update: can you fire someone solely for being racist?

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose company fired a new employee for racism? Her friend, who worked in HR at another company, told her that he couldn’t be fired simply for being racist and that he should have been put on a PIP (!). Here’s the update.

After you posted the letter,  my friend and I went back and forth about who was “right” for a while (I hadn’t told her I wrote in, we just debated it amongst ourselves because I refused to concede my point). She felt as though I didn’t understand how HR would really handle this because I worked for a smaller company and never in an HR position. She felt her view of my experience was compounded by the fact that I work for a family company, she assumes our HR is just someone’s cousin that got the job via nepotism. She has a degree and years of experience at various companies. I reminded her that she had experience only at one entry level HR position, at one company, so her experience wasn’t much more impressive than my lack of experience.

After a while, I got annoyed and sent her the posted letter and your response. She read it, and was completely taken aback by the comments. We talked about the letter more in depth, she asked thoughtful questions and I sent her previous letters that you had posted to help make my point (i.e “see how Alison says this here? It’s because of X which is why I said Y”). She eventually apologized to me. She said that she was embarrassed and realized how poor her training was going at this job and she felt wholly inadequate to even be in HR anymore.

That was around August of last year I believe. She eventually left that job and took a similar position at another company that was also a disaster (oh boy, would you have liked those letters!) and left after a few months. She started a different one in December of last year and worked there until February when she was furloughed and then (eventually) let go because of Covid.

The reason I sent this update though, she got a new job a month or so ago and is being mentored by a wonderful woman. She was promoted a few days ago after they had to let go of the person just above her. The reason that person was let go? Racism.

My friend asked me to thank you in my update, as she feels prepared to make the right decisions moving forward, with many thanks to your commenters as well for setting her straight.

There were a few questions in the comments I figured I can address.
1. She is not white, nor black.
2. People questioned why he felt so emboldened to speak like that in front of me, which I understand since it is such an egregious thing to do upon a first meeting. I prefer not to wonder or attempt to rationalize why a white supremacist is the way they are or why they do what they do. I assume he saw white skin and decided I would tolerate it.
3. I work in an industry where old racist white men are everywhere, but thankfully dying out.

{ 116 comments… read them below }

  1. EPLawyer*

    How nice that your friend learned from her mistake. We ALL make them. Just because she felt this about this ONE time doesn’t mean she is a complete failure in HR. As Alison noted, its common for HR, especially entry level, to mistake policy for law.

    Could Mr. White Supremacist have sued? Sure. So your friend wasn’t off there. Would he have gotten very far? Probably not.

    1. Partly Cloudy*

      Yes, it’s encouraging to see how the LW’s friend actually learned from this and was able to own it. That’s so important, and so great for her. I hope she’s able to get her confidence back and not think of herself as a failure or totally unsuited for HR because of one incident. I love that the friends had productive dialog over this. It seems like so many times, the person making the mistake just digs in their heels and makes the situation worse (like the adoptive parents letter).

    2. Jennifer*

      I’m glad she saw the error of her ways but I think this was a bit more than one mistake. She was really stuck in a completely backwards way of thinking that could have been quite damaging to many had the OP not set her straight. It seems to have taken quite a while for that to happen. I don’t want her to feel like a failure either but I do want her to understand the seriousness of this matter, which it sounds like she does.

    3. OP*

      Yeah, she was quite literally heartbroken reading the comments. Specifically about the PIP thing, and it lead to her realizing that she was not getting quality training

      1. Reba*

        I can definitely relate to this feeling — you thought you were on solid ground and then you realize it’s like a quaking big, not solid at all!

        This is such a great story of growth, and also how a constructive argument can lead to change!

      2. Mel_05*

        It sucks to realize that you haven’t been trained well. I’m so glad she was able to find a good place to learn at last.

      3. Working Hypothesis*

        That can be really hard, especially when you care about your job and you *want* to learn how to do it well!! I hope that, in addition to the promotion (for which I extend my congratulations to her), she’s been able by now to find resources for the additional training or education she needs to feel more confident, and have good reason for it! It’s not her fault she didn’t know better before; and it’s to her credit that she cares so much about doing better.

