’t even initiate when it is clear that no malice was intended is honestly starting to read as people intending to justify Sue’s racism and subsequent overreaction.

          TL,DR – of course we should try to do better. But let’s not equate the actions of the two people in this actual scenario.

    4. Name (Required)*

      Wait… daring to respond on the fly in a busy online meeting without stopping to assemble “positive adoption language” less one inadvertently indicate there is a biological family connection is now “offensive and ostracizing”? I repeat… indicating there is a biological family connection is now “offensive”?!?!?!

      Is that why there are “amended birth certificates” with the names of the adoptive parents inserted for the biological parents’ names, and that the original birth certificate could be sealed and the adoptee as an adult in some states has no right to see it and no one will know that the child is adopted just by looking at the documents? Because otherwise indicating a biological family connection is “offensive”?

      There’s something wrong there.

      1. Lady Heather*

        The history of adoption – as a legal concept – actually does come down to that. Caring for another person’s children and taking them in as a member of your family is as old as time – legal adoption and amended birth certificates and “let’s not tell the children they’re adopted” was a mid-twentieth-century way to save children the stigma of having been born into illegitimacy.

        To OP’s case, I think different words can mean different things and “My own” can just as easily mean “Mine biologically” as “Mine to love and care for” or “Mine legally and to love and care for”.

        I’ve also been out for my tendency not to assume a child and their accompanying adult are parent and offspring, as being anti-adoption.. when really I am just familiar enough with foster children to know that ‘assuming a child and accompanying adult are parent and offspring’ can be hurtful or bring up complex emotions and I don’t want to assume.
        (And really I don’t see how ‘avoiding bringing up ‘mother/father’ unnecessarily’ and ‘when necessary, asking instead of assuming if the adult is the parent’ is offensive.)

        1. Temperance*

          On the flipside, though, you are way, way more likely to see a white biological parent with a child of color than you are a foster family in public, and it is a microaggression to assume that they aren’t related because of color.

    5. CommanderBanana*

      I think it’s pretty clear that OP’s use of “my own” meant “my biological child,” and given that it was in response to a racist question that caught her off guard, I’m inclined to extend OP more grace than this.

      Especially given that Susan has doubled-down on her initial racist assumption and is attempting to paint OP as the party in the wrong here.

  16. Prefer to be anon for this*

    LW#1, you’re both in the wrong here. You’re so quick to call Sue racist, when she was probably just excited to meet a fellow adoptive parent. You would have to know that she’s also had her parenthood invalidated multiple times as a parent of a brown child and this is probably another instance to her. Is she overreacting? Yeah. But I gave birth to a child who looks white (me and my husband are African/Arab and present black so this doesn’t shock us) and I get mistaken for her nanny and my husband admitted to feeling awkward going out alone with her. It’s awful for people to invalidate one of the most enriching experiences of my life, but I am not going to sit there and argue with a stranger that my child is mine. I know she is – biological or if I adopted her. I took offense at LW#1 natural instinct to go to that language viscerally because it only makes people stare harder when you draw these lines between “actual” children and adoptive ones as if they are different. LW#1, you get the benefit of people assuming the child is yours, bio or adoptive, Sue didn’t say anything racist. People will always see a black child with a white family and say “that is their child.” You cannot be trying to say that Sue doesn’t know brown biracial people exist, she does. She just looked at your kid and assumed her own experience first. Was that stupid? Yes. But I am failing to see racism rather than miscommunication.

    1. Prefer to remain anon for this*

      Just to clarify, LW#1 100% needs to clarify what happened. Sue is out of line for her report and no amount of hurt feelings justifies this. I am giving her the huge benefit of the doubt based on my own pains surrounding this but she did cross a boundary here by not just speaking with you.

    2. Double A*

      But LW already apologized; she misspoke because she was flustered by a comment that stemmed from bias. Sue doubled down and has yet to apologize for her assumption.

    3. Chriama*

      If OP was writing after the initial conversation, I might be inclined to agree with you. But OP has already apologized, and now Sue is making a formal complaint. OP stopped being in the wrong when she apologized. Sue has not only refused to talk to OP about it face to face, but is deliberately dragging out the conflict and escalating it. Let’s not pretend these are equal behaviours or equally justified.

    4. Name (Required)*

      So Sue can jump in with the question, with zero responsibility to think before speaking, but LW#1 must carefully consider her response before answering? Sue didn’t care about being offensive; in fact she actually switched from offender to offendee! Too much in Orwell’s book 1984 has crept into our society, don’t start in on the thoughtcrime just yet.

    5. Cambridge Comma*

      Of course it’s racist and biased. Sue wouldn’t have assumed the child was adopted if he had been or appeared to be white.

    6. I'm just here for the cats.*

      We don’t know that Sure adopted a brown child. She just assumed that because the LW is white and the child is brown than the child must be adopted. Yes she could have been excited and felt badly about LWs word choice but it does not need to be in a form of an official complaint.

    7. Red lines with wine*

      People will always see a black child with a white family and say “that is their child.”

      What white and privileged rock have you been living under? The is blatantly untrue.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Anon for this clearly says they are African / Arab and present Black, but their daughter presents white.

        And they’re not totally wrong. “Their” child is often compounded with ‘adopted’, with an implication that’s lesser than ‘biological’, but it is the norm in the US to assume that the white adult with a black child is the parent. Cross-racial adoptions have been on the rise a lot over the last two decades, especially among evangelicals. See: Amy Coney Barrett.

    8. Diahann Carroll*

      People will always see a black child with a white family and say “that is their child.”

      Uhhh…no they will not. Where do you live that this is the case? I had biracial friends growing up, and any time my brown skinned friends were out with their white parent and white presenting siblings, people thought my friends were the sibling’s friends, not their sisters.

    9. PersephoneUnderground*

      To be fair, the LW actually never uses the word “racist” in the letter. She seems to be going out of her way to be understanding, actually, while being confused by Sue’s weirdly aggressive response. Alison is the one who explicitly names the racial assumptions Sue made as racist.

      (I wanted to add that it is easy to make that sort of assumption in a culture so steeped with it- I actually find examining the mental programming in play here fascinating. We’re used to, for example, TV shows using color as shorthand to show family relationships- to the point that watching the British National Theater, which uses truly colorblind casting, threw me off a bit at first when a father character matched his daughter-in-law’s race and not his son’s, just because I have gotten so used to that coding being used in media. And I’m married to a mixed-race man myself!

      None of this sidebar is meant to excuse Sue for her bizarre reaction though- if you make this kind of assumption you apologize, make a note to do better in your head, and move on!)

      1. Myrin*

        You probably missed, but OP dies indeed use “racist” in her letter; it’s in the last paragraph: “I think Sue’s comment was presumptuous and more than a little rude. I think it was also racist”.

        1. PersephoneUnderground*

          Sorry, I did miss that bit- the tone was definitely more forgiving than she needed to be, and less direct than Alison was, even taking that last sentence into account.

    10. CynicallySweet7*

      I might actually agree here that it’s not necessairly based out of racism but I can also see why LW would feel that way and don’t want to necessarily second guess the person who was actually in the situation (esp when Sue had been so ridiculous since the incident).

      For context when my sister was younger she looked NOTHING like either of my parents. She got very good at laughing it off when the people at the Chinese takeout restraunt would ask if her mother was Asian or if she was adopted (for reference my mother is Irish). I think there is an assumption if children don’t look like their parents they’re adopted (or a step or something else). I’m not in any way saying that’s right but I think maybe assuming it’s a racist thing might be going to far.

      But then again what do I know, I wasn’t there and am white so I don’t have to deal w/ the kind of aggressions others here are much more familiar w/

    11. Observer*

      How do you know that Sue’s child is non-white? It doesn’t say that anywhere. I just went back and looked at the letter again.

      There could be a lot of reasons why Sue made the assumption she did, but the idea that she was just assuming that everyone has the same situation as she does (ie any non-typical looking family must be adoptive because her family is adoptive) is ridiculous, at best. And it’s hard to argue that race didn’t play into the assumption.

      The OP wasn’t “drawing lines” she was reacting in confusion to a really rude comment. She also APOLOGIZED. For Sue to double down says that something more is going on with Sue. Because her response here is utterly inappropriate.

  17. Mal*

    LW1: Do NOT apologise. That woman made a racist assumption and is now trying to cover herself. The question is what kind of values your company has now. Either way, I support you going into that meeting with Surprised and Confused but also explicit and firm about what occurred from your POV. Your wording doesn’t begin to register here. That woman opened her mouth when she didn’t need to; this begins and ends with her. She was racist. End of story. Make sure your company knows that and I would use that Surprised and Confused to slide into surely, you as a company aren’t okay with your new hire’s child being subjected to racism by your other employee? Surely not. You’re the one who should be lodging a complaint. You are entirely in the right so don’t give them a thing.
    I’m a black woman so this has stirred me.

      1. Mal*

        I’ve really appreciated your comments in this post. Especially in this sea of “to be fairs” and “understandables”.

  18. Artemesia*

    What a bummer to practice for a month and then get left out and then when you ask to be included ignored. I am going to assume the host didn’t read the chat note — otherwise. WOW. Stuff happens, but anyone would feel awful in your situation.

    1. CynicallySweet7*

      She should do a zoom meeting and perform it for friends /family! My sisters learning banjo and doesn’t feel she’s good enough to post it publicly yet. Depending on who’s she’s friends w/ on there she might be right. As someone who loves her unconditionally she’s not very good yet, but she’s getting better and it’s nice to watch her work at something and progress. Plus it’s something to do /talk abt in a zoom call when most of us don’t really have much going on. Sorry about the exclusion though, that sucks!

    2. Paperwhite*

      Yes, this. L:W#3, I totally hear you. And Alison’s advice is better than what I did in a similar situation (admittedly in high school) which was to call the organizer and ask why she didn’t like me. As long as you do better than that you’ll be fine. :)

  19. Stefanie*

    Well Sue is opening up a can of worms here! What jumped out here was her assumption that a brown child couldn’t possibly be the OP’s child………not anything else. While I think her assumption isn’t unusual, if you make it so vocally then you’d be best advised not to repeat it louder and to a wider audience. OP, keep your response factual as if this exchange is correct, it’s her that had “clumsy wording.”

  20. LW1*

    Thank you Alison for answering my letter! I have not yet filled my manager in on the details but I will do so ASAP.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Yes, you really need to get in there and brief your manager. And please send us an update when you have one.

    2. honeygrim*

      LW1, I have never been in this situation. But I have had the experience of being pulled into a 3-way meeting with my manager and another employee who made a complaint about me without me knowing anything about it. I didn’t even know they had any sort of problem with me, and their complaint ended up being completely without basis (accusing me of ignoring them because one time I walked by their desk without talking to them).

      In my situation I knew for a fact that the other employee was considered by management to be problematic for a whole host of issues, so being treated as equally “at fault” for whatever issue they had with me made me really angry. I think my manager should have come to me first and asked me about it before calling a 3-way meeting to basically tell us to play nicely with each other.

      In your case, I hope you have the opportunity to talk with your manager one-on-one before this 3-way meeting. As it stands she seems to be assuming that you are both equally involved in this situation, when you have already apologized and didn’t really do anything wrong in the first place (maybe your wording could have been better? but again, you already apologized!).

      1. not myself*

        “accusing me of ignoring them because one time I walked by their desk without talking to them” Wow! What a drama stirrer this co-worker was. Can you imagine how long it would take to walk down the hall if you had to talk to everyone on the way?

        1. honeygrim*

          Well, there was also a time I was in charge of a project they were involved in. I asked them about something, and they went around saying I was spying on them. So… “drama stirrer” is accurate.

    3. JJ*

      Hey LW, it’s not your question, but I totally bristled up at “bring your family to work” day. Very cool from the perspective of people who have family/pets to share! More than a little isolating to those quarantining alone.

      All the other commenters are right about Sue though, and based on Monica’s reaction I’d wager Sue is a missing stair in the org, so watch out for that.

