update: my coworker thinks I insulted adoptive parents

We have so many updates this year that I’m going to be posting six to seven times a day this week — so keep checking back throughout the entire day.

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 coworker thought she had insulted adoptive parents and was demanding a meeting with their boss? Here’s the update.

Thank you so much for answering my question. I also really appreciated many of the commentators’ helpful suggestions and commiserations. I don’t have an exciting update, but thought I would write something anyway.

I asked my manager “Tiffany”, if we could have a quick check in over the phone before trying to schedule the 3 way call. I was very nervous and basically wrote out a script of everything I wanted to say. My mentality for the meeting was, “you and I are reasonable people and surely this is a reasonable company that doesn’t spend a lot of time or energy with this sort of nonsense.” I actually wrote Alison’s suggested “Surprised and Confused” in big letters across the top of my notes. Tiffany seemed to get where I was coming from, but she also kept pushing for us to do the call anyway to clear the air.

I kept refusing, politely. I said I didn’t want an apology from Sue and, in fact, would be delighted if this topic never came up again. Finally Tiffany agreed that she would talk to Sue by herself. Luckily, I don’t work super closely with Sue most of the time (I would guess only about 20% of our work overlaps). Sue is very cold towards me, only communicating when work absolutely requires it but honestly I’m fine with that outcome. With everyone else on the team, I’m just trying to be friendly and easygoing and focus on my individual professional relationships with each of them.

Thanks again to everyone who had advice!

{ 124 comments… read them below }

  1. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

    Sue is a lunatic who made a mountain of a molehill. Her being cold is a wonderful holiday gift.

    1. Jenny*

      Honestly I think Sue made a stink to try to hide her racially biased assumption. But then people buy their own hype in order to self justify.

      1. Kali*

        I’m mixed, and I remember my mum being question a lot as to whether she was really my mum. I also get the “what are you?” question a lot myself. People get really uncomfortable when they can’t ‘read’ your coding and assign you to a racial category. It’s quite interesting to observe, because we all know mixed race people are physically possible, and I think most people know at this point that social race categories and how we figure out who fits into which category aren’t really about biology or ancestry (v. simplified). But we’re so used to understanding reality through this idea that people fit into these distinct categories that it feels uncomfortable when we can’t use it. It’s so uncomfortable that even though it’s normally quite rude to openly discuss what social-race coding someone has, people still ask. Plus, of course, the visible ‘coding’ we have for social race categories does not have to match our internal identity – the categories we put ourselves in – and the discrepancy between the two can be very upsetting, especially if the ‘coding’ is a trait you can’t help, like skin colour or hair texture, as opposed to dress. In my case, I’ve found people have read exactly the same picture of me as White or Indian, based only on how they ‘read’ social race coding, with absolutely no change to my image, and, like I said, people have a blind-spot about mixed people existing, so I don’t see how I could change my coding to accurately reflect my identity. I just go through life being challenged on it, like a lot of racially ambiguous people.

        Tbh, I think Sue assumed adoption because that’s what she’s familiar with. It’s embarrassing, but it’s quite an easy mistake that, in my experience, lots of people make, because the way we think about race forgets about mixed people. I don’t think she did anything wrong at that point, though she did accidentally cause discomfort and apologising for that is appropriate. I think the doubling down is because of the discomfort we feel when we openly talk about how we categorise others as belonging to different ‘races’, especially because it often feels like we’ve done something very wrong or insulting by misunderstanding something about ‘race’ (and sometimes we have, because systemic violence does exist and ignorance about other people and their experiences can be the result of that). I don’t think she did something “racist” – or no more than most people might, if you characterise accidental miscoding as racist, which I personally don’t – but I do agree that the doubling down is about hiding her mistake and making it someone else’s fault, out of fear that she will be blamed and ‘punished’ for having done something embarrassing/hurtful/uncomfortable-to-be-wrong-about.

        1. Sled dog mama*

          The thing about being able to read racial/social coding is so true. I was raised as white and read as white. As an adult I learned that I have some ancestors who were passing as white because I don’t read as mixed people don’t take me seriously. I’ve been told multiple times that I don’t get a say in x thing because I’m white, but it’s my heritage too, why should I be excluded because of my skin color.