    4. jojo*

      Seems to me, if you know they are racist, they have obviously acted on it, either by word or deed. Or else how would you know they racist?

  2. Observer*

    She felt as though I didn’t understand how HR would really handle this because I worked for a smaller company and never in an HR position. She felt her view of my experience was compounded by the fact that I work for a family company

    That kind of makes me laugh. So much for assumptions that the size of a company (or whether it’s family run or not) tells you whether a company is well run or not.

    I assume he saw white skin and decided I would tolerate it.

    I suspect that you are correct. It’s really easy to get into a mindset that “everyone” REALLY does agree with you but they are just “too politically correct” or cowardly to say that during a hiring process.

    1. Max's Manager*

      Yup. I experience the same when visiting Texas: everyone assumes I’m a good ol white lady just like them, instead of the progressive Bay Area native that I am. About 60% of the time their demeanor changes (rudely, haughtily) once they do know, regardless of my saying anything to “offend” them. This includes my own relatives.

      1. shhhhimhiding*

        I live in Texas, and I’m a white, and this sorta thing makes my faith in humanity shrivel every time it happens. When someone leans in and says something racist and I don’t immediately act in accordance they often give a response like, don’t worry you can be “honest” with me. I’ve had to learn to tactfully, but firmly disagree with them without making it sound like I’m making a moral issue of it. Working in service sucks for this sort of thing, they definitely take advantage of you not being able to call them out for it.

        1. OP*

          Yes! I usually just respond in Spanish (because i love the genuine look of terror on their faces) to let them know that we are Not. The. Same.

          Its all extra stupid because i live in a verrryyy diverse place

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I’m a big fan of asking the other person “why do you think I would agree with this statement?”

          Return awkward to sender, and at least once or twice it has made the other person think (even if it was only for a moment).

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            I do this one too! It’s really effective. So is making them explain exactly and literally what they mean whenever they use dog whistles, racist jokes, or similarly implicit-but-clear variants.

      2. AnonPi*

        Same here in TN. Once they found out I was a “yankee” I was harassed at least once a week for the first year I was here. And I was assured I must be doing something to provoke it (I most assuredly was not) because “they” are too “polite” to say something if I hadn’t started it. If anything they’d try to provoke me to get a response out of me. Sometimes I did, especially when it crossed a line and I started threatening to go to HR. After that they started backing off, but it was made known at every opportunity I was not “one of them”. Thank goodness for that.

    2. Mel_05*

      Yes. I haven’t run into this too often, but I’ve been surprised at how some people will be perfectly nice to minorities in public, but suddenly start talking offensively when they’re alone with white people – who they don’t even know!

    3. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Yes, I’m white, so I’ve had a lot of other white people assume that it’s okay to say racist things just because we’re all white and no minorities are around. I was even in a concert hall and a Black family walked in, and this woman across the aisle gave me the ol’ conspiratorial “white people” look that’s kind of like, ‘Uh-oh, here we go — a minority person is amongst us’. You don’t have to do anything to invite these people, other than just to be white (ostensibly “like them”).

    4. Sasha*

      Oh my goodness yes, the horrendous things patients have come out with to me, often about my own colleagues! No Mr Racist, I am not going to side with you over my nurses who I work with day in and day out, just because I’m white.

  3. DoctorateStrange*

    The reason I sent this update though, she got a new job a month or so ago and is being mentored by a wonderful woman. She was promoted a few days ago after they had to let go of the person just above her. The reason that person was let go? Racism.

    I swear, sometimes, instead of lemons, life just gives you a neon sign that says “See?!”

    I am happy that your friend has grown and is doing better.

    1. OP*

      Yep! And she said her boss handled it immaculately, without hesitation. Her seeing that, quick, decisive action has helped her trust that her current mentor is great.

    1. pcake*

      Yeah, that was a weird one.

      Besides, even if the guy has stopped his horrible comments at work, his social media pages could have compromised the company’s reputation.

    2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Also mildly baffled about the notion that you have to wait for the racist behavior to happen at work, when this person used racial slurs in front of the LW multiple times on their first day. If that’s not racist behavior at work, I don’t know what is.

