your culture does not include everyone … or what employers need to do for racial equity

Remember last summer during the Black Lives Matters protests when so many companies announced their commitment to racial equity? Maybe yours was among them … and maybe yours, like so many, hasn’t followed that up with any real change.

I want to tell you about Authentic Diversity: How to Change the Workplace for Good, a book by diversity and inclusion expert Michelle Silverthorn, in which she explains how the “old rules” of diversity keep failing people of color and what employers must do if they’re truly committed to racial equity. She outlines why conventional thinking on diversity doesn’t work and what companies can do instead, illustrating throughout with powerful real life stories. It’s practical, action-oriented, and filled with concrete advice for hiring, assessing your culture, building an organization that works for your marginalized employees, setting and holding managers accountable for equity goals based on data, and much more.

If you want to help your company support racial justice, this book is for you (and it’s definitely for your company’s leaders).

Michelle kindly agreed to let me print a short excerpt from the book below. Tomorrow we’ll continue this conversation with an interview with her about her work.

Excerpt from Authentic Diversity: How to Change the Workplace for Good,
by Michelle Silverthorn, 2020.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Routledge.

Your Culture Does Not Include Everyone

Anybody in a marginalized group knows that our ways of speaking, acting, and even thinking are not as valued as those of the majority. So, we try. We try to be someone else every time we walk in your doors. We vet our thoughts, we check our behaviors, we correct our actions, we change our accents, we switch our dialects, over and over again, while conforming to norms and values that won’t change for us and were decided when many of us weren’t even allowed in the room. This might look completely effortless to you, but inside, many of us are screaming.

That’s why we need to understand that culture matters. A culture is a system of rules that affect how we express ourselves as part of a group, a set of agreed-upon expectations in a social community. Those expectations structure how people in the community act toward one another. Culture tells us what behaviors are expected in our workplace, even if we’ve never fully explained those behaviors to anyone. Everyone just gets it even if they didn’t in fact “agree” to it.

Your organization has a culture. The culture was defined by the people who founded the organization, who run the organization, and who are the majority of leadership in the organization, which means that for many companies in corporate America, that culture is White, straight, cisgender, abled, and male. The belief that that culture is neutral and it welcomes everyone is just as false a belief that a person in America can be colorblind to race. Your organization has values, a history, norms and expectations, and a culture that doesn’t include everyone, unless they want to assimilate in order to belong.

Henry Ford and the English School

Have you ever heard of Henry Ford’s melting pot ceremonies? We always talk about how America is this great melting pot, where many cultures, ethnicities, religions, and identities are mixed together and out emerges this one great American identity. Now we know that’s not entirely true – we’re really more a mosaic than a melting pot. And yet, for a very long time in this country, and specifically for a very long time in the workplace, we tried to make this melting pot metaphor a reality. A great example of that? The Ford Motor Organization.

Back in 1917, the Ford Motor Organization had huge numbers of Eastern and Southern European immigrants on its rolls, but turnover was 370%, because so many of these immigrants found it hard to adapt from the agrarian economies of their native lands to the industrial economy of Dearborn, Michigan, and also because many couldn’t even understand each other.

Enter Henry Ford’s English School, designed not just to teach immigrants about assembly lines and how to speak English, but how to become Americans – or, at least, Henry Ford’s very specific vision of American White middle-class culture, values, and norms. The school’s graduation ceremony even featured a literal melting pot into which graduates in “native dress” would pile in only to come out as Americans:

Into the gaping pot they went. Then six instructors of the Ford School, with long ladles, started stirring. “Stir! Stir!” urged the superintendent of the school. The six bent to greater efforts. From the pot fluttered a flag, held high, then the first of the finished product of the pot appeared, waving his hat. The crowd cheered as he mounted the edge and came down the steps on the side. Many others followed him. … In contrast to the shabby rags they wore when they were unloaded from the ship, all wore neat suits. They were American.1

Your Organization Is Not a Melting Pot

Now it’s been 100 years since Ford’s factory. As far as I know, there are no more melting pot ceremonies in America. And yet, for many Americans inside and outside the workplace, we are still descendants of that assimilation belief, of that melting pot approach. The culture that exists in our workplace. The norms we are expected to adopt. The language we need to use. The emotions we are allowed to show. The personal lives we are allowed to bring into the workplace. When we talk about the hard conversations we need to have to move forward on diversity, the honest conversations, this melting pot is exactly what I’m talking about.

The melting pot of corporate America doesn’t include everyone; it never did, nor was it ever intended to. Rather, it is meant to reflect norms and values of White men, who founded, built, and occupy leadership positions throughout it. And like Henry Ford before them, if you want to succeed in that culture, then the melting pot of assimilation is the real way to go.

It’s why Kimiko changes her name to Kim. It’s why Ibrahim doesn’t talk about his religion at work. It’s why Malcolm greets his Black colleagues with a wide grin and a dap, but his White colleagues with a firm nod and a handshake. “There’s no crying in baseball!” Tom Hanks screams in A League of Their Own. Not because people don’t cry, of course they do, but because baseball was built by people who don’t think crying in public is acceptable (except when you win). So those of us who cry, laugh loudly, speak with passion, build collaborative teams, wear big earrings, and say “aks” instead of “ask” – we become something else. We become experts at hiding ourselves so we can succeed. So much so that when a 22-year-old girl simply asks, “How long will I need to do this?” the only answer I can give her is, “for the rest of your career.”

That’s why when you see Kevin from Yale, all I see is a Black man who has to work every single day just so he can belong. I am a Black woman living in a White neighborhood where my children attend schools with predominantly White families, and the only time I feel like I can be myself is when I go back to my Black spaces. When I am in the majority again, I can laugh loudly and not have someone be scared of me. I can choose to not smile and not have someone think, “She’s so unfriendly.” I can take my own children to the park and not have someone call me their nanny.

Because the second we stumble, the second we fall out of line, the second we take off that mask, the second we decide to not code switch, the second we decide to no longer, as Professor Kenji Yoshino puts it, cover in the workplace2 is the second we are told, either implicitly or explicitly, unconsciously or not, in statements that are made, actions that are expressed, emails we are not CC’ed on, promotions we are not considered for, invitations we are not extended, raised eyebrows at our clothing choices, and turned backs at the playground that “our culture includes everyone but it does not include you.”

Those are the old rules of diversity and inclusion. How long will we live by them?

1. Sollors W. Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture. Oxford University Press; 1986.
2. Kenji Yoshino, Covering: The hidden assault on our civil rights, New York: Random House, 2006.

* I make a commission if you use these links.

{ 413 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Hi. This post is about racial justice. I’m making this request after reading some of the comments below: White commenters, please do not center your own experiences or feelings here, and do not derail the conversations on ways you too feel you’re oppressed or have to adjust your behavior to meet conventional professional norms; that is not comparable to what people of color experience in mostly white workplaces.

    Thank you.

  2. ZSD*

    Thank you for this! What a great read.

    Is the excerpt about the Ford Melting Pot ceremony from Jeffrey Eugenides? Should that citation be included? (I feel like it was the book _Middlesex_ that I read that in. I might be misremembering.)

    1. SwitchingGenres*

      I’m pretty sure that quote is from an article in Ford’s old newspaper. If you google it shows up dozens of places.

      1. ZSD*

        Thanks! Maybe Eugenides retold the story, or I’m just misremembering. At any rate, I think the citation should be included.

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          Yes! This was retold in Middlesex. The narrator’s Greek grandfather (or father, I forget) participates in the melting pot ceremony in that book.

          1. TardyTardis*

            Although the description of that ceremony bears an eerie resemblance to what happens during Steve Martin’s rendition of “Bang Bang Maxwell Silver Hammer” during the BeeGee’s Sgt. Pepper movie, where people come out rather cookie-cutter.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I work somewhere that is “Diverse” and “Cultural.” But as the author stated, leadership is all white, middle-aged men who give attention to other white men at the expense of all the other diverse talent.
      I’ve realized that they haven’t created a diverse workplace, they have just collected diverse people. To be blunt, it feels rather zoo-ish.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        That’s…really spot on. I’ve felt like an exhibit a few times.

        (Wonder if I could design an embroidery pattern of ‘if you treat me like a zoo specimen I reserve the right to throw poo at people’…/attempt at humour)

      2. Chilipepper*

        Wow, second paragraph!
        At my workplace they have collected diverse people and then wonder why they don’t stay.

        1. Hazel*

          Yeah, diversity does not equal inclusion. And really, I don’t think we just want inclusion anyway because that’s the melting pot again.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Sadly true. I’d love to force a former manager of mine to read it. (He was of the ‘white men are the real persecuted class’ type. Flipping annoying bloke)

    3. PollyQ*

      On the one hand you’re not wrong. But on the other hand, look what we’re saying here: “The real problem is those people, who are Bad, not like us, the ones who are Wise & Good.” The truth is that all of us have work to do, and anyone in a “majority” group would benefit from reading books like these and doing the hard work of owning & rooting out our own issues.

      1. saassy*

        That’s a real stretch to add a dollop of moralizing on top. And dangerously close to the not uncommon framing of ‘what about the feelings of white people who are being told they’re BAD’, when they are really just being asked to be a little uncomfortable and de-center themselves.

        Yes, we all have work to do, but some more than others. Some have had to think about this, consciously and unconsciously, for years and years.

        1. PollyQ*

          I guess I really blew the wording, because that’s not at all what I meant. I was talking specifically about white people who think of themselves as “woke” or “educated” and tend to put all the blame for continuing racism on people who live in the south or in rural areas, are poor, uneducated, etc., but ignore their own continuing biases. I certainly didn’t mean to let any white people off the hook or mean that their feelings need to be coddled.

      2. Jennifer*

        I’m not sure what you mean. The book is specifically talking about the work white people need to do to make workplaces more accepting of people of color. As a black woman, I’m not sure what work I need to do in this particular context. White people have the lion’s share of the work to do because this isn’t a problem people of color created. In general, yes, no one is perfect and we all have work to do on ourselves.

        1. PollyQ*

          Here’s where I really screwed up, and it shows how much work I need to do: I assumed you were white.

          And I assumed you were like many white peope I know (including myself) from the north or west coast or who are college-educated who like to tell themselves that we don’t have a problem with racism, it’s all those poor/southern/etc. (see my comment above, if you like.)

          So I’m sorry I just made an assumption, and I’m sorry my words no doubt felt like an attack, and I’m sorry I just became another example of what you’re dealing with and what this book no doubt talks about. And now I’m going to go my own work.

          1. Middle-aged woman of color*

            Glad you apologized. Assuming people are white if they don’t specify is making the default white. The default isn’t white!

            For anyone else reading, think about your use of the word “we” as well. If you’re talking to a group of friends or co-workers and you know everyone there is white, then “we” works fine. If you’re posting here and using “we” – are you assuming you are only talking to white people? Saying someone is white isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a descriptor.

  3. TechWorker*

    Purchased! For any U.K. readers for some reason it didn’t come up on Amazon search but googling it gave U.K. shipping options that weren’t extortionate.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Did a quick Amazon search in UK and it shows up under books and Kindle (Kindle is much cheaper). Rather out of my budget at the moment however.

      1. TechWorker*

        Ah sorry – I also bought it from Amazon, just for some reason searching Amazon itself have me a load of unrelated books – maybe the search on the app is just broken :)

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Ahh no worries mate, I just tried the app and…yeah I do get different results to the website search engine. Interesting!

    2. Oh Snap!*

      I am in the US and it is 40$. That seems really high, is that what new business paperbacks go for typically? I am probably just out of touch but wanted to check before I buy it, if something funny is going on.

      1. littlemissvan*

        It is quite high. has it at $50, and my local indie bookstore is showing that they can order it via a print on demand supplier only for $150! On further searching, it seems her publisher is a British academic publisher, which would explain weird pricing and supply issues.

      2. Who moved my cheese?*

        Amazon usually reduces price beyond the publisher’s list price and beyond a price that creates a sustainable publishing market, so $40 is high in that it’s the list price and Amazon isn’t discounting it.

      3. littledoctor*

        I find that books published by academic publishers typically go for much higher than books not from academic publishers. I often read books from academic publishers, which I tend to have to buy since libraries don’t often stock them, and $35 to $90-ish is pretty typical. (Forever wincing at the $72 paperback I bought. FWIW it was a VERY good book.)

        If you wait for a bit to get it, the price may well go down. A book I wanted dropped, within two years, from $110 for a copy to $35 for a copy.

  4. Catthulu*

    We were fortunate to have Michelle come speak to us! I also helped coordinate a virtual bookclub for her book. If your org can book her for a talk, I highly recommend doing so. She is thoughtful, frank, and engaging.

  5. fish*

    Wow I relate to this as a Jewish woman. I have to keep myself under wraps all day every day around my white Midwestern colleagues.

    We call it “talking,” linguists call it “overlapping cooperative conversation” and my coworkers call it “very rude.”

    I have to censor everything I say, even everything I think, which is so stupid because it’s how I think—and sharing that—that makes me an asset.

    1. Middle Aged Lady*

      OMG yes! I am a Southern academic who is an overlapper. I didn’t last long in the rigid coporate structure of my last job in the PNW. I found them so So repressive! And they found me unendurable for overlapping, asking questions, not keeping secrets, refusing to kiss up, and not accepting their hierarchica sexistl BS.

      1. Ann*

        Interestingly, I as a young woman was rather quiet and shy, but as a southerner, when I DID talk, I was an overlapper and ran into trouble because of that. Now that I am not so quiet, I really do. It even bugs my husband, who isn’t a southerner or an overlapper.

    2. Filosofickle*

      I talk similarly. I spend a ton of energy trying to say less and less, and I fear it’s never “less” enough. I visited an old friend for a few days and it was so, so freeing to be with someone where conversation can be comfortably jumbled the way it feels natural to me — we jump in, build on each others stories, talk over each other, and in the end we both feel heard and energized. I felt like a horse who’d been allowed to gallop.

      1. Spearmint*

        On the flip side, though, someone who was raised in the midwest might find a culture where overlapping conversation is normalized to be repressive as well. They would probably feel like they are frequently interrupted, ignored, and not taken seriously. Is it possible to have a workplace where both you and the midwesterner feel equally comfortable? I’m not sure. Sometimes I worry that no matter what culture you have, someone will feel excluded or stifled or like they have to pretend to be something they’re not.

        1. c_g2*

          It takes a lot of communication and open-minded thinking. I.e. growing up in the U.S with nordic parents I remember I was telling my mom something and she wasn’t doing anything (like going hmm or nodding). I asked if she was listening. She was at first confused why I thought she wasn’t. We then realized it was a cultural thing, wherein in the U.S you show you are listening. But in our home country, you listen and do nothing else so that you won’t interrupt them or seem like you don’t care to listen.

          1. Bostonian*

            Yes. And that communication would ideally include very specific impact statements like “when you said X, it made me feel mocked” (or however it made you feel) rather than “X was rude”. A lot of people aren’t comfortable having these types of conversations at work (I’m finding in my department); it takes a lot of trust.

            1. LJay*

              Some people aren’t able to dissect their emotional responses like that, either. I can know that a conversation makes me feel upset or angry or slighted or whatever but identifying that I specifically feel mocked because of a specific word or tone is more difficult.

          2. Julia*

            Fascinating! Raised by South Asian parents in the US, I have the opposite extreme experience. My parents and grandparents interrupt constantly to show that they’re listening. I frequently have the experience of watching my grandmother get more and more discomfited as she’s telling a story because I’m not saying anything, and I have to remind myself to interject to show her I’m listening.

            To me, “Americans” are the ones who are unusually quiet while listening. I guess Nordic cultures are even more so.

            1. SM*

              This is so interesting! I’m South Asian and have got into trouble before in the workplace because my affirmations (like, “OK”, “that’s amazing,” etc) are seen as interruptions. I’ve never thought of it as a cultural thing before – I’ve previously perceived it as something that was “wrong” about me. Thank you!!!

            2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

              Yup, I know this very well as someone who was raised in Canada by Caribbean immigrant parents. I mostly went to school, worked, and lived around people from cultures that don’t interrupt all that much, even in casual conversation, so it’s a total mindeff to spend time around my interruption-expecting relatives because none of us are code switching.

        2. James*

          “Sometimes I worry that no matter what culture you have, someone will feel excluded or stifled or like they have to pretend to be something they’re not.”

          This is my concern as well. It’s impossible to please everyone, after all, and some cultural traits are mutually exclusive without being wrong. Do you want to encourage overlapping or not? Do you want to encourage pot lucks or encourage everyone to keep their heads down? Do you encourage strict formal dress codes or allow more individual expression?

          Since you can’t please everyone, I think asking how to navigate these issues is vitally important to a company.

          The best option I’ve seen is to allow individual groups to set their own culture to the extent possible. This allows people to find the group that best fits their personality. However, this also leads to self-segregation and isolation of various cultures, instead of a multi-cultural workplace.

          1. Aquawoman*

            Do you want to encourage overlapping or not?
            You encourage people to realize that there are differences in communication styles, that overlapping is just a different way of communicating and everyone tries to accommodate one another, rather than have the overlapper put in all the effort all the time.

            Do you want to encourage pot lucks or encourage everyone to keep their heads down? Do you encourage strict formal dress codes or allow more individual expression?
            People who want potlucks can have potlucks and who want to wear more formal clothes can do that? why does the workplace have to promote one or the other as opposed to promoting the idea that different people can do things differently.

            1. James*

              “why does the workplace have to promote one or the other as opposed to promoting the idea that different people can do things differently.”