    4. Wisteria*

      I’m really noticing that you, Alison, and the majority of the commenters focus on your intent (good intent, poor choice of words) but on Sue’s effect (hurtful, racist micro aggression). What if for a moment you regarded Sue with the same benefit of doubt you are giving yourself and looked at yourself with all the intent you are ascribing to Sue? Can you see how she might have been excited to see a family that looked like hers without intending to imply that you couldn’t have married a black man? Can you see how your words reveal offensive underlying assumptions even though you didn’t intend to make a comment about adoption? Trying to measure whether racism is worse than whatever ism means adopted children are not one’s own is not going to resolve this. You gave offense. Go into the meeting with a genuine curiosity about why your apology was not enough. Hear Sue out and respond without tu toqueing her. Once you have settled Sue’s complaint, then you bring up the way her comment is founded on an assumption that mixed race biological families must not exist.

      1. Lizzo*

        Maybe the offenses were equal, but OP apologized–and, it should be noted, apologized specifically for their poor word choice, as they have explained in comments here. Sue has not apologized and has instead escalated things through a formal complaint and also trashed OP’s reputation to other co-workers.

        Also, racism is a big deal, and it was a racist presumption that started this entire exchange. The fact that Sue made a racist statement, was offended by the response she received from OP, and is now weaponizing the situation against OP, is the epitome of white fragility.

        tl;dr: OP is handling this like a professional and an adult. Sue is not.

        1. Wisteria*

          Sue has not apologized, but OP has not complained. That’s why I suggested that OP raise what Sue said.

          OP is really not handling this like an adult. Being an adult means hearing the other person out with curiosity and raising one’s own complaints to also be heard. Avoidance, which is what OP actually said she wants, is not very adult.

          1. Lizzo*

            No adult is *required* to raise an official complaint to management in all circumstances in order to “be an adult”.

            OP wants to avoid being dragged into a meeting with Sue, who is playing the victim and is also stirring up drama.

            Sue had several opportunities to change the course of things here: she could have kept her mouth shut and not made racist assumptions and comments about OP’s son/parental situation in the first place; she could have *not* gossiped to colleagues about the exchange she had with OP; she could have accepted OP’s apology when OP proactively reached out to Sue, and had a conversation then and there about why her feelings were hurt if she needed to voice her grievances.

            Also, I don’t think anybody here (myself included) has said that Sue’s feelings don’t matter here, or that she doesn’t have a right to take issue with what OP said. However, OP behaved like a professional adult and tried to make things right re: her poor choice of words. Sue is fanning the flames to her own advantage. It’s manipulative, and it’s immature behavior in a professional setting. It’s also a clear attempt to deflect from her racist comments. (Again, see “white fragility”.)

            So, no, I don’t think we should give Sue the benefit of the doubt here.

      2. Ermintrude*

        OP1 already has acknowledged their fault and apologised directly to Sue.
        Sue is deliberately making a meal out of it regardless.

      3. Paperwhite*

        Massmatt said it best in another thread on this topic, below.

        “Where is your umbrage about the racist assumption Sue made which is what prompted LW 1’s response in the first place? Why is racist nonsense given a pass while feelings of adoptive moms are sacrosanct?”

        I am seriously eyeing some of the commenters and making a note to see what people say in future discussions of racism.

        1. Wisteria*

          My umbridge is right here:

          “Sue’s effect (hurtful, racist micro aggression)”

          I did not give Sue a pass.

      4. Mal*

        Hi, please consider why you would want this woman to give Sue the benefit of the doubt about a plainly racist act towards her son. Do you know why racist moments like this continue? Because of takes like yours. We have no idea what Sue’s family even looks like; she could have adopted a white child and still made this assumption. You are not only giving her the benefit of the doubt, but making up things that aren’t present in the letter to support her. That’s something to think about.
        Also, you aren’t factoring in that OP apologised and Sue has yet to acknowledge what she did. That matters.

        1. Wisteria*

          “please consider why you would want this woman to give Sue the benefit of the doubt about a plainly racist act towards her son.”

          Please consider why you want to give OP benefit of doubt about such a hurtful dismissive comment towards Sue’s family. If intent matters, if speaking without thinking is excusable, even when the words reveal underlying bigoted assumptions, then intent matters for both OP and Sue. OTOH, if effect matters, then the effect of OP’s words on Sue are important.

          “Do you know why racist moments like this continue? Because of takes like yours”

          Do you mean my take where Sue was hurtful and racist? Or my take where effect matters at least as much as intent?

          “Also, you aren’t factoring in that OP apologized”

          I did factor that in when I suggested OP go in with curiosity about why her apology was not enough. For all we know, some thing about the way OP apologized may have made things worse.

          “And Sue has yet to acknowledge what she did.”

          OP has yet to complain about Sue. I suggested to OP that she bring up Sue’s assumptions. If OP wants acknowledgment from Sue, OP is going to have to raise a complaint.

          1. Paperwhite*

            … well at least you’ve plainly stated the false equivalence underlying your argument. Arguing further would be like comparing physics from a different universe.

  21. WFH Pro since 2013*

    #1. Sue made an assumption and it’s odd because OP introduced her family via Zoom. Wouldn’t you naturally deduce that mom and dad are a mixed couple so that is their biological son vs adopted? Also, what if he had been adopted and he didn’t know. OP’s original apology for this situation is more than sufficient – although, unnecessary. OP did nothing wrong.

    #4. I don’t agree with AAM on this as it varies from employer to employer and different industries. How is it misleading when you’re still on the payroll, eligible for benefits and like services? Perhapa, OP should have confirmed their dates with their past employer. They still can contact HR and inquire for clarification.

    1. allathian*

      Oh, I don’t know. Certainly I would imagine that for an adoptive parent it would be easier to assume that a child who looks different from their parent is adopted, than for someone who isn’t an adoptive parent. Similarly, for a parent of a biracial child it’s probably easier to assume that other biracial children are the child of their white parent. That said, I imagine it would be even tougher to be the black parent of a biracial child, especially if the child is pale enough to pass as white. A black mom would, I imagine, often be assumed to be the child’s nanny, but I would imagine that many black fathers would avoid being seen with their white-passing kid in public without the white mother present, lest they be accused of kidnapping their own child.

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        If a redheaded mother had a blackhaired son would she assume he was adopted? If not, what’s the difference?

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I had a very blond friend with dark haired parents who did get that question. Of course we were in 9th grade and the biology classes were studying Mendelian inheritance, so it wasn’t as huge a leap. (And the teacher was a bit of a jerk who apparently set that up to use as a lead-in to explaining the difficulty of applying that in complex genomes).

        2. Foreign Octopus*

          I think it’s fairly obvious what the difference is and pretending that it’s not an issue and disseminating isn’t useful for this conversation.

        3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I’m the only redheaded child of two parents who both had bruno/brunette/black hair at my birth. My father and his father went grey very early (by 30). Both of my siblings have raven-black hair naturally.

          Yes, people assume. At the drop of a hat.

        4. Artemesia*

          Oh come on. Seriously? This is in no way the same thing. Two white people can easily have a child with any color hair. Two white people will not have a dark skinned child unless both have a mixed race background. Seeing a dark skinned child with white parents suggests adoption; people should learn to shut up and not voice that assumption because as we saw here, it can be wrong – and it is inherently racist. And even more so when you only see one white parent and don’t know the race of the other. My friend who married an Asian man, gets this ‘where did you get her’ stuff all the time when out with her daughter and it gets pretty wearing after the 10th time it happens — and from perfect strangers.

      2. Paperwhite*

        I would imagine that many black fathers would avoid being seen with their white-passing kid in public without the white mother present, lest they be accused of kidnapping their own child.

        This has indeed happened to not a few Black men I know.

      3. Observer*

        lest they be accused of kidnapping their own child.

        Or molesting them >sigh<

        I recall reading at least one case where this happened.

    2. LW1*

      My husband is an essential worker and generally not home during the day, so he missed this event! So it was just my son and I.

      My husband and I were talking about this later. What if Sue said that to a child who didn’t know she was adopted? There are just so many reasons it was a bad idea to say what she did!

        1. PersephoneUnderground*

          Well, to be fair when she made the original comment, she didn’t know it was rude, she was happy to see another family like hers (as in, with an adopted child). Of course her assumption was really thoughtless and she should have apologized immediately, especially with the child there!

          1. GothicBee*

            I mean, yes it is in fact always rude to just assume someone else’s child is adopted and then state that outright in front of the child. And if your assumptions are based on skin color, then it’s racist as well as rude.

          2. Yvette*

            “Well, to be fair when she made the original comment, she didn’t know it was rude…” that really does not matter. What if her son for whatever reason did not know he was adopted. Or maybe, even if LW1 was not his birth mother, his bio dad could have re-married and she is the only mother he has ever known and does not consider himself her “adopted” son. You don’t make that kind of remark. It is like asking a pregnant women if it was planned.

          3. Observer*

            Well, as an adult she should have been aware that it’s rude. Firstly, because ASSUMING adoption is always a bad idea, especially when it’s obviously based on race. And secondly, because she has to be aware that not all adoptive parents share that information with their kids, especially at that age. And, lastly, because not all adoptive families want this conversation out in public.

            It doesn’t matter whether anyone agrees with #s #2 and 3, it’s the parents’ decision to make and it’s just rude to just jump in this way.

          4. Mal*

            There’s nothing to be fair about here. I think we can agree that it is rude to make an assumption about strangers, let alone strangers’ children, and even worse in a professional setting.
            Sue did even worse than this. She made a racist assumption. And you are making an assumption as well, about the makeup of Sue’s family to excuse her racism. We don’t know what her family looks like.

            1. PersephoneUnderground*

              I meant “another family with an adopted child” which is specified in the letter that Sue has an adopted kid.

              See below addressing the rest of this comment.

          5. PersephoneUnderground*

            I seem to have hit a nerve with this comment, my apologies if it came across as excusing the behavior.

            I think I read the above comment differently than others in terms of it being worse in front of the child. I read it as “she should have especially known better with the kid there” which doesn’t make sense when it wasn’t deliberate. That’s what I meant by “to be fair…” I was addressing the intent, not the result.

            On second look I think I misread- it was meant that the result is worse, and her lack of immediate apology is worse, because it was in front of the OP’s child. That I 100% agree with! Waaay worse. Sue needs to make a full and sincere apology- in fact I thought that went without saying, but it is important to say anyway.

            1. PersephoneUnderground*

              Last add-on here: Fair point that asking if a kid is adopted is rude in itself. I think the *huge* mistake of the racist remark obscured her also rude prying about adoption when I was thinking about this.

            2. PersephoneUnderground*

              Ok, I lied, *this* is my last add-on: I really didn’t mean to defend Sue above, just make a minor and somewhat pedantic point that a mistake being really bad doesn’t have an effect on if the person knows not to make said mistake. (The adoption assumption angle hadn’t occurred to me because the racist angle was so egregious.) I don’t think I deserved to be torn apart quite this much over such a small point.

              I had already stated elsewhere that the LW was being really understanding of Sue, when she doesn’t need to be and Sue is totally in the wrong!

              I know this is long after the fact anyway, but I think I’ll just stay out of the comments for a while, at least on serious topics. I think people get pretty worked up and it’s hard to convey tone in this kind of forum.

      1. Chiming In*

        Hey LW- if you’re still reading, thanks for your graciousness and thoughtfulness in responses after sharing your story. I can only imagine how exhausting it must be to scroll through all the “to be fair” and litigating rather than recognizing the context of being thrown by racist aggression. I wish you all the best and hope you feel empowered to strongly push back with your manager about the unacceptable behavior at play here as well as setting boundaries with Suekaren. I wish there was more we could do to support you, but I’m thinking of you!

        Everyone else- one thing to consider that I haven’t seen discussed is there is actually an ongoing conversation right now, lead by adoptees, of the racist currents that are present and even in many ways shape the adoption community. As we white people continue self educating about anti-racism, it is worth taking a look! Too often there is the false assumption that adoptive parents or prospective parents are exempt from doing anti-racist work or being held responsible for racism when in fact the opposite is true. There is a great adoption activist community on IG discussing this issue this month!