          1. Ray Gillette*

            My best friend in high school was biracial (one white parent, one Mexican parent). His older brother, who had black hair and very slightly darker skin, was typically ‘read’ as Mexican. He had brown hair and was that just enough lighter that nobody knew how to categorize him, which was its own source of stress for a teenager. When he tried to participate in Mexican cultural events, other participants would – sometimes indirectly, but sometimes directly – ask, “What are you doing here? You’re white.” But white people didn’t read him as white and were constantly asking him questions about his heritage because they couldn’t tell what he ‘was,’ only that he was somehow different from them. The result was he felt like he didn’t belong anywhere.

          2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            Mr. Gumption gets that a lot. He’s mostly Chinese, and identifies as such, but has some Hawaiian, Japanese, Malay, and Filipino. thrown in. Not surprisingly most non-Asians cant “read” him and even Asians struggle. Interestingly, Asians tend to assume he is whatever they are, which he finds kind of flattering.

          3. Kali*

            I think it depends what ‘x’ thing is. There are racial slurs that can be applied to my race, but, because I’m read as ‘white’ a lot of the time, they aren’t targeted at me as often as they are to my cousins, who are consistently read as Indian. My opinion over whether those slurs are offensive or not is biased by the fact that they are not targeted at me 99% of the time. If I’m not offended, it might be because it’s not about me, not because the slurs aren’t offensive. So, in those discussions, it is right that I take a backseat and that the people who are actually affected lead the conversation, because their opinion is more relevant to that situation.

            None of which means you can’t have an opinion. You can have as many opinions as you like. But it would be a cruel mistake if I, in the situation above, tried to tell my cousins (literal or metaphorical) that they should not be offended when I, someone who is not in the same situation, have different feelings about it. I think about it as being “in-group” or “out-group”. Sure, I’m part Indian, but for a lot of the ways people treat people coded as Indian or south-Asian, I’m out-group because people don’t apply that treatment to me. But then there are other things, like, I don’t know, how we talk about Partition. I’m out-group in comparison to my grandparents, but I’m in-group in the same way my cousins living in England are.

          4. Zelda*

            Since you learned about that ancestry as an adult, then you weren’t raised in that culture, don’t have the connections in that community, and most importantly as Kali pointed out, don’t have that treatment applied to you day in and day out. It’s heritage of which you have an intellectual knowledge, but not emotional membership. And you get to declare it when you wish and ignore it when you wish, i.e. your participation is entirely at your own convenience. That doesn’t mean don’t learn or don’t participate, but probably do recognize that your status in the community is different from those who are irrevocably labelled from birth.

            1. Kali*

              To add, my whole point about ‘racial categories’ is that they are very, very simplified version of reality. How we decide who fits into a category is imperfect, and people within the category are very variable, and have different experiences. If you assume “I fit in X category so everything about me that be can be linked to race is the same as for everyone else in X category”, you would reach the wrong conclusions. But that is a mistake people make, when they forget these categories are a map we use to make sense of 7.5billion individual people, and not an accurate description of the human experience.

          5. Kali*

            Forgot to say this earlier, but I think it’s important.

            It can be very distressing to be told that something that applies to most people in your category doesn’t apply to you, because it can feel like you’re being told it’s not your “real” category or you don’t deserve to be there as much as other people. That’s the nature of categories though. There’s no one single thing that applies to everyone, there are just lots of things that “most” of the category shares. To use me as an example again, most Indian people have Indian ancestry* (y) were raised in India (n), have skin tones associated with Indians (apparently, to some people?), are raised within Indian cultural norms (little bit), have Indian names (first), hear racial slurs from people prejudiced against South Asians (only if they happen to code me that way), etc. The things that don’t apply to me don’t make me not-Indian (the yeses don’t make me not English either), in the same way that my cousins being born and raised in England dooesn’t make them not-Indian either, though my other cousins have a Pakistani father and were raised Muslim so, as far as they identify and are read, that makes them Pakistani, not Indian, despite have exactly as much Indian family as I do.

            So in conversations about things Indian people experience, some of them will be things I also experience and some will not, and that doesn’t make me not Indian. For you, being always read as white, a lot of the ways people react to people they code as not-white and the resulting experiences won’t apply to you. That doesn’t make your internal identity wrong or mean you “aren’t really” whatever exists within your own genome and family history.

            * you’d think ‘ancestry’ would be shared by everyone in the category, and some people do think of that as the ultimate definition of race, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. You’d need to consider what timescale we’re thinking about, how far back the ancestry is, did this person actually inherit any DNA from those ancestors, and what the purpose of identifying the ‘right’ category is.

            1. a thought*

              Kali, thanks so much for sharing your experience in such a thoughtful way. I appreciate the way you break down this experience!!