              I was trying to think of examples, not list an exhaustive list of potential issues. But look at pot lucks. Pot lucks are about more than just food. They are social gatherings across the organizational hierarchy. How often does someone with a low-ranking job get to chat with a senior VP in the average month? But if the office manager encourages pot lucks, they get to. The issue becomes, the person that does attend those has an advantage over the person that doesn’t.

              Or take the dress code example. There are letters here about dress codes what, once a month? Even with clearly-established norms it’s difficult for many people to figure out. Maybe as we become less formal and less office-based this will be less of an issue, but right now it’s obviously a significant one based on this site’s traffic.

              To give a personal example: I’m really not comfortable walking past images of a guy being brutally tortured to death (ie, crucifixes) every day, and I seriously doubt my coworkers would be comfortable with me having a pentagram on display (they freak out enough about my dear and coyote skulls, and those are work-related). On the flip side, banning religious iconography is going to annoy everyone.

              More generally: Sociologically speaking every group has norms, and every office is its own group (with its own subgroup and within a larger group). A balance has to be struck between inclusivity and group identity, at least to a certain extent. Where that balance lies is something that I think should be explored. Not as a way of saying “These are areas where you can discriminate”, but rather as a way of dealing with inevitable problems that necessarily will arise.

              Think of it another way: Conflict isn’t a bad thing, nor is it avoidable. A good office has systems in place to address conflict. What we’re dealing with here is a type of conflict. It’s unique in that it addresses staff’s sense of identity, so it needs to be handled more carefully; a smart company should try to forestall potential liability by having systems in place for addressing this conflict.

              1. Observer*

                On the flip side, banning religious iconography is going to annoy everyone.

                In the workplace? You’ve got to be kidding. Two types of people get upset at bans of religions iconography in public / shared spaces at work, and both reflect the issue of non-inclusive workplaces, in very different ways.

                The first type is the person who is the victim of a selective ban. So a pentagram is a banned religious item, but a creche at Christmas is a “cultural item.” I hope the problem here is obvious.

                The other type of person who gets upset is the person who actually claims that the creche is a cultural item or that not having a Christmas party is a sign of the persecution of Christians. That’s one of the groups this group addresses.

          2. Observer*

            Do you want to encourage overlapping or not? Do you want to encourage pot lucks or encourage everyone to keep their heads down? Do you encourage strict formal dress codes or allow more individual expression?

            I think you are setting up a series of false dichotomies. If you are an overlapper in a culture that predominantly doesn’t do that, then it behooves you to ratchet it down a bit. On the other hand it behooves everyone else to deal with some level of overlapping instead of treating that person as The Rude One. In work place employing functional adults, that’s not too much to ask.

            You can have a formal dress code without requiring everyone to dress like clones of each other.

            You can encourage friendly and informal extra curricular activities without freezing out people who have a more heads down approach. And you can encourage a more heads down and formal culture at work without having conniptions at the people who dare to be a bit more collegial and even socialize with each other.

            But the first step is recognizing what is cultural vs genuine need, and how those cultural assumptions affect people who are not of the dominant culture.

          3. ErgoBun*

            What if it’s not about “pleasing everyone”? What if it’s about creating an energy and a vibe in your culture where I can say, “It feels like you’re interrupting me when we talk at the same time,” and someone else can say, “I do that because I feel really engaged with what you’re saying and want to be a part of it,” and both of those are cool and OK? I’d rather work somewhere that people who are different can be forthright, and everyone respects each other enough to flex and find ways to communicate and work together that work for everyone — instead of carefully trying to carve out specific rules that “please everyone.”

        3. Filosofickle*

          Maybe, if both sides are aware of it, both come to the center, and both assume positive intent. We may be able to find a place where we’re equally comfortable, but that might actually mean equally uncomfortable.

          Knowing how my natural patterns of speech shut out others is that’s why I hold back so much — I know I have to to make space for them. I genuinely want people around me to feel good, I don’t resent them or think I’m right. That visit was just a moment where I realized just how stressful it is to hold myself inside the lines and how good it felt to be fully myself.

          1. fposte*

            I love that first paragraph. Complete comfort isn’t something anybody can reasonably expect to enjoy. Progress involves shifting discomfort around equitably as well as comfort.

          2. Littorally*

            This is really well put. Overlapping/taking turns is a tough divide to navigate precisely because in an unmanaged scenario, they’re directly competing modes of behavior, but there’s nothing to say that a little active management on everyone’s part can’t smooth things out to a degree that’s at least functional, even if it’s pushing everyone a little outside their comfort zones.

        4. Anon4This*

          I’m Southern, and I find talking over top of people to be pretty rude, whether you call it interrupting or “overlapping” conversation. My BIL does this – and I like him more than some of my coworkers – and I still find it very annoying. It is particularly irritating to me because I’m a woman who works in a field that is the intersection of two very white-male-dominated fields, and “overlapping collaborative conversation” feels less like “collaboration” and more like guys thinking I need help expressing my thoughts or that I need them to jump in to help me, neither of which I actually need.

          It’s different, too, when you are having a social conversation versus a work meeting. In a social conversation, it’s irritating at worst, endearing and comfortable at best. In a work meeting, it feels like your authority is being questioned and like you aren’t capable of speaking without someone jumping in unbidden to assist you.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Agree that a work setting is different. But, another thing I learned as also a woman in a male-dominated field is, if you wait for your turn to speak when you need to give your input in a work meeting, you will never get to speak and no one will hear your input. It is a difficult balancing game for sure. I’ve got to say that WFH and the abundance of chat tools that came with it certainly help with getting my 2 cents in.

            1. Anon4This*

              Oh, for sure – I have perfected the, “Excuse me, I wasn’t done yet.” with the pointed look and sliding right into conversation. Fortunately, I’m the boss now, so I get to give the, “I have noticed that you keep cutting Jane off when she is speaking in meetings. I need you to let your colleagues finish their thoughts before you start taking. Can you do that?” speech. :) We also do quick around-the-table passes for a number of meetings to be sure that everyone has a chance to offer their input without having force their way into the conversation.

          2. Database Developer Dude*

            So. Much. This. I’m a black male working in IT, and I get talked over all the time. If I didn’t have a superhuman amount of self control, I’d have long since told many to go eff themselves, or just walked out in the middle of a conversation saying “bye, it’s obvious my input is not needed”.

        5. Mel_05*

          It’s hard too, to tell if something is cultural or a personality difference or something else. I wouldn’t have considered that a culture thing. I have a lot of midwestern friends/coworkers who talk whether other people are finished as well. Some of them talk so much that people have made rules that they have to talk last, because otherwise no one else will get a turn.

          And when I was younger, I was one of the people who never got a chance to talk, but now I can definitely be in danger of not giving other people a shot at saying something.

        6. AnonEMoose*

          This is where I sit pretty much. Start talking over me, and I will pretty much shut down, because I feel like “well, clearly you’re not interested in what I have to say, so I’ll just stop trying to say anything at all.” Unless whatever it is feels important enough to me and/or I feel like something you’re saying is seriously wrong/off base in some way.

          I’ve had some luck with saying, at the beginning “If I don’t get through this once, I’ll lose track of what I’m saying. Could you let me get this out, and then ask questions?”

        7. HoHumDrum*

          You can’t make a culture that is universally perfect because of the exact issue you described. People often have opposing needs. But you can make a culture that allows space for people to advocate for themselves and that makes it more welcoming. As people pointed out below, open communication helps a lot. But I also think the big piece here is reconsidering assumptions. Namely, don’t assume what you do is universal or the best mode for everybody, and also don’t assume negative intent from people who do things in ways that don’t make sense to you. If you have a coworker who is an overlapping talker, maybe don’t just assume it’s because they’re rude or think their words are more important than yours or whatever. They may be trying to demonstrate how excited and interested they are in your ideas. If it bothers you regardless, try talking to them, like “Hey, I have a hard time in conversations when I can’t get my idea out before people jump in, can you hold comments until I finish my thought?” And if you’re an overlapping talker, consider all the ways that can push people out of the conversation. Take note of people who are struggling to be heard, and make explicit space for them. Make sure that there are other ways for people to communicate besides intense group conversations (hard to overlap via chat or email). Basically, don’t assume that your norms are everyone’s norms, and work together to try to create space for everyone.

          1. EchoGirl*

            don’t assume negative intent from people who do things in ways that don’t make sense to you

            I think this is probably the most important piece of a lot of this. There’s a tendency that I see a lot to judge people based on one’s own experiences/abilities/cultural background (basically, “if I did X, it would mean…”) and ascribe negative motives based on that, without considering whether it may just be that the person is coming from a different starting point.

            For example, there was a thread on here a few (?) months ago about an employee who was following the letter, but not the “spirit”, of dress code suggestions, and a lot of people jumped to seeing it as malicious compliance. I was one of the people on the thread pointing out that some people just take things extremely literally and can’t extrapolate very well because that’s how their brains process information, and that without more information from the OP, there was no reason to assume malice on the part of the employee. Or the assumption I feel like I hear constantly that people who run late a lot are selfish and don’t respect other people’s time, when the reality is that time management is a skill and it’s not a skill that comes easily to everyone. (To be clear, I understand why chronic lateness is annoying and a problem, in the same way that I understand why overlapping or wearing a blazer with sweats is annoying and a problem, I just wish people wouldn’t assume another person’s reasons, and especially not assume a particularly uncharitable interpretation.)

        8. Chilipepper*

          @Spearmint – about workplaces that work for both. I think it helps if the overlapping is acknowledged as a style and not intended to be rude. At my workplace, I have to change, the others do not. That is not a recipe for cooperation! Both styles can be valued as a starting place for workplace culture that works for all.

        9. Onyx*

          Let me give you an example:
          I’m a bit of an overlapper, and I learned long ago that if I wait for what *I* consider to be a solid opening to jump in in a lot of conversations and meetings without risking overlapping someone I thought was finished, I will *never get a chance to speak* before someone else fills the space.

          I currently work a lot with “Bill” (an older white man, in fact, tying back to the “default culture” described) who is *not* an overlapper. He has explicitly mentioned to me (not in a critical way) that he doesn’t like people talking over him. But, notably, his reaction when I end up talking over him is generally to stop talking and pick up whatever he wanted to say afterwards. Bill has *never* suggested that my speaking style, which occasionally results in a behavior he dislikes, is me doing something objectively wrong or rude rather than simply a style mismatch.

          So we meet in the middle. I make extra effort to avoid overlapping with him specifically (without changing my speaking style across the board with people who don’t mind it) and stop and let him finish if I accidentally interrupt him. He doesn’t get bent out of shape over accidental interruptions, *and* he proactively carves out space for me to speak. So if I indicate (e.g., by body language) that I have something to say while he’s speaking, he will explicitly hand over the floor with something like “[blah blah blah.] Onyx, did you want to add something?” which both removes the guesswork about whether he’s done and protects my “turn” from someone else jumping in before I can start. And sometimes, since he tends to jump into conversation gaps faster (and louder) than I do and has more seniority, he’ll jump in carve out that space for me when he can see I’m having trouble getting a chance to speak in a meeting, even if he wasn’t the one holding the floor before.

          (Note: A lot of my other work is with a *different* older white man who’s *more* of an overlapper than I am–very different in style from Bill–and we similarly have our own set of speaking style compromises that let us reach a happy medium where everyone feels respected.)

        10. Toothless*

          Yep, I grew up in a family where overlapping conversation was normal and I never felt like I had a chance to finish a thought or be entirely heard.

      2. Lisa*

        I guess I was raised that way, but I moved to a different part of the country 20 years ago. Now when I talk to my mom it makes me crazy and frustrates me that she constantly talks over me, interrupts me and *never* listens. Only what she says, thinks and feels matters. It feels incredibly dismissive and diminishing to not be allowed to finish a. single. sentence.

        I don’t know how you can feel heard – I believe that you do, but I can’t grasp it – since it’s literally impossible to listen when you are talking. You’re not doing either one well if you try to do them at the same time.

        1. Elaine Benes*

          I’m a bit of an overlapper and I think the reason it works for the people doing it is that when it’s done well, the 2nd speaker is adding or contributing or moving forward with what the 1st speaker is saying. It’s not meant to be an interruption or redirection of the original speaker’s point, but rather a continuation and a joining. Like a way of listening that involves getting in and joining the speaker in the point being made to demonstrate how much you understand/empathize. It’s more of a dance than a formal turn-taking, and it very much involves reading the room/the person you’re doing it with to have both come away feeling happy with the conversation- and it should never be that one person does all the talking-over and never lets the other finish a sentence. That sounds exhausting.

          1. Empress Matilda*

            when it’s done well, the 2nd speaker is adding or contributing or moving forward with what the 1st speaker is saying.

            Yes, this! Certainly when I do it, it’s very much my way of saying “yes, and…” rather than any version of “no.”

            1. Vicky Austin*

              Wait, you mean that isn’t done in traditional White American office culture? I can see how it would be inappropriate in a meeting when one person is, say, giving a report; but everywhere I’ve ever worked it’s appropriate in, say, conversations where we’re brainstorming.

              1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

                I wonder if this partially depends on what part of the country you’re in. I’m in a part of Canada that’s almost culturally identical to the Midwest in a stereotypical way, and more often than not, even informal meetings have almost no conversational overlap.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            +1000. You do it to contribute to what the other person is saying, or to offer them support. Not to tell your own unrelated story that is much better than theirs in your opinion (*that* would be interrupting and would be rude).

      3. HoHumDrum*

        Wow, you put so precisely into words something that I feel very deeply. Thank you.

        Talking with someone without having to constantly hold yourself back is such a freeing experience.

    3. NaN*

      > “We call it “talking,” linguists call it “overlapping cooperative conversation” and my coworkers call it “very rude.””

      Thank you for introducing me to this concept. This explains so much of my efforts to communicate, I’m sitting here in shock that I had never heard of this before.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Me as well! I’m sitting here like “this is something that people do? that there is a term for? and not just a bad habit that I grew up observing my Jewish relatives doing, and have been trying to break for the rest of my life?” So awkward to always keep saying things like “You are so right!” or “this is such a great point” only to immediately follow them up with “Oh no, sorry, did I interrupt again? Sorry, sorry.”

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        We are also an ethnicity, or rather, a set of ethnicities, with their own set of related cultures. I’ve been atheist for over ten years but my 23andMe report still says Ashkenazi.

      2. Jewish commenter*

        Jews are an ethnoreligious group. Feel free to avail yourself of the Wikipedia article “Jews”.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      This also reminds me of an early 20th-century children’s story I read growing up, about two preteen kids who were allowed at the adults table, only to talk over their father’s boss. So after banning them from adult dinners for a while, their father gave them one last chance, but made it clear that, if they talked over adults again, they’d be banned from the dinners forever. Long story short, the kids accidentally dropped a nice sized chunk of butter into dad’s boss’s tea, were the only ones who noticed, were afraid to say something, boss drank the butter-infused tea and was none too happy. The story had a morale that, in some cases, you are allowed and even expected to talk.

    5. HoHumDrum*

      I grew up in the Midwest and this is also why I had to leave as soon as I could. I’m also an “overlapping” talker, though in my case I think it’s from my ADHD that makes me jump in “too quickly”. I’ll never forget the amazement and relief I felt at my first job in New York where I apologized to a coworker for talking over people and being too loud and intense and she was like “We just call that conversation here, I have no idea what you’re talking about”.

      It really is fascinating to me how many rules/expectations/manners/etc that were explained to me as being “universally understood and expected” when I was growing up (aka “If you don’t find it easy to act a certain way that mean something is wrong with *you*”) that turned out to be actually extremely specific and culturally based. It’s a really hard mindset to break through, I think because so much of it is unsaid and assumed and people don’t even realize they’re doing it.

      1. fish*

        Yes! The funny thing is, I’ve lived in the Midwest so long that while I’m certainly more an interrupting loudmouth than my colleagues, I’m small potatoes compared to New Yorkers and others from a more Jewish milieu. So I don’t really fit in anywhere.

        1. Filosofickle*

          I’m from the midwest, but people used to always guess NY/east coast because of my talking style and intensity. Now after two decades on the west coast and I’ve lost my edge :)

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I always felt I’d be a much better fit on the East Coast. Too bad it’s too late for me to move there. I guess living in the “northeast Midwest” might be the second best fit, so I’m good.

    6. Empress Matilda*

      I had never heard the term “overlapping” in this context before, but I love it! So much better than “interrupting.” And from a neurodiversity perspective – I have ADHD, and I am also an overlapper.

      Sometimes it’s because of poor impulse control – something you said gave me a great idea, and I feel like I have to share! Impulse control is easier in the morning when I have more spoons – I can manage it later on in the day, but it takes a lot more effort. Other times, I overlap because I’m afraid I’m going to forget what I was going to say. I’m not trying to be rude, it’s just that my brain is often firing faster than I can keep up.

      Impact is greater than intent, and I’m sure there are people who do perceive this as rude regardless. I don’t know how to square that circle – although conversations like this are probably a good place to start!

      1. Spicy Tuna*

        Yeah, I really don’t get the issue here. The original commenter is equating her habit of talking over people and interrupting them to an immutable characteristic tied to….. her religion?

        1. curly sue*

          Ethnoreligion. Ashkenazi Jews who are not BIPOC are given conditional whiteness — we’re seen as white as long as we don’t disclose our actual identities, and when it suits power structures to have us seen as white. The moment it’s more useful for us to be Not-Like-Us-Dear, we’re not white again.

          It’s a very complex issue that involves a lot more nuance than simply being a religious affiliation and yes, includes cultural patterns that are often flagged as non-white / in opposition to or different from “professional” norms. We end up with many more privileges than people who are visibly racialized, absolutely, and I’d never presume to speak for or over BIPOC posters. But it’s a real issue.

