update: the anti-Semitic comment, the “calm down” boss, and more

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. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. My coworker made an anti-Semitic comment (#2 at the link)

Basically I went back to her and caught her by herself and said, “Hey, can I talk to you about something serious?” She said of course, and I just said something like, “I didn’t want to have to bring this up, but saying Jewtown for ‘random Jewish neighborhood’ was pretty racist.” She apologized immediately and said that she knew there was a problem because of my face when she said it and she thought about it and she Will Never Say That Again, and felt terrible about it. It’s casually used in her community so she had no idea. And I said, “I didn’t think you knew because it’s not like you to say stuff like that.” So things are fine, we are still friendly, and its never happened again. Thanks for the help.

2. My boss responds to every email with “calm down”

I have a positive update. My manager stopped all on his own. Perhaps he reads Ask a Manager, or perhaps someone else spoke to him. Either way, he hasn’t done it since I wrote you.

Your advice was helpful and I am glad you and the readers offered it in case any one else ever needs it. Also, several people left comments that gave me a much needed laugh, which I also really appreciate.

3. My new job doesn’t give raises — ever

I wrote in last January about an employer that didn’t regularly give out raises. I worked hard to improve my value-add and my KPIs, and my supervisor was prepared to go to bat for me. I might have gotten that raise had it not been for COVID-19. Instead I got abruptly laid off.

I’m trying to stay positive. I’m grateful to have great references, a good support system, and ample unemployment funds. I also now know what red flags to look for in a company and that I should negotiate a higher salary for my next position. But I entered the workforce right before the last recession and had just gotten back on my feet financially with this role. It’s difficult not to worry about what this means for my generation and the Gen Zers graduating into this mess. Some of us may never recover.

4. Do I need to set up team meetings? (#2 at the link)

You answered my question five years ago about team meetings and helping my team to feel connected in my first job as a manager. 

I took your advice and talked to the team, and they all came down hard in favour of team meetings which did help, even though the real problem turned out to be the fact that the company was seriously dysfunctional (married director having affairs with no less than three subordinates!).

But the harder part of the advice (and most of the comments) was about my personal hangups about reading emotions and managing the *people* on my team instead of the workload. It was really hard to read most of that advice, and even harder to work on implementing, because it felt so awkward and alien to me. But I persevered (with a little help from the Friday open threads from time to time), and it paid off.

I’m now two jobs further into my career, having been headhunted three years ago to run a newly-formed high-profile, high-pressure team of 10 in a much bigger company after the person they hired initially crashed and burned after six months on the job (half the team resigned on the spot after one particularly horrific week with her). At the beginning of this year, we had some drama on the team (hands up – I can make some *really* bad hiring decisions when I’m overstretched!) and once we’d sorted that out, our wonderful HR development team arranged for me to undergo a 360 review to try and reset my confidence and take the temperature of the team. I was terrified going into it, but the reviewer said she’d genuinely never done one of these with a team who were so clearly well-integrated and enjoyed working together, and they had nothing but lovely things to say about me as an approachable and supportive manager. It was truly humbling to read their feedback.

We’re now onboarding our fourth new hire (we’re having our own private baby boom…) since going fully remote in March and, since these new starters keep raving to their HR contacts about how welcoming and supportive and connected the team is, we’re being held up to other teams within the company as an example of how to build and maintain team relationships remotely. Not to mention our workload is up 40% on last year but the team is still routinely knocking it out of the park because they genuinely work as a team so everything gets done without excessive overtime. (A lot of our work is bespoke to each project, but can build on work done for other projects if you know where to look)

I wouldn’t have had any chance of being able to build this kind of high-performing yet collaborative culture five years ago, so thank you – and your sage commentariat – for coaching me patiently in all the soft skills no manager has ever bothered to do. (Oh, and yes…we *do* have team meetings – a weekly “business” one that lasts around an hour, and half-hour hangouts the other four days of the week to keep everyone sane while we’re remote.)

{ 150 comments… read them below }

  1. Dust Bunny*

    . . . still trying to picture where the heck the coworker in #1 lives that you would use a term like that casually. I mean, I know places like that exist because I have relatives who would say things like this, but it’s part of a bigger picture of not having the highest opinion of them.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Yes, I know this, but I don’t know anyone who would use it who wouldn’t also have already used a bunch of other questionable terms. I thought it was weird that the LW said it was “out of character” for the coworker. I have legions of relatives who would say this, but they’d say a lot of other stuff along the same lines about various other groups/locations, too. The people I know who already know better than to say those kinds of things wouldn’t need to be told not to call it “Jewtown”.

        1. MtnLaurel*

          Meh, I might have years ago, not knowing it was offensive. I’d be going of the model of “Chinatown” or “Greektown” or “Little Italy.” There are folks that don’t realize that “Jew” is often used in an anti-Semitic way and not in a descriptive way.

      2. Kaittydid*

        Yeah… Sadly, it’s everywhere. My dad made an antisemitic comment on the phone last week. I was surprised, because I have no idea why he would have that bigoted garbage in his brain. He raised me, after all, and I don’t think like that. All I did in the moment was say “whoaaa!” in a disapproving tone.

      3. Joan Rivers*

        Actually, here’s something weird that happens occasionally, and it’s a touchy situation:

        People sometimes make joking, familiar comments about their OWN group, yet deep down they don’t want others to. That’s when it gets weird.
        We may know better than to say certain things about others, even whimsically, but when a Jew makes a Jewish joke, or African American a black joke, it can be hard to know how to react if you don’t know them well.

        Because they feel entitled to make the joke or stereotype their own group. But may get offended if others do. They need to be aware of that.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I can think of a couple of cities in the US where it was a historic name for a neighborhood where many Jewish immigrants settled. Over time I bet it has fallen out of favor in use and is never used among incomers, but there are probably folks from families that had been there since before the 70s who still use it.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        ^ Not that the name isn’t anti-Semitic and shouldn’t be used. I can just see some people not realizing it because their family always called it that.

        1. Roci*

          Yes, and it’s the kind of thing that lands different when in-group members use it vs. an outsider to a member of the group.

      2. SleeplessKJ*

        Absolutely this. In fact I now live in the neighborhood my dad (and everyone I grew up with) casually referred to as “Jewtown”. They meant nothing negative. That was just where most of our Jewish population had settled. It’s now a pretty multicultural area but it is still “Jewtown” to those that remain of that generation.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      I’ve never heard the expression used, and I’ve lived in some cities with large Jewish populations. But I can see how someone who’s familiar with neighborhoods like Chinatown, Little Italy, etc. in different cities etc. might not realize that it was problematic if they heard a friend use it.

      I actually thought it was a positive update – OP spoke up, had a respectful conversation, the coworker admitted she was in the wrong and learned something, and they have a good working relationship going forward. That’s the outcome you want!

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, great outcome. Although I’m wondering why the person who said it didn’t apologize for it right away, since the LW says that she saw the shock on the LW’s face.

        1. merp*

          If she didn’t know about the term, she could have been surprised by that reaction and didn’t know what to say in the moment.

          1. 'Tis Me*

            Yeah, it sounded like she needed to stop and think about what it was she had said that had landed wrongly and why it had caused that reaction. In the moment she might have asked “did I say something?” and they could have had a discussion about it but to some degree the coworker thinking it through for herself is possibly better. The conversation they did have speaks positively to her sensitivity and openness to being wrong and course correcting, while giving her a welcome opportunity to apologise, and without putting the onus on OP to educate her.

    3. Broadway Duchess*

      I grew up in suburban Chicago and it definitely was a casual name for the Maxwell Street area near UIC. I am from a biracial family and both sides referred to it that way, the prejudiced implications going completelyover their (and therefore my) heads. It wasn’t until I was in junior high school that I learned (thankfully from my father, who’d also been educated on it) that it was totally inappropriate. It was the same thing with “gyp,” so I get how a person may not have known. The important thing to me is that OP spoke up and the coworker received the message well.