          6. Anon Admin*

            Yeah, sometimes being mixed can get weird. I’m mixed, but I take after my dad’s all-white side so I pass completely. Look white, sound white, have a white name. And usually if asked I’ll refer to myself as an American mutt.

            But the largest single % of what I am is Mexican— 25%, from my maternal grandfather. And his side of the family were the ones we were closest to growing up. But I often feel awkward talking about the (far too few in my opinion) Mexican traditions we still had by my generation because I don’t look like I’m part Mexican. However, I know I’ve benefited from white privilege, so when surveys ask I generally decline to respond or I’ll say I’m white. The census is pretty much the only time I’ll mark myself as partially non-white.

            1. Jennifer Thneed*

              But so many Mexican people are light-skinned and blond! Americans (including me for a lot of my life) don’t realize how very *European* people from the countries of Central and South America can look.

              Anyway, I’ve got a good friend whose mother is Mexican-American with a lot of Indian in there, and his father was Irish-American. He looks like a leprechaun (short, red hair, freckles, but brown eyes) and his sister frankly looks Asian. This stuff is fun and can be tricky.

        2. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

          One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my first decade of adulthood is just because you’re curious doesn’t mean you need to give voice to that curiosity.

          1. Butterfly Counter*

            Yes. This.

            Me WANTING to ask a question does not mean 1) it’s an appropriate question in the first place, 2) any of my business, or 3) something that more context and experience with a person or situation won’t tell me anyway without my potentially insensitive question.

            I have consciously tried to condition myself to ask “Is it my business?” before a question leaves my mouth. A lot of the time, I find the answer is “No.”

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              Same. I’ve learned not to ask about things and figure if I get to know someone well enough and we are close enough they might eventually tell me or it will come up naturally.

              1. SallyB*

                As a general rule, I just rarely assume anything. Even if I see a person playing with a child, I never assume who they are in relation to that person. I mean, why would I?

                And if I didn’t know if the kid was adopted or not, I may wonder silently in passing if it was an adoption situation, but what would that even matter to me? I mean its like walking up to someone you know little to nothing about and assuming their kid is autistic like yours. Why would you do that?

                Why do people feel the need to do that?

                1. Kali*

                  Well, in this case, it mattered to Sue because she’d adopted, and she thought she’d found someone like her. That makes sense to me. Her reaction after that is where I think she went wrong, but I think her initial mistake was understandable.

          2. BamBam*

            1000% true. Maybe about five years ago, I attended a family gathering in which my cousin’s girlfriend had invited her sister and her niece (her sister’s daughter), who was probably about a year old. Her sister is White and the baby very clearly had Asian features. Did I think maybe she was adopted? Sure. Did I ask? Nooooo!!! Because it was none of my business.

            I was chatting with her about the baby and she talked a little about being pregnant; I have also since met her husband, who is Asian. And I am so glad I didn’t make a fool of myself that day by making an incorrect assumption that was not my business anyway.

          3. EmmaPoet*

            Exactly. Curiosity isn’t necessarily wrong, but asking can be, especially if it’s not your business to begin with. And it’s not a good way to begin a relationship with a new coworker.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              I agree. I don’t think curiosity is inherently good or bad, it’s just something we are blessed/afflicted with, I don’t think you can do much about it, except indulge or suppress it as appropriate.

        3. Lisa*

          OMG “what are you?” YES. I’m mixed and get that all the time. Most white people read me as white but can’t pin down why they think I’m different. Black people read me as Black. But I’m fair skinned so the cues are in my hair, body type/features. Needless to say, it has not been a jolly time in the workplace, because mixed-race racism is particularly egregious and no-one wants to address its complex effects.

          1. Kali*

            It is ironic that the one group-experience all mixed people can share is being questioned about what group we belong to. It’s asked and answered all at once really.

        4. JR*

          “I think most people know at this point that social race categories and how we figure out who fits into which category aren’t really about biology or ancestry (v. simplified).”

          That is a very kind and generous assumption about “most people” that I don’t think is true.

          1. Kali*

            You may be right. Most people around me know this, but I read genetics, which is a field where the difference between DNA and social categories is quite obvious, so what the people around me know about this probably doesn’t represent what the layperson knows. And even someone like James Watson still managed to think that social categories said something about people that the genetic evidence either doesn’t support or outright contradicts. :(

          2. Florida Fan 15*

            I think there are people who know it, people who don’t know it, and people who know it but don’t want to accept it. And I’m not going to hazard a guess as to the % of each.