          1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

            “we’re seen as white as long as we don’t disclose our actual identities” or get too big for our boots and want to join the country club or something.

        2. fish*

          People have already explained this. Certain characteristics that are normal in my culture are considered suspect in my workplace. This isn’t just my personal habit, this is characteristic of people from my culture. In order to succeed in my workplace, I have to mask myself to perform the dominant culture. That’s a lot of work.

        3. Koalafied*

          She’s actually talking about a specific type of “interrupting” called “cooperative overlap,” which in cultures that practice it, is not rude in the same way that “interruptive overlap” is:

          “In conversation analysis, the term cooperative overlap refers to a face-to-face interaction in which one speaker talks at the same time as another speaker to demonstrate an interest in the conversation. In contrast, an interruptive overlap is a competitive strategy in which one of the speakers attempts to dominate the conversation.”

          This is an important distinction, because a coooperative overlap is not someone trying to silence the person currently speaking or take over the conversation from them – it’s done with the expectation that the original speaker will both continue speaking and appreciate the cooperative overlap as an affirmation that the overlapper is interested in what they’re saying. And her reference to being Jewish is that this type of “demonstrating interest” by speaking while someone else is speaking is common to their culture, which influences how she grew up learning to communicate.

        4. Working Hypothesis*

          Nobody said it was immutable. Like most cultural characteristics, it’s possible to adapt to other cultures’ requirements, by maintaining a constant vigilance to make sure you don’t accidentally slip back into your own culture’s patterns. But it takes a toll on the practitioner, like any other conscious effort to step out of one’s own culture and into a different one that you weren’t brought up to.

          As for “tied to her religion,” multiple people have already explained to you that Judaism is an ethnocultural group at least as much as it is a religion. Please stop pretending otherwise. “You’re not a REAL ethnicity” is one of the typical accusations antisemites throw at Jews on a regular basis. It’s incorrect, and we’re tired of it.

      2. Jewish commenter*

        “Having an ethnicity” or even “being an ethnic minority” =/= “person of colour”. As a pale-skinned Ashkenazi Jew, I have white privilege in the US and Canada about 98% of the time. I don’t consider myself a person of colour because, due to my appearance, I don’t experience the same kinds of discrimination that people of colour do. I am an ethnic minority, however, and do experience discrimination based on that. These things are not mutually exclusive.

        Key terms for this experience are “functionally white” and/or “conditionally white”.

        Please note that a) not all Jews are Ashkenazi, b) not all Ashkenazi Jews are solely of Ashkenazi descent, and c) not all Ashkenazi Jews (even the ones who are of solely Ashkenazi descent) “look white”. We originate in the Middle East and plenty of us look that way. Some of us don’t, because of what I’ll politely term “medieval intermarriage”. (Also actual consensual intermarriage, in recent decades.)

        1. Vicky Austin*

          It’s not just due to “medieval intermarriage.” My mother is Jewish and white-skinned. She had her DNA tested and discovered she is 100% Ashkenazi Jew. See my comment below which explains why Ashkenazi Jews have white skin.

      3. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        Jewish does not mean white. There Black Jews in Israel, the US and South Africa, Ethiopian Jews, Arab Jews, Jews who are ethnically Asian. To name a few.

      4. Vicky Austin*

        The word “Jew” is short for “Judean,” meaning a member of the Israeli tribe of Judea. Their ancestors, who were most likely brown-skinned, immigrated from Israel to Europe. So why do they have white skin? White skin is not unique to Caucasians; it is a genetic variation. In a hot, sunny, climate like Africa or the Middle East, white-skinned people were not likely to survive before sunscreen was invented, because they got skin cancer and died. In Europe, however, where there are several months with limited hours of sunlight, white skin is an asset to survival because it can absorb Vitamin D easier than dark skin. Over the centuries, this happened to the Jewish people living in Europe as well, until the point that their skin was the same tone as that of the Caucasians. Due to antisemitism, Jews were forced to live separately from Christians on the outskirts of the city, so they developed their own specific culture.
        In the United States, Jews pass as white because American racism is based more on skin color and less on ethnicity.

        1. curly sue*

          We didn’t fade in the dark, I promise you. European Jews often have features resembling those of the majority populations of the countries where we settled because local men raped us a lot. Same reason Judaism’s matrilineal now. You always know who the mother is.

      5. Mary Richards*

        Not all Jews consider themselves white! Not all Jews are white!

        -a Sephardic/Ashkenazi Jew whose ancestors’ ethnicities were reported as “Hebrew” (not white) when they moved to the US

    7. Chilipepper*

      Overlapper here too, how do you even know if the other person is interested if you are not overlapping??!!

      1. Anon4This*

        Eye contact, active listening posture, nodding along, taking notes, chiming in once someone finishes their sentence…

    8. fish*

      I will also add, I really wrote this more as “one example of how being from a minority can be very hard in the workplace” rather than “this is the only hard thing about being Jewish in the workplace.”

      My wife told her new boss the other day that we don’t use electricity on Shabbat (to explain why she wouldn’t be checking email). I freaked out — in my experience telling someone you’re THAT JEWISH is not a good idea. Being like, “Haha Jewish bagels yum” is okay. Being seriously practicing is, well, the same reason Ibrahim doesn’t talk about his religion in the workplace.

      Whether it’s my conversational patterns, or, you know, the way I’m wired to think, I’m always masking.

      1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        Sometimes you can’t keep that type of thing under wraps though.

        “Why didn’t you come to the office party on Friday night?”

        “Why aren’t you joining in the pot luck?”

        “Aren’t you going to have a slice of birthday cake?”

        “Are you taking leave AGAIN? You just got back.”

        “What’s that giant cracker thing you’re eating?”


        1. Toothless*

          Out of curiosity, what would be the reason for declining birthday cake and maybe the potluck? The rest of the items I can think of a Jewish holiday or holy day that explains the comment.

          1. Vicky Austin*

            Some observant Jews keep kosher, which means they have a specific set of dietary rules. For instance, they can’t eat meat and dairy at the same meal.

            1. EchoGirl*

              As an addendum to that, some Jews take it further and won’t eat anything that isn’t explicitly labeled as kosher; for home cooking, all ingredients have to be marked kosher and it has to be cooked in a kosher-safe kitchen. That usually rules out potlucks (unless they’re between multiple observant Jews) and not all baked goods are kosher either, even if they don’t contain any “bad” ingredients. (I’m a not-especially-observant Jew by personal practice, but I married into an Orthodox family, so I have a lot of experience with this.)

          2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

            It would be for kashrut reasons.
            The birthday cake may use lard or have been baked in a dish that previously held a roast piglet.

        2. fish*

          Totally. For myself, I know I am not very good at masking. (See initial comment on overlapping cooperative conversation.) But I always try. So it’s a lose-lose!

          I have been a closeted lesbian in one workplace and a closeted lesbian in another. Pretty similar. “What did you do Friday night?” “Uh…dinner with…my…friend.”

          And of course all the people who are visibly Jewish, either how they look or wearing religious clothing. I’d like to wear a kippah in my life but I want career advancement :-(

      2. nom de plume*

        It’s great that this post speaks to you, but this reads a lot like centering your experience and perceived “masking” in a way that diverts focus from the original focus and message of the posting, being BIPOC experiences.

    9. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      “overlapping cooperative conversation” – thank you! I didn’t know this had a name. This is how I communicate with my sisters. My husband thinks it’s rude :-/

    10. Vicky Austin*

      What do you mean by overlapping? Do you mean interrupting? I’m half Jewish, and interrupting was always considered rude in my family.

      1. Batgirl*

        It’s kind of done by mutual agreement; a lot like when you are excitedly making the same exclamation at the same time. Or like singing in a round. The best analogy is it’s like walking in step whereas interrupting is more like tripping someone or cutting them up.

  6. Keymaster of Gozer*

    — This might look completely effortless to you, but inside, many of us are screaming.—

    Oh my. This, this puts it perfectly.

  7. Justin*

    I do similar work so it’s good to see these sort of things coming out. I hope people listen or more accurately that there is enough solidarity among the minoritized to push back against these forces definitively so we don’t have to keep having this conversation.

  8. Llellayena*

    While I realize that much of this book would end up being about racial diversity/inclusion, there is one point that was missed in the description of the standard workplace culture. Traditional workplace culture is based on White, straight, cisgender, abled, male, and CHRISTIAN. I would view my workplace as fairly inclusive (from my paper-white viewpoint) as many of the obvious ways that diversity and inclusivity are impeded are not issues from where I see it (dress codes, hiring and promotions…). However where they falter a little is holidays. We have off for Christmas eve and Christmas day AND Good Friday. This is a product of all the founding members being Christian. I think they would do well to shift to floating holidays so the people in the office who are not Christian can choose to use their holiday for Yom Kippur or Eid ul-Adha or another holiday of importance instead.

    I am not discounting other ways my workplace could improve, but I am not well placed to be able to recognize the smaller impediments to diversity and inclusivity (that whole paper-white viewpoint again). However, I think my company would be open to making adjustments if any issues are brought to their attention.

    1. Ali G*

      We recently changed our Holiday policy from “these 10 days” to “which ever 10 days you want” (with some limitations) for this very reason. It was very popular with our staff.

      1. Massive Dynamic*

        We have a “whichever 20 days your want” which works really well for us – main boss does usually get a bit ?!?!?! when he sees that some people choose to work on Christmas or what have you, but respects that we set the holidays that are important to us and that’s that.

        1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          My husband works for a company owned by a staunch Christian. As company policy, the company is closed on Ascension Day, for everyone (a significant percentage of the employees are Muslim).

          My husband used to be allowed to work on Ascension Day (by special request, and because his job can be done when everyone else is away) so that he could “bank” an extra day of leave for Pesach, but recently his boss has decided it won’t be allowed and he has to take Ascension Day with everyone else.

    2. Maseca*

      Yes, Christian-centrism is definitely part of the white, middle-class, male hegemony. As we’ve seen in too many AAM letters, not celebrating Christmas is a pretty quick and easy way to other yourself, or draw unwanted attention to your otherness.

    3. English, not American*

      In the UK we have 8 bank holidays, 4 of which are for Christian holidays, where most white-collar business shuts up shop. As an atheist this is a complete non-event, but I’d love to hear more perspectives from religious non-Christians.
      I was actually having a similar conversation about US vs UK attitudes toward religion earlier today. England technically has no separation of church and state (the queen is both head of state and head of the church of England) and the background noise of society is vaguely Christian, but seemingly few people take Christianity particularly seriously and most people I know would assume others are atheist unless they mentioned otherwise. I was wondering how members of other religions feel about the background noise.

      1. Chilipepper*

        I lived in the UK for a few years – it is really different. Most people in the UK city were Anglicans and went to church for all the things, but it was just a thing they did. In the US, people believe! I will post a link in a reply to a PEW Research Center report that is very good.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes I think this is a key difference. In the UK the Anglican church is there but in the US a lot of people really believe in it.

          I mean I grew up going to Sunday school and singing hymns at school but it never occurred to me that people actually believed any of it. I thought it was like the dentist and piano lessons, one of the things you just had to do as a child and that the stories were no more realistic than the Greek myths I loved as a child. It took me ages to realise that a lot of people actually believed any of it. I think that’s a very British approach, having talked to a lot of other people from a similar background.

      2. Jewish commenter*

        Canadian non-Christian – my experience is of always choosing between “doing my culture”/observing my religion and my work or school obligations. My first day of grad school took place on Rosh Hashanah; I chose grad school that year (and hated myself a little for it). These days now that I’m in the working world, I use my vacation days for my religious observances, which is something my Christian or ex-Christian colleagues don’t have to do.

        It’s less about background noise, so to speak, and more about the structure of our society being set up to privilege Christians (or people who are no longer Christian) over everyone else. Christmas is a statutory holiday here; Eid al-Adha and Rosh Hashanah are not. Even if someone is not a religious Christian, having December 25th off to spend time with family for Christmas is basically a given. And if you work on Christmas (or any other stat holiday), you get 1.25x the pay. Needless to say this is not the case for religious holidays that are not statutory.

        1. English, not American*

          That’s fair. I called it background noise because it’s not a dominant conversation in the same way as it seems to be in the US. I’ve never heard anyone refer to the modern-day UK as a “Christian nation”, for example, but have heard many sound-bites of various american officials saying it of the US.

            1. jojo*

              US constitution makes the government endorsing a religion illegal. Religious holidays were chosen because the founding fathers of the US were religious, in fact many were ordained ministers as our earliest schools such as Yale, Harvard were originally religious schools.

          1. fish*

            I would gently suggest that your lack of perception here is not because British society isn’t Christian-oriented, but because it’s so much your default assumption you don’t notice it.

            1. English, not American*

              Calling it the background noise of society is explicitly acknowledging that British society is Christian-oriented, so I don’t understand what you’re trying to say here.

              1. Sister Michael*

                If I’m understanding correctly, I believe fish’s point is that it’s not “background noise” at all if you’re not culturally Christian. I would imagine it’s really very loud, and probably pretty frustrating to feel that you’re expected not to hear it, just because the culturally Christian majority does not.

                1. EchoGirl*

                  I think what this person is saying is that it’s not as in-your-face in the sense that there isn’t the same kind of Bible-thumping or explicit Christian-value centering in the UK that there is in the US, but a lot of the underlying culture is still structured around it.

                2. English, not American*

                  Ok, I think we have different ideas about what “background noise” means. I’m using it to mean something that is always there but not a point of focus, i.e. it’s an underpinning of society but not a dominant conversation. If it couldn’t be heard it wouldn’t be noise, after all.
                  I don’t personally tune into it because like I said I’m an atheist, religion has never been a thing in my life. I see my parents at Christmas because presents, movies, and eating too much are fun, but that’s the closest it gets. Which is why I was interested to hear from people for whom religion actually is a part of their life.

          2. Rebecca1*

            I lived in the UK 20 years ago and was startled that standardized forms often had “Christian name” for a person’s given name. Is that still done?

              1. allathian*

                Yes, and even that is not completely neutral. Given name and family name would work for many Asian cultures and for Hungarians, who put the family name first. But even that wouldn’t work for the cultures that don’t have family names, but rather use a patronymic that changes from generation to generation. Most people who come from such cultures have been forced to start using a family name.

        2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          I’ve had similar experiences. Missing an important conference because it was scheduled over Yom Kippur. Missing training because it was Erev Pesach and the training centre was a 90 minute drive on a good day. And several Friday afternoon things that you have to leave early or miss altogether.

        3. Eva Luna*

          I can’t tell you how many times I had to explain to a former supervisor than yes, I really did need to use vacation days if I wanted to take a non-Christian holiday off. (I’m agnostic, but it was the principle.) It would have been AWESOME if our workplace had a pick-any-10-days policy. Why doesn’t every workplace do this? (Yes, that’s a rhetorical question.)

        4. Random Comment Here*

          And privileging specifically Western Christians, because the Eastern Orthodox Good Friday and Christmas aren’t stat holidays either.

          I like the idea of rotating holidays, although it feels like just having more major holidays off would be easier. At least as long as they were added as a group not one religion at a time. York University used to have the Jewish holidays off (as well as stat holidays, obviously) and rather than extend it to other religions (post-1980s there were more Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, and Eastern Christian students each than Jewish ones, so the policy was heavily complained about as unfair) they just went back to stat holidays only.

    4. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      Under the category of “smaller impediments to diversity and inclusivity” you can include many of the food-oriented rituals and events of the workplace, which exclude employees who only eat Halaal or Kosher food. Pot locks, Friday bagels (unless someone schlepps to a kosher bakery), office birthday cake, team lunches. Not easy.

      1. Alex*

        While the dietary needs of Muslim and Jewish employees should of course be met and Halal and Kosher food should be available to such employees it will often not be appropriate to accommodate these needs by only purchasing food which meats these requirements as some of the requirements for food to meet these standards contradict the rules of other religions (and other genuinely held beliefs).

        1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          Oh definitely. I’d be most uncomfortable if everyone was forced to eat kosher food because of me.

        2. BluntBunny*

          Interestingly most meat in the UK is halal as standard. Not always explicitly labelled though.

      2. Llellayena*

        I think we do fairly well with that. We’ll order from specific places or separate meals for people who need it when requested. If we know about a dietary restriction our pot lucks usually include some dish that fits that need (and not necessarily brought by the person who needs it). Pot lucks often list ingredients so allergens can be avoided.

    5. Toothless*

      Offering floating holidays is great, but having a day off for a holiday you don’t celebrate seems like a good thing to me. The county where I went to high school had a big enough Jewish population that we all got school off for Rosh Hashanah, and one year when the teacher of my before-school Christian religion class reminded us that we wouldn’t have class that Friday because school was cancelled one student went “Yes!! Rosh Hashanah!!! I love Jews!!”

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        The problem is that when you have days off for holidays you don’t celebrate, there is usually much more pressure not to take time off for the holidays that you DO celebrate because it’s “not fair to the others” who don’t celebrate your holidays and therefore get only the standard days off. If everyone gets to choose which holidays they take, there is much less pressure not to take your days off at the times when your own holidays actually are.

        1. Toothless*

          Fair enough! High school students don’t really have the option to take off school the way adults take PTO so it’s not a direct comparison.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            Actually, we do and we have to, but there still pressure. Kids with religious obligations that aren’t covered by the standard days off applied by the school system need to take those days as absences excused by their parents. But it’s always a source of conflict with the schools, in my experience.

            My kids have grown up as Jews in public schools, and we have trouble every year because their teachers invariably either complain outright about their taking so many absences for religious holidays at the start of the school year, or just expect them to keep up with the work at the same pace as their colleagues who aren’t required to miss one day in three for the first month to spend in synagogue. They’re not goofing off playing video games on these days, but their teachers act like they were.