      1. Black Horse Dancing*

        Yes! I was an adult when “gyp” was explained to me and “Welshed on a deal” was common phrase growing up. In my late 30s, I knew someone who used the phrase “jew them down” and was stunned but it was common from her area.

          1. .. -.. -.-*

            I don’t know where I got the idea that it came from the juice brand or why I thought that made any kind of sense, but now that I know it doesn’t I have a greatest hits reel going through my head of all the times I’ve used that phrase.

            Oh no is right.

          2. PeanutButter*

            TIL that phrase is about people from Wales and not onomatopoeia for something squishy and slippery.

      2. EchoGirl*

        Yeah, it rings to me kind of like the so-called “water buffalo” incident, where a white Jewish student called a Black student a “water buffalo” because in his (somewhat insular) home community, that was slang for “boor”, and it didn’t occur to him that it could come off as racist. It’s necessary to speak up about those things so the person knows not to do it again, but sometimes it really is just not knowing better. (If they get defensive or keep doing it, that’s another story.)

        1. English, not American*

          I’m also missing how “water buffalo” could come off as racist, it sounds to me like a variation on being called a pig or cow. I know the history of black people being compared to apes to “justify” treating them as sub-human, is there some other cultural significance to buffalo that I’m missing?

          1. ATM*

            They tend to be solid black and are commonly used as beasts of burden, so maybe it was seen as black + farming/slavery? Unless there’s further nuance I don’t know, but I could see that. Like calling someone a cow/ox, but with the added layers of historical context?

            1. JessaB*

              Also the wiry hair. And in the old days of the segregated military in the US the Black Scouts were “buffalo soldiers.” So there’s some history wound up into that

    4. OyHiOh*

      There’s an elementary school in my community: Economically mixed neighborhood, historically comfortable and educated, recently had a Jewish principal. The student body at present has two known Jewish students (mine). The school is known, and has been known locally in the community for decades as “the Jewish school.”

      Note that the neighborhood that actually is historically Jewish is clear on the other side of town and is emphatically not known by ethnographic slurs!

    5. Justin*

      A friend from Massachusetts used “Jew” as a verb and Did Not Understand why you can’t do that. So…. anywhere, really.

    6. Woodblock Tiger*

      Lots of places. And if it’s commonly used where you live, it becomes invisible until someone points it out. Lots and lots and lots of places will foster this kind of ignorance, accidentally or on purpose.

      The test is what to do when you are clued in and are no longer ignorant.


      Someone who was in her twenties before she realized that “gypped” was a slur about Roma and Travelers (and who even assumed it was spelled “jipped”) until she was in her early twenties and a kind person clued her in, and then stopped right quick.

      1. noahwynn*

        I legit didn’t know it wasn’t jipped until a few years ago. It wasn’t a word I commonly used anyways, thankfully. Pretty sure AAM is where I read it is actually gyp, and I was shocked. It’s the one thing I remember whenever my brain goes to the “that’s isn’t racist,” place when someone else calls something out.

      2. tamarack and fireweed*

        That’s another one. I have some British friends who use “pikey” casually, and I really really wonder how I can bring it up, or what their awareness level is in general. (“Pikey” may not something people are aware of in North America, but I’d put it on the same level as the slur about East Asian people that starts with ch- and ends with a k. )

        I already lost someone in this friend group, who also likes to throw “chav” around, because she called a woman who had been doing something quite despicable to do with pet welfare a “fat cow”. My acquaintance was unable to see that I was not at all relativizing what the woman had done, even though I tried to be super careful about making it clear… :: shrug ::

        1. Black Horse Dancing*

          OK, so from what I read chav is white ,working-class slur (like white trash/redneck in US). Is this correct?

          1. tamarack and fireweed*

            Yeah, mostly. Classism in Britain is different from classism in the US (so is racism) – in a way, there’s a longer tradition of it, and there are throwbacks to colonialism, the role of the landed gentry, who-could-vote-when, how the industrial revolution worked, educational inequality, and a tool of the justice system called an ASBO (Anti-Social Behavior Order). But glossing over all of this, “white trash” is close enough (though in recent years I think I’ve heard the slur used for non-white unemployed young people as well)/.

            1. JC*

              From a Brit perspective, Pikey is a fairly old word and refers to travellers (who to be honest aren’t well regarded in the U.K. for the perception of their flouting of the rules, disregard for property rights and non tax paying…but that’s another discussion). Some older people use it, I haven’t heard a younger person use it in years. Chav is generally equivalent to the white trash stereotype, but actually applies to anyone regardless of race, typically it’s linked to how someone acts badly or dresses, poor education, rather than actual economic status. It is typically seen to be people of lower economic class. For instance several years ago the brand Burberry was deemed the height of “chav”, but is now super fashionable again. The word is widely used, I think I’ve even heard it used on the news. It’s not necessarily thought of as offensive by most people

                1. happybat*

                  Another Brit and I concur. Both of those terms are wildly offensive, unacceptable and – I’d thought – widely recognised to be such. Mind you, both groups of people are badly treated and stigmatised in Britain.

                2. JC*

                  100% it’s derogative and I personally would never use it to dehumanise anyone (we are all people and there is no need to name call or label anyone). But in my experience it’s definitely not treated the same way as other slurs (racial or gendered) and the phrase “chavvy chic” is still seen in media and fashion for example referencing a particular clothing style (tracksuits for example). It used to be a common comedy trope- Little Britain used the word often and is still a wildly popular show. Its use sadly doesn’t seem to cause as much outrage as other slurs.

                3. Workingfortheweekend*

                  Interesting, I’ve only ever heard it used to mean boorish, rude, loud, mouthy, uncultured. It’s certainly not a compliment, so in that was yes it’s offensive, but intentionally so, the same way any insult would be, not because of any extra connotation.

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                ‘Chav’, ‘Pikey’ et al are definitely offensive where I live in the UK (decidedly working class area). I’ve told staff off for using both words in the last 3 years.

                Think it was Reginald D Hunter who explained the British system of classism as ‘ability to be racist to people who look like you’.

                1. Kali*

                  I wanted to come back and expand on why I personally find the term ‘chav’ offensive. I do relate to the opinion JC put forth, (paraphrased) that it refers to a specific cultural subgroup who indulge in anti-social behaviour (i.e., literally get ASBOs) and wear specific clothes (Burberry and baseball caps and hoodies). I’m familiar with that stereotype, and I thought that was the case when I was a teenager, back in the days when Little Britain and Vicky Pollard were current i.e., around 2004-5. Over time, my thoughts changed, and I want to walk you (general you) through that journey, to show you how I got from “it’s not offensive, it refers to a specific subgroup” to “can you just not?”. Because I’m trying to describe my own thought process from hindsight, I’m going to try to be as honest and transparent as possible about what I think I was thinking/feeling, and try to unpack how I got here. Some of it I’m just now discovering as I write. I realise anyone who reads this will probably be American, and I’m sorry so many of the references and examples are English, but this is a fundamentally English topic, discussed through an English upbringing. I’ll try to give context, but, tbh, this is already really long, and there’s some stuff that is “common knowledge” in my environment but which isn’t internationally, and I won’t catch all of it. Because this got SO long, I’ll write a summary in another comment so you can just skip to that, but you will probably miss some nuance.

                  For context, I am the illegitimate mixed-race result of a teenage pregnancy, raised on a Brummie council estate by a single mother on benefits, which are all traits one might associate with “chavs”. I thought people didn’t read me as one because I’m well-read, well-spoken, my regional accent is very mild, and I did well at my inner-city school compared to the other kids from working class backgrounds, with the economic and academic struggles that implies, and apart from my then-undiagnosed ADHD/lack of parental support, etc. Back then, I didn’t know I wouldn’t attend university until I was 27 (because of adhd/lack of support/etc). I thought ‘chav’ was a way of calling out behaviours I didn’t like, from people who were working class, like me, but in the *bad* way, the kind of people who appeared on Jeremy Kyle or got ASBOs, who gave the rest of us “a bad name”.