        5. Worldwalker*

          It makes me happy in a weird way that I’m not good with faces at all. Prosopagnosia, for one thing—I can’t recognize people who I don’t know *very* well—and unless someone’s distinctive characteristics are really obvious, I’m likely to not even notice. I’m apparently just wired up that way. So I don’t try to sort people out into groups—I can’t. I prefer online conversations and conventions with nametags because of the recognition thing.

          And for all those idiots we meet who insist they HAVE to be able to sort people by race, gender, or whatever, even little babies, in order to interact with them: Actually, no, you don’t. I mostly can’t. And I do fine, except for needing nametags.

          1. 'Tis Me*

            I… Kinda want to hand those people lots of different boxes and get them to label them Jane, Maurice, Wakeen, etc. Coz everybody belongs in lots of little boxes (we’re ultra-complex Venn diagrams!) and the only real way to be accurate is to treat people as individuals…

            That’s not to say that the categories don’t tell you something about the person’s socialisation, experiences, etc, but if we boiled people down to:

            * Gender identity
            * Ancestry (racial identity, migrant/Xth gen, etc)
            * Generational grouping/decade of age
            * Nationality
            * Sexuality
            * Extrovert/Introvert
            * Sensing/iNtuition
            * Thinking/Feeling
            * Judging/Perceiving
            * Strongest scholastic subject
            * Education level
            * Parents’ education level
            * Parents’ marital status
            * Personal marital status
            * Parent/childless for now/childless by choice/childless not by choice
            * For parents, method of conception
            *Were you breastmilk or formula-fed
            * Age weaned

            Ummm… There are probably other things some people judge people by? Supermarket of preference, newspaper/news source of preference, music of preference, health status, wealth status, attractiveness level… But no matter how many levels you break it down to, you would not only still be asking some incredibly personal questions of people, but your final Venn diagram would describe thousands of people who would still *all be completely different from each other*!! Although they might have quite a lot in common (including being weirded out by a new acquaintance asking them how they were fed and when they were weaned), they will also still have so many unique experiences, facets of personality, perspectives…

    2. CeeKee*

      Agreed, and I really admire the LW’s clarity about this situation. I think that everyone at this office probably already knows How Sue Can Be, and so it’s not going to hurt the LW’s reputation at her new company at all (though I know that was initially one of her worries).

  2. CatPerson*

    “I said I didn’t want an apology from Sue and, in fact, would be delighted if this topic never came up again.”
    That was PERFECT.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this. And Sue being “cold”? As long as she communicates what needs to be communicated for work purposes, that’s as good as it gets. If she starts to actively sabotage the OP’s ability to do her job, it’s time to involve the boss again.

    2. Half-Caf Latte*

      I had to go re-read the original because I was confused by this (sue filed a formal complaint so presumably the meeting would be for OP to apologize to sue which is bananas).

      I agree, I love this because it puts boss (who seems … not great) in the position of saying no you need to apologize for Sue for having a mixed kid which we hope would shock her into realizing how off base the whole thing is. Pro move, OP.

  3. AY*

    Rereading the original letter and this update, it seems that this company frequently bends over backwards to appease Sue. Good on the OP for setting this boundary and refusing to excuse Sue’s unreasonable and escalatory behavior!

    1. CoveredInBees*

      Yes! I have held that boundary before and it can be really difficult because some people “just want everyone to get along” which includes bending evermore backwards for unreasonable demands.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        That’s how some workplaces turn toxic. They want everyone to “get along” and so they get steamrollered by the usual suspects, and that makes it a bad workplace for reasonable people.

        Setting boundaries (kindly and respectfully) early on is the best and most functional thing a workplace (or individual) can do.

          1. Emily*

            Yes, yes, yes! It was super clear from the first letter that Sue’s ridiculousness is too often appeased. I’m proud of how LW handled this. (I could go on a long rant about work places that focus on “everyone getting along” instead of addressing problems because it seems like that happens way too often and benefits the unreasonable people at the expense of the reasonable ones).

            1. Ash*

              I believe that the company’s historical appeasement of Sue is why she felt empowered enough to make public her assumptions about OP’s family building history to begin with. Adoption, sperm/egg donation, surrogacy, etc. is information that the affected parties volunteer information about ONLY. It is never appropriate to make assumptions about these topics because there is so much room for error! But Sue probably knows that no matter how outlandish her conduct, the company will find a way to rationalize it.