            1. WS*

              Yes, my high school was Anglican but it was also the only private school in the area, and had a solid minority of Jewish students, but no Jewish teachers. In winter, the kids from the two observant Jewish families had to miss the last class on Fridays to make it home in time. It wasn’t until the eldest of the observant Jewish students got to Year 12 (the final year) that the school was willing to schedule no class at that time for that student. But that was as far as they would go, and he still had to miss classes for religious holidays.

              1. Working Hypothesis*

                This is one of the reasons so many Jewish kids are sent to Jewish day schools. It’s not just that they teach religious subjects along with the secular ones, it’s that there isn’t a constant battle to get the basic obligations met without the school deciding you’re a truant.

        2. Elenna*

          Even with floating holidays, IDK, I’m agnostic, so I don’t have any particular holidays I want off, but I still get two floating days for holidays. And then I kinda feel awkward because I feel like people who follow other religions are “forced” to use those days for the holidays they want to celebrate, but I can just use them whenever as extra vacation days? Feels like it might be unfair, although obviously I can’t speak for religious people. Not that giving people more or less vacation days based on religion is a good solution either…

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            Yeah, I’ve never found a good solution to the whole thing. The best *personal* solution I’ve heard was from an Orthodox Jewish friend of mine, who said, “My boss isn’t the one who is subject to a commandment to take these days apart from work for worship. I am. My employer is required under the Constitution to make it *possible* for me to meet my obligations, but they’re under no requirement to make it exactly as comfortable for me as if I were not subject to those commandments, so I don’t ask that. So long as I’m free to use my vacation days to meet my religious obligations, I’m good with it. Yes, this means that my Christian and non-religious colleagues are getting a lot more days they can use just for pleasure than I am. So what? HaShem didn’t promise us that we would have the same amount of leisure time as gentiles do.”

            I don’t feel that it’s okay for businesses to count on that attitude blithely, in order not to have to address the issue of cultural-religious holidays that don’t match the cultures of some of their workforce. But I do think it’s a useful way for an individual to approach a necessity that they can’t change.

    6. char*

      The Christmas holidays are so ingrained in American culture that even my workplace, which was founded by a Jewish family and has quite a lot of Jewish employees, is closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day but not on any Jewish holidays.

  9. Forrest*

    Thinking about this a huge amount at the moment, because our (overwhelmingly white) team is tasked with supporting students of colour into post-university employment. The students want answers on absolutely practical things like, “can I wear my hair natural?” and “will I face discrimination because I wear hijab?”, and like, these are not questions I can answer as a white woman. We’ve got so much work to do.

    1. English, not American*

      This makes me think of one of my university professors. He was a man, but very involved in an awful lot of women-in-technology advocacy panels, and he was damn good at it. His view was that while women may have the personal experience, he could learn their concerns and save at least one of them from having to take on the extra burden of sitting on these panels.
      There’s a bit of a catch-22 when you need people to advocate for disadvantaged groups so that members aren’t working twice as hard to tread water, but require members of that group to be those advocates making that extra effort.

      1. Middle-aged woman of color*

        Re your professor hogging all the “women in tech” panel spots- I disagree. I understand the sentiment of keeping people from it, if it’s a burden. However the end result can be a bunch of men speaking on behalf of women about the problems in tech. He should always offer his space to women, in case some do not view it as a burden. He should be spending his energy pushing for better pay for women panelists, and pushing for “women in tech” panels to have more women on them.

    2. Blackcat*

      I mean… I do feel like I can engage with those questions as a white woman. I’ve definitely had those discussions with my students (college STEM students). I guess I answer those questions with more questions, and I point them towards essays and such by people from similar backgrounds to give them more resources. I can point towards statistics. In academia, I can point towards things like #BlackInTheIvory and #BlackInSTEM.

      I make a point to listen to diverse voices in my field and point students with those questions to those voices. I feel like I do a disservice to students by dodging a question like that. If I get asked “will I face discrimination because I wear hijab?” my response is going to be something along the lines of “Yeah, from some people, you will. Here are some strategies to assess whether or not it will be a more systemic issue in a particular environment. Here’s a twitter thread by a Muslim women in my field about experiences she’s had.”

      Avoiding those conversations with students can put more work on colleagues who share the same background as the student. Folks have written about how academics of color have to spend a lot of extra time working on mentoring students, which impedes their ability to do the other work that they’re actually evaluated by. White women, like me, face this too, but to a lesser extent.

      Being prepared for these conversations *is hard* and a lot of work. I’ve got a whole folder of resources I use for this purpose. I have found following Black women in my field on twitter particularly helpful for accumulating these resources, and I always give credit for where I found them (making and sharing those resources is labor that should be recognized). I’m not the best at this, but I do very much view it as part of my job.

      1. Forrest*

        Hm, I don’t know. I am following a lot of those discussions on Twitter and I do the reading, but then, so are the students. The
        focus groups we did with them said that they are already tuned into tons of those intra-community discussions, and I feel — kind of patronising assuming that I have access to knowledge about people of colours experiences that they don’t? Our research said that students wanted to hear honest discussions about racism in hiring practices and on the workplace, but they felt very ambivalent about those conversations being led by white people because the power dynamic of white people leading a conversation about something they could only understand theoretically was too damn weird. I totally take your point about faculty of colour getting burdened with those questions instead, but when I spoke to faculty of colour about that they said the answer wasn’t for white people to lead the conversation but for the university to recognise it as work that needed to be accounted for and pay external mentors from minorities ethnic backgrounds.

        (I don’t think there’s a wholly right or wrong answer here, and I respect your solution, it’s just not the one that either our students or our staff have asked for.)

        I’m hoping we will get funding to do that, but in the meantime I am trying to link them up with organisations doing diversity work in their sectors and trying to support them in developing their own networks and think about having a range of mentors, role models and supporters who can meet different needs.

        1. Blackcat*

          Ah, so I’m now realizing a key context difference: I’m faculty. If students come to me to have this conversation, they’ve *chosen* me to have this conversation. I’m not initiating, leading workshops, etc. It’s more like “I’m considering a career in [field], but worried about discrimination. Can we talk about it, professor?” in one-on-one conversations. I’m often the only person they’ve even heard acknowledge issues of colonialism/racial justice in STEM (this in my teaching–I teach intro students and spend a fair bit of time on “nature of science” discussions. I think it’s unethical to not acknowledge that racism and colonialism are baked into the practice of science, both past and present), so they come to me. It’s been my experience that these students have generally *not* been able to find the same resources I have, so connecting them in that way is helpful. Most don’t know there are specific orgs in my field with mentoring programs for students from different backgrounds. I’m also generally talking to freshman/sophomores, not graduating seniors–I do think older students have found many of these things. I gather by your spellings, you aren’t in the US, which also may change things a bit relative to my experience.

          I will say “the university to recognise it as work that needed to be accounted for and pay external mentors from minorities ethnic backgrounds” is 100% the ideal solution. It sounds like you’re being really thoughtful about this process–including involving lots of student voices–and your university is lucky to have you!

    3. Lady Danbury*

      Identifying that your students have this need should be the starting point, not the end point. Until your team is more diverse (and there should be a concrete plan in place to achieve this), you need to provide resources to your students beyond your team. This may include a list of other resources/articles/organizations, as suggested below, hiring a diversity specialist on a consultant basis who can answer these types of questions, hosting panels/seminars with guest speakers (external or from other university departments) to address these issues, etc. Don’t assume that a student is somehow an expert in the type of resources that they need just because they are a POC. Ask current/past students what resources have been helpful to them and why. And make sure that any guests are being compensated for their time/expertise.

  10. Spearmint*

    This was a good read, and I think it’s so important to recognize that there is no such thing as a culture-free organization, and the culture can exclude people even when it seems neutral to those at the top (and those like them). I’ve seen many friends deal with the negative consequences of exclusionary work cultures.

    I do have one concerns/question from reading this excerpt (acknowledging that this is a short excerpt from a full book that I imagine addresses these concerns). This, in particular:

    “So those of us who cry, laugh loudly, speak with passion, build collaborative teams, wear big earrings, and say ‘aks’ instead of ‘ask’ – we become something else. We become experts at hiding ourselves so we can succeed. So much so that when a 22-year-old girl simply asks, ‘How long will I need to do this?’ the only answer I can give her is, ‘for the rest of your career.'”

    Obviously no workplace should make someone feel they can’t wear big earrings or that they’ll be judged for their accent. But I’m not sure “cry, laugh loudly, speak with passion” are in the same category. I am white, so I don’t know what it’s like to feel like I don’t fit in at work due to my race, but I am neurodiverse and have felt excluded at work on that basis at times. I would struggle in a workplace where people frequently cried, laughed loudly, and spoke with passion. It would be overstimulating, anxiety-inducing, and I would feel out of place for *not* matching that level of intensity in my own demeanor. And to be clear, this is not a race thing. I have Italian-American relatives who frequently act that way and I find it equally uncomfortable coming from them as anyone else. There’s nothing wrong with being that way in your day-to-day life, but when I’m forced to be around that kind of passion and loudness at work, it feels like an imposition.

    The reality is that, at work, we have to work with a variety of people who often have very different personalities, cultures, and values, and while we should be tolerating and accepting of difference, I also think it’s good that people are more restrained and bland at work (to a point). I’ve had great working relationships with people (of a variety of races and genders) who I’m pretty sure I would find super annoying (at best) in a non-work social setting simply because we have very different personalities, but we got along super well because we both tone our personalities down for work.

    So how do we balance letting people feel more comfortable being themselves at work with the need to tone our personalities down to facilitate working relationships between people who may not get along well if they didn’t tone down or “professionalize” their personalities?

    1. Spicy Tuna*

      I think the kind of workplace culture you are referring to is dependent to an extent on industry. More creative industries are going to be more accepting of a variety of styles of dress, communication, etc than more conservative ones.

      To your point about crying at work… my first job out of college was at a call center. They had piped in music all day. One of my co-workers, a white woman, would burst into tears every time a sad song came on. Highly distracting!

    2. c_g2*

      I think that the idea of a professional personality is being criticized here. You can be loud, passionate, a POC, and professional. Now naturally the way that is expressed differs at work but it doesn’t have to be wonderbread. Plus, there are non-white neurodivergent people. So I can’t speak for them but that would be a really important voice in that conversation.
      FYI I think diversity includes neurodivergence.

    3. Spicy Tuna*

      And by the way, the comment about the woman crying at work was just a non-sequitur about crying at work! Unrelated in any way to Ms. Silverthorn’s quote from the book!

    4. Who moved my cheese?*

      Well, it *is* a race thing. This post and this book are about racial equity and this book quote is about racial equity, so the passage you are quoting is a “race thing.” It’s okay if *you don’t understand* the point the writer is making about race. Instead of saying, ‘I’m white and I disagree with (this sentence) but I don’t think it’s a race thing, and here’s why – and I have a written-by-white-me reframes-and-redirects-the-conversation-away-from-race-completely question’ … why not just listen and reflect? Why not say ‘I’m white and I don’t see how this is a race thing – can someone explain this more?’

      I’m not trying to say you secretly are racist in your expressed preferences about your work environment – just trying to say maybe you’re missing the point here.

      1. nom de plume*

        Thank you. It’s disheartening to see so many commenters jump in with “Wait, but what about ME?!” as their very first reaction, instead of taking in what’s being expressed big picture. Also, “I don’t think this is really about race” is a really tired, old, worn out response.

      2. saassy*

        Thank you, thank you. Missing the point entirely – the whole idea of what’s considered ‘professional’ and ‘bland’ is from white standards, for white people’s comfort, and historically shaded with all sorts of racism. The whole environment and cultural standards tie to ‘race things’, is the whole dang point.

        It’s funny, I often coach young, new hires on ‘professional’ standards for certain meetings. The POC rarely need much, they know how to observe and conform to an environment and often come with practical questions. The white people typically aren’t as used to code-switching – they’re used to their environment adapting to them, not the other way around, in the broadest terms. Often the first hurdle is setting up why they should adjust their clothes/manners/etc because it’s just not basic survival for them the way it is for POC.

    5. Forrest*

      >> I also think it’s good that people are more restrained and bland at work

      What you perceive as “restrained and bland” is whiteness. It’s like thinking that someone “doesn’t have an accent”— they do, it’s just that it’s the same as yours, so you don’t realise it’s there.

      1. littledoctor*

        Yeah like, I’m an Inuk. We communicate differently from white people because we are from a different culture. What feels normal, bland, quiet, and professional to someone who’s grown up in an Inuit environment is probably going to be perceived as much louder or as less professional by white people. Inuit are loud and joke around a lot and are often more blunt and straightforward than white people, but if you had grown up in an Inuk family that wouldn’t feel rude or loud or unprofessional to you. It would just be normal. Just because white people have one definition of what professional looks like doesn’t mean that other people’s definitions are wrong.

    6. Self Employed*

      Hey, as another Autistic white person, this post isn’t about us. And I am boggled by your argument that everyone should mask because it makes you more comfortable. I hate masking, I hate spending that much energy on performing normativity for people–and for me, the stakes are still relatively low compared to what Black people endure. So I don’t pretend to really understand what it’s like for Black people and others who might be killed over being different.

      I don’t believe in “I suffered, you should be able to deal with suffering too” so I think we need to be more accepting. Your coworkers are too loud? There’s ear filters for that. The point of letting people not tone things down isn’t that everyone in the workplace will have their intensity at 11 all the time (except you), it’s that there can be a range instead of “everyone has to be between 2 and 3 on the scale of 1-10”. Statistically speaking, it’s not that likely that you will be the only quiet person in a boisterous office.

    7. littledoctor*

      >when I’m forced to be around that kind of passion and loudness at work, it feels like an imposition.

      And when I’m forced to tone down and invisibilise who I am and how people from my culture express things and communicate, that feels like an imposition. Since racialised people as a class always face workplace impositions, while white people as a class never do, maybe they can learn to roll with it for once, as all POC have been doing literally for centuries.

  11. Anar*

    Okay so I’m curious. On one hand, I’m a white, middle-class male so theoretically I should be in the “in crowd”, right? But I’m also an introverted nerd who likes D&D and video games in a leadership group lead by extroverts who like sports and drinking. I’m also NBA height, so I work hard to be very “chill” since when I get passionate about a subject I can be intimidating for others, particularly smaller women. I force myself to be more outgoing than I’d like, and I avoid a lot of subjects because they’re not work appropriate. I also force myself to be more outgoing and more social than I’d like to be.

    So I guess my point is that if even I, a white cisgender, able-bodied male can’t bring their “whole self” to work, can anyone? I just thought that everyone “code switched” like this, regardless of their ethnicity or cultural background. Are some of you 100% comfortable and authentic at work?

    1. Spearmint*

      I think some groups have to codeswitch more than others, which is problematic. It also seems like the consequences might be worse for some groups rather than others. If you expressed your nerdy side more you might be seen as more weird or out of touch by your colleagues, but that’s not nearly as bad of a reaction as some other groups may get if they were similarly authentic at work.

      But I agree that everyone code switches to some extent, and I don’t know where the line is (see my post above). I have also been that nerdy introvert in a culture of extroverts so I know exactly what you’re talking about.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        Another nerdy introvert here. My current workplace is more accepting of that than most other places I’ve worked, and the work I do is a better fit for that, too. But yes…I observed a long time ago that I wasn’t the “type” that ends up with the corner office (being a woman is another factor), and decided that I wasn’t willing to be that “type.” And while sometimes more money and more influence would be nice, but I know that being a manager is not something I’d enjoy (actually, I’ve managed volunteers and that was bad enough – I don’t want to do it 40 hours a week!). Sorry, rambling a bit, but mostly just expressing solidarity.

    2. Not Alison*

      As a white able-bodied 2nd generation woman, I totally agree with Anar’s comment. Regardless of where I worked (in high school in a greasy spoon hamburger place, after college in an office) I always modified my speech and behavior from bringing my full “authentic self” and was never comfortable till I returned to my own home with my family and friends. For me there was always a disconnect between work (there was no such thing as real friends at work) and family/friends. So this isn’t just a racial/religious diversity thing. Many white people also experience the disconnect and not bringing their authentic self. There is no such thing as only one homogeneous white culture.

      1. anon2*

        Y’all aren’t really comparing that to what people of color go through in predominantly white workplaces, are you?


        1. Sarah*

          Right? Jeezus, people. Not wearing your blonde hair in pigtails or whatever is not the same as not feeling comfortable speaking in your natural inflection as a black woman, or not wanting to deal with questions and stares for wearing a turban as a Sikh man. Get some perspective and stop centering yourselves.

          1. Jim Bob*

            Here, we have people trying to relate their experiences to what POC go through, not as a “we have it just as bad” exercise, but just to gain SOME measure of empathy and perspective into their experiences, a “maybe *this* dialed up to 11 is what they feel” kind of thing. And they get crapped on for trying.

            To be blunt, if you make people feel like garbage even when they’re doing their best to empathize, they’ll give up and go watch TV or something.

            1. Applecore*

              The “if you’re not a perfect patient longsuffering ambassador for your group you justify bigotry against your group” argument got old a long time ago.

            2. Self Employed*

              If people complain about badly behaved white people and you feel personally attacked, you may be a badly behaved white person.

              And no, the posts people are making are NOT “wow, if I hate having to leave my D&D at home it must be awful having to leave your whole culture/speech/hair/traditional garb at home” it’s more like “I have to leave my D&D at home, so why is that different than having to codeswitch a minority culture?”