                  I said I would walk you through my journey, but, on reflection, I don’t remember the exact details or timelines, but I can talk about the thoughts I had and what I realised, and I will try to keep them in chronological order.

                  A big part of it was reading the book ‘Chavs’ by Owen Jones. It’s been a while – over a decade – since I read it, so I forget all the details, but I know I found his arguments convincing. I remember him pointing out specific quotes from authors whose work I’d enjoyed, like Allison Pearson and India Knight. I just checked – I recently bought the kindle book because I’m intending to reread it, so I crtl-F’d through it for the parts I vaguely remembered – and it’s in the context of comparing the media reactions to the kidnappings of Shannon Matthews (working class) and Madeline McCann (middle class). Both talked about how it was natural to feel more sympathy for Madeline McCann because (paraphrased) her parents were “like us [middle class]”, with Knight even comparing her to Princess Diana. I looked up the reference for India Knight and this is the full quote Jones referred to;

                  “The resort the McCanns went to belongs to the Mark Warner holiday group, which specialises in providing family-friendly holidays to the middle classes. You know the kind of thing – children’s clubs, crèches staffed by trained nannies, swimming pools heaving with toddlers, smiling, sun-baked parents rolling their eyes at each other over their children’s little misdemeanours.

                  Part of the appeal of such holidays is the feeling of safety they engender. You get to whatever resort you’ve booked and are pleased to discover it populated by recognisable types – cheerful family groups, all of them enjoying holidaying with their children, none of them the kind of people who wallop their weeping kids in Sainsbury’s. You heave a sigh of relief. “Everyone is like us,” you think. “Nothing bad could happen here.””

                  I think – reflecting back over a decade later – that this chapter stayed with me more than the rest of the book because I *knew* these authors. I had enjoyed their books. For some reason, from the age of about 9, I developed a taste for the kind of fiction aimed at women in their 20s and 30s. I don’t mind the term “chick lit”, but there’s a whole lot to unpack about that term. I’ll use it here, to quickly explain what I mean, and if anyone wants to unpack it we can do that later. Maybe it’s something to discuss in the weekend thread, because it is a topic that interests me. Anyway; Allison Pearson wrote *I Don’t Know How She Does It*, about a woman, Kate, who is the breadwinner in her household but is also doing most of the emotional labour, and struggling with her feelings about being a working mother (she also had an affair, which is what the movie decided to focus on, despite the affair being a symptom of her struggle of “having it all” rather than anything very interesting in its own right). My mother worked, and she was the breadwinner in our household, so I thought I knew what that was like, to be the child of a working mother like Kate’s children. Maybe I don’t, maybe being a working class latchkey kid is different to being a middle class child with two professional parents. I’ve always been comfortable with numbers, and I liked that Kate was (she worked in finance – I now have the knowledge to say the book was pretty 80s, in a lot of ways). I found school very easy until I was about 13, but teachers would notice I enjoyed writing and reading and somehow forget that I was equally good at maths and science. I liked that Kate was a woman who was unembarrassed about being mathematical and successful, though she struggled with feeling like a mother. For India Knight, I’d read a few of her books but the one that stood out in this context was Don’t You Want Me? It was about a woman who I pictured as being mixed-race, for no real reason, except that I’m mixed Indian-white and the author was Indian, so I probably projected a bit there. I do live in a society where the vast majority of media and viewpoints are white, so I, like most people in this society, do have that bias of defaulting to assuming characters are white unless explicitly told otherwise, or unless I make an effort. But, for some reason, I pictured the main character as being like me (for some reason, I also picture the main character of Ready Player One as black, no idea why, the author’s white so it can’t be because I assume the character is like the author). Anyway, the main character, whose name I forget, was going through a divorce and getting back into dating, and the story’s about her finding herself and finding love. There’s a character in it that she briefly dates who works as a DJ and is basically a caricature of Sasha Baron Cohen’s Ali G character (a typical chav – will return to SBC later). At the end, she gets together with someone, and they ride off into the sunset.

                  Basically, I related to these characters, and, by extension, to the authors, and I, probably naively, assumed they would relate to me. Those quotes showed me they did not. They saw me, and people like me, as “Other”, as not “like us”, because we didn’t go on fancy holidays and because my mother did, in fact, once wallop me in Sainsburys (actually, Aldi, but when I was a child no one would admit to shopping at Aldi even though we literally all did). Note, I’m not defending my mother on this point – she was abusive, mostly emotionally but sometimes physically. I’m now 14 years older than she was when I was born, and while we’re non-contact, I have some sympathy for her. She was 18, she came from a family of narcissistic abuse, her mother had left when she was ten, she – like many teenage mothers – believed a baby would give her love and a family, and was shocked by the reality. Plus, my dad was also abusive – a lot less subtlety, he was a mean drunk who broke her arm when I was 3 – and my mother struggled with depression for my entire life, starting with post-natal depression. All of which makes for a pretty “chavvy” histoy for me. But, anyway, what all this said to me was, these women who I’d thought would understand me, because I understood their characters, would not see *me*. They would see “not like us”. They would see Shannon Matthews “a victim of a chaotic domestic situation, inflicted by parents on their innocent children” [Pearson], not Madeleine McCann or Princess Diana, as India Knight compared Madeleine to. If I disappeared, they wouldn’t give my mother the benefit of the doubt, they wouldn’t say “the [Kali’s parents] were not negligent” [quote was about the McCanns, who left their small children alone in a hotel room, one of the verifiable facts of what happened, so insisting neglect was not possible means some benefit of the doubt is being given]” or “none of us should presume to judge them”. They would look at me, observe all the traits I’ve mentioned here, and see “chav”. It doesn’t matter that my regional accent is suppressed, or that I’ve never worn Burberry, or that I’ve never even come close to receiving an ASBO.

                  Another article by India Knight (I got a free subscription to The Times so I could see the quotes first-hand) talked about ‘chavs’ directly, describing them as dangerous feral gangs (paraphrased). I never read this one before, but looking at it now, she’s describing vicious bullying, which obviously isn’t a good thing and which I’m not defending, but she’s linking it to income level and dress and accent in a way that I don’t think is justified. Some people are just awful, and awful people are often bullies as teenagers. She describes these traits as if they are intrinsic to parts of the working class, and I don’t think that’s true, I think she’s describing traits attributable to awful people as teenagers, which are coming out in ways linked to class and accent because everything we do in Britain is, but which aren’t *caused* by those things. She also links it to having large screen TVs in your living room. We have those because the working class work really long, tiring hours and we just want to do something relaxing and relatively cheap, so linking it specifically to anti-social behaviour is an odd choice. People watching tv aren’t out being anti-social to their neighbours, they’re just relaxing in their own homes.

                  Anyway, Owen’s Jones overall point in that chapter was that the media is overwhelmingly middle class, with a middle class viewpoint, and that is reflected in how they talk about the working class, including chavs.