        1. Nanani*

          Same phenomenon that leads to unmoderated “just play nice” internet spaces being taken over by the loudest voices, rather than the ones that contribute.

          1. Quill*

            I look back on my days as a mod in posession of the banhammer with some nostalgia, because undisputed reasons for banning included “reporting people for petty and bullshit reasons” and “Unable to comply with the one warning you get about not outright lying about established scientific facts” as well as “Dude what the fudge”

          2. CatMintCat*

            Yes I have just recently left an internet group that used to be a fun place for serious discussion but has now been taken over by what appears to be a cult that will not have even the mildest disagreement. If you step even slightly outside their set line, you are shunned.

            1. GreyjoyGardens*

              Same here. I wonder if it was the same site…I left thinking “this place has been taken over by a cult/hive mind who are shunning people right and left.” The site has been hemorrhaging members.

              Boundaries. Early. Often. Kind, but firm.

        2. Worldwalker*

          It’s a lot like teaching your children (or your pets) acceptable behavior. Consistent, sane rules keep everyone off everyone else’s nerves, and reduce stress all around.

  4. Veryanon*

    Glad to hear this one had a good outcome, but it’s disappointing that Sue is doubling down instead of just owning the fact that she made a mistake.

  5. Jennifer*

    Sue not getting her way makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Now she knows she can’t just cry and get whatever she wants like a toddler. Great update!

  6. Migrating Coconuts*

    Personally, I would have filed a complaint against her. She’s the one who did the insulting.

    1. RagingADHD*

      And that’s how people get trapped in an escalating spiral of drama and nonsense, instead of letting things go and getting on with their job – which was LW’s goal all along.

      Every rational person at the company (which it sounds like Tiffany is) can see that LW is the one who is reasonable, calm, and professional here. That’s a long-term career investment.

      1. Caliente*

        Yeah, but sometimes it’s good to put a note in the file. And I’ve only done that once about someone who told my coworker that I said she shouldn’t be out because it was “just” a friend of hers daughter who died. This person had done plenty of other crap which, like, I don’t care if you’re a nut who does and says dumb things, but that was a bridge too far.

      2. Half-Caf Latte*

        I disagree that Tiffany is rational here- I don’t think she handled this well at all.

        She told OP she agreed, but then kept pushing for a joint call, and then still went to talk to Sue alone.

        The joint call was to allegedly “clear the air” and presumably smooth things over and make nice.

        My guess is even though she agreed with OP on their call, and then went and sympathized with Sue – or at least didn’t communicate that Sue is the only one in the wrong here.

        I’m super doubtful she went to Sue and said “you made a mistake and she corrected you this was not a dig at you and you’re lucky that you’re not being disciplined for racism here.”

  7. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Holy cow – I missed the original letter but A+ job OP. Sue was absolutely racist by assuming your child was adopted and I’m a petty enough b!tch that I would have told Tiffany “If this is going to be a thing, then I am counter filing a complaint about Sue for racism”.

    1. Troutwaxer*

      Yeah, I read it as racism too. “Oh my god, you’re a White person who gave birth to a Black child, you must be punished.”

      1. Hamish*

        I don’t think Sue was being racist in that way. You can be racist and awful without going as far as “you must be punished for this miscegenation!”

        It was definitely racist. Ignorant assumption, and then redirecting blame when OP had the gall to make it clear that it was an ignorant assumption.

        1. SimplytheBest*

          And I don’t even know in this instance I would say it was 100% racist. It sounded to me like it was probably more…I can’t think of the right term. Not confirmation bias but an assumption that our own experiences are universal. Like…Sue has a child that doesn’t look like her because her child is adopted. So when she sees another parent with a child that doesn’t look like them, her first assumption is “here’s someone like me.” Then it turned out she was wrong and she went crazy, but the very first comment has context outside of simple racism.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            I dunno. My kids are mixed so I feel very protective of mixed offspring. I have heard things like “thank goodness his skin is pretty white” from relatives I loved.
            It’s not the worst thing you can do as a racist but the assumption is totally wrong. Assuming that someone adopted just because of skin colour is kind of cancelling out the loving relationship between the two parents of different origins.
            But it really isn’t so bad as to warrant a complaint being filed.
            Then again, Sue is the one going OTT because she felt slighted as an adoptive parent when no slight had been intended, she’s the ridiculous one, and sometimes ridiculous people need to be treated ridiculously because that’s all they understand.