    3. Sparkles McFadden*

      Re: #4 – You must report dates of employment exactly. Being on payroll as part of severance does not mean you were still employed there. Deliberately misstating the dates means you are trying to mislead your prospective employer. When Company #2 calls Company #1 and gets different dates, they will toss your application. Even if they were to ask you about it (which they normally won’t), and you were to say “I was still on payroll so I thought that was OK” they will question your judgment and your honesty.

      Someone who will shade the truth to improve their chances of being hired will likely tell “harmless” lies on the job to make themselves look better. Even if that doesn’t describe LW4, that is what hiring managers will think.

      1. anon finance person*

        LW4, please confirm this with your HR department! Both when I was laid off as well as the layoff I was the finance lead on, the official last day of employment was 60 days after notification/last day in the office. If you called HR to verify dates of employment, they would give the later date. It would actually drive more confusion to give the earlier date (though would be easy enough to explain). Other than having disabled badges and systems access, people were truly employees until the official separation date. We couldn’t even disable their email addresses (we did an auto-response though in case anyone emailed them since they couldn’t access their email).

        1. NotAnotherManager!*


          It really does help to know what the employer considers your last day of employment for future reference and employment checks. Our severance agreements list the office last day of employment date so there is no confusion over the end date that will be provided to checkers (it also lists the end of benefits/pay, which doesn’t always line up with last date of employment). We have also had situations where the last official date was 30-90 days beyond last day in office but earlier if they found a new job, so there’s always a final letter confirming the last day to close the file, if it changes.

        2. Kate*


          I was surprised to see so much pushback, probably because the only time I’ve been laid off was earlier this year and my situation was very similar to what anon finance person’s describing. I stopped work in X month but all of the paperwork said my official separation date was X + 2 month.

    4. Lisa*

      Maybe you’ve never been laid off, but my paperwork was explicit on what my separation date was. I am receiving severance, but I am no longer an employee. I am not eligible for benefits (because I’m not an employee), they are paying my benefits – very different. I am eligible for rehire, which *also* means I am not an employee. You’d definitely be lying to say you were still employed.

      I’d be surprised if this differed by industry because, you know, fear of lawsuits usually makes companies very detailed in their wording.

    5. Public Sector Manager*

      Severance isn’t the same as being on payroll. Allowing someone to burn 3 months of vacation before being laid off would justify extending your employment date. But severance is being laid off and then getting money for being laid off. I’ve never heard of a severance where you’re laid off but they keep you on payroll for the length of the severance period.

    6. Van Wilder*

      I think some people might assume he was adopted, while others might assume he was biracial. Depending on that person’s life experience. The key is that you shouldn’t make any unchecked assumptions, certainly not out loud. And if you do, you should apologize, not double down.
      If OP had seen Sue’s adopted child and said “oh, another multiracial biological family like mine!”, I expect she would have apologized for her assumption.

  22. Not always right*

    Re: letter number 2. The boss who forgets things. I had a co worker about 20 years ago who I had to repeat things and explain how to do things she should know and even things she had trained me on. Turned out she had dementia. Not saying your boss has dementia, but maybe that is something to consider

    1. Janet Pinkerton*

      Honestly, in the now times, it seems like everyone is struggling with memory a little more than normal. Plus with what all Alison said, I wouldn’t jump to dementia even as a possibility here.

  23. Researchalatorlady*

    Re: homemade wine, it is a thoughtful gesture on the part of LW. However, and I am not sure how to put this delicately, I think many would not be too elated with a gift of homemade wine… I am sure it would be seen as well-meant, but not fancied in the way that other homemade food gifts are. Winegrace has an article about homemade wine versus store bought that sums up the opinions fairly well. There’s also the chance of mold and bacteria in homemade wines that people may not want to risk versus the safety of commercially bottled. Overall, I’d suggest the risk of giving homemade wine making a poor impression isn’t worth it unless they have already expressed a real enthusiasm for Chateau Your Basement 2019.

    1. Not Australian*

      Ordinarily you’d be right, but they’d been discussing it and he’d already expressed an interest.

      Actually, home wine-making is something that used to be a lot more common and only a couple of decades ago there would be whole little communities exchanging their home-made brews. Yes, they had their failures … but nobody would give away a bottle of home-made wine that wasn’t known to be good, and if proper sterlisation procedures are followed there is no more reason for mould or bacteria to be present than would be in anyone’s ordinary everyday dishes fresh from the dishwasher.

      If it’s not your personal preference, fine, but that doesn’t mean it’s inherently of any less value than any other home-made item.

      [Written on behalf of the many generations of home wine-makers in my family.]

    2. Chriama*

      I think it’s a know your audience thing. They’ve been talking about it already and the coworker has shown enthusiasm. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone you don’t know well.

    3. Yvette*

      I just have to say I love “Chateau Your Basement “ and am now picturing LW ordering labels with the words ‘Chateau LastName “ centered over an artistically rendered line drawing of their home.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Homebrewer/winemaker on hiatus here….our labels said “Chez $LastName”, and I’m thinking your idea makes it even funnier.

        1. Yvette*

          Go for it!!! I don’t know how much an artist would charge but I am pretty sure there is software that will take a photo and turn it into a sketch. Oh, and make sure you number the lable in the corner with bottle/batch number (even if you just make them up) 520/4500 would be funny.

    4. pancakes*

      Depends on the circumstances. I can easily imagine a scenario in which I’d really like to try it!

    5. Sour Grapes*

      Winemaker chiming in here – wine of most things is very safe! No pathological organisms can live in it with the alcohol and pH, and if the wine was made so poorly that there was the chance of gross stuff growing in it, you would *definitely* smell and see it before putting it in your mouth. It’s probably safer than most things coming from coworkers home kitchens with regards to food safety.

    6. CM*

      A friend gave me his homemade beer, and while I appreciated the sentiment, I did not appreciate the taste! Still, I think that’s the whole point of why homemade food doesn’t count as “gifting up.” It’s more about sharing the fruits of your energy and labor than giving something purely to show appreciation for the other person. In a case like this, if I regularly talked to a coworker about their wine-making hobby and they brought me a bottle of their wine, I would think it was pretty cool even if I had no interest in drinking the wine.

  24. rudster*

    Sue made the comment after they had already turned back to work, so presumably the son was not present on camera when the comment was made, though Sue could not have been positive that he was out of the room or out of speaker range. I assumed that LW didn’t introduce her husband on camera, only her son. If Sue had seen the husband, that makes her assumption all the more bizarre.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      Yes, that was my first thought. Even if it was supposed to be a family event there could very easily have been a reason he couldn’t be there and wasn’t seen on camera. Something like family photos featuring him might not have been easily visible to Sue.

    1. LW1*

      Thank you for this message and I will update! The comments have mostly been supportive and understanding, which I really appreciate. I actually hesitated sending this letter because I was afraid there would be a bunch of negative comments.

      I totally understand that I didn’t say the exactly right then but it seems most commenters can look at the whole picture and why I reacted how I did.

      1. Xavier Desmond*

        It’s so easy to use the wrong words or make wrong assumptions in the moment. Without wanting to speak for you, I’m sure you wouldn’t have felt less of Sue if she had been mortified at her assumption and apologised afterwards.

      2. Ferret*

        I think you’re fine. If you really want to flash back to an absolute mess you can always read the third linked letter. I’m glad we haven’t had a disaster zone of a comments section like that for a while

        1. Observer*

          Oh, yes. That was a dumpster fire all right.

          That letter writer was MUCH more rude to start with, with NO excuse and just doubled down with more insults.

      3. Roller Kirby*


        As you said, it was a crazy moment. This person didn’t ask “is your child adopted?” Which would also be incredibly rude, to which you could have simply replied “Nope”. They presumed he was and ran with it, and you had to respond in the moment, while realizing that the only reason you’re even having this conversation is because of your child’s skin color. That was an awful situation for you to be put in at work, and I think you handled it as absolute best you could!

      4. AngryOwl*

        Good luck! I hope your manager is reasonable.

        I’m glad most of the comments recognize why you reacted in that way. But dang, the length some people will go to “explain” racism.

      5. iceberry*

        LW1 it is not your duty to perform perfectly when on the receiving end of racism. It’s great that we can all try to learn and understand how to respond better if we encounter similar situations. Sue was wrong. The end.

      6. Alice's Rabbit*

        Don’t be hard on yourself. Your comment was innocently meant, and you have already apologized for the awkward word choice. I have several adoptive family members, and while I know some folks would bristle at your wording, most of us understand that you were on the spot due to your coworker’s horribly racist assumption. I don’t see that you did anything all that wrong.
        Clearly, she’s trying to deflect attention from her own racism, and is more than a little oversensitive about adoption. You need to be sure your boss has the full picture, including that you have already apologized and tried to handle this like a reasonable person, while she has commenced gossiping, and only escalated to an official complaint after your apology.

      7. Alice*

        Just a thought, since these kinds of situations are probably going to keep happening. You can always look at the other person like they’re being weird/crazy/completely unreasonable, and say ” he’s not adopted.” Full stop. No explanation, no details, just negate the assumption and act like it’s a strange thing for them to bring up, but you’ll let it slide because you’re awesome like that

  25. Jen*

    As an adoptee the letter writer in number one should absolutely apologize for using the phrase “own son” which is absolutely insensitive to adoptive parents because it’s flat out stating that an adoptee isn’t the adoptive parents’ own child. That simply isn’t true. I don’t think the adoptive parent was being too sensitive in that regards. The respectful phrasing would have been he is my biological child

    1. doreen*

      She wouldn’t have been too sensitive if the situation had been different- an adopted child is certainly his/her parent’s own child. But you kind of forfeit the right to be sensitive about that sort of thing when you yourself were insensitive by assuming a white woman couldn’t have given birth to a child who doesn’t appear white.

      1. virago*

        LW 1 has also apologized in the comments at least twice (possibly three times) for the “own son” language. Please read the discussion more carefully before jumping in to make your point.

    2. I'm just here for the cats.*

      She ready apologized. And she is making an official complaint now against op. Sue is acting like the op said something aweful about adopting, like don’t you want your own kids?. She didn’t.

      1. CottageCoreMr.Rogers*

        Jen, I completely agree. OP #1 did apologize but it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge it again in this meeting. Everyone here is coming from a place of hurt and sometimes acknowledging that can go a long way! Yes, Sue is definitely in the wrong for how she keeps escalating but I think there’s a lot of pain going on in this conversation that could be addressed.

        1. Ash*

          It’s not LW’s job to help Sue process her pain. She already apologized sincerely. Sue now needs to process with a therapist, including examining her racism.

    3. Temperance*

      Nah. Her son was apparently RIGHT THERE when Sue made that statement. It’s probably not the first time that her black son was assumed to not be biologically hers, and frankly, HIS comfort and affirming their relationship is the most important thing here.

      Not appeasing some racist who filed a formal complaint.

    4. hbc*

      You can’t ignore the context in which the statement was made. When someone leads off with rudeness or ignorance, a perfect response is a high bar, and it’s beyond hypocritical for Sue to demand that perfection after laying such a conversational turd. Even if I consider them equal insults (debatable), Sue’s was an unforced error.

      Honestly, I can only think of two variations of this situation where Sue is owed an apology: 1) Sue apologized first–since she was the first offender and 2) OP’s response was a major escalation–think “Ugh, you’d have to pay me to raise someone else’s kids.”

    5. Iamadopted*

      OMG I am adopted and I think it’s crazy to expect LW1 to apologize for everything. Adopted children and their adoptive parents are not being victimized by biological children and parents with the word “own”. FFS!

    6. Paperwhite*

      Fortunately, LW#1 has already apologized. I also notice you don’t think Sue needs to apologize for either a racist assumption or for doubling down rather than accepting an apology.

    7. Massmatt*

      Where is your umbrage about the racist assumption Sue made which is what prompted LW 1’s response in the first place? Why is racist nonsense given a pass while feelings of adoptive moms are sacrosanct?

  26. Bagpuss*

    Ooh, nice. Maybe even phrase it as “the last thing I wanted was for Sue’s racist comment to have to go on record”

  27. Ash*

    LW3, I would be so sad in your shoes. You have every right to feel slighted and hurt. Can you do a virtual mini concert for your family or friends, just so the results of your hard work don’t lack an audience? That may be a really great way to cheer yourself up.