                  After I read that, I started noticing more things. Victoria and David Beckham are described as the King and Queen of Chavs (multiple media, a quick google brings up loads of examples). Why? They’re not anti-social. They wear Burberry, but not in the way you’d picture a ‘stereotypical’ chav doing. They’re noveau rich and they have/had cockney accents, but that wasn’t supposed to be what being a “chav” was about. It was supposed to be a name for specific bad behaviours, but you could just not get an ASBO, not have “lots” of romantic partners, get married before you had kids, not get pregnant as a teenager, and not dress a certain way, and you wouldn’t be a Chav. But that clearly isn’t true. Billie Piper has also been described as a ‘chav’. Again, cockney accent, but, when this started, she didn’t have multiple marriages, and she didn’t have any of the other traits you’d associate with chavs. Incidentally, multiple marriages or children with multiple partners are only ‘chavvy’ when a working class person has them. India Knight clearly didn’t think her character’s implied second marriage was ‘chavvy’, and no one would describe the Queen’s children – all of whom are divorced, many, if not all (cba to check) are now on at least second marriages – that way on that basis. They’d receive criticism (see the recent storm around Camilla and Charles because of The Crown), but they wouldn’t be called ‘chavvy’.

                  Around this time, I noticed that a lot of the stereotypical ‘chavs’ presented on TV as comedy were caricatures by middle class people. Matt Lucas and David Walliams – who created Little Britain, a sketch-show of British stereotypes – aren’t working class, as far as I can tell (I’m English, so class is something we subconsciously assess, but some things I know we notice are accent, the area someone lives in, and where they went to school), but they mocked us, with caricatures like Vicky the Chav and Andy, a character who fakes a disability to take advantage of his friend. I’m not upset about Catherine Tate’s portrayal of working class characters because, I suspect, she does read to me as if she is working class, she was also raised by a single mother, and she seems to like her characters, however flawed they are. Rightly or wrongly, her characters seem, to me, like an in-group portrayal of something she loves and finds humour in, not out-group mockery. Lucas and Walliams seem to despise Vicky. My impression is, everyone despised ‘chavs’ at the time, and they leaned hard into that. I’m also not upset about Matt Lucas dressing in “brown face” to portray a Pakistani-character, even though that’s part of my own heritage he dressed up as. I think some of it is that the character felt “true” while Vicky felt like mockery, and because he was likeable and, and while he was comedic, the joke wasn’t on him, or me by extension. Plus, Matt Lucas is outgroup in some ways. Matt Lucas is gay and Jewish, and while those things obviously aren’t the same as being working class or mixed race, his being a minority in those ways and his apologies and regret for his portrayals make me think – again, rightly or wrongly – that he can see me and empathise with me, even if he didn’t then. This is similar to why I’m not offended by Sacha Baren Cohen’s portrayal of Ali G. Ali G is a stereotypical chav, but SBC seems to like him and shows us his strengths. Ali G gets the better of people smarter and more educated than his character. Plus, SBC is Jewish and

                  There’s also the lie about benefit fraud. Chavs commit benefit fraud, it’s one of their crimes against society and why we’re supposed to hate them, along with them being loud and anti-social. But, benefit fraud is nothing. Most people on benefits need them, they’re not trying to commit fraud. I certainly wasn’t when I was 23, estranged from my parents, but with only £10 a week for food, transport, and entertainment because the government assumed I had supportive parents with the money for handouts. I’m not denying there’s a couple of people – literally, a tiny percentage – who are actively trying not to work, but that is NOTHING compared to what is lost through tax evasion or cuts given to businesses. And the fact that the latter are ignored while benefit fraud is held up as being a “chavvy” trait, to the point that anyone who requires benefits is suspect…Well, that is a suspiciously convenient viewpoint to be presenting, and a suspiciously convenient scapegoat to be pointing at on so little evidence. A few years later, when I finally got to university, I learned about the New Poor Laws that arose in England with the industrial revolution. The Old Poor Laws were written for farming communities. They understood that sometimes there wasn’t work, and that some people were sick or physically unable to do farm work, and allowed for that. But, the New Poor Laws were written for factory-owners. The lawmakers knew factory work was hard and undesirable, and they wrote the laws so there was no category for “no work to be done” or “physically unable”. People worked or they were shirking, and must be punished into working again through the threat of the poorhouse. A lot of what Charles Dickens’ (“the first English novelist to put ordinary people at the heart of the story”, Jenny Farrell in Culture Matters) wrote was a commentary on this, designed to criticise and appeal to the middle class, and show a working class viewpoint. Take Oliver Twist – “imagine if your middle class child was mistaken for working class and put through all this, isn’t it unacceptable? Look at those children around him, and they really so different to him?”. Or the Cratchits in a Christmas Carol – they’re working class, but clearly not shirking, and the symptoms Tiny Tim shows were common to scurvy and, iirc, tb, both of which were very common amongst working class children in London at the time. The New Poor Laws and what they allowed us to think about the working class are still affecting us now. If you’re Left and feel like you don’t deserve benefits or shouldn’t claim them when you (or others) need them, they’ve got you.

                  Other things; the tv show Pramface. It’s about two teenagers who have unprotected sex and accidentally conceive a child (age of consent is 16 in the UK). A lot of the comedy comes from the contrast between the father’s working class family and the mother’s middle class family. And, somehow, the mother remains middle class despite her teenage pregnancy. It’s not something natural and obvious that happened to her, like to working class girls (“the girls I knew at school are already pushing prams”, A New England, by Billy Bragg who is working class; also, matches my own experience), it’s an unfortunate occurence that didn’t prevent her from being a nice middle class girl.

                  Then there are my personal experiences. My mother had very strong ideas about what we were. She insisted I was British when people asked “what are you?”. I’m mixed-race, and they were seeking an answer to why they read me as ethnically ambiguous, but I was 4 and didn’t understand the question. She insisted we were middle class, and because we spoke “better” (more RP) than my classmates and I wasn’t on free school dinners by secondary school, I thought we were. I didn’t understand how poor we were until now, and even now I’m only just realising some things. We had the same christmas decorations every year until I was about 11, and then suddenly my mum was buying new things every year. I didn’t realise that was because we couldn’t afford them until literally last week. Anyway, I thought the differences between me and other working class people were obvious, and I thought the differences between me and chavs were obvious. But, they’re not. I had people assume I had less education than I actually did, on multiple occasions, despite how well read I am or how good my accent is. My ex attended Cambridge and his parents went to Durham (2 of the top 3 old/prestigious unis in the UK), and the differences between us were factors in why we broke up. There were lots of little things, like him being a lot more brand-sensitive and me being a lot more price-sensitive while shopping, and me not being able to use cutlery properly (combination of adhd so reduced fine motor control plus left-handed grandmother was taught to use cutlery right-handed – because the left hand is the devil’s hand, or it was in Catholic schools in the 1950s – and my right-handed mother going “oh, my mum is left-handed, I’m right, I should mirror her” and passing the reversed style down to us). All of these differences were obvious, and noticed (but not actively commented on, it’s not the English way), and made me self-conscious and caused his parents to look down on me (full disclosure, I am assuming a little, but his mother did take him aside and list all my flaws shortly before we broke up, so I’m not assuming that much). My ex’s mother said she identified as working class, but being working class on a farm in Devon is fundamentally different to being working class on a council estate in Birmingham. Oh, and I ate “too much” sugar and junk food. Some of that is the ADHD (fairly common to feel compelled to eat sugary things for dopamine rather than hunger), but the diets of working class people are different to middle class people (broadly speaking) and the former is more likely to include junk food and sugar. The least subtle (and most on-topic) example is when my ex’s sister’s fiance (American) started doing an impression of a cockney accent which he called his “chav impression”. That does show that he didn’t twig me as a ‘chav’, but also illustrates that, to him, ‘chav’ just meant ‘cockney’. That could be attributed to him being an American, but the reaction of my ex’s family can’t be explained that way. They found it hilarious, at least until I said “we didn’t sound like that on the council estate I grew up on”.