            1. Former Employee*

              I would take this to mean that your relatives understand that there is still a lot of racism in the US and that your child may be able to escape some of the worst aspects of it because people will “read” them as being white.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      Yes! You handled this really well, unlike – well, pretty much everyone else in your organization. And Sue only talking to you about things that are directly related to work is definitely a win! As Depeche Mode said, “enjoy the silence.”

  8. Spicy Tuna*

    I think Sue realized her assumption would be construed as racist and jumped in first to turn the “offense” onto the OP for “laughing” at adoptive parents.

    1. LogicalOne*

      Yes! I thought about that as well. I thought that Sue trying to play the role of victim would make this situation more in Sue’s favor but alas it did not. The OP and Tiffany did their due diligence and the outcome was better than I anticipated.

      1. Yvette*

        But did Tiffany do her due diligence? She kept pushing for a phone call and we don’t know what she actually said to Sue.

    2. Tabby*

      Right? As shocking as it is, biracial children can a) look like one parent or the other, or b) look like neither. Or even c) look like a different race entirely.

      ALso interestingly, it’s fairly common in the Black community for children to run the rainbow in terms of color and features even when both parents are Black! I have several cousins who are very light skinned with light, nearly straight hair and light colored eyes, and some who are distinctly African in looks, and all without any direct input from another race from great grandparent/aunt on.

      Even more importantly, minding my business is the best option. I hate the policing of the fruits (or lack thereof) of other people’s wombs

      1. Tin Cormorant*

        I’ve gotten comments from several people asking what race my husband is after having only met myself (white) and my preschool-age daughter, white/vietnamese who has my brown wavy hair, and skin only slightly darker than my own but has facial features and hair texture noticeably different from other white or asian kids her age. They can tell she’s mixed and definitely my kid, but can’t tell what the other half is.

        Sometimes I’m annoyed at people doing this, because what difference does it make really and why are you trying to categorize her like that, but several times it’s been because they have a friend or family member who is similarly mixed and are just looking for a point of commonality to start a conversation. Haven’t had anyone being malicious about it, so far anyway.

      2. Worldwalker*

        There are multiple skin color genes, most of the alleles of which are essentially additive. People with an intermediate collection of them can have kids all over the spectrum.

        Which is just one more reason why caring what color someone else’s skin is is ludicrous.

    1. Ray Gillette*

      It’s also not a coincidence that in this case, the person who takes offense as a hobby is also the person who points the finger at other people to avoid being held accountable for something she did.

  9. cwhf*

    This letter has stuck in my head since it was posted. The nerve of Sue turning her microaggression/racism against your family into her being the offended party still steams me. Glad you are able to avoid her for the most part. She seems most unpleasant.

    1. LogicalOne*

      Agreed! This was one letter that has also stuck with me this year. Just baffles me and makes me want to see Sue gone for such inappropriate behavior.

  10. Florida Fan 15*

    I’m glad this worked out for you, OP, and that you weren’t dragged into any more discussions on the matter.

    The nosy parker side of me is itching to know what went down in Tiffany & Sue’s conversation, though. Although I know whatever was said would probably just tick me off again on your behalf — the Sues of the world aren’t known for backing down with good grace, after all.

  11. I'm just here for the cats*

    I’m glad you stuck to your boundaries OP but I kinda wish there was more to the update. Like I really wonder what Sue would have said if you had done the 3 way phone call. I just hope that she isn’t saying stuff about you behind your back.

    1. Momma Bear*

      I am wondering about the part: “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.”

      So…what happened with the official complaint? I hope it is not currently on OP’s or their manager’s record.

  12. a thought*

    Some commenters pointed out on the original post that the fact the OP referred to her children as her “own” children is what is offensive to adoptive parents. I agree that Sue’s pursuit of this was a LOT but the LW totally refusing to apologize for a legitimate offense rubs me the wrong way. I get that Sue is ALSO in the wrong and ALSO should apologize/reexamine her assumptions about race.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      LW didn’t refuse to apologise, though, did she? She immediately recognised that she’d misspoken (because there are children adopted into her wider family) and owned that mistake.

      1. a thought*

        yup – you are right. my mistake! the original letter seems like she didn’t actually apologize (just “explained” herself) but the first update in the comments makes it clear that she owned it!

    2. Anne of Green Gables*

      The thing is, the LW DID apologize to Sue. And then Sue escalated it and made an official complaint.

    3. Alldogsarepuppies*

      OP did apologize for that comment – but was told the laughing is what was offensive. Its in the orginal letters and comments.