  28. Teapot Wrangler*

    For #4 – I think it really depends. If you were being paid monthly up until July (which is how I read your letter), were you allowed to work if you found a job? Sounds more like gardening leave rather than a lump sum severance so I would still consider myself employed.

    If you could have started a new job any time or it was a lump sum, of course you can’t have July as your end date.

      1. doreen*

        I think that depends on the details, even in the US. Alison says in her answer that the employer would “presumably would tell a reference-checker that you were employed through March, not July” and if that’s the case, the LW should absolutely give her end date as March. But one of my former employers considered your termination date to be your last date on payroll and they didn’t pay out your accrued leave in a lump sum but instead kept you on payroll until it was exhausted. So if my last day of work was in March, but I was on the payroll until July 15, they would have told a reference checker that I was employed until July 15.

      2. anon finance person*

        This is not true! Having been through this myself, both on the laid off side as well as having been the finance lead on a layoff, in both cases the WARN period (60 days after communication of the layoff) was considered employment. If someone called HR to verify employment dates, they would give the last date of employment as the end of the WARN period.

        Since it’s not clear how OP’s severance was structured, she should reach out to HR to confirm this. This is a very common question and one any remotely competent HR department will be able to answer.

    1. KRM*

      When I was laid off last year, we had a six week payout of normal paycheck schedule before the lump sum severance payout (they laid of 40% of us and triggered the WARN act in MA). However, if we wanted to start a job before then we’d just have had to notify HR so they could stop the paychecks and dump that remaining $$ into the lump sum. As far as I was concerned, that meant my end date was the last day I was in the office, and the six weeks after that I wasn’t really employed by the company.

  29. Ash*

    LW1 is a good cautionary tale to everyone about how asking overt questions or making assumptions about how families are built can land you in a whole heap of awkwardness or worse. People adopt, foster, use egg or sperm donors, surrogates, and all sorts of other methods to have children. Unless the person volunteers the information or you know them very, very well, it’s just generally not something to comment on beyond “omg what a cute child/family!” If Sue had stuck to that, the situation LW1 described would never have happened. Sue can seek out support and community with other adoptive parents through a multitude of non-work platforms.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Unless the person volunteers the information or you know them very, very well, it’s just generally not something to comment on beyond “omg what a cute child/family!”

      This. Sue is not the victim here, though she’s trying hard to spin it so she is.

    2. DarnTheMan*

      I saw this so much growing up; a family friend has three children, all adopted but because the two older kids were both white and similar to the parents in coloring, while the youngest was biracial, it was an automatic assumption by so many people that the youngest was the only adopted one. Even as a child, I knew that saying anything more than “oh are these your children? Nice to meet you” was messed up.

  30. Karia*

    Sue is doing this because she was accidentally racist and is embarrassed, and rather than examine her own biases and apologise to LW, she’s kicking up a self righteous fuss to obscure her own failings, perhaps even to herself.

    1. londonedit*

      That’s what I was thinking. I can understand Sue being temporarily blinded by excitement at (apparently) meeting another adoptive family, but the fact is that she acted on an unconscious bias. We all have them, but Sue needs to realise that making assumptions about people’s family setup based on the colour of their skin is not ideal. OK, the OP also erred when she used the phrase ‘my own son’, but can any of us really say with certainty that we’re always able to come up with the correct response 100% of the time? Especially when we’re taken aback by what someone else has said? Sue caused the awkwardness in the first place, OP has already apologised for their response, and I think now it’s on Sue to have a look at some of the assumptions she makes, rather than trying to haul OP over the coals as a distraction.

    2. Thankful for AAM*

      It sounds from the comments of coworkers that Sue does this all the time for all the things. She is only focused on herself and likely has no idea her own comment was racist.

      1. WellRed*

        Yeah, I’m not buying all the Sue was embarrassed excuses. If she was, she wouldn’t still be pushing this. Plus, a coworker has already warned OP about a sue.

        1. Karia*

          Oh I never said it was *conscious* embarrassment.

          It’s the same energy as when a pundit does something mildly prejudiced and gets called out. And instead of saying sorry, they go full on bigot. It’s ego protection; they’d rather tell themselves that they’re “being harassed” than admit they got it wrong that one time.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          “Reverse Victim and Offender” (the RVO part of DARVO) is a very common response to embarrassment / defensiveness. And once you lock in that reaction, cognitive dissonance locks it in place.

          Looking at racism in terms of abuse + cognitive dissonance has been really helpful to me in understanding it, including aspects like white fragility.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Initially, I thought this also. But since she had to rally the troops to come to her aid, no. She a racist. A person who is not a racist does not need backup. They simply apologize profusely, pull out all the stops to not let that happen again and life goes on. Sue had to go find backup.

  31. Iamadopted*

    I’m adopted and I think the comments here from people telling LW1 that they are both in the wrong is laughable. If you give birth to a child it is their “own” child. I doubt there is any wording that would have come across as correct. The coworker is obviously bringing her “own” (ie she birthed them) hand wringing insecurities to the workplace. I feel bad for her adopted kid for the reactions they will get from this woman if they ever want to meet their real parents.

      1. Iamadopted*

        Honestly do people in regular conversations refer to kids as their biological kids? No. And if they did it would be weird. Obviously the nut bar who made a racist assumption wants to police LW1’s language and it’s absolutely crazy. Again, I am adopted and this is real nutty behaviour for a parent and probably being projected as well onto their kid.

    1. Jennifer*

      Exactly. I also feel sorry for Sue’s kids if they are minorities. She seems to think of adoption as a badge of honor and kids as trophies to be trotted out for praise.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, I am picking up on this too. Who tells a random stranger that their kid is adopted? How do Sue’s kids feel about Sue doing that? I bet they feel like second string.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      I’m adopted and I think the comments here from people telling LW1 that they are both in the wrong is laughable.

      I’m glad it doesn’t bother you. Please understand that it does bother a lot of adoptive parents, and that it’s cruel to call their hurt “laughable.”

      1. Paperwhite*

        Does that hurt justify either a racist comment up front or refusing to accept an apology and instead lodging a formal career-affecting complaint afterwards?

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          No. Sue was way out of line, and the OP has already apologized and owes her nothing else. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to blithely insist that a statement that truly is bothersome to many people is perfectly fine.

      2. Jennifer*

        This isn’t about you or adoptive parents today. This is about white people saying ignorant, racially-biased stuff and then grabbing on any thread they can to make themselves look like the victims. The fact that so many are doing exactly that in the comments is actually laughable.

        1. Chiming In*

          Yes!! White people, this is a chance to learn how often we get “wounded” and go on the offensive without considering how harmful we have been and are being. A clumsy response to racism is completely understandable because RACISM.

  32. Mx*

    1# Sue has made a racist assumption here. You could turn the table and be the one making a formal complaint.

  33. Overlooked*

    A variation on letter 3: how do you handle being consistently the one who doesn’t have the office group celebrate your birthday? My birthday is in the middle of summer and not an unusual date (unlike the poor human from the Feb. 29 birthday letter) so I’m at a loss for why it’s happening. My OP sends reminders to our work group for everyone else’s birthday; if the day is on a weekend or holiday the reminder email goes out the following working day. Recently our OP belatedly sent someone else’s notice a day late with deep apologies and I sent a private reply note back to her that she had skipped mine; she said she would make it up later that day but never did. This has been going on for a few years now and it seems like such a small thing to be upset over, but honestly it really is upsetting me the more I write about it. I think we have a reasonable working relationship, I’ve made it clear I would like to be celebrated like everyone else, and I’m asking for something reasonably low-effort (just an email). Any advice would be appreciated.

    1. Heather*

      I think you need to stop relying on that person. Who knows why she does it, but she’s made it clear she’s not going to remember. Can you send out an email yourself next year? “Hi all, it’s my birthday, donuts in the kitchen!” or something like that? (That assumes of course that you’ll be back in the office by the middle of next year.)

      1. Brusque*

        That would be really embarrassing for the one who usually sends the reminders but since they continuously ‘forget’ Overlooked and they already asked her to remember her that’s on them. They had their chance. The next time they should deal with the questions from Overlloked’s colleagues why they never send out birthday reminders for Overlooked before.

    2. TuesdayLlama*

      How frustrating! I would say, next time they skip you, send out the email yourself! Everyone else will still be glad to celebrate with you, even though your OP is a doof.

    3. WellRed*

      As someone who’s birthday is frequently overlooked at the office (December 24) I agree with just owning it and bringing something to cheerfully share on whatever day works.

    4. SomebodyElse*

      I’d probably go into snarky territory with this one… (I know not mature… blah blah blah)

      Bring a cake in on your birthday and set it on your desk for the world to see. When someone asks, just say you are waiting for the birthday email from Forgetful Fran to reply to and since she’s forgotten to do it the last several years you thought that the cake might be a good reminder.

      I’m guessing Forgetful Fran will have quite a few reminders from people to send out your birthday email.

      1. kt*

        Yeah, if it’s been happening a few years, might be time to just call it out — “Person keeps forgetting my birthday but I’d like to celebrate it, so I’ll be doing ****!” Come and have fun!

    5. BadWolf*

      Before your next birthday, I might do something a little pointy like , “I think my birthday might be under an office curse — it’s been missed the last couple of years! If only that meant I got to claim that I’m still the same age!”

  34. Janet Pinkerton*

    LW2, you sound like a dream. I’m serious, to have a new employee who can immediately jump in and know these things so I don’t have to? That’s the dream. I hope you’re able to stay patient about it, because I’m sure your boss really appreciates this from you. (Am boss, would appreciate.)

    1. Allonge*

      Yes, LW2, don’t worry you will be thought of as a know-it-all or whatever. It’s your job to know this stuff, and your boss should appreciate it for what it is.

      That said, I know the feeling of ‘oh, not again!’, especially if your boss is not very aware of this happening, and it can be unsettling to have to keep correcting one’s boss. Take what Alison said to heart on this: even if the boss had a good memory, it’s still very reasonable that you just know your area better than them. It feels weird! But it is so.

    2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      From the employee perspective, it’s definitely odd to be the one handling these sorts of details without your boss explicitly delegating them to you. My own boss is ridiculously busy (she has both people management and project management responsibilities), so the most senior team members (including me) do a lot of the day to day stuff, including reminding her when we need her direct input! Boss, in turn, remembers to thank us for picking up all the work we’re doing that’s slightly above an individual contributor level (think team lead, in an org that doesn’t have that title).

      A good boss will appreciate what you’re doing and let you know that. (Mine does, both in my performance reviews and during our 1-1 check ins.)

  35. Mizzle*

    For #3: How disappointing! Practicing daily is a commitment at the best of times, much more so with a young child and during a pandemic. I get that it feels like a petty complaint to make and it might feel awkward (Alison, you’re doing us such a service by providing scripts!), but you’re not in any way wrong to feel like this. Is there any colleague that you’re close to whom you could share with and commiserate?

    In case this helps: if/when you do bring this up, you can keep in mind that it would be good for everyone if future events are more careful about this. You don’t want this to happen to anyone else, nor do the organizers, and flagging this is a way to help prevent that.

  36. Thankful for AAM*

    Re letter #1, we have a Sue who is easily offended (as the OP’s coworkers described Sue) in our workplace. Before I say anything else, I am so sorry, I know what it is like to work in a place that revolves around a coworker’s poor behavior like this. And I am married to someone who does not share my appearance and we have a child and know what it is like to experience the assumptions people make about all 3 of us.

    For our Sue, it is not about making racist microaggressions. It is about interpreting every interaction with coworkers in the worst possible light and escalating them into “meetings with our boss” level.

    Others have addressed the racist issue here and I agree OP1 should remind Sue and boss she apologized for the “my own” child comment but do not be so conciliatory thatr the racist comment drops off the boss’s radar. But how should the OP manage this longer term if the office revolves around Sue’s hurt feelings?