            3. littledoctor*

              If racialised people have to grovel and centre the feelings of white people for those whites to not be racist to them, then those white people were racist all along.

        2. anon thoughts*

          Call me a naive optimist, but I’d like to think they’re seeking to understand how others’ experiences differ from their own by looking for the points of similarity and difference. Everyone knows their own experiences better than anything else, and comparing their own experiences with other experiences is an important way of learning about them. Change starts with understanding, and understanding starts with asking questions.
          Of course, no one is obligated to spend time and energy answering those questions or explaining their experiences in the comments, either. Presumably that’s part of what the book can offer.

          1. Melody Pond*

            To clarify, are you referring to @Anar’s comment, at the very top of this thread? Or @Not Alison’s comment?

        3. Spicy Tuna*

          I’m white. I have very curly hair. I have been told by more than one workplace to “tame” my hair (as if!). I fully understand that hair dynamics for Black women are a world apart than those for white women. BUT, knowing how terrible it feels to be criticized about an aspect of my appearance that I have very little control over has definitely informed my entire outlook in the workplace. For me, it’s just being made to feel uncomfortable about my hair. For other people, it’s skin color, accent, religious garb, etc, etc. and it must feel oppressive.

        4. nom de plume*

          Oh, they really are.

          “I like D&D and others don’t;” or “I talk loudly” is NOT comparable to the systemic racialization that POC people have to endure. C’mon now.

      2. Anon4This*

        I mean, sure, I have to smooth out my Southern accent and pretend like I have similar life experience to my upper-middle class northeastern coworkers so they don’t think I’m a dumb hick – I am an expert code-switcher at this point – but that’s a far cry from what people of color, particularly Black people, have shared with me that they experience on a daily basis. I put up with a lot of insulting comments and assumptions about people like me (from people who don’t realize I’m one of “those people”), so I cannot imagine how much harder it must be for actual marginalized people. My discomfort is nothing compared to their experiences.

      3. Melody Pond*

        So this isn’t just a racial/religious diversity thing. Many white people also experience the disconnect and not bringing their authentic self.

        I would just like to point out that this is taking a conversation about minority culture & experiences, and re-centering it on white culture/experiences. I’m sure that @Not Alison had good intent, and I’m just a beginner (white) student in the ways of social and racial justice, so I certainly can’t claim to be an authority — but this re-direct seems like it would only reinforce the marginalization of minority cultures.

        1. Another health care worker*

          You’re absolutely right, and Alison has now added instructions at the top of the section telling people not to do this.

      4. animaniactoo*

        There is a difference between not bringing your general authentic self (how you feel about gay marriage or Game of Thrones or an overly complicated filing system, not cursing and being more tactful), and not bringing your normal accent, your normal non-offensive phrasing, the way you normally walk and move in a space.

        At best, you understand the bare edges of what the experience is like for many people from other cultures or with different skin colors, etc.

        1. c_g2*

          Perhaps I’m misinterpreting but how is feeling about gay marriage the same as tv show preferences or curse words (assuming they’re not slurs)?

          1. animaniactoo*

            Only in that it can mark you as an outlier if your company culture has a different outlook, is what I was trying to get across.

            1. c_g2*

              Yeah but I’m hesitant to lump another minority group into that. Queer people have their own existence to hide something queer POC have extra challenges with

              1. animaniactoo*

                ah, but you don’t have to be gay to have an opinion about gay marriage. I am not gay and am have always been pro-gay-marriage and there are places that opinion isn’t welcome. So, yeah, I’m familiar with the need to put a lid on that (which I usually don’t do very well). But that is not the same as a gay person who is not “out” in an environment has to listen to a bunch of people expounding on things that are relevant *to them* and feeling the need to silence themselves so that they can “fit in”.

                Which is entirely the point of my original comment here – I can be a white cis straight female and have that opinion and experience that need to censor myself. It bears no relationship to the experience that is being talked about, and is why the original comment that I was replying to has a bad perspective on all of this.

          2. stiveee*

            Apparently we’re still in an era where the prerogative to limit gay people’s civil rights is a preference, like favorite TV show, and not unacceptable bigotry that we wouldn’t dare lump in with benign aspects of people’s personalities.

            1. animaniactoo*

              For reference: I do see it as unacceptable bigotry, not a preference. But because it (and other bigoted behaviors) are treated as preferences or “rights” (yes, I’m looking at that wedding-cake store), it is an example of something that someone who is a minority *by birth* might censor their own opinion about when trying to fit in. While still not having anything remotely near the same extent of the experience that someone who is a minority *by birth* experiences in the need to self-censor or not fit in.

      5. annalisakarenina*

        Not being your “authentic self” at work is an entirely different thing. The topic at hand is about racial equity and inclusion in the workplace. Not…..this.

    3. Zephy*

      So, the thing about being a white man in spaces created by and for white men is that the people in those spaces are judging the ways in which you deviate from the White Heterosexual Cisgender Neurotypical Educated Able-Bodied Christian mold on an individual level. If you have no outwardly-visible disabilities, if you aren’t advertising that you’re a gender or sexual minority (e.g. gay, trans, etc), and you’re dressed the same way everyone else is, they will immediately assume you tick all of those boxes (and tbh you probably do – your specific interests aren’t as important as being white, straight, cis, NT, abled, and/or Christian). No one is looking at you and treating you as the Ambassador for All Introverts/D&D players/Tall Dudes/etc. They’re looking at you as “Anar, that guy who plays D&D and has Opinions about anime” or whatever.

      It may come as a surprise to you to learn that most people who tick few or none of the above boxes are often treated as if they do speak for everyone who looks like them. If you’re fortunate enough to work with a diverse set of people, if you watch carefully, you’ll see it. Asking someone their opinion about a thing “as a [Black person/woman/gay person/person with autism/whatever category they’re paying lip-service to]” is asking them to speak for everyone in that category, which is first of all impossible, and second of all no one ever asks someone to do that “as a white/straight/cis/NT/etc man” (though that doesn’t seem to stop them).

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Can I nominate this comment for some kind of award? You’ve got a gift for writing clear and accurate information.

      2. AnonForThis*

        Sincere question –
        Is asking an individual who is not White Heterosexual Cisgender Neurotypical, etc., to speak for everyone in their category better than not asking at all?

        What about in the context of a focus group, for example?

        I certainly acknowledge that it may asking a lot of someone, it’s not ideal, and there are numerous limitations. But I’m also thinking about situations in which you are specifically asking for strategies to reach/include/serve those populations. I hope this is better than not asking at all?

        Thanks in advance!

        1. Another health care worker*

          When you’re looking for the perspective of a certain population, the right place to start is research: books, articles, interviews etc. published with the intent to educate you. Rather than putting someone on the spot who did not volunteer to do this.

          1. Zephy*

            Yes, exactly. You do your research and educate yourself first. If, after that, you still have questions, then you can approach people and ask for their takes. You don’t get to just walk up to Malcolm first thing in the morning and demand that he explain redlining to you.

        2. Clarice*

          If you are asking for strategies, you ask multiple people from those populations. Your focus group is a GROUP – you invite a range of people from the populations you are trying to reach. You do not ask one person and expect them to represent an entire population. Not if you genuinely want to enact change, and aren’t just paying lip service to the notion of diversity.

        3. OyHiOh*

          My experience as a white Jewish woman can, in no way compare to BIPOC experience in the workplace, with the exception of one small thing: It is utterly exhausting to be the token explainer.

          Asking your one BIPOC/non Christian employee to speak for “everyone” of their group is never appropriate.

          If your workplace has a token couple of non white heterosexual cisgender neurotypical employees, it is far, FAR better to turn to books, articles, interviews, and local/regional organizations to get perspectives and strategies, than to ask your one employee to be the speaker for all.

        4. Blackcat*

          “Is asking an individual who is not White Heterosexual Cisgender Neurotypical, etc., to speak for everyone in their category better than not asking at all?”

          My friend, I google that shit. I spend a lot of time reading the thoughts of people of different backgrounds than me. I am ready at a moments notice to be like “Hey, here’s an article by an Indigenous American that speaks to X issue.”

          Do not make it the job of the minoritized person to educate you. Google is your friend. For more complex issues, there are many consulting firms run by fantastic folks from many backgrounds who you can hire to help answer these questions. I do think an explicit focus group *that pays* participants is fine, too. But it requires a recognition that educating white people *is labor* deserving of appropriate recognition and compensation. Too often, groups ask The Token Black Person to do all of this extra work of educating their peers with no compensation or recognition. And that’s really, really shitty.

          1. AnonForThis*

            Thanks, all, for the feedback.

            This particular suggestion from Blackcat is very helpful to me as far as differentiating between spontaneous questioning, if you will, and a time/place that has been arranged specifically to ask these questions that all parties to the conversation are prepared for. I hope I’m interpreting that correctly.

            My work is healthcare-adjacent, and I’m hoping to reach a more diverse audience. I’m thinking about getting input from *actual focus groups* and want to do this correctly. I really appreciate the suggestions regarding consulting firms as well. Very helpful, thank you!

            1. Blackcat*

              I am glad to be helpful, and I’m also glad you didn’t take my reply to be too snarky (I just re-read it, and it sounds a bit snarky to me).

              I think “Will you as a member of [group of people] offer specific feedback on [issue] in exchange for [fair price of labor with specialized knowledge]?” is very different from “Will you, Token Black Employee, tell us how to make the company more welcoming to other Black people?”

              Understanding that educating others is labor that deserves to be opt-in and fairly compensated is an important first step. I’ve worked with folks in the education world who do this type of consulting, and every single one has been wonderful. The main thing to keep in mind when looking for this consulting is that, with other types of consulting, it’s often very pricey. That price is justified and should not be treated like a surprise or as something negotiable.

              I’ve regularly seen someone be like, “Hey, can I get someone to run a racial justice workshop?”
              And then I’m like, “Hello! I have worked with X and Y consultants. They are wonderful.”
              The response is almost always, “Oh, we don’t have a budget for this so need it to be done on a volunteer basis.” I admit I once responded to that with an eye roll emoji.

              1. Working Hypothesis*

                It absolutely should be fairly compensated, and clearly “not at all” is an unacceptable approach to the price. But I’m curious why the price is necessarily non-negotiable. Power differential? If I hire any other consultant for any purpose, I will probably take a stab at negotiating the price… I would ordinarily expect that this kind of work is to be treated exactly like any other form of specialized knowledge that you contract for from those who choose to sell their expertise.

                1. Applecore*

                  Do you want to send the message that this kind of work is worth less than other consultancy and therefore you’re going to try to pay less? Unless someone knows that you would try to haggle with any and all consultants, that’s the message you’ll send by trying to haggle in this context.

        5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          To your question, if there was one thing I heard enough times since last summer that it stuck, it was “the BIPOC do not owe us the emotional labor of educating us.” There are books, there are videos. There are BIPOC writers and public figures on social media that voluntarily do the work of posting every day and sharing the information. I have worked on availing myself of those resources.

        6. nom de plume*

          The short answer is this: Do you believe there is a single, uniform, utterly homogeneous “white culture” that transcends geography, class, sex, ethnicity, language, religion, and individuality (and many other characteristics)?

          If you don’t, then ask yourself why you’d ask a POC person to speak for All Others in their group. Do those same distinctions not apply to them? Why not?

          Start there.

      3. Aubrey*

        Yes, this comment is perfect! I think it also gets to the difference between discomfort and oppression. It may be uncomfortable if people think you’re a little weird for being into anime or whatever, but no one is going to question your competence or make any other assumptions about you based on that one quirk. On the other hand, a poc who feels they can’t speak in their natural accent or wear their natural hairstyle is doing that with the knowledge that white colleagues are likely to make derogatory assumptions about them based on it. A gay/trans/not visibly disabled person who chooses to hide their status is doing it, not out of fear of discomfort, but of discrimination or professional repercussions. (And that takes a toll – someone who can hide the ways they’re marginalized is arguably in an easier boat than someone who can’t, but the fear of being “found out” and the pressure of not being able to speak about a core aspect of who you are is definitely on a very different level than “pretending you watched the football game this weekend because a coworker might think it’s weird that you were playing D&D instead.”)

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Oh.My.God. I’ve had people do this to me as an immigrant. Never knew what to say. One time I snapped and said, ‘”listen, my family is all here or dead, I haven’t been back in 20 years, and I cannot be this sacred (nationality) who speaks for all of us.” The person was so surprised that they actually stopped asking. But that wasn’t at work. I’d probably never have dared to say this at work.

    4. Wendy City*

      Of course everyone has to adapt themselves in some way in the work force, especially white collar/office jobs. When we’re expected to act “professionally,” that means checking certain boxes – being more outgoing/social, for example – and moderating other behaviors for the comfort of others. (i.e. being aware of how you can come off as intimidating to women).

      The problem – the deep, and often silent, problem – is that neutral acts, behaviors or characteristics (such as hair type, religious symbols, or modes of speaking) become coded as “unprofessional” – because they make white men in power uncomfortable. Sometimes, just being a woman, a woman of color, or a man of color existing in an office environment makes white people in power uncomfortable – and that discomfort is then transferred onto you, the person who is made aware you don’t belong.

      That cuts deeper than just moderating how much you talk about DnD at work, or how much you have to listen to sports talk at work. When your very presence is breaking an unspoken norm or expectation, you become incredibly aware of how your behaviors, speech, dress, and tone may affect people around you. It’s exhausting. It’s dehumanizing. And it’s based on a white, male, cis, heterosexual power structure.

      I’m also a white person who likes DnD and nerdy things, and I’ve been in offices where I was very much the odd woman out as far as interests go. That’s uncomfortable, and not my preferred culture fit! But that experience in no way compares to the feeling of knowing I’ve been overlooked or underestimated as a woman – or knowing that I’ve been materially held back (when my male colleague was given more leadership responsibilities, despite the fact that I out performed him) because I’m a woman. No one has ever denied me a raise because I like DnD.

      And I’m a white woman, someone who statistically benefits the most from corporate “diversity” initiatives like affirmative action. For women who aren’t white, the picture is much bleaker.

      Anyways, I hope this helps clarify how culture fit/interest fit/moderating yourself at work is one thing, while systemic racism and sexism are another.

    5. introverted af*

      I know you put it in quotes, but just to be clear – codeswitching is a linguistic term for switching dialects. You’re not codeswitching by not talking about your interests.

    6. c_g2*

      Speaking as a white queer woman with ‘weird’ hobbies that is not the same. Do you feel afraid when somebody knows you like D&D? Have you had to plan your entire *life* around being into videogames? The height thing is an example of being an outlier but society rewards height overall.
      When we talk about code-switching in the context of being a minority it’s not to compromise, like an introvert compromises by doing social hours, etc. It’s about cutting pieces of you that your coworkers are allowed to bring. Who I love, my gender, how I spent the weekend… these are things I need to consider. For a queer WOC? That’s another layer.

    7. Vin Packer*

      Look. It’s normal, when you read something about another person’s experience, to try to use your own experience to help you relate. It can even be useful practice. It stops being useful when you stop really listening to the other person because you have decided that your experience and theirs is the same and you thus already know all about it and have grounds to dismiss what they’re trying to tell you. As soon as you say “regardless of [the actual topic at hand]” that’s a sign that you’re in this territory.

      Since you love D&D, you should be fairly good at imagining what it’s like to be someone other than yourself and all that would entail, right? That every character is different, sure, but certain differences matter more than others in terms of the extent to which it changes how they move through a given world?

      Can you see how there might be a difference between refraining from talking about your nerdy hobbies at work and having the hair that grows naturally out of your head considered “unprofessional”? Or between being mindful that you’re a big, tall, physically imposing dude who takes up a lot of space vs. always being *treated* like you take up a lot of space regardless of whether you actually do or not, just because of your skin’s color?

    8. lemon*

      Sure, everyone presents a different version of themselves at work for the sake of being professional.

      But for BIPOC, especially women and gender minorities, the amount of effort you have to put in to be seen as “fitting in” and “the same” as everyone else is ten-fold. I was the first person of color hired on my team. I’ve worked there almost two years, and even though I dress the same as everyone else, and talk the same as everyone else, and like some of the same tv shows as everyone else, and have made an effort to be friendly to everyone, I still feel like an outsider. Other people from other departments still look at me and assume I’m the administrative assistant (I’m not). I’m not in the in-group, no matter how hard I try. And aside from that just hurting my feelings, it holds me back on a professional level, because it means I don’t have the chance to take on the same kinds of impactful projects that the people who *are* in the in-group get to do.

      Another difference between what you’re describing and what I’m describing is just how much people will hold differences against you. When people learn you like DnD, it’s just a quirky tid-bit about Anar, the person. When people learn that I like DnD, it’s just another piece that folks subconsciously hold onto to move me into the “she’s just so different and not like us” pile. (And yeah, imagine being a WOC who is also an introverted nerd who likes DnD and video games….)

      I see that all the time with my sister, who is white-passing. She doesn’t hide her ethnic background from people, but when people learn about it, they just think it’s a cool, quirky fact about her, and she’s still accepted by predominantly white groups. It’s partly because… they get to know her as a person first before she discloses that info. But… I don’t have to disclose anything to anyone–I’m a visibly racialized person, which, for many people, means they have no interest in getting know me as a person first before deciding I’m “different.”

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        As another WOC who’s experienced similar things, here’s a hug.

        I think that a lot of these discussions assume that BIPOC’s challenges always involved being culturally dissimilar from the dominant group. Sometimes that’s the case, but sometimes what’s going on with people like you and I is that being visibly racialized just seems to negate the possibility that we could have things in common with people who don’t look like us.

    9. Observer*

      I see why Allison had to put her note up top.