    4. K*

      This is something that was discussed a lot in the original post. LW acknowledged in the comments that her wording was insensitive, and that she does not consider adopted children to be lesser than biological children.

    5. A Teacher*

      Adoptive parent, that isn’t offensive to me. I mean my daughter is my “own” daughter–without negating her bio mom’s part in the equation. I’m the one parenting and loving my kid.

    6. Claire*

      From the initial post: “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.”

      And an elaboration in the comments on the original post: “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.”

      Perhaps reexamine whatever baggage made you interpret this as the LW totally refusing to apologize?

      1. a thought*

        Thanks to all those who pointed out the LW did apologize! I did not see the original clarification in the comments of the original post that Claire linked to. (Personally I don’t think the original letter really spells out that there was an apology — but I agree the update makes it clear).

        Point retracted!

  13. Legit Boss Sasha Banks*

    I love the “I don’t want an apology from sue” but honestly I’d complain about her. She made an assumption about you based on your son’s race, and when you (super politely, way more nice than I would have been) called her out for it she doubled down on you havung done something wrong. Which in my opinion is 100% not okay… I get not wanting to stir things up in your new job but she’s been an as asshole and deserves some consequences.

    1. Uranus Wars*

      And I would argue OP didn’t even really call her out. But I do agree about the complaint when she doubled down!

      Saying “oh, he’s my son, he’s not adopted” to someone who had made an assumptive comment with a racial bias is simply stating a fact. Sue is ridiculous and lacks self-awareness. And it is most certainly not saying anything negative against adoptive parents…It’s fact: He is her son. He is not adopted.

      I am not sure what else the OP could’ve said differently in that moment.

      1. Legit Boss Sasha Banks*

        Yeah I didn’t really know how else to say it! I’m in the UK so I’ll be honest I don’t really know what things are like in the US but in my office alone there’s been so many instances I’ve seen where a woman doesn’t say anything about an offhand sexist comment (oh he didn’t mean it like that) or the same thing with someone commenting on someone’s race, I regularly tell people staying quiet about these things just contributes to them never being dealt with

      2. Tabby*

        There isn’t. I mean, you either birthed the child (well, if we’re soeaking of the womb-bearing person, that is) or you did not. That in no way erases the care and devotion that comes with being a parent, it just means you grew the child internally, as opposed to going through the exhaustive process of adopting.

  14. A Teacher*

    People can be so awkward about mixed race families. I’m a White parent, my daughter is Black. TBH its typically White people that make a bigger deal out of our mixed race household than anyone in the BIPOC community. Like yeah, we are different but I’m still mom and she’s still daughter.

    I think that the “if this never comes up again” response is awesome.

  15. LogicalOne*

    I am glad to see an update on this letter. I am very happy the OP pressed on to her boss that she shouldn’t be part of this three-way conversation that was to take place and that Tiffany instead talked to Sue directly. I can only assume that Tiffany set Sue straight and now Sue is salty and sour. Sue sounds like someone who is sort of a bully in the workplace and more often than not gets her way. And just thinking of Sue trying to play the role of the victim and covering up her covert racism really is sickening. You know what, Sue talking to the OP only on a professional level is a blessing in disguise and it would be more of a blessing if she just found a new job or got booted out of there. A part of me would want to greet Sue everyday, try and talk to her about her day or the weather etc, and you know, kill her with kindness sort of thing. Eventually it will wear her out and she will either not want to be there anymore, she may say or do something inappropriate, or she may just put up with it. Who knows. Oh well, Sue is butthurt about the situation the OP was in the right. Great update.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Yeah, Sue is a Known Issue, evidenced by Monica tipping off OP initially. Maybe if more people didn’t try to placate Sue every time she gets offended, she’d stop making so big a deal over little things.

  16. Mimmy*

    I’m in the minority but I honestly would’ve gone ahead with the 3-way call. Similar to what “a thought” said above, it’s very possible that the way the OP corrected Sue’s assumption was genuinely offensive. I’m in NO WAY saying that the OP intentionally offended Sue or did anything wrong; I’m just saying that sometimes people say things that can be a turn-off for certain groups but aren’t aware. Lord knows I’ve been guilty and would WANT to clear the air.

    I still think Sue reacted poorly to this – she should’ve come to you directly and tell you what upset her; this would’ve given you the opportunity to assure her you had no intention of offending her and that you will be more mindful going forward.

    I do get not wanting to deal with this any further though. You know the politics and culture of your company better than I do.