    3. Caroline Bowman*

      well, it might, if rigidly enforced. Unfortunately it won’t change mindsets and personal views. But that’s actually all that PIPs are meant to address, the behaviour / performance. You can think anything you like, no matter how vile, you cannot subject others to that view in your working life.

    4. OP*

      Yeah, that line in our conversation is what made me right in. She confused company policy with law and allowed a toxic workplace affect her norms and what is and isnt acceptable.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        That’s quite a common error among professional people in my experience. I’ve lost count of how many techies I’ve had to train out of ‘but that’s how we did it at my last place’ and ‘but sharing passwords isn’t technically illegal!’.

        There’s a kind of bias built in that what you’ve been trained in/exposed to, however incorrectly, must be an actual law of the country. Takes some time and effort to break that opinion.

        So, full credit to your mate. It’s a very hard habit to break.

        (And I’m off to go slap a few people with our network security guidelines. Again)

        1. Mel_05*

          Yes, absolutely. It can be hard to realize that your first company did things really oddly, because it’s how you were trained.

        2. KoiFeeder*

          > ‘but sharing passwords isn’t technically illegal!’.

          I laugh because otherwise I would cry.

          1. Quill*

            My absolute favorite is lab equipment (disconnected from the internet, usually) with the password on a sticker on the machine. It sure does train lab techs to not be that careful about passwords!

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              You’d have loved our old lab professor. She would collect any password post it notes and shove them in the autoclave ;)

            2. jojo*

              Our company travel computers have that, BUT, you have to insert your id card and apply your pin to access your programs.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Pretty much my reaction. He said that to my face, and my mouth fell open in shock.

            Then I had a choice: laugh, snarl, belch, swear or throw up. Figured the laugh was the least unprofessional.

            (He’s still claiming that if something isn’t explicitly illegal, and he’s not signed something to agree with the law(?) then it’s okay to do but every time he does I send another link to GDPR and other data security acts to his email.)

            1. KoiFeeder*

              You are stronger than I am, because swearing or just walking away would’ve been my reaction. You are also stronger than I am because I would’ve chewed off my own leg if I had to deal with him doing those things on a regular basis.

    5. Artemesia*

      Yeah. a pip would be appropriate for insensitivity or error in expression — things have changed over the last decades and not everyone’s language has kept up. But awkwardness can be corrected — racism like the OP experienced, not so much.

      1. Anonny*

        Yeah, there might be some bigotry (the kind that comes from ignorance) that might be fixed with a PIP – like, it’d be a shock to the system and a learning opportunity for some people – but this dude spouted the n-word six times on his first day at a new job and had a twitter full of racist *****. I dunno how to fix that, and it’s probably not within the realms of what a manager can (legally) do.

  4. Monty and Millie's Mom*

    This is the best kind of update! So glad your friend is learning – and is open to learning! – and that is helping her grow in her career (despite this year’s bumps in the road!).

  5. Archaeopteryx*

    It speaks well of your friend that she was open to changing her mind and didn’t just shut down or get angry when she saw the letter and comments. Glad this worked out so well!

  6. AndThenSome*

    “I assume he saw white skin and decided I would tolerate it.”

    Ha ha, yeah, I’ve done a couple of temp assignments with local law enforcement and the number of people who assumed I shared their repugnant opinions just because I, too, am white was… well, not exactly surprising but definitely disheartening.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I am Ashkenazi Jewish, which is a big deal in my home country for some reason (had to deal with lots of Anti-semitism, both on casual and state-sanctioned levels). But my grandfather was Polish and I look Slavic like him, even though I never met the man. I lost.fkn.count. of times when, in my home country, people would sidle up to me for a heart-to-heart talk about how Jews run the country or whatever other gross stereotype popped into their head. To them I looked like someone they could safely discuss those things with. Barf. And don’t get me started on the people I meet here in the US, who see white skin and think they can say anything to me and I would agree. Most recently, I mentioned it to my plumber that I was planning to move out of my neighborhood, and he did this stealthy look-around thing and quietly said “yes, I agree, the neighborhood has changed”. I am wanting to move because it is not diverse enough, and because it is full of casual racists like him, who feel totally safe being their casual racist selves in our neighborhood. Talk about a miscommunication.