      This is not about “bringing your whole self to work” – not a any stretch of the imagination! If you’ve been following Allison for any amount of time, you would know that she’s never bought in to that line.

      But how on earth do you equate “not physically intimidating people” with “making sure that people can forget that I’m actually not a White, Christian male”?

    10. Batgirl*

      A favourite teacher of mine used to say that the patriarchy was bad for men too because it often persuaded them of the need to be boring and boiled out their individuality. You seem to say something similar here.

    11. EventPlannerGal*

      Everyone above me has answered you much more eloquently than I can but I am literally begging you – and anyone else reading this who has felt this impulse because I have seen it on here an uncomfortable amount – to stop comparing your experiences as an introvert to those of people discriminated against on the basis of gender, race, sexuality and so on. I think it shows a really alarming lack of perspective and understanding of systemic discrimination.

  12. Anon for this*

    I don’t disagree with anything the author says in the excerpt, but I would have much preferred to see some of this “practical, action-oriented… concrete advice” in order to decide whether to invest the time into the book. Descriptions and examples of problematic culture are a dime a dozen (because it’s so prevalent!) but what we can do to change them, not so much.

    1. Julia*

      It could be that because that’s the biggest value add of the book, Alison and the author don’t want to publish that part for free – they want people to buy the book and support the author.

      1. Anon for this*

        I agree with you generally, but if a book’s entire value can be ‘given up’ totally in a short excerpt, then it’s not that valuable. Not saying it’s the case with this particular book!

    2. Hula-la*

      Have you read any of the online reviews of the book on Amazon or similar sites? That will give you some ideas of how people found it helpful.

      1. Anon for this*

        Agreed, reviews are a great tool and I absolutely look at them, but I do take them with a grain of salt, positive or negative. This book seems to have gotten good reviews, and there are definitely references to ‘action-oriented’ etc.

    3. Dahlia*

      You can’t really decide to put a ton of your book online for free when you have a publisher and a contract. Did you google reviews, or look at the amazon page, or the author’s website? How do you decide to read other books without reading vast swathes of them for free? Did you look to see if your library had the book?

      1. Anon for this*

        There’s… an excerpt printed here, for free. It’s not unusual nor unethical to excerpt a book with an author’s permission! A different one would have been more interesting/informative. I’m not putting in as much effort to research a book as you seem to be willing to do, even if it’s Alison-recommended. I’m assuming from your tone that you’re a writer annoyed by what you’re assuming to be an ask for free content – I respectfully suggest you consider that an author needs to win an audience’s interest.

        1. Dahlia*

          Yes, there is an excerpt already. There really doesn’t need to be several more. An author may need to win an audience’s interest, but they don’t need to give the book away for free or beg to be read.

          Also, “read the amazon page” is hardly research.

  13. alioelj*

    Yeah, as a practicing Muslim, I always laugh when I hear a some wokety-woke tech company describe their recruiting process as picking people who they “would like to have a beer with”! The fact that they cannot imagine that someone may choose to socialize with their colleagues holding a non-alcoholic drink suggests that the organization is not right for me!

    1. Julia*

      I have the same experience in law. Over and over again I’ve heard people say “by the time you get into an interview with a firm, we know your grades; we know you’re qualified. We just want to make sure you’re a normal person we would want to work with.”

      They think this is reassuring – you don’t have to prove yourself! just be normal! – but in fact it’s terrifying to those of us who are not what the dominant culture would consider “normal”, particularly not by the standards of white male-dominated law firm culture.

    2. Your Local Cdn*

      Yeah I saw an article about an employer complaining that their efforts to put together a wine and charcuterie basket hadn’t been appreciated by employees who wanted cash instead and thought of how many Muslim/Jewish/vegetarian employees this person had asked.

  14. Bostonian*

    Alison is now going to get dozens of letters from people whose employers HAVE been conducting melting pot ceremonies all this time.

  15. automaticdoor*

    Can we not have ONE of these racial justice posts that doesn’t get derailed into “I’m also oppressed because [reason, particularly non-visible one]”? Like, just one? This is really not about you having “weird” interests or liking to talk over people a lot…

    1. notacompetition*

      seriously…adjusting your behavior to meet professional norms as a white person IS NOT THE SAME THING AS WHAT PEOPLE OF COLOR GO THROUGH.

      1. Oh Snap!*

        I agree completely. I also think that it is the perfect way to explain to white people how minorities feel. If a white man who likes D&D and not football feels like he can’t bring his whole self to work, that is the perfect opportunity to explain how other groups feel, because he gets that feeling of uncomfortableness! It is the opening you need to explain just how bad it is for other groups.

        ^^I am not saying it is the job of minorities to do this work, but as a white woman I run into plenty of white men who have this complaint, and it is the perfect est up to explain to them how they are totally right AN ALSO that imagine it was 100x worse, because that is who their non male and non white coworkers feel.

      2. Confused*

        And they act like POC don’t also have to stifle their own interests in addition to their ethnic background. Like, we gotta do both!

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Here’s the rules I advocate with people when a book/post/project at work etc. comes up about a marginalised group and you’re not in that group:

      Just listen.

      Take the information into the ‘that’s worth further thought’ part of the brain. Attempting to show solidarity by stating something in your life that sucks is usually coming from a ‘hey, I’m showing I agree with you’ standpoint BUT it’s neither wanted nor appropriate.

      Listen. Think. Absorb.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        (Btw I’m not white. Apologies if my comment read as ‘hey I’m white and here’s what I do’ which I’ve just realised it could be read that way!)

      2. Another health care worker*

        +1. It’s mind-blowing how hard a time people have with this. Sometimes, you will receive information that isn’t about you! You may not be able to relate! You can simply listen and learn!

      3. employment lawyah*

        Couldn’t agree less, really, with the “shut up and listen” perspective, entirely because I find it simply doesn’t work in practice.

        Attempts to empathize and find commonality are usually very beneficial. One of the biggest things when it works is that the common parties can rejigger their views of each other and begin to view gray-area stuff better.

        Since there is a lot of gray area in many interpersonal communications and since that gray area is usually the #1 source of interpersonal conflict, this has a huuuuuge effect. Imagine how much better your company could be, for example, if an extra 10% of things were interpreted as “honest errors and/or normal human variation” as opposed to “malice or misbehavior.” That is crucial for majority and minority groups alike, from a business perspective.

        Second, the SDASU method eliminates most secondary transmission. IOW: You make a point which you think is good. If you want Lee to talk to Lee’s friends about the issue, then (a) Lee has to understand the issue and (b) Lee has to be motivated enough to retransmit and (c) Lee has to be able to put it in language which both Lee AND Lee’s friends will understand, since Lee’s pals are unlikely to just sit in silence and get lectured. And you, of course, are not eating dinner at Lee’s house with Lee’s friends. In most cases you don’t just want Lee to SDASU, you want Lee on your side. And unless you also expect Lee’s friends to sit down and shut up–and really, few folks really do that in real life–then the SDASU method pretty much guarantees that your argument stops with Lee.

        The most effective programs I have seen, FWIW, tend to focus first on finding commonality, because it promotes good faith. The “good faith view” is most important when it comes to negative or gray-area information. Then it gets to next steps. Asking people to voluntarily be less comfortable is a hard sell for many and it needs to be resting on a firm foundation to be most effective. Of course that assumes the goal is change and not just to check a box off for a lecture, which some companies do.

        And w/r/t the “equity of discomfort” stuff: In most places the majority culture controls because folks believe it is more efficient to suffer the losses of a small group being miserable than to make a much larger group unhappy. As you might expect this decision is usually made at the behest of the larger group or higher-ups. Since businesses are generally focused on profit and efficiency, “equity of discomfort” is not usually their primary goal. Just the opposite, in fact!

        Of course, that belief can be WRONG. And/or it can stupidly focus on small short-term issues and prevent folks from reaching much bigger long-term gains. But as above, good-faith engagement w/ the belief is often needed in order to change things.

        1. Julia*

          This is really interesting. I agree with you that if your goal is to change the maximum number of people’s minds about race issues, telling people to sit down and shut up may not be the best tactic.

          But I’m not sure that the people you’re talking to agree that that should be the goal. Honest conversations about race aren’t always supposed to be “I want the good argument I made to Lee to win over as many hearts and minds as possible”. Sometimes the goal is, for example, “ensure these Black people, right now, feel more comfortable in this majority-white space and feel heard and understood”. Sometimes the goal is “understand as much as possible about a nonwhite person’s experience rather than centering your own”.

          And it’s true that telling people to sit down and shut up doesn’t change hostile minds. But if you’re a white anti-racist ally (general “you”; I’m not assuming you specifically are white), then telling *yourself* to sit down and shut up may turn out to give you a whole new perspective.

          It’s possible to come to appreciate others’ suffering without straining to parallel it to some suffering in your own life.

          1. Littorally*

            But if you’re a white anti-racist ally (general “you”; I’m not assuming you specifically are white), then telling *yourself* to sit down and shut up may turn out to give you a whole new perspective.

            This, this, a thousand times this. I learned an enormous amount in six months of mostly lurking on a board that actively discussed anti-racism, committing myself to not speaking up when I didn’t actually have useful things to say, and just soaking in everything that was presented and thinking about it on my own time.

            I found that if I came in with the mindset that I had something to say and was going to say it, I read comments in a much more adversarial way — I was looking for things to argue with. When I decided I wasn’t going to comment, I just wanted to listen, I read much more deeply and came away with a much broader understanding and empathy for the situations that were being described.

            Sitting down and shutting up is a 100% necessary skill for allies of all stripes.

          2. employment lawyah*

            “And it’s true that telling people to sit down and shut up doesn’t change hostile minds.”

            Not just HOSTILE minds. It hardly changes ANY minds, at least in my experience, unless they are already predisposed to want to listen to you or are forced to do so by a power imbalance.

            Some (but by no means all) of my clients–who have hired me to tell them what to do!–will do it. *MAYBE*. But not always, or even often. And a jury, or judge, or random non-opposing employee, will not do it pretty much ever. Nor will an employee who is compelled.

            In fact, my experience is that telling people what to do (much less what to think, much less how to think) tends to breed hostility, unless they have already been predisposed by the “common ground / good faith” part (which is why that is so crucial IMO.) It’s often someone claiming “oh well they were hostile anyway, of course they didn’t listen” and me saying “well, they weren’t this hostile BEFORE the lecture.”

            Also frankly the hostile ones are usually the best ones to change, if you can, because helping the “worst performers” will have an enormous effect.

            “It’s possible to come to appreciate others’ suffering without straining to parallel it to some suffering in your own life.”
            Possible? yes. Common? no. “Imagine myself in those shoes” and “find some sort of parallel similarity to use as a baseline for like-that-but-worse comparisons” are, I think, literally the most common ways of people finding empathy and preparing themselves to offer support. Yes, some people do it anyway, but not many. YMMV.

            Marginalized populations don’t need to learn about the majority ones, though. They already know. They’re surrounded. They’re experts.”

            No, they’re not experts, at least not in an objective sense. And this unfortunately-common claim is not a good one.

            Yes: it’s likely that a minority clerk knows more about a C-suite manager than the reverse. But it’s quite unlikely that the clerk is actually an expert in what (much less how) the CEO thinks, because people are complex. Rather, it’s virtually certain that the clerk (like all humans) will still be relying on a lot of stereotypes and assumptions of their own, because that is just how humans get through the world.

            Maybe quite a few of those assumptions and stereotypes are correct! Stereotypes exist because they have higher-than-random predictive validity. (And, dare I say it, probably some are correct for the clerk, too.)

            But probably not all of them, though. And man oh man, if there’s one thing that people CAN find common ground in hating, it’s the whole “you are merely your group” thing. I mean seriously, it’s one thing to claim expertise in “how the CEO takes her coffee,” but claiming expertise in what (much less how) she thinks about complex issues, because she’s your boss… well, that is usually going to turn it into a “check the box, nod, and move on” lecture. And I think those are dumb.

            1. kt*

              We’re talking about the comments section of Ask A Manager, here, not the generalizations you’ve brought up. There’s an ask to let folks who’ve experienced marginalization take center stage in the comments, to talk about their experiences specifically (not emote about what Ramona Hood thinks because of shared skin color). I’m happy to simply sit back and listen/read.

            2. Managing In*

              Hahahahaha. I’m so sorry. Can someone with a better understanding of how logical fallacies are used to derail arguments unpack this for me?

              How did you see “White people, please do not dominate a conversation about marginalized groups in the workplace by centering your own experiences. Marginalized groups do not need to hear more about whiteness, they are surrounded by it” and try to refute it with this weird little example that has nothing to do with the prompt?

              > Maybe quite a few of those assumptions and stereotypes are correct! Stereotypes exist because they have higher-than-random predictive validity. (And, dare I say it, probably some are correct for the clerk, too.)

              Sir or ma’am, I did notice you snuck this in unnecessarily. Stereotypes are holding their own quite well and do not need you to defend them.

        2. AGD*

          Marginalized populations don’t need to learn about the majority ones, though. They already know. They’re surrounded. They’re experts. They’re usually ignored/stifled/worse. They’re subjected to it constantly.

          Majority populations may think they understand the corresponding minority viewpoint, but probably not.

          One of these groups understands both/all perspectives, and the other understands one at the most. The burden of educating everyone cannot fairly be placed on those already having a harder time. And “please just be nice” erases the fact that people are unhappy about inequality for good reason and already having to work harder and put up with more to get to the same place. Assuming good-faith and needing to educate 11,409 majority-group people in a row, one or two at a time, needs to be paid work, because that’s…well, a lot of work! Alternatively, 11,409 people could work a little harder on their own to understand what marginalized folks already get. No shortage of books on the subject, especially lately.

          1. Tinker*

            I’d add that not only can majority populations think they understand the corresponding minority viewpoint even when they don’t necessarily understand it all that well, it’s not all that uncommon for people to conflate being in a more favored position on a given axis with being “better” at it — having an opinion of higher quality that is more important for people to hear, when in fact the reverse is true.

            I think this is mostly done accidentally rather than out of malice, but that makes it all the more important to be more biased toward listening and considering than feels natural when one is in that position, in order to compensate for the tendency of your perception to underestimate.

        3. Quinalla*

          Interesting perspective, but I still think the initial response when you first hear something as a person of privilege is more listening and less/no talking. Far too often, a BIPOC person gives their perspective and it is immediately buried under a mountain of white people giving what they think are similar examples, etc. that really, really aren’t and are missing the point. It can for sure be useful to have follow up conversations and what not, but I think those are often better after A LOT of listening and absorbing and talking about stuff with other white people for a bit – not putting the burden of educating on the BIPOC person. Us white folks really need to step up our game!

          And it can definitely be useful to take something of much less impact, but similar, to help emphasize and explain to others. As a white woman, I often explain to other white women that remember how much it sucks to deal with misogyny? Imagine now you are a black woman dealing with racism & misogyny and let me tell you, it isn’t additive, it is multiplicative. Try to imagine how bad that is then multiply by 10 at least. How frustrating is it to be mansplained to? Don’t do the same to BIPOC folks from a white perspective!

          But I really do think a lot listening first is really critical and a step that a lot of white folks especially want to skip over and the many folks urging folks to shut up and listen are trying to get people to fight their normal instinct to immediately start talking to try and get rid of discomfort. Sit in your discomfort and listen.

        4. LunaLena*

          “Attempts to empathize and find commonality are usually very beneficial. One of the biggest things when it works is that the common parties can rejigger their views of each other and begin to view gray-area stuff better.”

          That’s true in theory. In practice, though, it looks more like “being a minority = having to hide my love of DnD. Therefore, I don’t see why minorities make it such a big deal. We ALL have to do it. They need to quit being so sensitive. If I can suppress that part of myself, so can they.” This is already happening right here in this comment section. In less polite communities than this, I’ve also been told to stop complaining that it’s rude when someone repeatedly asks me where I’m from because apparently “upstate New York” is not the correct answer, and the asker isn’t satisfied until I say my family was from Korea. When I tried to explain why it was rude, that same person responded with “well you should be flattered people are showing interest in your culture! I would be thrilled if someone asked ME about my Welsh heritage!”

          I could list more examples, such as the time I was told “*real* Asians don’t think like that, so you are wrong to have that opinion.” But that would make my post even longer than yours.

          The most effective way of getting people to understand, in my experience, is for people to listen to others and learn to recognize the situations they are talking about. My husband is a white guy from Midwest, and he didn’t understand how much racism POC experience every day until we moved in together. He noticed that people treated me differently from him, especially how many people assumed I wasn’t American, and asked me about it and listened whenever I started ranting about it. Now he is more sensitive to casual racism and why it’s so hurtful.

          Your assumption that “good faith engagement” works is predicated on the idea that people are willing to listen and change in the first place, but the fact is, most people are not, especially when it’s at the expense of their own comfort and benefit. People don’t like being told that they’ve been engaging in discriminatory behavior all this time; it’s much easier to just brush it off as “people love to be offended,” as Matt Groening said when Apu became controversial. It would be great if you were right. Life would be so much easier if you were. But what you’re really saying is that minorities have to continue engaging in good faith with people who do not. At what point does it stop being the minorities’ burden to educate the majority, and start becoming the majority’s duty to start educating themselves?

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            — At what point does it stop being the minorities’ burden to educate the majority, and start becoming the majority’s duty to start educating themselves?—

            And at what point does the ‘right’ of the privileged to not have their feeling hurt cease being as important (or more) as the right of a marginalised group to exist on equal footing?

            I hope people will read the above book and take on board the ideas, and read similar literature. I have to keep hope that the day will come when equal rights are fully accepted.