    That all being said, I am open to understanding why it is better to not have agreed to the 3-way call. I’m not always great at protecting my boundaries, so this would help me a lot if I ever encounter a similar situation.

    1. Mimmy*

      Ah shoot, I didn’t see the replies to “a thought”s post before posting my comment; I see that OP did indeed apologize and Sue is the one who escalated. My apologies – I’m not always good at remembering details -.-

      1. Wisteria*

        I would have gone forward with the call *after* my own conversation with the boss to talk about the racism underlying the initial assumption. Not to be a petty jerk, as advocated above, but I would have wanted to know what the lingering problem was. There’s setting boundaries, and then there’s avoidance, and I think we’re seeing the latter.

      2. Momma Bear*

        I had to go back and look, too. IMO it sounded to me like the three way call was more a response to Sue escalating than the original incident. If I felt like such a call was simply to placate someone who wouldn’t move on without getting in the last word, then I wouldn’t want to do it, either. Especially if the person has already found offense in what I tried to say more than once.

    2. Trillian*

      Depending on who you are dealing with, there’s a risk that the 3-way call could feed into a narrative of “personality conflict” and “two sides to every argument.” There are times to mediate and make peace, and there are times to shut shit down—but a lot of managers would rather play the mediator than use their authority.

      Well played, OP.

      1. a thought*

        Yes – I agree with this. I would also want to clear the air like Mimmy points out but if you know that’s actually not how the call will be used, then better to not participate in it. It all depends on the way management handles this sort of thing. Sounds like there was a pattern of it being handled poorly at this particular place and particularly with Sue.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I so get the desire to want to talk with Sue. The problem is that desire can be attached to the idea that Sue is a reasonable person. Sue has proven time and again she is not. Making everything worse, it seems like people coddle her.
        OP was not going to come out of the conversation a winner. You can’t when the other person twists and contorts what you are saying.
        I have worked with people who use, “Okay, BUT….” . Nope. Wrong answer. There is no BUT.

  17. EmbracesTrees*

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but I get why it would be off-putting for some, and possibly even offensive for others, if, for instance, you were raised white and look white but are commenting on black or Native or Latino Americans’ experiences. Just because someone has the DNA does not mean they have *any* idea what is means to live as and *be marked by others* as being a member of X group.

    “Heritage” is an inherited sense of identity, and if someone is raised as white, then X *isn’t* their heritage, its their ancestry. And they just can’t claim that they understand the experiences of people for whom it *is* a heritage or lived, day-to-day identity.

  18. RagingADHD*

    If you’re replying to Sled Dog Mama, I read that as referring to historical events that happened to her ancestors, which she is certainly entitled to have opinions about now that she is aware.

    Heritage includes both lived experiences and the historical legacies that shaped our families.

  19. X-Man*

    This was one of the letters that really stuck with me, glad for the update! OP I think you absolutely did everything right in this situation. Sometimes it’s good to have “unexciting” updates because that means the ridiculousness ceased.

  20. (insert name here)*

    There are some people that are so incapable of self critique that when they feel even the slightest twinge of guilt their subconscious just rejects it and the only way they can handle having behaved poorly is to lash out at the closest target and make that person the bad guy.

    “Oh no! Did I say something racist? No, I cant be a bad person. This other person must be a bad person. Everything is their fault. I feel a bad emotion. It must be righteous anger.”

    Shame is too painful for them so the turn it outward onto you.

  21. EmmaPoet*

    You did the right thing by skipping the call and telling Tiffany you want this to go away. There’s nothing good that would likely come out of the call, and I think Sue would just get more entrenched in her position.

  22. Ash*

    Honestly I feel rather sorry for Sue’s adoptive children. They have a mother who is clueless about her own racist assumptions, has a ton of internalized baggage about adoption that she obviously has not dealt with, and is rather petty and vindictive. I can’t imagine this doesn’t bleed into her parenting, especially parenting children of color.

    1. Hamish*

      Yeah, the thing that bothered me most about that letter (and there were a lot of things that bothered me about that letter) was that it sounds like Sue is probably parenting children of color.

      1. allathian*

        I didn’t get that vibe, honestly. It’s entirely possible that Sue’s adopted kids look like her, the original letter doesn’t say anything either way. Just that Sue assumed that LW’s kid was adopted because the kid and mom don’t have the same skin color.

  23. Good Vibes Steve*

    Honestly, “I said I didn’t want an apology from Sue” is *chef kiss* perfection. That’s the best way to handle boors like Sue. Well done!

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