                  Anyway, the conclusion I came to, after years of stuff like this (these are the examples that came to mind, but there are more, including lots of really subtle things) that got me to where I am now. And where I am now is; people *say* ‘chav’ refers to specific, bad, people, but the term isn’t used that way. People who aren’t working class don’t see the differences. They write about us and talk about us as if we’re interchangable. Sure, I believe you use the term to refer to a specific subgroup, and I believe other people do too, but the outright hatred and scape-goating of the working class is so widespread, and that distinction is so often ignored, that I just don’t want to hear it any more. I’ve never been anti-social, never worn burberry, didn’t get pregnant as a teenager, etc, etc, but they’d still call me a chav. They don’t know the difference, and when they claim they do it’s with a tone of “oh no, not YOU dear, you’re one of the *good* ones”.

                  This is already pretty long, but real quick: I’m mixed race, as I mentioned above, and I come from one of the most mixed race cities in the UK. Non-white people are disproportionately represented amongst the working class, so there is a huge amount of overlap with racial prejudice along with class prejudice. Think of the “multicoloured kids from different fathers” ‘chav’ stereotype. Plus, my inner-city school was predominantly attended by people who spoke English as a second language, with a minority of white students. We did very well in Urdu and Maths, but GCSE results in, say, English, were less impressive and kept us at the bottom of the league tables. I was offered a place at a more highly-ranked school, but my mum couldn’t afford the bus fare or the uniform, so I stayed there. I mention this because I think it illustrates how much race and economic status can be tied together – if you were white and could afford it, you sent your kids somewhere else, so my school became more mixed and more working class over time. And being mixed is definitely a ‘chav’ thing.

                2. Kali*

                  Sorry that was so long! I have many Feelings about this, and it was pretty interesting to pick through my memories and try to figure out how my feelings changed from what I remember myself thinking and saying to where I am now.

                  Summary: I used to think “chav” was a word for a specific subgroup with specific traits (e.g., anti-social, wearing Burberry and/or hoodies, etc), and I would defend it on those grounds. I thought that because I thought the difference between me and the “chavs” were obvious, despite my own “chavvy” background and upbringing [I’m the mixed-race illegitimate result of a teenage pregnancy raised by a single mother on benefits in a Birmingham council estate, with a violent alcohol father]. As a kid/adolescent, growing up with other mixed-race people, I thought me being well-read, my accent being slightly more RP than my classmates, and not dressing “chavvy” distinguished me. But, over the past 16 years (since the height of chav-fame/hate which I remember as being around 2004), I’ve come to notice that middle class people in the media aren’t specific in how they use the word ‘chav’, and ‘chavs’ are a useful scapegoat to draw attention away from other things. Like, e.g., ‘chavs’ are benefit-frauds, but benefit-fraud is nothing like the problem tax evasion or handouts to wealthy businessmen are. It’s downright suspicious that the people who are doing the latter (or close friends of theirs) are trying to raise an outcry about the former. Didn’t mention it in my last post, but it’s also suspicious how politicians attempt to turn the poor against one another, almost as if they’re trying to distract us from the real issues (they definitely are). For example, I saw someone share a meme once contrasting images of, iirc, McDonalds workers protesting for fair pay, compared to, I think a coal miner, or someone else in a dangerous, underpaid job. It was captioned something like “They think they deserve to be paid more than he does. If you don’t understand the problem, you’re too stupid for an explanation”. Yeah, I understand the problem, the problem is that people with lots of money will do anything to avoid paying any more than they have to, including pointing the figure at other people who just want a living wage and telling us to blame each other.

                  Anyway, sure, there are people who still use the term ‘chav’ specifically to refer to a cultural subgroup and not to the entire working class. I believe that is their earnest intent, and I believe that they believe that’s how everyone means it, because I thought that once too. But, I now think that a lot *more* people don’t bother to see any distinctions between working class individuals, either without thinking, because we are fundamentally Other to them, or intentionally, because it is useful to them to tell us “oh no, not you, you’re a GOOD one, help me keep the others down”.

                  Also, you know what? I grew up on a council estate and went to a school in inner city Birmingham. I never met a ‘chav’. No one I knew fit the stereotypes, though some people had a few traits (including me, see above). And if the ‘chavs’ aren’t in council estates or inner city schools…where are they? If they’re such a big problem, why didn’t I ever meet any of them, despite spending a quarter of a century in the places you’d expect them to be?

                  Anyway, I’m in a place where I believe there’s far, far too much bad faith use of the ‘chav’, and, tbh, I doubt there was much ‘good faith’ use to begin with, and I would prefer everyone just stop using it. Alternatively, we could reclaim it and be proud Chavs, or we could start calling, say, Boris Johnson and his friends chavs, due to the systemic violence they’ve inflicted on the people of the UK, their love of material goods, and the way they keep on taking money from the British taxpayer in return for very little. Honestly, I bet it would be cheaper if we stopped funding him and his scrounging mates and just gave every adult in the UK a living allowance, or at least properly funded the NHS.

              2. Anonymous Cornell hockey fan*

                There’s a very similar word in a favorite college fight song. And I just went and looked at etymology online and dammit it does sound like “piker” started with the same crappy derogatory slang. It just took a few steps and landed in 1905 as “lazy freshman.” That makes sense in context. The song is from the point of view of a hard-partying kid who failed out of his first year at Cornell and is already planning to hit the bars in the fall. “Tell all the pikers on the hill that I’ll be back again.”
                Good thing there are a half dozen other songs – I’ll take hokey over unintentionally offensive any day. (I save my offensive language for hockey chants: You’re not a goalie, you’re a seive!)

                1. Emily*

                  Replying to this because it won’t let me reply to Kali’s post but I also wanted to say I appreciate you taking the time to write all that.
                  It articulated the similar progression I think I’ve gone through and why I’ve gone from using the word chav happily as a teen to feeling so uncomfortable with it now.

        2. 'Tis Me*

          Really? I thought it was intended to refer to rough youths from council estates and had nothing to do with ethnic origins :-o Eek! Luckily not a phrase I’ve commonly used but yikes!

      3. tiny cactus*

        The term mentioned in the letter was a new one to me, although I think it does sound problematic on its face. There are also terms like your example where the racist origins are much more obscured–I didn’t realize that “bulldozer” has a racist background until just recently.

            1. Kali*

              No, it doesn’t and I did Google it myself. But I wasn’t sure I’d come across the same explanation the original commenter was thinking of, and I like chatting to people.

      4. lazy intellectual*

        I only learned in the past couple years about “gypped” so…yeah. It wasn’t a term I used a lot myself, but I didn’t question it when others used it.

        1. PeanutButter*

          I grew up thinking it was “chipped” and had to do with shaving off small, unnoticeable bits of something so that the buyer would not get all they paid for. (I think I made this erroneous connection when I first heard about the practice of shaving coins when they used to be made out of metals with actual value.)

      5. SD*

        Well, you were a great deal younger than I was when I figured that one out! “Jipped” was just a word that children threw around when they felt they were being cheated. If someone doesn’t know the origin and intent of such things, it’s a kindness to tell them.

      6. NotQuiteAnonForThis*


        Its telling when someone fights you on something not being racist/otherwise not cool slur because they never knew that. Really? I just mentioned that its widely considered to be racist and if for nothing other than it not being nice, it shouldn’t be used?

      7. Shhhh*

        Fully thought it was jipped and didn’t make that connection until my mid 20s as well. At which point I was pretty mortified because it was a common word in my family.

    7. tamarack and fireweed*

      It is totally astonishing to me, but I sometimes hear the most blatantly anti-Semitic things out of the mouth of unexpected people. This included a dear friend of both me and my spouse (who is Jewish – I’m an agnostic / lapsed Catholic) who used “X j*wed Y out of [something]” casually in a friendly conversation. They *were* slightly tipsy at the time… One of the best things I’ve done in recent years was to sit our friend down and have the “Listen, there’s a serious thing I need to bring up, which could really impact the relationship between you and [spouse], and none of us wants this” conversation. Our friend was deeply embarrassed, and we’re fine.