        5. Keymaster of Gozer*

          No, I don’t believe the struggles of marginalised groups are made any better by forcing them to be nice and consider the point of view of the privileged.

          The reason we have events like the BLM marches, #meetoo etc is because we’ve TRIED to be nice, ask politely for our rights, phrase it in such a way that it doesn’t offend the bigoted and it hasn’t worked. AT ALL.

          I don’t have to be tolerant of other people’s intolerance.

        6. waffles*

          Racism is not a gray area issue. Finding commonality with anti-blackness or white supremacy is not a good goal for any business or person to have. It’s also not black people’s job to educate white people about white supremacy or anti-black racism. White people need to educate themselves using the internet – you can read about, watch, listen to the experiences of black people in any country without putting that burden on a colleague who is very likely hired to do something else. Further, racism and white supremacy are systems of oppression – they are not issues of individual perspective or opinion.

    3. ThatGirl*

      Seriously, I’m appalled at the people who think “being a little nerdy” or “from a different part of the country” is at all the same thing. Everyone has occasionally felt like an outsider, and it’s great to try to learn from that, but it’s not at ALL the same as being Othered constantly based on your skin color, race/ethnicity, visible signs of non-Christian religion, etc.

    4. fish*

      I’m going to say this: if you can understand why bisexual people may have a hard time, you can understand why a Jewish person may have a hard time. Some Jews (not all!) look “white.” Great! At long you don’t act Jewish (like using different conversational patterns) or talk about being Jewish or anything, it’s golden. That’s really hard to do.

      I have been closeted about being a big ol’ butch lesbian (a visible thing) in the workplace, and closeted about being Jewish in another. It’s pretty similar.

      I assumed it’s okay to talk about being Jewish if part of the post is “why Ibrahim doesn’t talk about his religion” Ibrahim and I don’t talk about our religion, and work to suppress associated cultural characteristics, for the same reason. It drives me up a wall that people can see problems other minority groups face but wave their hands at Jews.

      1. automaticdoor*

        My point is not really about the Jewish commenter who started the “overlapping” thread (and I also realize Jewish people, as mentioned above, are often othered as not-white) so much as the 44 and counting replies, most of which are talking about US regional speech pattern differences, introvert vs. extrovert, etc.

        1. automaticdoor*

          I am also sorry that I did not realize YOU were the commenter. I don’t retain usernames very well.

        2. Julia*

          Yeah, I think it’s an artifact of majority-white-Anerican spaces (like this one) that a conversation about race detours into one about sexuality or neuroatypicality or regional differences or language, simply because commenters are struggling to relate the discussion to their *own* experiences, and a lot of them usually don’t have to spend much time thinking about their *own* race. So their first thought is to bring up something related but different. That’s why Alison’s caution up top is important – it’s human to want to talk about yourself but sometimes it isn’t the time for that.

          1. pleaset cheap rolls*

            As a straight black man, I tolerate and sometimes welcome this when people look deep into the issue. I frankly do the same in trying to understand homophobia or sexism. But I try to talk less and listen more on those topics.

            But randomly jumping up and saying, in effect, “I like to talk a lot too” in response to Fish’s comment about behaving a different way due to her being part of an often-marginalized culture is not good.

            Listen more. Think about power and systems more. Don’t make it about you. Check yourself.

      2. stiveee*

        Yeah the whole ‘visibility’ thing (“but you can hide the fact that you’re [insert marginalized community]! isn’t that great and in no way a psychological heck-scape that often leads to extreme consequences?”) is not a good look, but I don’t think that’s what this comment is about. I think based on the examples the commenter gave they are reacting to white people saying stuff like ‘but I’m southern-what about me?!’

        1. automaticdoor*

          Yep, that is what I meant. And to be clear, I also definitely understand the issues with “hidden” queerness, disability, etc. (and I am part of both of those example “hidden” communities) but I don’t think this post is the place to center those particular issues either.

        2. EchoGirl*

          Agreed. I think there’s a pretty big difference between pointing out how issues of culture fit also apply to other marginalized identities (though I also understand automaticdoor’s point about maybe this not being the place) vs. relating it back to things like being a gamer or a “nerd”.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        As a *passing* Jewish person who lived the first 29 years of their life in a (I’ll be blunt) anti-Semitic society, I agree. Both my parents, and myself, have had the experience in Home Country of having to keep our mouth shut when coworkers casually chatted about how tired they were of Jews ruling the world. On one hand, at least we passed. On the other, it was still an experience I wish we hadn’t had, though without a doubt an easier one.

      4. nom de plume*

        Oh good grief, being Jewish is not a visible sign of difference, and being Jewish out on the world does not in ANY way equate to the racialization, systemic oppression, and negative dominant discourse that BIPoC people endure.

        Many people have asked that white, “dominant” culture folks not keep centering themselves and making false equivalences between their experiences and those this post attempted to highlight, yet you’re all up and down this thread doubling down on how YOUR plight is exactly the same, and actually more important because no one is talking about the JEws here.

        It’s tone deaf at best. Please ask yourself why you’ve felt the need to do that in a dozen posts or more. It really is not okay.

        1. pleaset cheap rolls*

          “YOUR plight is exactly the same,”

          I don’t think she said exactly, and as a black man I am open to people facing systematic oppression chiming in a bit.

          I do not tolerate people saying stuff like “Oh, I like knitting and no one understand that, so I kinda get racism.” But the plight of the Jewish people is racism adjacent, and I don’t mind much. You can mind – I get that. I’m just adding a data point.

    5. AGD*

      Agreed. The whole point is that this isn’t stuff the corresponding majority category has to face. Nothing in my experience can possibly tell me what racism feels like or how frequent it is where, because as a human who gets read as white and considered white in 99% of cases, I don’t get subjected to that and am thus dramatically under-informed about it. I’d better just listen intently, extensively, and go out of my way to seek out perspectives and keep in mind who is affected when. Systemic inequality really wants me not to bother.

    6. MEH*

      Yes. It’s pretty disheartening to see on this site which is in general has a thoughtful commentariat. I mean, I expected it to happen, but I was hoping for something better. It’s frustrating to read a post that is specifically about racial justice and read comments that are about anything BUT that. It just goes to show how deep this mentality runs and how difficult it is to break.

    7. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*


      I was appalled by some of the responses to Fish’s comment about being Jewish in the Midwest.

      What some of the responders were saying maybe is legit. But not here.

      Not on the this topic. Not separated from broader issues of power and exclusion.

  16. BearsBeets*

    I feel this post in my bones. Despite working for a non-sectarian organization, it’s hard for an atheist here. The founder effect is strong and people here tend to promote their own, often I think unintentionally. The effect is the same.
    There’s this weird… tension maybe, often unspoken, when management is mostly white, cis, masculine hetero. Quite often I’m the sole gentile in the room.

  17. animaniactoo*

    An indication of this in other aspects: When I was a teenager, I was a white girl working at McDonald’s in a neighborhood that was heavily populated by Caribbean immigrants. Everybody spoke “normal English” out on the floor. But in the back? In the breakroom? Even the managers were breaking out in Patois and Caribbean-accented speedier-than-the-ear-can-hear English. I grew up in that neighborhood so that felt familiar and awesome to me, but I definitely witnessed looks from a few people who were just lost when faced with the code-switch and had NO CLUE that this is what their managers and co-workers looked like without their “workplace” accents and mannerisms. And, like, that was just McDonald’s. About as basic as you can get when “showing up for a job”.

    1. Kali*

      I’ve read that one strength of McDonalds is that they are a really diverse employer because they really don’t care who you are. Though that’s not always for good reasons – e.g., one thing they do care about is, will you work for minimum wage.

  18. bunniferous*

    Obviously it’s a spectrum. But those of us who are members of majority white culture need to remember we don’t know what we don’t know. A couple decades ago I was involved with a racial reconciliation group where I learned just how much African American people hide of themselves when they are around white people (because these people were comfortable with me and answered my honest questions.) I mean, I knew enough to ask the question but it was a revelation to me just how deep it went. And this is what people HAD to do to fit in in the majority culture, to feel safe, and so on. We walk in what we think is our own real world while they have to navigate living in two at the same time. While everyone does that a little bit we are talking massive, massive switching here.

    We (by which I mean white people) many times have absolutely no clue how we hurt or make uncomfortable people who don’t look like us/are different culturally. So many of us really do not have a basic understanding that there ARE different ways of looking at the world, or differing group norms, and many times because either people don’t feel safe being themselves around us OR if they do, we reject them for not fitting in with how WE see the world. And then so many times we get mad/feel hurt when someone calls us out on it. I’m an older woman, and I might not understand all the modern terminology describing this stuff, but I do know that thinking the way “we” do things is The Only Right Way needs to just die in a fire.

    1. animaniactoo*

      Yes, it’s what might be found funny – and why – based on cultural common experiences and touchstones. But if you’re around a bunch of people who don’t have those experiences and touchstones, finding something funny that is in no way funny in their experiences and touchstones can get you looked at as anything from “off” to “a freaking monster”. And understanding that their experiences are so far apart, that you can’t explain it without making it worse if they’re not open to the concept of “limits of your experience are not the One Right Way or the limits of reality”. So short-circuit by censoring and just never letting it come up at all.

    2. She's One Crazy Diamond*

      Your second paragraph made me think of my white in-laws, who are good people, but when I speak with them I am constantly in a state of disbelief because they are some of the least worldly people I know and are so insistent that how they think/feel is the only right way to think and feel and everyone else is weird. I would never pretend my family is perfect, in fact my husband had a much better childhood than I did, but even the biggest jerks in my family easily accept that there are multiple ways of perceiving something and that while someone might seem weird to them it’s none of their business if they’re not hurting anyone. It’s super awkward when my MIL talks about how “alike” we are when we couldn’t be more different, I just don’t feel comfortable being myself around her.

  19. She's One Crazy Diamond*

    This is why, as a white passing person of color who was not born in the mainland US, I feel like I have to act like a fake pod person to fit in. I don’t talk about it a lot because everyone just gaslights me. But I wish I did have the space with people I know in real life to talk about it.

  20. Tired of Covid-and People*

    Alison, I love you for posting this, and also for telling white commenters not to make this all about them. I’m black, and every word in the article excerpt is true. I don’t know that there is a solution, because for the most part the majority just cannot image being a minority and feel that “accepting” you into their space is enough.

    1. PlatypusOo*

      “I am all of the above: white, straight, cisgender, abled, and male.”

      You didn’t have to state this, it was obvious from the first sentence. In all seriousness, may I suggest a great book by Ijeoma Oluo: Mediocre, The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America.

        1. Justme, The OG*

          She is! I follow her on various social media platforms and always look forward to what she has to say.

    2. animaniactoo*

      I am all of the above: white, straight, cisgender, abled, and male.

      Which means that you do not have the first-hand lived experience of the people who are NOT and ARE saying that these things are why such things happen for them. You are speaking from the dominant perspective and I invite you – quite strongly – to sit down and listen to the many people here who have the relevant experience.

      I’m white, straight, cisgender, fairly able-bodied, and female. But I grew up in a neighborhood where not all of that was the norm, and believe me – it is just a different world, with different norms. I learned that by witnessing it, and I still don’t think that I know all of what it means for somebody who lives it from the other side. I think I have a pretty decent idea. But I don’t know.

      And quite honestly – your attempt to dismiss these examples because you think YOU now better why they are that way – from your position of the dominant perspective – on a post about why these things remain issues, is one of the most offensive things I’ve read.

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Very well said, I was offended also. Mansplaining and whitesplaining all rolled into one comment.

    3. Tired of Covid-and People*

      Your comment misses the point entirely. Once again, your culture as a white cisgender able bodied male is not erased. Professionalism and cultural erasure is not the same. The natural hair on my head is unacceptable in some workplaces, what has that got to do with professionalism? No, it’s white standards being equated with “professionalism”. We’re not even talking about behavior here.

      Please do better. Folks that deny institutional racism is real are the biggest obstacle to ever improving it.

    1. anon2*

      If that’s the price, that’s the price. You don’t have to buy it but maybe we can skip complaining about the price of a Black woman’s work on this post of all posts.

      1. Karlee*

        I thought perhaps I was getting incorrect information about the price and looking to confirm – not to complain about the price of a Black woman’s work or to suggest she doesn’t deserve to get paid for her work. I didn’t realize academic publishers generally priced higher. Apologies for the offense.

    2. Mel_05*

      Getting things printed is expensive. Distribution is expensive. She has a publisher, but it’s not a huge name like Penguin or HarperCollins where they can get a massive volume discount because of how MUCH they publish and how important they are as a business.

    3. Jewish commenter*

      You can suggest that your local public library purchase it, if you can’t afford to buy it yourself. (And if you can afford to buy it, but just don’t think it’s “worth the money”, consider keeping that opinion to yourself on a post about people of colour being marginalized and devalued.)

    4. littledoctor*

      Black women deserve to be paid for their work. Books from academic publishers very frequently cost significantly more because they’re aimed at a more niche market. $40 is quite typical.

  21. old curmudgeon*

    Ordered one copy. If it is as good as I hope, I’ll be ordering multiple additional copies for others, including but not limited to:

    My boss, and potentially for the senior leadership of my employer.
    My sibling, who is a chemistry professor; while they are unlikely to be able to change the workplace dynamic of the university, or even of the chem department, a classroom or a lab has a very similar dynamic to a workplace, and is just as prone to excluding cultures. My sibling has struggled with how to resolve this exact issue for years.
    The artistic director of a local theater who is digging very deeply into this issue, both in the plays that are being performed (e.g. “The Niceties”) and in the internal dynamics of the organization.
    The leadership of the company where my offspring work.

    1. GS*

      Thank you, this was a great watch. I hope more people see it, especially the folks above who were on the fence about the book.

  22. Phil*

    Any one holding Henry Ford, a virulent anti-Semite, as a paragon of inclusion needs to check themselves.

    1. UKDancer*

      I don’t think anyone is saying Henry Ford is a paragon of inclusion. I think it’s identifying a particular approach to managing a very diverse workforce and trying to build a particular organisational culture. I don’t think anyone is saying this is the right thing to do or something to be emulated. It’s interesting from an historical perspective as showing what a specific company did at a specific point in time.

    2. animaniactoo*

      That is now how Ford is being used. It looks to me like you quite thoroughly missed the point of that example.

      Ford is, in fact, being used as an example of NON-inclusion. That he did not attempt to include his workers’ lives and cultures in his workplace. He sought to erase them and create a homogenous appearance in his own preferred mold of “American”.

    3. Littorally*

      Wow, that is not at all how the Henry Ford example is being used. Obviously this is an excerpt, but it seems pretty clear to me that it’s being used as a very negative example of “inclusion” being in fact erasure — everyone has the chance to strip away any trait that makes them unlike an American-born middle-class WASP dude!

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Believe me, I froze inside when I saw the name Henry Ford. I was afraid he’d be used as a positive example. It was the opposite. He was used as an example of forcefully whitewashing his employees to the point of having a whole ceremony for that.

      1. LunaLena*

        Not just whitewashing – there’s an implicit assumption in the ceremony that white American >>> ethnic minority. See, everyone knows foreigners are lazy, poor, ignorant slobs. But through Ford’s generous schooling, they can become well-dressed, productive members of society! See how much better off they are as Americans! U-S-A! U-S-A!

        The more I learn about things like this, the more I understand why my parents (who both immigrated to the US as young adults) were so careful to raise me as a typical American kid and were so paranoid about being perceived as “different” by the neighbors.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          The more I learn about things like this, the more I understand why my parents (who both immigrated to the US as young adults) were so careful to raise me as a typical American kid and were so paranoid about being perceived as “different” by the neighbors.

          And, sadly, also why racism is so pervasive in many white-passing immigrant communities (my own included).

    5. Working Hypothesis*

      The Henry Ford example was being used as a demonstration of erasure under the guise of inclusion. It was a very badly screwed up attempt to do what he *thought* was “inviting foreigners in,” but which was really demanding that they give up everything that differentiated them from the dominant culture as the price of admission.

      It was definitely not being recommended as an example to follow.

  23. DonnaMartinGraduates!*

    This was really insightful. Thank you.

    I wasn’t sure exactly what “a dap” was, so I looked it up and found a short video on vimeo that explains that this specific handshake originated during the Vietnam War, shared among the brothers. So cool! “More Than a Handshake: The Historic Origins of the Dap.”

  24. Sharon*

    This is a great excerpt. So often corporations think they are increasing diversity by hiring a person that LOOKS different but actually either has a very similar background as everybody else or is good at pretending they do. So the company gets to tick the “look we’re diverse” box without actually increasing diversity of thought in the workplace, because either the “diverse” hire thinks the same way everybody else does or is discouraged from voicing any differences.

    1. Hula-la*

      “or is discouraged from voicing any differences” +1000 to this (and the rest of your comment, too.

  25. RuralWentUrban*

    Alison, I have long followed Ask a Manager, successfully used your advice, and purchased your getting a job guide. I think you are awesome, but I disagree with your comment that no one besides a racial minority could connect with the passage you shared. I’m from a very, very rural area. I moved to a much larger, urban environment for work after college. My workplace’s culture was not my culture. Most days I felt like I had to act differently to try to succeed in that environment. I’m not saying that my experience was worse than anyone else’s. But, I don’t believe it is fair to say that, unless you’re a racial minority, you aren’t entitled to share your own connection and experience with the author’s writings. It is okay if you need to delete this comment, but this is just an opinion from a long-time reader of your work. Thanks for all you do!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think you might have misread! I didn’t say that others couldn’t connect with the excerpt. I hope they can! What I asked is for white people not to center our own experiences or feelings in this conversation.