    Alison asked if the boss knows the full context. To me, that is the issue. Our boss knows our coworker is our office Sue but our boss continues to indulge her. She would do the same for us if we complained about Sue but we don’t bc our real complaint is the boss indulging Sue. I don’t understand why she gets indulged this way. For example, Sue overheard me tell a programmer I like to “automate” my own work processes, like make templates, much like Steve Jobs wore the same clothes, so I don’t have to think about them, it saves my thinking for things that need it. Our office Sue heard, “thankful wants me to do her job for her.” She took her complaint to our boss and then I’m in a meeting to help us with our differences. I had to explain myself and address a complaint I did not think my boss should have had a formal meeting to discuss.

    Is it poor or good management to hold these meetings to “help coworkers manage their differences?”

    In both cases, why are managers not telling the offended person they were not trying to offend you? Maybe that does not work? Why is OP1’s manager not asking both for info and then telling Sue, OP already apologized, what is the goal of this meeting? And if we move forward, I’ll have to add your racist comment to the mix.

    In my case, why did my manager not ask our Sue, did Thankful say, “do this task for me?” And if Sue said yes even tho I did not, why did manager not coach her on what to say back to me, like “no, I cannot do your task for you.” Why did we have a meeting when our office Sue does this often?

    1. Brusque*

      You manager sounds not just a little incompetent and also very lazy if they jump straight to mefiation without exploring the situation beforehand.
      I had one of those myself. My boss was a ‘where smoke is is fire’ type. She firmly believed that all complaints must have a reasom involving both parties: the one complaining amd the one complaint about must be involved somehow.
      It was riddiculous. It was impossible to make her understand such things as misunderstandings, one sided assumptions or yes, busibodies and troublemakers.
      In one example a colleague ran to her complaining I was sexist for talking about her as my girl boss.
      The point is: I used the term girl boss, but the conversation I had with my coworker was about my cat. This busibody only heard the middle of a conversation, made her own assumptions, ran to my boss to complain and I had to sit in a meeting being lectured on how misogynist it is to call your boss a girl. (Which is something I don’t dispute but just didn’t do!)
      I wish I could say I found a solution but my boss was beyond reason on her smoke means fire policy and I quit shortly after. I only stayed a few month due to other issues as well.

      1. Observer*

        You called your CAT a “girl boss” and your coworker heard the comment and thought you mean your actual boss. And your actual manager scolded you for being misogynistic without checking what actually happened first? I think I would have had a hard time keeping my cool. I’d either be on the floor laughing or tearing off some heads (metaphorically).

        1. Brusque*

          Yes, today I can laugh about that too. Back then it was another pearl on a very toxic necklace of issues.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Because the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Go read a lot of Captain Awkward, especially letters from this year. SO often, the letters are about ‘Person X does sucky thing to me. Person Y asks me to give in / apologize / smooth it over with Person X. Should I?’

      The answer in most of the cases is ‘Nope!’ followed by lots of good advice and scripts on how to disengage with person X and push back with person Y. The power differentials / enforced relationships of employment make the answers a little different, but you may find some stuff there. Alison’s usual advice, ‘get people together to complain’ might also be useful, if you can document enough times / people and show your manager how exhausting your Sue is.

      2020’s Awkward Slogan: Do less accommodation of bad behavior.

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        I regret being as conciliatory as I have been with our Sue and I am going to adopt “do less accommodation of bad behavior” as my mantra for now.

    3. Wisteria*

      “In both cases, why are managers not telling the offended person they were not trying to offend you?”

      Bc effect matters as much or more than intent. After all, Sue was not trying to offend OP. And yet, Sue was offensive. And then OP was offensive. Two wrongs make two wrongs, and I hope neither OP nor Sue has to hear, “they were not trying to offend you.”

  37. A name for now*

    OP 5 gifting alcohol to someone you know drinks it is perfectly fine – if its home brewed just make sure it is legal to gift where you live (we have confusing laws where I live).

    It would be inappropriate if you knew the person didn’t drink or was wanting to reduce their alcohol consumption. If you’re unsure it’s also ok to ask first.

    1. Junior Assistant Peon*

      It’s a “know your company” kind of thing. One place I worked, it was technically against the rules to have a sealed container of alcohol in your car in the parking lot, and a bottle of wine as a gift would have been a huge eyebrow-raiser. Other places I’ve worked, no one would have minded.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          It’s probably a liability thing in case someone decides to crack open the alcohol during lunch and get wasted. I worked for an insurance company that had the same rule, so when I brought a coworker a bottle of wine (from a vineyard that he likes), I had to give it to him concealed in something else and he immediately hid it from view so we wouldn’t be in violation of the policy.

        2. Emi*

          Where I work (federal government) you technically need a permit from the security department to have alcohol on-site. They generally won’t file a report just because you have it in your car, but they could. It’s a combination of being persnickety around classified information and living in fear that we’ll be accused of having fun on the taxpayer’s dime.

        3. Onyx*

          That would also be against the rules at my workplace, simply because the workplace has a blanket rule about prohibited items at work (including alcohol) and the parking lot is on-site. Realistically, if the alcohol stayed stashed out of sight in the car, and, e.g., was handed over inside a gift bag in the parking lot, it would probably never become an issue, but technically it is a rules violation. (In my workplace, I’m *guessing* discreetly exchanging a gift of sealed alcohol in the parking lot would ultimately get a mere slap on the wrist/”don’t do that again; the parking lot is still ‘at work'” if caught, whereas it would definitely be a disciplinary problem if someone got caught actually bringing it inside/further into the property.)

        4. Donkey Hotey*

          Utah ex-pat here: Company culture plus local culture is a wild ride.

          The only thing more entertaining than watching the out-of-state bosses boggle as to why they can’t get a drink is watching the in-state bosses go to see the HQ and see how much alcohol floats around.

  38. Junior Assistant Peon*

    OP 1 is lucky she has a HR complaint she can defend herself against. At a former workplace of mine, it was “you offended someone, but we can’t tell you who it was or what you said,” and there’s no way to defend yourself.

    I had an anonymous HR complaint like that against me. Much later, I found out it was a case of someone overhearing a piece of a conversation and taking it out of context. Until I found out which conversation triggered the complaint, I was paranoid and felt like I couldn’t trust any of my coworkers.

  39. CupcakeCounter*

    I’m so mad at Sue in #1 I could spit!
    You were completely appropriate and did nothing wrong. Sue was insulting (which as an adopted person who has to deal with the whole “real” mom/parents crap I’m pretty used to getting a ton of questions on when people find out) and racist. There would have been nothing wrong with her saying “is your son perhaps adopted? I have 2 adopted children of my own from X country and love being able connect them with other adopted children.” That is a good faith question, yes there is still some assumption, but the overall feeling is a positive one where someone is looking for common ground and a connection and it starts with a clarifying question and a reason for the personal query.

  40. cncx*

    Um not to dogpile Sue in number 1 but i’m yet another person asking why is she digging her heels in and making this an HR issue when she also is in the wrong for making a racist assumption? If i had put my foot in my mouth like that, even if i was miffed, i would have taken the L.

    1. Sylvan*

      Same – I’d feel pretty bad and apologize! I think she believes she’s either done something racist, or is likely to be “incorrectly” called out for doing something racist. She might be trying to preemptively discredit the OP (if the OP were to complain).

  41. MissDisplaced*

    I’m sorry #1 You did nothing wrong and that behavior is a tactic often used by racists to cover their own racist behaviors. It’s a terrible example of gaslighting too because Sue is claiming you said something you never said. Protect yourself.

    1. WellRed*

      This is not gaslighting and Sue, for all she’s in the wrong here, is not really saying any such thing.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        To clarify: LW1 says she used the term ‘he is my own child’. “Own” in the context of adoption is often used to make adopted children ‘other and lesser’. I don’t have any adopted kids, but some of my friends do, and I winced when I read that.

        LW1 recognizes that was not a good word choice, and apologized for it, which is a fine choice – if LW1 doesn’t want to make a big deal about the racist assumption, that’s her call, and apologizing for a poor word choice is ok.

        Sue’s not gaslighting exactly, but she is Attacking / Reversing Victim and Offender. There’s every chance that if confronted in the meeting, she will Deny that her assumption was racist, completing the DARVO, so you’re right that she’s working from an abuser’s playbook.

  42. Thankful for AAM*

    It occurs to me that OP1 should ask in any mtg for Sue to explain why she made the adoption comment; get Sue to say it was based on race. Along the lines of:
    “Lets get on the same page here. At the end of the meeting Sue said it was nice to see another adoptive parent. What made you say that?”

  43. Firecat*


    I’d call your boss, not email, and say something like this.

    I wanted to be sure you had the full context of Sue’s complaint against me. After the team meeting Friday Sue abruptly announced to me how happy she was to have another adoptive parents on the team. I was initially confused and then I realized that she assumed my biological son must be adopted. This assumption about our family structure due to my and my son’s race caught me off guard. In the moment I reacted awkwardly with a laugh and said he is my own son. I immediately regretted that word choice, biological would have been better. However since this entire exchange was off the cuff in response to her awkward assumption about my son based on our race, I figured we were both extending grace to each other’s foot in mouth moments and moving on.

    I then found out from Monica that she has been telling everyone I laughed at her and mocked her for being an adoptive parents. I called Sue after I found this out and apologized for making her feel that way and let her know I have the utmost respective for adoptive parents (my nephew is actually adopted). Sue has yet to apologize to me, but for the sake of team unity I was ready to let bygones be bygones.

    So that’s the context. I would like your help shutting down her rumours on the team. If you think we need a remediation with HR then that’s fine, but I wanted to be up front that I have apologized for my word choice and sue has yet to apologize for her racist assumption. I also did not go around the office calling her out for her racist comment like she has to me.

    Or something like that.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Good script, though I might leave out or modify the last sentence (maybe…). Two uses of ‘race’ and one of ‘racist’ should get the point across.
      1) I think asking for help shutting her down / addressing gossip with the team is *really* important on a lot of levels. It emphasizes that Sue’s stirring up bigger trouble, and that Sue’s opening the door to ‘hostile work environment’ claim. I might even try to tie race into that sentence somehow, with ‘help shutting down her rumors and her racist assumptions.’ and change the next sentence to ‘If you think we need to address Sue’s harassment with HR then that’s fine’
      2) I would folo with a written confirmation of this conversation.

      LW1 I hope you catch this script!

  44. LW1*

    LW 1 here! There are people in the comments suggesting that I didn’t really apologize to Sue, so I just wanted to clarify. I apologized to her for using the phrase “own son” and that it was a poor choice of words, our children are “our own” however they come into our lives. I also apologized for laughing and explained it was a nervous reflex and I wasn’t laughing at her.

    Comments seems focused on the my poor choice of words in saying “own son”, but re: my conversations with Monica and Sue, it seemed Sue was much more upset about the laughing which is why I focused on it in my letter. But I did apologize for both.

    1. Boof*

      I wouldn’t worry about the few people who seem to zero in on that without seeming to see all the context ie sue being pretty aggressive despite you already apologizing and the fact that she precipitated the situation due to an at least equally problematic comment. Ideally we’d all acknowledge something was suboptimal/biased, maybe apologize (not like, MAJOR FORMAL apology just, an “oops, sorry!” should be enough I should think) and move on.
      “microinsults” are a thing but maybe should only be met with microapologies in the moment? No one person can apologize / make up for the cumulative impact, just their own contribution.

    2. Firecat*

      I don’t know of it helps, but this response is classic defensive reaction from Sue. People like her glomp on to a minor, legite issue, then blow it up into a BFG to deflect from their, often more problematic, behavior.

      As you can see from the comments, most people see through this BS but some people get sucked into focusing on the injsitove of the thing even though you apologized and get blinded to Sue’s injustice.

      If I had a nickel for every time my Sue did the same to me, over far lower stakes issues such as double booking meetings, I’d be able to retire early.

      That’s why I recommend calling your boss before the meeting, ideally at least a day or more, as your boss sounds like they are not great at handling interpersonal issues either (escalating to mediation without talking to you for a known trouble maker is problematic). This will give your boss time to evaluate the facts.

      I also think you are falling for Sue’s trap – which is really really hard I know! The goal can’t be to get Sue to acknowledge your apology. Or even the people who have taken Sue’s side. She’s not going to because her sole power right now is deflecting her wrong by deflecting focus to your mistep. You have to change your goal to be – work together despite this and ().