      Just because someone doesn’t harbor any conscious anti-Semitic feelings doesn’t mean they aren’t participated in the ambient anti-Semitism. (And no one here wants me to launch into a speech about internalized sexism and homophobia ;-) )

      I’m glad it worked for the LW, too.

      1. Anonny*

        Yeah, learning about the etymologies of some of these phrases makes it very apparant that white English-speakers were incredibly casually racist. Like, in the weirdest places sometimes. Was it necessary to bring antiblackness into the matter of blood blisters? Really?

    8. Flashgordon*

      Someone I knew as a friendly acquaintance once made reference to a local fire as “Jewish lightning” to my face. She was not aware that I was Jewish and it really is a gut-punch when you hear something like that to your face. It was a very similar kind of friendly ignorant comment as with the OP. I didn’t do anything except pull a face because I was so shocked at the time.

      1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

        Oh my stars. I just looked up what that meant…I knew it was going to be awful, and it was.

      2. CM*

        Never heard “Jewish lightning” I had to Google that and WOW. :(

        I loved update #1, I’m very glad the OP directly brought it up, and the coworker immediately apologized and said they understood why it was wrong. For those commenters criticizing the coworker for saying it in the first place, look, we live in a white supremacist society, and we’re bound to pick up damaging habits and thought patterns. The important part is being open to hearing that we can be wrong, and trying to do better.

      3. 'Tis Me*

        *googles* Is it wrong that my first concern was that it was a reference to burning Jewish bodies in the Holocaust so I was quite relieved it was “only” based on unpleasant and racist stereotypes that indicate Jews are more likely to raze property to commit insurance fraud..?

    9. Adele*

      My mom’s from a country with almost zero Jewish people. She grew up saying stuff like that because she never really considered that Jews were still around in the modern era and not just an ancient tribe from the Bible. Obviously, she knew about the holocaust, but if anything, that added to her perception that Jews were a tiny sect that had basically been wiped out. So when she used those phrases (which I’m not gonna repeat), she was using them like “samaritan” or “sodomite” are used in modern English. We hear samaritan and think “helpful person” not “person from Samaria”. Anyway, she moved to the US, met real live Jewish people, and wiped those words from her vocabulary a long time ago.

      1. Oaktree*

        Just an FYI (in case you weren’t aware), Samaritans are actually still around, too. They’re an ethnoreligious group like Jews, and are our closest relatives, genetically speaking. (The major difference is that they never left Israel, while we were exiled; and they don’t allow conversion at all, whereas we don’t forbid it, and as a result there are many fewer of them than us these days.)


        1. Kali*

          I did not know this, thanks! I’m surprised to learn they have the same name still.

          Earlier, I saw a not-always-right (site with user submitted stories of bad customers) which referenced Eid, and I was really shocked at how many people didn’t know what it was, or even that it was a religious event or associated with Muslims. I grew up in a very Muslim city (Birmingham, UK, approx. 20% of population is Muslim compared to approx 5% elsewhere in England) so, I guess it’s not surprising this was common knowledge to me but news to others. I didn’t realise quite how lucky we were in that respect – I knew it was more, but not 4x more.

          Broadly speaking, there are two eids. One is a celebration at the end of Ramadan (a time of fasting and focusing on faith and charity – has some similarities to old-school Lent, if that’s more familiar) and the other commemorates the thwarted sacrifice of Abraham/Ibrahim’s son. Basically, God asked his first prophet to sacrifice his son, then called it off last minute once he saw the prophet would have gone through with it. In the Bible and Torah, iirc, it is Isaac the younger son, but in the Qu’ran it is Ismael, the elder. If you’ve seen the Handmaid’s Tale (just throwing out references in the hopes it helps some people link new information to stuff they already know) Ismael is the son who was born of Hagar, the model for the handmaids, because Ibrahim’s wife, Sarah, believed she was too old to bear children but knew Ibrahim was prophecied to be the father of the chosen people and so he must have children. Later, God fixed it so Sarah could bear Isaac, despite her age.

          I find it really interesting how very similar all three religions are. I don’t think many people realise that, if they don’t come from such mixed areas.


    10. yala*

      I think maybe it’s less where she lives and more who she’s around.

      I remember a couple years back, my older cousin telling me that she never before realized that it was apparently offensive to use the word Jew as a verb implying that someone bargained you down to a lower price than you’d wanted to sell for. I was utterly floored, because I have never in my life heard that phrase before, and it’s just…so obviously offensive? But she was saying it as if it were a completely normal part of her vocabulary. We live in the same place, but we run in *very* different circles (she’s wealthy, runs a company, and is very right-leaning).

      1. Kali*

        I’ve been thinking about this, and trying to figure out what “social rules” I’ve learned around this. I don’t know many Jewish people personally, so the stuff I’ve picked up is probably a bit wrong. To me, shortening the word “Jewish” to “Jew” always feels offensive or not worth the risk of saying, similar to how shortening the word “Pakistani” makes it a slurt, but I’m not totally sure why I feel that way or where I got that impression. I think it’s that shortening that makes “Jewtown” sound offensive to me, in a way that “Chinatown” or “little Italy” or “the Chinese quarter” don’t. I think “jews” is okay as the plural, though “Jewish people” sounds more respectful, but, again, I’m not totally sure where I picked up those ideas or why some words feel ‘safer’ in terms of not hurting people than others. Is there anything to any of this? Is shortening the word “Jewish” to “jew” always blunt and disrespectful, or is that just my impression?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No, the word “Jew” is fine. It’s not a shortening of anything; Jew is the noun and Jewish is the adjective. We call ourselves Jews. There are certainly racists who use it as a pejorative, but as long as you’re not doing that, it’s fine. (I’d argue it’s actually more upsetting when someone thinks “Jew” is a bad word. Like, imagine if people thought “Canadian” was a slur and tried to dance around it with “the people of Canada.” Hearing people say “the Jewish people” to avoid saying “Jews” always screams “I’m uncomfortable and don’t know what to call you people.” It’s very weird.)

          1. Kali*

            Oh, okay, no clue where I picked that up then. I probably will still say things like “she is Jewish” rather than “she is a Jew”, that doesn’t sound too unnatural does it? I think my issue with the latter is, it’s the same phrasing you would use to say “she is an object” rather than “she has this trait” or “she is of this group”.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              But it’s really not — see “she is an American,” “he is an accountant,” etc. “She’s Jewish” is fine, but please do not avoid “Jew” as if it’s a bad word … or, for that matter, tell a Jew she’s wrong about “Jew” being fine :)

            2. 'Tis Me*

              I’m Jewish which means I’m a Jew. Would you say “She’s a follower if Christ” instead of “She’s a Christian”, and does that give you the same ooky “I’m calling her an object” response?

              I do know that there are some groups of people who ask for that sort of wording (e.g. “She is a person who has autism” rather than “She is autistic”) but I think that’s more common amongst people who often find themselves identified as part of that group first rather than as an individual? For most Jews it just isn’t the first adjective other people would pick to describe us.

              1. Kali*

                I’ve been thinking about this, and I think I might say “She’s Christian” or “She’s American”, without the article, though I would say “she’s an accountant”. Tbh though, I’ve been thinking about the phrasing to the point that I’ve reached semantic satiation and I can’t actually remember what I would normally say or what other people in my society say. It’s possible this is a British thing rather than a me thing based on what’s been said so far, but I’m not really sure how to check that.

                I think I’ll need to let this simmer in the back of my mind, so I’m ready to notice what other people do, and/or see if any insights pop up over time.

            3. Flashgordon*

              I think the only time it becomes offensive is when people use it as a verb as several have referenced above. When you hear someone saying they will Jew it down, it implies that they are stingy and trying to save money because of being a “greedy Jew.” That is when Jew becomes a racist and stereotyping kind of word. Just saying Jew as a noun is completely inoffensive to me. It describes what I am.