        1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

          A plumber once thought I was the maid at my own home. My family laughed at me when I mentioned it, claiming I was imagining things. I guess I imagined the time security personnel at a supermarket thought I was a shoplifter as well…

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            The first house we bought in the US, 20 years ago, was on an upper-middle-class street. (Two programmer incomes will make that possible.) (I don’t live there anymore, my ex does.) My mom and I were over at the new house, getting it ready for the move-in and chatting in our native language, when a friend of the previous owner opened the door with his own key, let himself in (prev owner had promised him some workout equipment that was left in the house), and inquired if we were a cleaning team. I was so mortified of being found to look (or rather, sound? or both?) not wealthy enough for my own house, that I forgot to ask him for the key back. He grabbed the workout machine, and just like that, with a key to my house in his pocket, he was gone. (Same neighborhood – the one that I want to get out of. Sounds like it didn’t change as much as my plumber thinks! lol)

            And ugh, that’s terrible about the supermarket.

        2. Gognog Mug Alugdug*

          Also ashkenazi here, and same. Were people assuming OP somehow–I don’t know–invited the racist comments in the original letter? That rankles me quite a bit.

          I’ve had people comment on “the blacks” to me, drop supercessionism, and made race comments about my own fiance. All it takes is someone coding you a particular way based on how you look, no invite required.

    1. Ana Gram*

      I hire law enforcement and I’m always surprised at the racist comments I hear in an interview. I assumed it was because I’m white but my black colleague has the same issue. Frankly, I appreciate that they feel free to say those things. Makes it easy not to hire them!

  7. Beth*

    Wow. I think my badly-eroded faith in humanity just recovered a little bit of lost ground. Good for your friend!

    And even more, GOOD for your company for firing the racist dude back at the start of this set of letters.

  8. Akcipitrokulo*

    I am really impressed that your friend was open to challenging what she had (presumably) been taught when she started in HR, and has developed into an HR person who understands!

    Sounds like awesome new job is well deserved.

    1. OP*

      I have to toot her horn a little because ever since she started at this current company I can tell she has grown and evolved so much. Her mentor made a huge difference

        1. OP*

          Absolutely! I told her the other day that I thought she handled something really well, and that I would feel very comfortable and safe ith her as my HR rep

  9. Case of the Mondays*

    I think I understand where your friend may have been coming from. Your example was very egregious (N words!) and he absolutely should have been fired. There is other gray area stuff that is more implicit bias and less straight up racism. She was off base about political speech but not wrong that most employers don’t fire someone for one mistake of the lesser extreme variety of sexism/racism. That’s the whole point of progressive discipline policies. There are some behaviors that are so obviously wrong there is no redeeming the employee. The N word is one. Grabbing someone’s butt would be another.

    But as an example from a former employer, a boss calling an assistant sweetie, wouldn’t be fired, he would be counseled not to do it again and maybe sent for some training or something. If he continued, then he’d be further reprimanded on progressive discipline and eventually fired. If he shaped up after the reprimand (this will not be tolerated here) then that’s his one strike.

    The issue is if you apply progressive discipline to members of certain classes and just straight up terminate others. You have to be equitable. If the reason for the difference is the severity of the bad behavior, you are fine. If you give men multiple chances but not women, you are in hot water.

  10. Ana Gram*

    Your friend sounds really thoughtful. I appreciate that she was willing to reconsider her position. That mindset will take her far!

  11. NewYearNewMe*

    While I am on board completely with racists being let go (there is NO ROOM for racism in this world), I do hope this was just a semantic choice:
    “but thankfully dying out”
    Ouch. :(

    1. c_g2*

      meh. The world is better off without racism. While it’s certainly prevelant in some young white men/women there are higher rates amongst wealthy elderly white people.

      1. A conservative voice*

        Removed (along with your other comments). You cannot use multiple user names here to make it appear your position has more support than it does.

    2. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

      I won’t say white people of younger generations aren’t racists, because we definitely are.
      But older white people (racists and non-racists) are dying out, because they’re *old*. LW isn’t wishing them dead, she’s stating a fact.

    3. Dahlia*

      If there’s no room for racism in this world, how do you deal with racists besides them eventually dying?