      () Should be whatever it is that will make you feel better about working with Sue. Be that an apology for her racist assumption, ameding her rumours of you to the team, etc.

      Don’t let the entire meeting be about “your wrong” since the whole thing started with Sue’s wrong and you have apologized and she has not.

    3. sacados*

      Either way you didn’t do anything wrong!
      Please pay attention to how your manager/company handles this whole kerfuffle tho — Sue’s nonsense may just point to her being a Drama Llama, but the fact that your manager also seems to be taking this seriously is not a good sign.
      Best case scenario, Sue has given the manager an incorrect idea of what actually happened and you can just explain. But if the manager understands the actual facts and still thinks this is something that requires a three-way meeting (!) then that’s not a great sign. You may have a Manager Problem and not just a Sue Problem.

    4. fposte*

      Oh, that’s really interesting, OP; thanks for clarifying. Yeah, Sue was already on pretty shifty ground and that puts her on quicksand.

    5. Sparkles McFadden*

      It’s not you. You are not in the wrong here. Your concern for your coworker is admirable, but she’s over in crazy-town now. You cannot go get her and bring her back. I certainly hope your manager puts an end to this very soon.

    6. Jules the 3rd*

      Got it! Check the comment right above this for a *really* good script for your manager. Sue’s taking it to all the other employees, and now a formal HR complaint, means you can use the term ‘harassment’ about her behavior, which can be very powerful in the circumstance (ie, your apology and the racial context). She wants to hammer, you do not have to be the nail.

    7. AngryOwl*

      You are definitely not the one in the wrong here. You made a very human error, and apologized. Sue was racist and is now doubling down.

  45. Missouri Girl in Louisiana*

    Oh for corn’s sake. LW1 didn’t do anything wrong. Why would anybody say “Oh..another adoptive mom here”? What’s the point? Does Sue want praise, sympathy, commendation because she adopted a child(ren)? And escalating it (I have been the brunt of an off-handed remark being escalated unnecessarily and idiotically, so that also raises flags for me). I hate it when people talk about “adopted” vs “biological” for a lot of reasons (there can be a context but it is not applicable here). It is completely irrelevant. As an adoptee and an adoptive mom, my daughter is my daughter (and my 3 step-children are my children and my husband refers to my daughter as his, without any adjective describing that she’s adopted). I can certainly see why LW1 was startled and didn’t know how to reply. As with the “Why don’t you have children?” question, just stop. So what if a human is “adopted” or “biological”. Family goes beyond this. I, personally, am lucky to know both my dads and I talk about my dad (my dad died a number of years ago and I found my bio dad last year) and will differentiate, in context, when I talk about my 2 dads. :-)

    Unfortunately, LW1 is at the mercy of people who should be telling Sue to get back to work and not waste people’s time with inane complaints. I don’t care if Sue is embarrassed or angry (she should be embarrassed-completely). I would be more than happy to tell her that for you LW1 (just kidding, I know, but seriously..she can be somewhat problematic, so you will have to tread carefully with her. This is indicative of a much more serious issue with Sue, so be careful-again, pictures of the robot from “Lost in Space”..danger, danger..)

  46. Kesnit*

    OP5 brings up a question that has been buzzing in my head.

    My wife brews mead. Several years ago, I brought in several bottles to give to my coworkers just before Christmas. My coworkers liked the mead and my wife and I have considered bringing in more bottles.

    However, one of my co-workers is an alcoholic and went to rehab this year. He is back to work now. I don’t know how to handle this. The rest of my office liked the mead and we have plenty that I could bring in. But I feel weird bringing in alcohol when I know one of my coworkers was in rehab.

    1. pancakes*

      I think it could be ok if you were to bring him something comparable – a cold brew coffee or tea concentrate, maybe? – and tell him that when passing out the gifts. Otherwise maybe skip it at work &/or drop off the bottles at people’s homes.

      1. pancakes*

        I should add, I think this really depends on cues from him. If he’s been at work events where alcohol is present, I think it’s probably ok to give other people a bottle of mead at work. If he’s avoided those, I would say no, either skip it or do it outside of work. Likewise if you’re unsure how he feels about being around alcohol.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          Right! I had a coworker that was a recovered alcoholic. We’re a small company, so most years our bosses take us to dinner at a nice restaurant for the end of year holiday party. They usually order bottles of wine for the table, but the year he joined us they had pause. I work closely with him, and he had mentioned his recovery a couple of times to me, so they asked me what I thought. I told them I wouldn’t mind if they skipped the wine this year if we were all unsure, I didn’t want him to feel left out.

          It ended up being a moot point, though. His wife came up and asked me if we usually order drinks because she wanted to order one for herself. But I’m glad that we all waited for a cue that it would be ok.

    2. Allonge*

      Is it an option to ask your coworker what he would prefer?

      I assume by the way that the mead gifts (super cool btw) were not consumed on the spot, so it would be a question of ‘hey, Bob, I was planning to share mead this year too, are you ok seeing me hand out the mead or do you prefer that we schedule this so you don’t have to look at it’.

      1. Kesnit*

        Just to clarify, I don’t hand-deliver the mead. I just brought it in and left it in the break room for people to take if they wanted. Not everyone took a bottle last time.

        1. Allonge*

          Even more then, I would ask your colleague if he needs / prefers that you handle this in any way (e.g. you remove the remaining bottles after hour X, or keep teh bottles at your desk / somewhere you can keep an eye out for him), or give him a head’s up so he can work from home for the day if that is an option. Maybe just knowing that you want to be considerate to him is enough, you know, maybe he says he can handle it. Or maybe he will ask you not to bring it in this year. I would let him know either way.

  47. updatejunkie*

    LW1 & LW3 both left me frustrated & sad! I hope we can get updates on them (if you’re reading, LWs, I would love updates as they happen!)

  48. LMM*

    Sue basically let everyone know that she believes the only way you could have a son who is visibly a different race than you is via adoption. That’s a bold statement, but racists are usually pretty bold, even when they think they are being subtle.

    Put a different way, what if you’d appeared on Zoom with a pie, and Sue told everyone that your pie was offensive to cookies, and that you would dare appear with a pie meant that you were opposed to cookies and she was going to take you to HR over your anti-cookie stance? Sometimes when people refuse to see what’s right in front of them, it helps to show them how ridiculous they are.

  49. Infiniteschrutebucks*

    “Sue assumed my son was adopted because he is biracial. I corrected her, and may have chuckled a little to hide my anger and surprise at being told I am not my own child’s biological parent – which, frankly, was a racist assumption. I am confused how I am the one being discriminatory in this situation? From my perspective, I’ve now been retaliated against because of my race and the race of my family members. Is this really a path the company wants to pursue?”

  50. SummerBee*

    OP#3, the exact same thing happened to me last week! I was supposed to sing, and was a bit nervous about it because it was my first time doing something like that over Zoom, so I practiced and made sure I was ready, but at the last minute couldn’t find the Zoom link. The organizer texted me about two minutes before the start asking, “Are you still able to join?”, but then had to be on camera and couldn’t reply with the link, and by the time I finally found it and logged in they were past my spot in the program so it was too late. Somewhat worse, later in the program she addressed the audience to say, “Thank you for bearing with our technical challenges, there have been a few behind the scenes but luckily unnoticable to you.” Unnoticable! That I was missing from the program! So that hurt as well.

    During the whole pandemic I’ve been in general stoic, calm and accepting of the situation, but this technical glitch threw me for a loop and I cried real tears for about an hour. I hope we both get another chance to perform our pieces, and I’m applauding you from here!

  51. CottageCoreMr.Rogers*

    #1, I know you didn’t intend it this way at all, but when you laughed (out of genuine surprise) and said he was “your own son,” you implied adopted kids aren’t equal members of the family. As someone who grew up in an adopted family (my sister is adopted and so are most of my cousins), I want to tell you that this is something folks in adoptive families hear so often and it really undermines their sense of family. Sue definitely shouldn’t have assumed your child was adopted, especially not due to race, and that also reveals bias. I think she was just eager to see someone she thought could understand her family situation. She is definitely blowing this out of proportion but if you can find it in yourself to recognize she is coming from a place of pain, that would be doing everyone in this a kindness. I would suggest going to the meeting and saying something like, “Sue, I’m sorry I implied your child weren’t “your own.” I was surprised by your comment and should have said he was my biological son. I get that as an adoptive parent, you probably receive a lot of rude comments about your child. I also get those as a parent of a biracial child. I know you were excited to see someone you thought had a similar family structure as you. But your comment erased multiracial families. In the future, I hope you will come to me first if I offend you and I’ll be sure to do the same. I want us to work well together. Can we agree to start fresh?” I think this would go a long way in showing your manager you are a person of strong character who can see the good in everyone despite their over the top reactions.

    1. londonedit*

      OP1 has already apologised. She used one less-than-optimal word in a situation where she was on the back foot, and she’s clarified several times in the comments here that she knows and understands that the word her brain chose to pop out at that particular moment was not the one she’d have used ordinarily. I understand that it’s a sensitive issue for adoptive parents and children, but I think focusing on that one word choice rather than on the problems Sue is causing isn’t all that helpful to the OP.

    2. Jennifer*

      Please. She made a one off remark in response to a highly offensive comment. Sue overreacted. Period. All this hand wringing for Sue and adoptive parents in the comments is exactly why minorities face the problems they do in the workplace.

    3. K*

      LW has addressed this several times in the comments already, and it sounds like she has already apologized to Sue.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Compare OP’s reaction to a racist remark with Sue’s reaction about adoption.

      OP, was trying to put everything in a peaceful place. Cohorts should show a willingness to get along. I see Sue as putting in ZERO effort into trying to get along. Matter of fact, I think Sue went into the negative numbers on this one.

    5. Tiny Kong*

      OP has already apologized.

      It would be great if Sue came in with that script (“I get that as a parent of a biracial child, you probably receive a lot of rude comments about your child. I also get those as an adoptive parent. I’m sorry for what I said”) instead of escalating to a formal complaint with HR. Sue has shown no remorse for CAUSING this situation with her thoughtless, offensive remark.

  52. CommanderBanana*

    Wow. Sue may want to consider changing her name to something that starts with K and rhymes with Schmaren. Her reaction is so incredibly out of proportion to the perceived ‘offense’ that if I were the LW, I’d classify her as One Of Those People and give her a wide berth from now on.

  53. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    LW2 makes me wonder about what I should have done with a former boss who actively punished me and adversely affected my career for “correcting her in public” (where public = my coworker’s office, where my coworker was actually momentarily distracted by something else) about an issue that I DID know more about because SHE sent me to the related meetings as her proxy and only wanted high-level updates. She had a very weird attitude that came across almost as “children shouldn’t correct their elders” and literally told me to “have the posture of a student” (for the record, I asked clarifying questions ALL the time when I wasn’t sure about something, was careful to phrase things in emails as to it come across as a know-it-all, and generally speaking, only stood my ground when I was 110% sure that I was correct).

    That boss retired within six months of this behavior, but I still wonder what (if anything) I could have done because her punishing actions were really sneaky and passive-aggressive and she’d won HR over on more than one occasion when others had made complaints about her.

    (Also, I’m not saying LW2’s boss sounds like this at ALL. You’d know by now if they had this attitude. The whole situation just reminded me of my own, and even though I’m 18 months away from the whole thing, I still wonder what in the world my options would have been back then had my boss not retired.)

    1. Not Australian*

      Reminds me of my ex-boss.

      Her: Hey, Not, we’re getting a new computer and we’ll be using Software A on it. I’ve booked you onto a one day course so you can learn how it works.
      Me: Sorry, boss, I won’t be available that day, I have [unbreakable commitment]. (I was part-time and this was a day I wasn’t scheduled to work.)
      Her: Oh, okay, I’ll go on the course and then you can have my notes afterwards.

      Fast-forward a few weeks. Computer arrives, she goes off on her course and comes back with a glossy folder and loads of notes, which she gives me. When I try to make it work, this is what happens…

      Me: Boss, I thought you said you were ordering Software A?
      Her: Yes, of course.
      Me: This is Software B.
      Her: Isn’t it the same?