        2. Bryce*

          Jew is one of those words that depends how you’re using it. Most of the time it’s fine, it’s just also used by folks trying to insult.

    11. Ally McBeal*

      Honestly, anti-Semitism is everywhere, even in the big “liberal” cities. In NYC, there’s a big issue with anti-Semitism right now because the Hasidic community, which is mostly centralized in a specific part of Brooklyn, is (largely) ignoring Covid restrictions and having massive gatherings with no masks and running illegal in-person schools. I haven’t read the specific term “JewTown” in any of the news sites’ comment sections, but it can get nasty, and people know what you mean when you refer to those neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

      1. Ally McBeal*

        (And I don’t mean to imply that the anti-Semitism is solely due to the Hasidic community’s actions – of course that’s not all of it – but their actions have further inflamed tensions that were already there.)

  2. I Need That Pen*

    The OP has much more control than I do because I know a “what in the hell!” would have come flying out of my mouth before I could catch it and shove it back in. But it appears the coworker got the message which is good, albeit in a painful embarrassing way (which may be even good-er, depending on my mood). You cannot say this kind of thing and the fact that it didn’t occur to this person NOT to say it within the confines of a work is mind boggling. But I’m always boggled…

  3. Stormy Weather*

    I’m glad that boss stopped on his own. Nobody calms down just because someone tells them to calm down.

    1. Pennyworth*

      I’d love to know if he stopped because he is an AAM reader. In fact, I’d love to know if any AAM readers have ever recognized themselves here and would be prepared to tell us about it.

  4. BenAdminGeek*

    I’m glad that on #1 the coworker was able to reflect on their mistake and work to improve. The LW gave grace in a situation where I don’t think I would have, and it did pay off in improving someone as a human.

    1. Momma Bear*

      I once said something in the office that I immediately realized was offensive and am grateful that I was given the opportunity to walk it back and Never Say That Again. Undoing years of cultural bias takes time and sometimes all people need is a little education and understanding while they work through it.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yes. I’ve noticed that when I’m tired and upset my nasty side can come out and there have been times I’ve been horrified at myself. No that’s not what I think, really it isn’t, it’s just what I learned as a child. Unlearning doesn’t seem to happen, I can only repress it apparently. Luckily I have learned one all-essential skill which is breathing deep breaths while counting to tenl!

  5. Momma Bear*

    RE: #3, I hope you land on your feet. I’ve had jobs like that and it’s frankly demoralizing after a while. Here’s hoping for a better job with a better raise structure in your future.

  6. Littorally*

    #1 – “I didn’t think you knew because it’s not like you to say stuff like that.” That is a great line for defusing a tricky conversation. I’m so glad that this ended well for you and that your coworker had the awareness to realize right away that she’d said something unacceptable.

    1. Jack Russell Terrier*

      I actually did the same recently – someone said the ‘I’m such a spaz’. She’s lovely and I was absolutely sure she had no idea of its connotations – which is how I lead. She didn’t and was glad I’d mentioned it.

      1. Julia*

        I recently had a conversation with people from the US about that word, and they all swore up and down it wasn’t a big deal to say that word in the US, and I and some other people were just freaking out because we were from Europe. My research into this showed that even in the US, opinions differ, so I’m very interested to learn how you shut down your co-worker if you are both in the US.

        1. Cruciatus*

          I am just a single data point but I’m American and had no idea there was an issue regarding spaz. And I’m pretty sensitive about those things (though fortunately it’s not a word I use a lot, but upon hearing it from someone else I wouldn’t think anything bad). This forum also taught me about moron. Had no idea there was such a negative history behind that word either.

          1. noahwynn*

            Third data point, but this is another one I never would have guessed or even thought twice about. Reading it seem like it is more offensive in the UK compared with the US. I never knew it was related to spastic. I swear I’m incredibly ignorant on some things.

            1. Kali*

              The longer word is also offensive in the UK. We’d also be uncomfortable with the term “handicapped” which I think is normal in the US? Not sure.

              1. WonkyTonk*

                Handicapped is still used in the U.S. (the most common usage I can think of is parking lot spaces that are designated as “handicapped parking”), although we’re definitely evolving on this and “disabled” is much more common now.

                1. Jonquil S*

                  As a non-driving disabled person, I’ve used a handicapped (now called disabled) parking permit for many years. I still don’t really get why they changed the term. As far as I can tell, all it did was create more paperwork the year my state did the changeover, and I had to go to the DMV. This was on top of the regular rigamarole periodically required to prove that I’m still disabled.

                  Why don’t politicians ever do something useful to help disabled people, like make public transportation more reliable and easier to use? Or provide a better social safety net for working / under-employed disabled people?

                  On a positive note, I was really proud of my hometown, which has the second-largest Deaf community in the US, for making all traffic indications blind and Deaf accessible (so, visual alerts on traffic lights when ambulance/police cars approach, for Deaf drivers; audio / verbal indications of pedestrian crosswalk changes. One of our city council members is Deaf and has been a great advocate for disabled people here.

                  Though I appreciate the progress, I do still get grumbly about changes that are superficial and just blatantly for political points. No handicapped people that I know of actually minded the term handicapped; I certainly didn’t. I also don’t mind disabled, and I’m not going to fight to go back to the term from Ye Olden Dayes of the late ’90s/early ’00s.

                  It’s just…the whole showboating about changing the term on paperwork and government signage still rankles. It just so blatantly *to be seen* as helping disabled people, rather than actually furthering rights and protections for us.

            2. Jack Russell Terrier*

              I think there is more awareness in the UK because there was literally a ‘Spastic Society’ charity. I don’t think that word was used medically over here as it was in the US. I grew up in both places so knew the connection.

              1. Jack Russell Terrier*

                That should read:
                I don’t think that word was used medically over here as it was in the UK.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            A general rule of thumb I’ve adopted after spending years on Internet forums and learning about offensive words is: if the word I’m about to use is common useage for ‘person doing something utterly against common sense’ or ‘person doing bizarre stuff’ is to stop and think about if I’ve ever heard it being used to negatively describe someone with mental illness.

            If it has, then I don’t use the word.

          3. Kali*

            Oh my gosh, that is quite offensive in the UK. I was shocked when someone just casually said it in Legally Blonde.

            1. Jack Russell Terrier*

              I think there is more awareness in the UK because there was literally a ‘Spastic Society’ charity. I don’t think that word was used medically over here as it was in the UK. I grew up in both places so knew the connection.

        2. another Hero*

          I’m from the US and it is definitely not ok, but I did grow up hearing it used by people who didn’t think anything of it, and it’s the first word I’ve come across reading the comments where that’s true

          1. Dust Bunny*

            “Spaz” and “gay” were standard insults when I was a kid in the 1980s. I’m sure I said them but I gave it up a long time ago.

            1. PeanutButter*

              Yep, I grew up in the 90s and “spaz” was used all the time. I didn’t even realize it was connected to a medical term until I actually entered the medical field as an adult. (Though by that time I had dropped it along with “grody” “radical” and other slang from my youth.)

  7. BadApple*

    Whew! I’m surprised no one has commented on #4’s comment that the married director was having affairs with three different subordinates simultaneously. It’s a wonder the director even had time to get any work done!

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I used to work for the railway. There were managers there who had immense skills at scheduling and time. Shame they tended to use them for having it off with the staff instead of regulating the trains….

  8. Amy*

    Re: “Calm Down”

    I’ve experienced a similar issue and the way I handled it was to basically say, “Hey, I’ve noticed you’ve been starting emails with ‘calm down’ and I wanted to ask if everything was OK. I’ve observed that sometimes people say things like that when they are personally stressed about something. Is there anything I can do to help?” Sometimes this genuinely is the case! Sometimes not, but the other person feel embarrassed and stops. I don’t know if it’s as good as Alison’s way, but it worked for me.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yes, I’ve noticed my partner tells me to calm down when he’s the one getting stressed out. I pointed it out to him and he stopped.