    4. OP*

      I am very confused by this comment lol

      Is there a problem with wanting racism to die out? “Ouch” because you think I personally want you to die out? I mean, unless you are racist, I dont understand the ouch lol

      Genuinely very curious, because if I had said something offensive I’d like to be informed, but I dont think I’ll be apologizing for wanting a despicable class of people to disappear from the face of the Earth.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        I think it was because it sounded pretty harsh to be saying you actively wanted *anyone* to die. I get where you’re coming from, and I don’t even disagree with it — I don’t personally death-wish anyone (as a personal choice, because of the way I feel it affects my own psyche more than anything else), but I don’t see a problem with recognizing and appreciating the fact that any problem which exists mostly among the aged and not among younger generations (and which isn’t inherent to aging so they’ll pick it up in turn when they get older) is likely to have a natural expiration date. But I know that a lot of people think I’m also too harsh about things like that, so I’m used to funny looks, even from folks who basically agree with me about the severity of the problem.

      2. NewYearNewMe*

        The wording seemed…mean? I mean, people can change. Wishing for them to die out just struck me as wrong.

        For the record, I fight with the elders in my community all the time about this kind of thing (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc…). But I certainly don’t wish for them to die. I’m sure that’s not what you meant, though, and I should have given the benefit of the doubt before posting.

  12. HB*

    My bet is company policy was presented to her as if it *was* the law (I mean, HR is supposed to apply employment laws so why would they… not do that?).

    I feel like HR is like government. It’s this insanely important job that everyone derides because it so frequently doesn’t work as well as it should. But part of the reason it shouldn’t work as it should is it’s derided and not given the authority to do the thing it’s supposed to do. So the happiest thing for me in your update is now she’s in a place where she’ll be allowed to be excellent in her job (because if she’d stayed in that first company she could have KNOWN that her HR policies were bad but been in no position to do anything about it).

  13. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m glad that she eventually understood and it’s made her better at her job in the end! That’s critical for anyone in something so constantly evolving like HR. You can’t get “stuck” in a mindset because that’s damaging when laws change quickly and what was accepted last year, may be a big “hell no” at this point.

    Now that we have social media and more ties to each other, we can know more about our employees and employer more than ever before. Sometimes that gets us further, sometimes it sets a guy like this way back because less employers wants his white supremacist ass on their payroll.

  14. S Kershaw*

    ‘3. I work in an industry where old racist white men are everywhere, but thankfully dying out.’

    That’s an ageist, racist and sexist thing to say.

      1. S Kershaw*

        I live in a city where young violent black men are everywhere, but thankfully dying out.

        It’s not ageist, racist, or sexist to note something about the demographics of violent crime.


        1. shhhhimhiding*

          That’s disingenuous and I think you know it. Equating calling a white person racist with saying a black person is violent is well… racist, and definitely not the compelling argument you think it is. One is advocating fearing, shunning, and mistreating a specific group, the other is acknowledging that Racism prevails within a certain demographic.

          They are not even close to being on the same level.

      1. Mel_05*

        Presumably the bit where the OP is thankful that they’re dying, but I don’t think it was meant as, “Thank goodness these people are dying!” as much as, “Thank goodness they’re not being replaced with more like them!”

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Oh come ON. The racism in the industry is dying out. The racists in the industry are retiring. Certainly you did not really read it to mean that racist old white men, of all demographics, continue to come into work every day till they drop dead of old age in their cubicle?

  15. White rabbit*

    A related item in the news: Colleges are revoking admissions offers due to racist posts by admitted students. There’s more of a contract there than one usually has with an employer.

    1. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I really dislike this recent trend. It’s very likely college would correct a racist kid’s thinking after his/her parents filled them with bad ideas.

      1. TTDH*

        I don’t know about that. In my experience, students who are vocally bigoted don’t come out of college fundamentally changed, they just connect with others who are similar and find different (sometimes stronger) platforms for their same beliefs. This isn’t the “country kid comes to big city school and has their eyes opened” trope.

      2. Kimmy Schmidt*

        I don’t know. I’d argue that colleges do not have a responsibility to educate everyone on all things under all circumstances, but they do have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their Black students.