      So all her course notes went into the bin and I started from scratch teaching myself Software B. If only she’d actually asked me whether I was available to go on the course in the first place. Sigh.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      When your boss sucks like this, you really don’t have many options other than keep your head down, document the boss’s directives (ie, emails saying “based on our conversation, I’m going to do X and Y. Let me know if you need something different”), don’t talk even if you’re 110% right (let her fail, use your emails to CYA), and job hunt. The power differential just makes it too hard, especially if they have HR on their side.

  54. Pandas are the best bears*

    One of my coworkers was once talking about two of his clients, one blind and one not, and he called the sighted person “normal”. My manager pointed out how that language is inappropriate but they fully understood that it was probably a slip up. The gist was we should just be careful about our phrasing in the future. At this point everyone should have just moved on. But instead of admitting his error and apologizing my coworker doubled down when the manager left the room. “Statistically being blind isn’t normal” “Everything is PC these days”

    I think people like this can’t accept that they have biases and need to work on them. Instead they associate racism and ableism with “bad people” and rationalize that since they aren’t a bad person they can’t possibly have any of their own biases. So they lash out at those who call them on it.

    1. Liz*

      Yikes! That sort of thing makes me wince. I’m a queer woman and part of my job involves taking demographics information from clients. I die a little inside every time I have a straight person tell me they’re “normal” when I get to the question on sexuality. I try to console myself with awareness that many of them simply aren’t familiar with the words at all, but these smaller things really do leave me wondering whether I should correct people, or if it’s an overstep. As you say, people often lash out when corrected.

  55. In my shell*

    #2 I wholeheartedly agree with Alison’s advice to OP. So many people have been in the position of seeming /or actually knowing more and being more on top of things than their manager, but the manager is still successful for the exact reasons/perspective Alison has offered here.

    It can be so difficult for a staff member to truly accept that their manager isn’t expected to – *and shouldn’t be* – focused on the same level of detail as they are in their job.

    From my own experience I’d recommend to OP2 – if possible – seize this opportunity to offer to take on some of the manager’s burden. It’s a huge development opportunity (been there, done that, got the promotion after!)!

  56. windsofwinter*

    LW1, you’ve gotten a lot of good advice on how to proceed. I just want you to really prepare for what may be about to go down. There’s a great article out there about the weaponization of white tears. Typically, this is something people of color fall victim to, but since you have a black child, your proximity to blackness can make you a target. I am almost certain that Sue will come into that meeting and pull a weepy damsel in distress act. That is something white women are very good at when it comes to being challenged on their racism. Racism makes white people uncomfortable, and it’s possible that your managers will defer to Sue’s feelings because it’s more comfortable for them to sit in that space than to have to acknowledge her racist assumption. The best thing you can do is be calm and concise. Don’t let her rile you up. I’m sorry you even have to deal with this.

    1. LW1*

      Thank you for this comment. It was definitely something that crossed my mind when Manager mentioned the 3 way call!

    2. Ginger Baker*

      +1 to this but also, as a white woman, you do have a lot of inherent privilege to push back on this without nearly as much risk. In order to avoid getting riled up in the moment, I super recommend practicing a few stock lines over and over again in preparation. I suggest “Yes, I did laugh in an attempt to smooth past a racist comment made in front of my son.”, “I was very surprised to encounter this racist comment at work.”, “I was not prepared for this as thankfully other people have not made erroneous racist presumptions to me about my child before this.” and “I am happy to let this be water under the bridge and write it off as a comment made from an excitement to connect with another adoptive parent and not intended to be a racist comment; we can move forward letting this be an awkward moment we got past.” The practicing will help a lot so you have these things ready and they flow smoothly; it’s so easy to get flustered in the moment (and, sadly, these kinds of comments specifically will be worth practicing for you for future moments).

      1. Also an older generation*

        I like this.
        I also think you could take Alison’s suggestion of a “surprised and confused” stance a step further – go into the meeting with the polite attitude of “I’m happy to have this meeting to allow Sue to smooth this over” and then act as if _of course_ that’s what the meeting is about, because that’s what anyone with a reasonable understanding of the situation would think. If Sue insists were laughing at her, then you can be genuinely confused – yes, you laughed in response to a strange racist presumption. You were taken off guard and you weren’t comfortable making an issue of it in the moment, but if Sue wants to apologize, you’re happy to accept it. If Sue tries to make your laughter a statement against adoption, just repeat what you’ve been saying – you laughed out of surprise, discomfort, and general awkwardness about Sue’s racially-motivated assumption.
        But, yeah, regardless of what you decide to say – stay calm, pleasant, and politely confused. Keep repeating the same lines, focus on what actually happened, no matter how personal Sue tries to make it.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          +1!!!!! But shorter, “you laughed out of surprise about Sue’s racially-motivated assumption”.

      2. Blackcat*

        ““Yes, I did laugh in an attempt to smooth past a racist comment made in front of my son.””

        I like that. It highlights that Sue said this on a video call where OP’s *child could hear.*

      3. not myself*

        As much as possible, it might be safer in this context to avoid saying “racist” and use phrases that basically mean the same thing. Sue’s going to bristle at the word “racist”, and the manager might not deal well with the word either.

        Maybe “I was so shocked that Sue assumed my son was adopted based on the color of his skin.” Yeah, I know that’s the same thing, but it might go over better, especially with the manager.

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      +1 Yep, this *will* happen. Be prepared for it, practice taking a deep breath and keeping the focus on Sue’s *multiple* errors (initial comment, gossiping to co-workers, HR escalation). Something like, “Perhaps we can address Sue’s harassing me when she’s feeling better?”

      Walk into that meeting with a *laser* sharp focus on how to keep it about Sue’s errors. Do not accommodate her any more, you’ve done enough.

    4. I'm just here for the cats*

      If at all possible LW1 should meet with manager or HR or whoever BEFORE the appointment with Sue so they can clearly state what happened. If there is anyone else who could vouge for what really happened? especially if other coworkers know that Sue over reacts.

  57. introverted af*

    For #5, I’m curious if others think this crosses into homemade/handmade gift territory, because in the past this commentariat has tended to advise against those. OP5 has covered whether or not giving alcohol is a problem, but I just wondered. On the one hand, bringing baked goods to share isn’t a problem but I seem to remember a letter not that long ago about giving something that they made themselves that took a decent amount of skill and time and being advised against giving it.

  58. LW 2*

    Really appreciate the feedback on this… I did suspect you would say something similar, but it still helps to hear it instead of just saying it to myself. I left off some details, but there are mistakes that were her responsibility, not just at our level. She also confided she was embarrassed about the mistake with my new co-worker and thanked me for handling a lot of her onboarding (I basically trained new co-worker because no one else was), so I think she is aware of her flaws… that’s one reason I started to get self conscious about being on top of things. She’s a kind person, and I can tell she does a lot of big picture meeting and paperwork stuff, like Alison mentioned. I hope I can keep supporting her and that it will be good for me, rather than hold me back. Will be careful with my tone!

    1. Strictly Speaking*

      The fact that she is aware that this is a shortcoming of hers is likely to make the difference, in that it’s more likely to be worth your trouble. That means she is aware of how you’re going above and beyond and of how important you are to her success.
      By contrast, the situation you would want to run away from: the manager starts incorporating your help into their habits, tries less to be on the ball or remember details because they begin to see all that as your obligation instead of their own, and then whenever both of you forget something or you were simply not informed about something they needed a reminder of, they see it as 100% your failing to do your job.

  59. Jennifer*

    #1 I’d decline the meeting using Alison’s exact wording. Sue is in the wrong here and she’s pulling a classic move here by pretending to be the victim. She isn’t. She made a racist statement and you responded awkwardly as people do when dealing with racism from people who should know better. She reminds me of all the recordings of women who say or do something racist and run to speak to the manager when they don’t like the response they get. She’s a flea. Swat her away and go on with your life. Hopefully at a new company soon.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Nah, take the meeting in the ‘Oh, we’re going to address Sue’s harassment (initial comment, gossiping to co-workers, HR escalation after apology) now? Great!’ mode.

      1. Jennifer*

        That’s assuming that management and HR are on the OP’s side. The fact that this meeting is even happening proves that they aren’t. I’ve been down this road many times before and know how it goes. I wouldn’t go. But that’s just me.

  60. Infrequent_Commenter*

    I see lots of people saying Sue’s comment was racist. Presumptive, yes, but what about the comment makes it racist? I’m not seeing it.

    This may or may not matter. There is potentially a lot of power in claiming to be the target of racism, but only if management agrees it was. But it will likely also make things worse in the relationship with Sue. Allison’s wording is good; it raises the spectre without overtly claiming racism. IMO if the situation can be resolved by showing Sue was wrong and presumptive, that’s better/safer than rolling a grenade into the situation.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      People have gone into great detail in this very thread about exactly why Sue’s statement was racist – please read the comments in full before asking questions like this. It comes off disingenuous.

    2. Empress Matilda*

      Sue was the one who threw the grenade, by escalating to a formal complaint. OP has been doing her best to mitigate the damage all along.

    3. blink14*

      I think what you may be picking up on is the fact that she may not be racist in a traditional sense, but picked up on the difference in skin color and therefore assumed. It’s the assumption, in my opinion, that is the biggest mistake.

      1. Infrequent_Commenter*

        Yes, that’s my problem/concern; Yes, Sue made an assumption based in part on race. If that’s automatically racism, it’s a really low bar.

        1. windsofwinter*

          Uh. Assumptions based on race are, in fact, racism. A manager seeing my name on an application and *assuming* I’m not a good fit for a job. Someone seeing a black man jogging in their neighborhood and *assuming* he doesn’t live there. A police officer pulling over a Maserati and *assuming* it’s stolen because a black person couldn’t afford to own it. Hearing someone speak Spanish in a store and *assuming* she’s not a legal citizen. A black kid with an undiagnosed learning disability because her teachers *assume* she’s just lazy.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Assumptions made based on gender are sexist, assumptions based on age are ageist and so on.
            That what discrimination is, assumptions.

        2. LTL*

          The reason the bar is low is because (seemingly) innocuous assumptions about race negatively impact people who aren’t white every day. So it’s important to question those assumptions. They have little impact on white people so it’s easy to say it’s not a big deal, but OP likely comes across these little things about her marriage and her son continuously. Which is an incredibly othering experience and it’s hard to understand the impact without experiencing it yourself.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            And how many times a day are these assumptions made? One pebble is just that, one pebble. But many pebbles can add up to some serious weight and be a true burden to have to carry around.

        3. tamarack and fireweed*

          An assumption based on race … I’d have to get very creative to construe a situation where that would not be racism. I mean, I think I can do it, but it would become contrived to the point of ridiculousness.

          In a general not already racially coded environment (like a workplace) I’d go so far to say as pretty much any assumption based on race is racist. Also, we’re looking at a specific assumption. The assumption is that given her child is a different race from her she didn’t give birth to them. Presuming we’re all roughly aware of how children are made and how genetics works this would mean that in order to explain the physical differences between the OP and her child, Sue dismissed out of hand the possibility of the OP having partnered with a black man in favor of the hypothesis that Sue adopted the child. There’s a thought process here that goes “surely the OP would not have partnered with a black man – this is so unlikely as to disregard even the possibility”. Have you ever seen a white person express surprise, or find it a remarkable fact to relay, that a white acquaintance of theirs has a black boy/girlfriend? Not a racist white acquaintance, but one they presume to be non-racist. Would this surprise be racist? Surely yes! What “Sue” did was worse.

    4. LTL*

      It’s unconscious bias. If you see a brown/black child with a white woman and then assume the child is adopted, there’s an underlying assumption is that the white woman wouldn’t (or is unlikely to) have a child with a black/brown man.

      I should also note that pointing out racism or that an action/remark was racist isn’t a way of saying “this person is a bad person” (though some people do jump down on that because they immediately assume malice, which is a shame). It’s a way of saying “this remark is problematic and hurtful.” Pointing out racism isn’t rolling a grenade into the situation. If pointing out racism is a grenade, we create a world where bias cannot be talked about, let alone addressed.