    2. Love it.*

      +100. I have a version of this that I use with certain family members and that works well, but its broader applicability didn’t occur to me.

  9. Always Late to the Party*

    I found #4 really lovely and I am jealous of that OP’s team! I cannot imagine wanting to hang out half an hour every day with current coworkers. It sounds like OP was really intentional about creating a good environment and it really paid off. Good job, OP!

  10. Lena Clare*

    Calm down boss just… calming down… is anticlimactic. I wanted some kind of showdown where OP called him out calmly and he squirmed and got embarrassed then never did it again.
    Oh well. At least he’s stopped.

  11. TCO*

    OP #4, you’ve clearly worked really hard to create a great work team culture and it shows. Congratulations on being so committed to learning, growing, listening to feedback, and being a great boss!

    1. 'Tis Me*

      Yes, it was lovely to hear about somebody really taking on board what a big difference a good manager makes, what it means to be a good manager, and how to support individuals and their team to foster an amazing, successful, happy environment.

  12. Bob*

    “I have a positive update. My manager stopped all on his own. Perhaps he reads Ask a Manager”
    Yes, this is exactly what is happening.
    Hi Mr Boss. Spend some time reading the archives as well.

  13. OP #3*

    Minor update: for a while it looked like my old employer was planning to rehire me. I had mixed feelings about returning, but the offer got yanked anyway due to a hiring freeze…..right as my enhanced UI benefits ran out. my friends there report that the company recently turned a profit and some people even got raises and promotions.

    i’ve learned the hard way there is no such thing as a dream job. a job will never love you back no matter how much you give to it. at least I now have better experience on my resume than during my first recession. a Gen Z acquaintance told me her recently graduated friends can’t find entry-level jobs at all. let’s hope the vaccines and a Biden administration change things.

    1. pancakes*

      Bah, hopefully something else will turn up soon. Good luck.

      Your phrasing reminds me, labor reporter Sarah Jaffe has a book coming out titled, “Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone.”

    2. Brett*

      Take “recently turned a profit and some people even got raises and promotions” with a grain of salt. They also recently laid people off, and any further attrition is going to hurt. Companies like mine area actively recruiting people because there is more talent available now than has been available the last 5 years. And a lot of this talent is getting poached from other places. (This is also why entry level jobs are not available, because it is easy to hire experienced people right now.)

      Your old employer probably recognizes this, and those raises and promotions are because they are vulnerable and need retention badly. I would not be surprised if that wave of raises and promotions are a one-off thing that will not show up again for a while.

  14. Kali*

    I went to the original for the anti-semitic comments letter, and I’m not Jewish but I am mixed race and white-passing and it sounds like there’s some overlap in the experience there. Specifically, when you call out something offensive to you specifically, and you need to debate whether to explicitly point out that you’re part of the group being insulted. Obviously, this didn’t happen here, the coworker had just never thought to question the term before and immediately saw the problem when she did, but I’ve generally found that, if I don’t explicitly say “I am a POC, I do not like this language, please stop” people tend to assume that I’m objecting “to be PC” or to “virtue signal”. Which is quite interesting. It’s like people just…can’t believe someone would genuinely feel differently to them so they look for an ulterior motive instead of taking the statement at face value. Maybe it’ s because acknowledging that someone is directly affected and hurt would mean accepting being in the wrong, which a lot of people find very hard to do? I’m sure I do these things too, but it’s much harder to spot your OWN cognitive bias. That’s why I find it interesting to try to figure out why people are doing something that doesn’t make sense to me, and then try to notice situations where I might be making a similar mistake.

    Not wanting to be in the wrong is a very normal human emotion, I’m not criticising anyone for having that feeling, I’m sure we all do sometimes. But isn’t it weird how it feels like such a big, tension-filled, stressful, important Thing, and then the second you say “I was wrong, I’m sorry” all the pressure is just…immediately gone? Like a balloon bursting. It feels like such a big deal before you say it, but I’ve never found that it continues to feel that way afterwards.

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      In my experience, people who use “PC” as a pejorative tend to be deeply bigoted, or at least deeply invested in their “right” to be bigoted without consequences.

      Very different than the OP’s colleague, who was simply ignorant.

      1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

        My favorite response to someone who uses “PC” in that manner is to reply back with “you mean, use basic politeness in spoken and written word?”

        Granted, you might find the fail mode of this person to be “double down glassbowl”. It happens.

    2. Robin*

      OP here. I’m Jewish but not observant- I like to say Jewish enough to object to Antisemitism and like Chicken soup. :)

      But I have a HUUUUGE hot button on this issue. Like normally, nuclear.

    3. Ray Gillette*

      On the one hand, I get where you’re coming from. “PC” and “virtue signaling” when used pejoratively are dogwhistles at this point. On the other, I’ve also been there when, let’s say, a straight person speaks up against homophobia and in theory that should be great but being there in the moment it’s pretty clear that they’re more interested in impressing other straight people with what a good ally they are than doing anything that’s actually helpful to me.

        1. Ray Gillette*

          I’ve taken to calling it “performative allyship” with in-groups, but that’s a bit of a mouthful. That might work for the general public.

      1. Kaittydid*

        I agree wholeheartedly. I like to call it “faux woke.” My ex husband was really awful to me, but would say things about taking my name if we ever had kids to look super feminist. I came to find out he was contemplating secretly getting a vasectomy, which is a whole problem in itself of poor communication, and also shows that was never going to happen. Anyway, I came out as lesbian a couple years ago and we divorced. He gets to tell his side of the story as he’s an innocent party and is so supportive of my coming out and that’s the whole reason for the divorce. It’s really not. We’d have divorced even if I was straight. It’s just another way he performs being nice.

      2. Kali*

        It is a tough line to walk. Two scenarios;

        A. Minority group members are hurt/offended/want behaviour to stop but are not empowered to speak up, e.g., tired of fighting, believe they will be ignored, will face consequences, etc.

        B. Minority group members don’t care.

        A and B can look the same, and while some people are “bully-woke” and don’t actually care about being kind or respectful, some people who genuinely are trying to be kind and respectful get tripped up too. :(. Ideally, you could ask the minority group member, but, if A, they may be reluctant to say something even when directly asked, especially if asked publically. Or maybe they aren’t present. E.g., I know “oriental” is not a word to describe people and have taken people aside before to say “psst, members of this group have told me they don’t like that term, can you use another?”. And, vice versa, I’ve been glad to hear of someone calling out a racist relative regarding my race, even though I wasn’t present. I’ve also mistaken B for A, like when I was in an ongoing group chat with other uni students, came back to find the chat full of jokes about Chinese stereotypes, typed “woah, that’s a bit offensive”, and then had one of the guys involved reply “it’s okay, I’m Chinese”. I just said “oh sorry, I misread the situation”, but it still made me a bit unpopular. I wasn’t trying to police anyone, I was expressing my own feelings, but the remarks weren’t about me so I stepped down when someone more affected told me to. I think that’s right, but is there anyway to be better, when whether a situation is A or B is unclear?

    4. 'Tis Me*

      I think there can be in that other people may not realise we’re part of the minority group, so then we have the choice of A) “outing ourselves” to somebody who’s just said something offensive and potentially discovering that they are actually bigoted towards a group we are part of and giving up our “passing privilege”, which could be akin to painting a huge target on ourselves; B) trying to raise it dispassionately as a “that’s not an OK thing to say” without acknowledging the shock, anxiety etc it causes us individually and risk being seen as virtue signalling; or C) just not knowing what to say and feeling awful and like we’re betraying ourselves and our families by not speaking up.

      Life is fun, huh? :-/

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