        1. TTDH*

          Absolutely. The purpose of college is not to teach people not to be bigoted, and it’s not designed to do that job. Student safety should always take priority.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I’m okay with this trend, because they are going to share dorm rooms and classrooms, do group projects with etc, classmates of all races and backgrounds. It is not these other students’ job to act as, I don’t know, props? training equipment? that Becky Suburban can use to *maybe possibly, eventually* correct her racist thinking.

      4. Lizy*

        I agree.

        My 15-year-old has some… questionable ideas. They’re absolutely fueled by the area we live in. (Example: “I don’t like gay people”. Me: why? him: “well they just shouldn’t push it on anyone” Me: I mean, they’re not…) While I’m definitely not encouraging it, nor is his father, I am sure that Life will hand him Lessons and he’ll realize the error of his ways. I would hope he wouldn’t be turned down from his college of choice just because he’s a young idiot who doesn’t realize he’s literally talking about his uncle when he says stuff like that. (He doesn’t – because he’s 15.)

        That being said – we as parents are absolutely culpable in teaching him that a) things you post online matter and have consequences and b) words matter and the things you say have consequences and c) DON’T BE AN ASSHAT.

        1. Pibble*

          Getting turned down from his college of choice because he can’t stop being bigoted towards his potential classmates would be a Lesson that Life hands him.

          1. Clorinda*

            And one that he wouldn’t forget. If this kid really does have a gay uncle, maybe gay uncle would be kind enough to sit down with him and have him say those things face to face. Of course, it isn’t the uncle’s responsibility to do that–it was the parents’ responsibility, and they have failed badly–but it would be a kindness.

          2. Lizy*

            Don’t get me wrong – if he was indeed turned down from his college of choice because of his actions/words, I would absolutely tell him that sucks – maybe stop being an asshat.

            I don’t want to derail, but suffice it to say we’re working on it.

          1. Case of the Mondays*

            You can’t blame every failing on parents. I worked with incarcerated kids. Some of them came from what most people would consider great families. Some kids want to rebel. Being pro-gay rights was rebellious when I was growing up. If kids today have tolerant parents, maybe some of them are going to test the waters of hatred to rebel. That doesn’t make it their parent’s fault.

          2. Lizy*

            We are/were, honestly. As I said above, I don’t want this to derail, but there’s a lot more to this, unfortunately, that’s out of our control. I would hope that 1 stupid action on his part doesn’t do drastic damage or have a drastic consequence, but the reality is that’s not always the case. He’s finding this out first hand as a stupid action on his part has ended up having a very drastic consequence just in the last couple of weeks.

            I started to go off on a tangent, but essentially, please know we ARE proactive, and continue to be proactive, and will continue to be proactive.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              I do believe you, and as a parent of teenagers myself I sympathize. You don’t have full control over their opinions or what they say, and it’s natural to want to protect them from the natural consequences of their own idiocy. That’s what we’ve been doing all their lives, right? It’s a tough instinct to curb, especially when you love them.

              The thing I think it’s really important to understand, though, is that bigoted behavior isn’t a victimless crime… and therefore, neither is the decision to shield kids from the consequences of it. Any time a school prioritizes giving a kid like yours a “second chance,” they are effectively making a corresponding choice NOT to give a kid in their victim group a *first* chance to go through college feeling safe and welcomed and without being traumatized by bigotry.

              A parent who tries to insist that their kid shouldn’t have their “life ruined” because they’ve expressed racist views doesn’t usually think much about the other kids whose lives are ruined by bigotry on campus. But I learned it the hard way. When I was an undergraduate, there was a student who stole the list of home addresses from the student newspaper office. He used it to call all the families of students with Jewish last names. Pretending to be an official from the school, he told those families that their child had been killed. The grief and terror shattered families, and caused a good deal of permanent trauma even though it was mostly only hours at most before the lie could be corrected.

              The student was caught but not expelled. My university didn’t want the embarrassment of a formal hearing, do they gave him the maximum administrative punishment of a long suspension, hoping he would give up and go away. Instead, he waited it out and returned two years later. The results of his final year were horrifying. I can’t go into too much detail, but despite multiple attempts by the student body to protect each other with community neighborhood watches and the like, several people were beaten up badly enough to be hospitalized, and eventually more than two dozen were poisoned.