      1. Infrequent_Commenter*

        Thanks for replying/answering the qeustion instead of just attacking.

        My problem with your explanation is that it’s an assumed thought process we can’t know. In my opinion we should not assume it if there is another more obvious and non-racist way to view it: Based on her own words, Sue was looking for a positive link between herself and LW, which may have blinded her to the other obvious possibility. The two sides are not required to be opposites: “adoption = good” does not imply or require “interracial marriage = bad”.

        If we turn it around: Let’s say that the LW’s child had in fact been adopted, and Sue had guessed correctly. Is it still racist? Should LW2 reject the friendly overture because it is possible there was an unseen racist thought process involved?

        Just as an overall worldview, if someone is being nice to me I don’t spend effort looking for an a reason why there could be a negative motive.

        1. windsofwinter*

          Yes. If LW’s child was adopted, the assumption would still be racist. You seem to be under the impression that racism must come from a place of intentional and horrible motivation. That’s not the case. This type of casual racism is much more commonplace. That doesn’t make it any more appropriate.

        2. Jennifer*

          For the record – someone asking you to read is not an attack. It can actually benefit you. Calling it an attack is part of the problem.

        3. LTL*

          No problem. I understand why people get defensive (malicious people often initially disguise themselves as posing innocent questions) but I’ve found that people who lean left often take for granted what they see as obvious, which wouldn’t be obvious to someone who hasn’t been around the same circles they’ve been in. Thus not giving a lot of people even a chance at conversation. (IMO this shouldn’t even be about being on the left or right, but in modern America, there’s a lot of overlap.)

          Sue made an assumption based on a (probably unconscious) belief that interracial marriage isn’t a thing. It doesn’t mean that she believes interracial marriage is bad, but it’s still a belief rooted in race that is untrue and hurtful. The fact that Sue was looking to make a positive connection with OP doesn’t negate that.

          Whether or not an action or remark is racist is defined by the bias it contains. Intention plays no role. Good people make biased/racist assumptions. Bad people do too. Racist does not mean “bad person” so showing that someone had good intentions doesn’t mean that what they’ve done is not racist. It does not stop those biases from impacting the people around them.

          “Let’s say that the LW’s child had in fact been adopted, and Sue had guessed correctly. Is it still racist?”
          Yes, because Sue still made an assumption about who the biological parents could be based on the race of the child.

        4. Not So NewReader*

          The world has matured in some ways, we are wiser and more sophisticated. I find it very difficult to believe that Sue has never met a bi-racial couple who have a child/children together. It bends my imagination to try to think of someone who is not aware that inter-racial couplings of people do occur. Yet some how it never occurred to Sue that OP and child could share DNA.

          Hey we all hit our brain voids, so Sue could have just said, “OMG, where was my head? I am so sorry that was so thoughtless of me.” But that is not what Sue chose to do.

    5. pleaset cheap rolls*

      “I see lots of people saying Sue’s comment was racist. Presumptive, yes, but what about the comment makes it racist? I’m not seeing it.”
      So what. It’s not about you. If people of color or parents or children of a person of color tells you something is racist, just accept it unless you have a specific reason not to.


      1. Donkey Hotey*

        YES! I remember having a discussion with a co-worker on a related issue. (If it matters: he was a mechanical engineer and couldn’t understand why one couldn’t use the R-word because if it means something specific in engineer-land, why couldn’t it mean the same thing for people?)
        It ended when he said, “That’s messed up! Who gets to decide that?” I said, “Not you.”

    6. Paperwhite*

      There is potentially a lot of power in claiming to be the target of racism,

      ahahahahahahah oh my wow I needed that laugh.

      So, once more: it is racist to assume that a child with a different skin color than their parent must be adopted. Two reasons for this are 1) the assumption that an interracial relationship is Something Not Done and 2) the assumption that being a different skin color overrules all other markers of resemblence. I used Mr. Obama and his mother’s father as an example of the latter which people can look up if you choose– they look very much alike aside of skin tone.

      1. Paperwhite*

        That doesn’t follow logically. Sue believed LW2 chose to adopt a person of a different race and reacted positively to that conclusion. So it makes no sense for Sue to believe interracial relationships are bad.

        Or, she could think that “saving those poor dark children from their terrible backgrounds is a kind thing to do” and still find it horrifying to think of a Black man married to a White woman. For instance. I have met people who say that. A couple times to me.

        Also, in honesty, I have met many people like you, who want to argue that anything that isn’t preceded with “I AM SAYING THIS TO BE RACIST BECAUSE I HATE PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT WHITE” can’t be racist. For example, above you said, “if someone is being nice to me I don’t spend effort looking for an a reason why there could be a negative motive.” Now, more than one White person has told me, a Black woman who used to be a Black girl, that I am so “articulate” and “well spoken”. According to your logic, I should simply accept these comments as “someone … being nice to me” and have no right to notice the implication that I stand out from other Black people because I talk coherently, i.e., most Black people are incoherent. Fortunately, I know that Black people being incoherent is an idea that’s both stereotypical and untrue, so I know I’m not obliged to accept such a ‘compliment’.

        Instead of continuing to argue with people who have been experiencing and dealing with racism for our whole lives, you might want to think about why you feel the need to argue so vigorously that it doesn’t exist.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          You are talking to someone being purposefully obtuse – don’t bother. It’s like talking to a brick wall, only you get more out of the wall.

    7. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ve removed part of this thread that had become very derailing — please do not deny other people’s lived experience with racism. I’m closing this thread.

  61. LogicalOne*

    1. Sue sounds like she takes things way too personally, as Monica mentioned. I am wondering if this is the first time Sue has complained to management about a co-worker. When I hear stories like this I really do wonder how much of a tattletale some people are. There some things that should be reported to management but this is not one of those instances. If you apologized and tried to create a clear and transparent environment between you and Sue, that should’ve been the end of it. Trust me, good management will also notice when someone complains often which can turn around and bite them in the rear end. Since Sue takes things a little too personally, I wonder if management knows she is like this and maybe Sue will be on her way out because of her over-reaction to things. But you weren’t in the wrong at all!! I am certain the meeting will go in your favor and if anything, you’ll probably just have to apologize (which you shouldn’t) and just be weary of what you say around Sue (which you shouldn’t have to think twice before speaking). Good luck!!

  62. RagingADHD*

    You would think that if Sue is so sensitive to the assumptions and implications of wording, she might be able to figure out that what she said to LW was full of racist assumptions.

    Perhaps this will be an opportunity for her to learn some empathy. I’m sure her kids will benefit from it, especially if they are also of different races.

  63. Retired Prof*

    If it makes LW#3 feel better – my dept organized a retirement party for me and then forgot to tell or invite me. When I didn’t show up, no one came to get me – they just had the party without me. And then teased me later for blowing off the party. To be fair, it was something that someone just thought of the day before and then tacked onto lunchtime in the middle of an event we were putting on so everyone was distracted. But it took a while to forgive them for that.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      OMG, that’s awful! Someone should have come to find you to at least playfully chide you about skipping out on your own party (everywhere I’ve ever worked, my coworkers would have done this).

  64. Fluffernutter*

    I appreciate the consideration for teetotalers. I have received many a bottle of wine as employer gifts and it’s always disappointing. My roommates enjoy them though.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      Yes! This makes me think of a family friend who had epilepsy and followed a religion where they didn’t drink. EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. for 10+ years the owner would give him some type of alcohol such as champaign or wine. One year it was a really nice bottle of Crown Royal. He would gift these to people who would appreciate them. But it was totally dirty because the owner (a very small business, like 30 people total, in a very small town) knew that he didn’t drink for medical/religious reasons. I think part of the reason why the boss did this was because the religion he was a part of is controversial and looked down upon in my hometown as it’s not a typical/. ( I won’t say which, as it doesn’t matter and I don’t want comments).

  65. Anya the Demon*

    When she assumed that your child was adopted simply because of the color of your skin and the color of your child’s skin, she did something pretty awful. I agree with the first commenter that saying, “my own child,” wasn’t ideal, but honestly – given that you were caught in a SUPER awkward moment where a colleague made a racist assumption and then inserted herself into your personal life with that assumption, I think you get a free pass for not being to respond 100% perfectly in such a shocking and uncomfortable and unexpected moment. You were clearly trying to convey that you birthed your child, in a moment where you were confronted with a racist assumption and where you suddenly had to explain and justify the circumstances of your child’s birth to a colleague who was inappropriate. The fact that their take away from this at all was, “This was an insult to adoptive parents,” is concerning. You took the high road and apologized, which was nice but also kind of validated her inappropriate comments and reaction. Then she escalated her inappropriate reaction. I think you should be clear with HR that your co-worker made a racist assumption, putting you in a very awkward position, and that you just told her that this was your biological child.

    I would be very concerned about this co-worker’s judgment and boundaries. And I really hope you update us on this!!

  66. Dumpster Fire*

    OP1 used a poor word choice (“own son”). Sue made an incorrect racist assumption. OP1 apologized, and Sue doubled-down. Now OP1 has to have a meeting with management? OP1, I’m sure I’m not the only one who would like an update after that meeting.

  67. cosmicgorilla*

    I can 100% see where “my own son” is offensive to an adoptive parent. I’ve seen a lot of great suggestions on what LW could have said, or what she can say going forward. However, there were different potential courses of actions for Sue.

    1) an official complaint

    2) “Hey LW, it wasn’t the laugh that offended me. It was the “my own son” comment. This is something adoptive parents hear often, as if our adoptive children aren’t “ours.”

    “Oh my gosh, I should not have used that phrasing! I apologize, and I’ll definitely watch my word choices going forward.”

    but nooooo…Sue had to go nuclear from the get-go.

    1. LTL*

      Sue complained after LW apologized for both the laugh and the “my own son” comment. She clarified in the comments.

  68. windsofwinter*

    I’m a black woman, and I experience racist microagressions all. the. time. I’ve gotten pretty good at determining the simply ignorant to the outright malicious. LW1 vaguely reminds me of a time (pre-covid!) when I was on vacation with some friends. The main planner had brought some friends that I didn’t know well, including an Indian woman who we’ll call Priya. I’m technically mixed-race and can be seen as ethnically ambiguous, I guess. Priya and I have similar skin tones and that’s where the resemblance ends. Through the whole week, the host kept mixing up our names. This is someone I have known for years. Finally, when she called me Priya again, I snapped and said “no I’m the other brown one, actually.”

    She was deeply embarrassed. But she didn’t double down or turn it around to me being the bad guy. She just apologized, and we moved on and enjoyed the rest of our trip. She didn’t mix us up anymore either. That’s how you handle this like an adult. Sue is acting like a child and I’m frankly appalled that management is humoring her. Appalled, but not at all surprised.

  69. Former Retail Lifer*

    OP #1, I think she’s so mortified by her mistaken assumption that she’s going all out to backtrack. She doesn’t want to come off as racist, even by accident, so she’s trying to find blame in something you did.

  70. Sled dog mama*

    LW 1 your story reminds me of one a dear friend told me and my husband last fall when we were contemplating adoption (had to put it on hold due to a health issue).
    He is Persian, his wife is white and their daughter is African American, they live in the south and his first name is not at all ethnic, last name would at least make most people think maybe white/maybe not. They were in family court and apparently the judge was very busy and wasn’t doing more than glancing at those appearing before her. She was going through a list of questions and asked them “How do you feel about becoming an interracial family?” They sort of glanced at each other and then he said very tentatively “I don’t know, we became an interracial family when we got married.” He said the judge then looked up like she was going to tell him not to be smart and realized that she was the one who had made a mistake.

    1. MassMatt*

      Given how recently it has been since laws outlawing interracial relationships were finally abolished and how they still draw prejudice from many people, this was a really careless comment by the judge, who should know better. I don’t know what anyone would say in that situation. “Um, is it illegal?”

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I don’t know about this specific instance but I do know that judges are required to ask some very awkward and personal questions in certain settings. Those questions coming from almost anywhere else would be considered very rude at best.

  71. Tech Writer Tucker*