              That obviously doesn’t happen every time some racist kid gets a second chance. But the fear of it does. We didn’t wait until the follow-up events began to occur to be frightened by the student who had made the phone calls about Jewish students — we were afraid as soon as we knew he was coming back to campus! Of course we were. We still don’t know for sure if he committed the later crimes… they were never proved against him. But even if he never did anything but finish his degree quietly, none of us felt comfortable with him on campus… both because of what he might do and because of what it said about the school, that it wasn’t willing to protect us from someone who would do the things we knew he already *had* done.

              It may not be pleasant for a kid to have to live with the natural consequences of their own actions; but it *is* fair, at least, to expect that they, and not somebody else, be the one to suffer in consequence of what they’ve done. And there doesn’t exist an option where nobody suffers for it. If the kids like yours don’t suffer from being rejected from their top choice school (a pretty minor penalty, all things considered), other kids will suffer from feeling alienated, unwelcome, hated and afraid… at the absolute best. At worst, they’ll suffer the kind of direct attack that happened at my university.

        2. JB*

          If you don’t want him to be denied opportunities based on his homophobia, you may want to be more proactive than simply ‘not encouraging’ him to speak that way.
          I don’t mean this in a lecturing way. I’m sure you’re an amazing parent and very proactive in teaching him other social norms. So… I’m just wondering, when you say ‘life will hand him lessons’, who do you envision will hand out those lessons on behalf of life?
          The reality is that’s either going to be an authority figure (like a school) and the lesson’s going to be VERY hard on your son as a result (not being allowed to attend), or…it’s going to be bypassed by those authorities, too, and ultimately land on us, the gay people he’s going to encounter in the world.
          I love kids. Absolutely don’t hold a teenager’s ignorance against them. But when I go out in the world to live my life, I’m not signing up to educate someone else’s teenager on how to respect my basic humanity. Your son might encounter one, maybe two gay people in his life with the patience and time to do that for you. Or he might not encounter any. He might encounter gay people who will just react the same way you probably would if a total stranger insulted you – not particularly kindly or graciously. In which case he might never learn at all.
          Ultimately, if he’s friendly with his uncle, though, that’s who you’re passing the buck to. I wonder how uncle feels about these kinds of comments, and whether he actually feels like he’s in a position to address them. I wonder if he actually feels welcome in your son’s life.

          1. Lizy*

            Right now, we (his parents) are the “life” handing him the lessons. And believe me – he’s getting them. He’s really not a bigot or homophobic. He just, quite honestly, don’t realize the impact his words have, because he’s 15.

            I’m going to stop there, but as I said above, we really are doing our best to raise a well-rounded and adjusted kid who treats all people with the respect and courtesy they deserve. (And to be clear – all people deserve to be respected and treated kindly, regardless of … well, regardless of anything, really.)

      5. F.M.*

        But students are already kept from their preferred college for all sorts of other things their parents do, or don’t do, that the kid’s had far less chance to correct. Can’t go to college because your parents have a lot of money but won’t fill out the right forms so you can’t afford it. Or if they didn’t support you taking extracurriculars that would’ve helped your application. Or didn’t know how to help you study. Or were themselves in crisis and that affected you and your grades. Or they insist you go to a different college if you want it paid for. Or they don’t happen to have the connections to get you the boost you need. Or…

        Like, out of the 99 things a parent can do that prevents a teenager from going to a particular desired college, ‘taught them racist things that they never questioned on their own or learned to not say in public spaces online’ is pretty low on the list, and one of the few where the teenager actually does have a chance of correcting in themselves, while also being one of (several) that would potentially harm other students.

      6. Former Employee*

        You are probably right.

        Derek Black was raised to be a white nationalist. David Duke is his godfather and his own parents are very big in that movement. He was home schooled so he had no knowledge of anything or anyone different from his family and their group.

        He was being groomed to take his place in the white supremacist movement.

        Then he went to college and discovered that everything he’d been taught about other people who weren’t white, Christian, etc., and a lot about the world in general was wrong.

        He now writes and speaks against white supremacy and has more authority despite his youth because he was raised in it.

        This never would have happened if he weren’t allowed to go to college. If that had happened, it wouldn’t have taught him a lesson; it would have reinforced what he had been told about all those “others” who were against white people.

      7. Pathfinder Ryder*

        Late to this post because of the holidays: I had a homophobic classmate in my theatre degree (spouted her homophobia in a theatre class) who years after graduating said degree, ended up in Seattle during pride week and felt oppressed by all the rainbow flags, so I’m skeptical this would work every time.

  16. Manana*

    Congrats to both your friend and you! It’s awesome that you could work through this together and that your friendship was clearly strong and respectful enough that both it and your friend could grow through this experience. There is so much good that came out of this, way to go!

  17. Tidewater 4-1009*

    IME it’s fairly common for white racists to assume other whites agree with them. It’s important to speak up and let them know we don’t agree, when it can be done safely. They need to know they’re a very small minority.
    The way you handled it was really cool! It was awesome you made the effort to educate your friend. :)

  18. paxfelis*

    I’m kind of confused that someone in HR could see obviously-racist behavior and not immediately think that it would create a hostile work environment and therefore a legal liability.

  19. Susana*

    What a wonderful update, OP! I’m impressed that your friend after digging her heels in so long on this – reconsidered the issue, changed her view, and apologized to you. That says more about her character than anything else.

    And kudos to Alison for changing the world, one letter at a time….

  20. X-Man*

    I work retail, and just so happen to be the only male employee in my department. If I had a nickel for everytime an older man said something lecherous about my coworkers to me and apparently expecting me to agree and play along I could buy the whole company myself.

    I can easily see racists having the same mentality.

    1. Maltypass*

      It happens with Covid too – I also work retail and people complain so hard about wearing masks and using sanitiser in a tone where they expect me to agree I wouldn’t enforce it if I didn’t have to. A. I would because I believe in those safety precautions and B. why would you complain to me, the person wearing it for eight hours a day?

  21. Danish*

    I love this update! I’m glad your friend really learned, and ultimately saw it was a problem with her training and not like, her as a person. The world clearly needs as many people who are willing to say “I was wrong and I will change” as it can get.

    Also man, something about this update really has the racism-apologists all het up, huh.

  22. StellaBella*

    Great update and well done that your friend learned something and is open to learning….and wow on the full circle.

  23. BluntBunny*

    I wonder what other policies the OP HR put in place to screen out racists in the future. I also wonder if OP’s friend’s former company had training on harassment and discrimination. I can’t see how a person in HR wouldn’t be trained in what to do in incidents of sexism, racism and homophobia and why they wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t specifically mentioned. They only thing I can see is that they would try and make it work, as they have spent the cost and time to recruit this person.
    Also I think apart from the lesson of racism is absolutely a fireable offence is that they need to understand that racism isn’t a political stance. Being black isn’t a political choice, so opposing them isn’t a political stance it’s against their human rights. People have been diluting their racist actions by saying they are not politically correct, when really they are morally wrong.
    If you were late 6 times in your first week there is high risk that you would be fired.

  24. Former Employee*

    S Kershaw: “I live in a city where young violent black men are everywhere, but thankfully dying out.”

    There was no “reply” for the above comment, so I thought I would leave it here.

    The city with the most murders in the world is Tijuana, followed by a number of other cities in Mexico and then Caracas (Venezuela). The percentage of Black people in the population of Mexico is very small. In Caracas, there is a significant percentage of people who are mixed race, but not a lot who are actually Black. The only place after the various cities in Mexico and Caracas that has both a high murder rate and a significant Black population is Cape Town in South Africa.

    However, Cape Town has a fairly small White population (about 15% of the total) so it is possible that if a White person lives there they might think that there many violent young Black men, when it’s simply a question of demographics. If the vast majority of the people in an area are nonwhite, it is likely that the vast majority of violent acts will be perpetrated by members of the nonwhite population.

  25. jojo*

    Unfortunately denying them going to college just means they never get exposed to ideas they were not raised with. Failure to have them exposed to different demographics of people denies them exposure to the very thing that could change their mindset they were raised into. Without exposure to the things they were raised to hate, they will never change their minds.

Comments are closed.