      1. RuralWentUrban*

        Gotcha. You are just saying I shouldn’t participate in the conversation. Personally, I think having everyone involved by sharing their experiences promotes community, but I know you don’t feel the same way. I didn’t make the comment to start a fight. I’ll drop out here. Thanks for letting me share my opinion.

        1. Littorally*


          “Hey, don’t center your own experiences in this conversation.”
          “Oh, you mean you don’t want me to talk at all!”

          Did you know you can participate without making it all about you?

        2. Koalafied*

          There are a lot of ways to promote community and a lot of forums for people to share their experiences. We’ve just been asked to allow this particular space, the comment section for this one post, to remain focused on a particular topic and not stray off-topic.

          Think about if your workplace had a slack channel for parents to discuss the challenges of working from home while homeschooling their children during the pandemic. You don’t have any kids, but you do have a pet, and there are absolutely some real parallels between some of the things parents have to do for their kids and things pet-parents have to do for their pets, but it would be inappropriate to go into that channel and respond to a conversation about the struggle to find reliable childcare or help with a special needs child during the pandemic, and talk about how you too have struggled to find a dogsitter for your dog with separation anxiety. Then imagine that, because there are more dog owners than parents at this hypothetical company, they all see your comment and start chiming in with their own trouble finding dog care while everything is closed down.

          It’s not that your struggle to find dog care isn’t a real problem for you, or that it doesn’t bear some similarities to parents struggling with childcare. It’s the problems are different enough that they’re not going to have the same solution, and by turning the conversation away from childcare to dog care, you make it harder for the parents to have a productive discussion that leads them closer to a solution to their own problem. Because the parents at this company are a minority group, they had retreated to having this conversation in a space designated specifically for their minority group, which means as much as they might appreciate the idea that a dog owner is sympathetic to their plight because of some commonalities in their experiences, it’s not helpful to have that designated space for discussing a specific problem effectively taken away from them because it gets flooded with off-topic discussion.

          1. Sarah*

            Thank you for taking the time to provide a great analogue situation here. We can hope this helps illustrate the point (though I believe Alison’s post and other comments made the intent clear from the start).

    2. Sarah*

      She is not saying that no one else can connect, but that this is not the appropriate place to center your experience. This post is not about “bringing your authentic self” in terms of personality quirks, city mouse vs. country mouse, etc. It is specifically about racial justice.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yes, this.

        I’m reminded of BirdsRightsActivist on Twitter – “I am feel uncomfortable when we are not about me?”

        It’s natural for people to want to find a way to relate to something via their own experiences — hey! I feel like an outsider sometimes too! But it’s one thing to think of that to yourself and translate into “wow, it must be so much harder for a BIPOC in the workplace” and another to turn a brief moment of being uncomfortable into a flattening of other people’s experiences. I have been guilty of this; I am doing my best to never do it again :P

    3. Vicky Austin*

      Here’s my understanding.

      “I’m White, and this article reminds me of the time I heard my Black co-worker talking to her brother on the phone, and she spoke in African-American vernacular. This surprised me, because she always speaks standard American English when talking to any of us. Now that I have read this article, I understand why she has to code-switch. It gave me a new perspective,” is perfectly fine.

      “I know what you mean. It’s so hard for me, a White person, to adjust to the differences of the people of color who I work with. They’re always wearing funny clothes and eating smelly food,” is not.

      Allison, correct me if my understanding is wrong.

      1. Who moved my cheese?*

        Not really. More like – to use myself as an example – “As a white Jew with ADHD who likes sci-fi, I know exactly what you mean about not being able to bring your full self to work. Here are several more sentences or PARAGRAPHS!!! about my experience.” is not okay and opens the door to 85 other white Jews with ADHD who like sci-fi piling on. See Sarah’s comment.

        1. Who moved my cheese?*

          I also personally don’t care about and don’t want to read about “I’m White, and this article reminds me of … It gave me a new perspective,” either — but that’s just me :) White noise.

    4. Batgirl*

      I mean… I’m white working class with a highly despised regional accent and while it’s caused me personal bewilderment, numerous missed chances and hiccups (being berated in a meeting by a man who had kept the accent; which is something men can do) it is just a hiccup. I’ve been working in a large school where the accent thing pales in comparison to the fact the entire teaching staff is white. Clearly, you can’t standardise your ethnicity like you can an accent. Can you imagine being taught as a black student with no black teachers at all? I love talking about my experiences, and I wish one of my students hadn’t said recently that she can’t go to college with the same accent, but the truth is that she can. See, if we solve the hugest and most pressing issues first, the ones that can’t be scrambled over, surely the other problems and narrow minded things we all face to some degree will shake out as well?

      1. Blackcat*

        “I’m white working class with a highly despised regional accent and while it’s caused me personal bewilderment, numerous missed chances and hiccups (being berated in a meeting by a man who had kept the accent; which is something men can do) it is just a hiccup”

        My (white) mom grew up in the deep south. Her second day on the job as a lawyer in a southern California law firm, a secretary handed her the card of a voice coach and told her to get rid of the accent if she wanted to be taken seriously. She did.
        That’s the power of whiteness. Another white woman looked out for her, and she was able to functionally erase the identity that could have caused problems. White people can do that, and that’s part of white privilege.

  26. Matt*

    I’ve actually read this book and my issue with it isn’t so much about what was said in this except, but in Silverthorn’s book she writes that for an authentic diverse workplace, only consequences of people’s actions matter, specifically, actions of those within the majority group towards those in the minority, and even considering intentions is part of the problem. Personally, I think that’s an enormously unsafe environment to work in and I’ve actually been victimized from that line of thinking. Part of interacting and dealing with other people is balancing the consequence of actions with intentions. That’s part of human interaction, and we all have to do it, otherwise, there would be nothing but retaliation and catastrophization. Even much of Allison’s advice on here would be made pointless because a huge part of resolving conflict is learning about the intentions of other people. Allison, I would be curious if you went into more detail on that.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      The thing is, you’re missing the first clause of the sentence. “For an authentic diverse workplace,” is the key phrase preceding “only consequences matter rather than intent” (paraphrased). In other contexts, such as resolving interpersonal conflict, intent can certainly matter. But in the specific context of achieving an authentic diverse workplace, intent doesn’t actually achieve one, whereas practical consequences do.

      1. Matt*

        Whether it’s a key phrase or not, there isn’t anything about the context of achieving an authentic, diverse workplace that would make it different from interpersonal conflict, because the issues of a non-inclusive workplace are a compilation of interpersonal conflicts on a socially macro-level. If the goal is achieving an authentic, diverse workplace, you would have to balance intent with consequences. It’s not that only intent matters over consequences, but that space is made for both. You say consequences only matter practically, but often without the input of intent, you won’t resolve the conflict at all but be sidetracked, or create a whole new conflict altogether.

    2. animaniactoo*

      The issue is that if you focus on intent, you end up missing the fact that the intent is not what matters when the end result neither resembles the intent nor is acceptable.

      Too often, good intent is used as an excuse for failed result. So if you want to succeed, you have to focus less on intent and more on result. Intent only matters as a matter of figuring out HOW something went wrong and how to potentially fix it. It does not matter when it is a question of “the result is not a problem because the intent was good”. No. The RESULT is what matters, regardless of whether the intention was good or not.

      1. Matt*

        I never said to focus on intent, I said to balance intent with consequences. We are talking about how humans interact with each other. Wars have been fought over responding to actions without considering intent. If the results of something is creating a problem, understanding the intent will help you solve the problem. Yes, ignoring or dismissing the impact of consequences because of intent also creates problems. What I’m saying is it’s a balancing act and you need both.

        1. Matt*

          “Too often, good intent is used as an excuse for the failed result.” I genuinely don’t really think this is true. I think most of the time it’s more of an issue of hindsight, vs actually believing “intentions” truly outweigh negative consequences. I would argue that most problems in our world are more of a result of acting on bad information vs using good intentions to actually justify the consequences of bad actions. You can even say this about progress. There are negative consequences to things that were thought of as progressive and socially just too.

          1. Lady Danbury*

            As a Black woman, I can confirm that intent absolutely does NOT matter when it comes to whether I feel safe, accepted, have equal opportunity, etc in the workplace. Is my boss excluding me from key assignments bc she naturally gravitates towards ppl who look like me or she’s outright racist? Is my coworker trying to touch my hair bc she thinks it’s so cool or bc she feels like she has ownership over my body?

            I really don’t care. I just know that I am uncomfortable, don’t have access to opportunities, etc. And the company’s initial reaction should be the same in either instance. The reaction of the person perpetuating the negative behavior will show whether they had good intentions or not, in the form of whether they accept that they were wrong and change their behavior.

  27. Minerva*

    In a company diversity event, I was surprised how much I found resonated when a young black engineer discussed choosing to dress more “business” than his white colleagues to better visually fit into the role. I remembered doing the same thing as a young woman in a very male workplace to read more “technical expert” and less “woman, probably admin”. It was a point of resonance I didnt expect, but should have.

    1. Batgirl*

      I do this “petite but not the intern” dressing too and had the same Aha! moment when a black colleague said he wore really overly formal outfits so he had something to walk home in that wouldn’t get him stopped by police. I had honestly thought he was just a razor sharp dresser with a real flair for it.

  28. cupohottea*

    For white people struggling with how not to center themselves in a racial justice conversation, I’d like to recommend following these two Instagram accounts (in addition to reading the book Allison recommended):


    They are both anti-racism educators. I’ve learned so much from these Black women. If you do follow, please do so with a “know-nothing” mind if you truly are ready to listen, learn, and grow. There is so, SO much to unlearn.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      If I may add another recommendation, I have been following Ally Henny on FB and have learned (and been trying to unlearn) a lot. (And no, I do not comment on there, I sit and listen.)

  29. PersephoneUnderground*

    Wow, I relate to this. I won’t presume to speak to the experience of women of color, simply to assume whatever they deal with is worse than my experience.

    I’m a woman in tech, and while I’m lucky to be in an extremely welcoming office as a whole I *still* overthink things that are cultural markers all the time. Are my rose gold headphones too pink for work? Should I use a gender-neutral GitHub handle (yes, I did)? And since the handle is neutral, I don’t have a picture either, just a logo. If I wear makeup or dangly earrings will I not be taken seriously? Oh no, am I laughing as punctuation on a call again?

    Now I mentally double or triple that to get some concept of what women POC in more typical offices may go through. Yikes.

    This post is meant in no way to center the conversation around me, but I actually want to redirect the thoughts well-meaning but perhaps clueless white commenters may be having in a similar vein. If you relate to this article that’s a great place to start, but now use it as a reference point to begin to understand and encourage you to listen to the much more serious and pervasive issues BIPOC face, rather than assuming it’s the same experience. It’s the difference between saying to someone with a broken leg “ow, I only sprained my ankle and that was awful, I can’t imagine how much worse a broken leg must be, how can I help?” (good) and “It’s not that bad, when I sprained my ankle it hurt a lot too.”(bad, minimizing)

    To make sure I respect Alison’s rule I won’t follow up here, so please don’t reply or start a thread on this comment because I want to be respectful of the people this is mostly about and leave them space to be heard.

  30. anon today*

    I have a very honest question that I am going to try to phrase the right way. I will preface by saying I am a white woman. I also grew up in a poor, pretty “white trash” area that had fairly distinct manners of speech and behaviors/mannerisms. My mom in particular grew up dirt poor, dropped out of high school, no ged, etc. So we are not exactly the picture of affluence here. My family is also half Italian and one step removed from getting off the boat, to paint a picture.

    Something that jumped out at me, and I fully admit that I may be missing the point here, is that to me there is a distinction between expecting total conformity to the white male etc. etc. norms and completely abandoning some type of societal expectations when it comes to behavior.

    By this I mean, it seems to me there is a difference between having dress codes inclusive of natural hair styles, for example and having an expectation that a person will say “ask” instead of “aks” in a professional setting. Of course natural hair styles should be permitted (and it makes me feel a little ill to use the word “permitted” As if people need permission to wear their own hair.) But it is really so wrong to expect people to speak clearly?

    Commenters fish and Middle Aged Lady touched on this a bit with overlapping conversation. (Not sure if I am able to tag them here so they see this?) fish says what to her is “talking” translates to “very rude” because of overlapping conversation and that she has to censor everything she says and thinks because her culture uses a different linguistic pattern. Middle Aged Lady expounded on this by saying she ran into a lot of trouble at her last job because of “overlapping, asking questions, not keeping secrets, refusing to kiss up, and not accepting their hierarchica sexistl BS.”

    Where I grew up I thought my manner of speech was perfectly normal. And it was, in the area. But when I went to college a couple hundred miles away, people had trouble understanding me. Many people I went to school with were much more affluent than myself, and I quickly learned that what was normal behavior in my neighborhood didn’t translate in my new surroundings. People found me abrasive and off putting. There were other differences I’m sure I don’t need to go into detail about.

    Over time, I assimilated. I didn’t have a Pygmalion moment or anything, but I both consciously and unconsciously altered the way that I speak. I became more measured and thoughtful about the way I behave. I absolutely altered my instinctive behaviors because they weren’t actually instinctive, they were learned, and it they didn’t fit with where my life was taking me. But its not oppressive. I don’t need to censor my every word and thought. But to some extent isn’t doing so part of being polite? We SHOULDN”T say everything we’re thinking. Middle Aged Lady mentioned “asking questions, not keeping secrets, refusing to kiss up” but all of these are behaviors which need to be placed into a context. “Not keeping secrets” can be a big deal if you’re expected to handle confidential information at work!

    I feel like I could try to go into the details of this for paragraphs but I don’t know if it would do any good.

    When I go home to visit my folks and see my old friends, I slip, more or less, right back to the old days. When I’m discussing a case with colleague at work, I would never dream of using the same behavior. Its not exhausting. I’m not longing to return into my “other” self. These are all parts of my one self and part of growing into the person I’ve become, including the professional that I now am, has very much included recognizing what people around me think of as being polite behavior and then, being polite.

    Does anyone understand where I’m coming from? Is there any way I should be trying to think about this that I can’t recognize?

    1. Dahlia*

      AAVE is not inherantly “unclear”. Would you say someone who’s French shouldn’t have an accent when they speak?

      1. Tussy*

        THIS! I can’t stand criticisms of AAVE along these lines. AAVE has a really clear internal grammar structure and is actually alot clearer at conveying concepts like time in relation to action than non-AAVE English.

    2. EchoGirl*

      having an expectation that a person will say “ask” instead of “aks” in a professional setting

      The problem here is the assumption that one is inherently more professional than the other. There are lots of situations in which words are pronounced differently by different people (for example, the word “sorry” is pronounced “SAHR-y” in some parts of the country and “SORE-y” in others) or where different words are used to mean the same thing (i.e. soda vs. pop) and that’s accepted as just regional linguistic variation where neither side is objectively right or wrong, they’re just different, but linguistic variations that are specifically associated with certain racial groups have earned the label of being wrong or sloppy or unprofessional.

      1. NeonFireworks*

        Yes! “Ask” and “aks” are both centuries old ways of pronouncing this word! It’s just that one has become associated with Black language in the U.S., so everyone is subjected to ideology that “aks” is less clear or less good. There are no bad dialects, linguistically.

        1. Batgirl*

          Certainly not, and honestly college is a great time for students with “standard” accents to learn how to open their ears a bit wider to others.

        2. EchoGirl*

          Yep. I think this one jumps out at me because I (a white person) have a regional accent that doesn’t match where I grew up (likely the influence of my parents, who were from a different part of the country) and nobody has ever really cared (or even noticed most of the time) that I talk in a way that’s “different”, but when my African-American friends speak in a way that differs from the “norm”, it’s seen as something that’s wrong and needs to be fixed.

        3. BrendanMorgan*

          I was reading about this and found that “ks” and “sk” flip around throughout history (see “tax” and “task”). My father was complaining about “aks” not being proper English until I reminded him that he “warshes” (washes). If adding or subtracting “R” is ok (pahk the cah) then flipping sk around is too.

    3. Tired of Covid-and People*

      The problem is that black people are denied opportunities, judged as less intelligent, and subject to all manner of indignities and disrespect because of their race/culture. Black people have to behave like white people so that hopefully their blackness will not be noticed.

      Class differences can seem similar, but they are not the same at all. I don’t think most white people will ever be able to understand what it is like to be black in America. So, we get the cluelessness and whataboutism that I’m seeing in this thread. Normal behaviors like jogging and sleeping in your own bed can be deadly if you are black.

      Full disclosure: I am solidly upper middle class with a degree from a top-tier university. I learned to code switch very early in my career. I definitely downplayed my preference for large earrings because of the dominant culture judging them as “ghetto”. After many decades in the workforce, I no longer played these games as my accomplishments spoke for themselves and white people’s discomfort became of little importance to me.

      I appreciate those who try to understand, but the best thing to do is just accept that when one of us is relaying our lived experience, it’s true. Whether you understand it or not.

      1. bunniferous*

        If I understand you correctly it’s more about whose norms are accepted-White norms or, for example African American norms. I grew up working class White and yes there are class differences BUT I would still have way more culturally in common with a white upper middle class person. I as a white person would not feel I was giving up who I was as a person by conforming to workplace norms but as so many on this thread are stating very eloquently that is NOT the case for a person not a member of the majority culture.

        The absolute hardest thing in the world to do it seems is to get a white person to admit that there are different but equally valid ways to see the world. (Yes, I know #notallwhitepeople but the vast majority of the ones I know sure are.)As frustrated as I get with my people on this point it in no way compares to what minority people have to deal with all day long. I have to admit I really don’t know how you do it. I truly don’t.

    4. bunniferous*

      See, the difference is you see it as part of your one self. This has nothing at all to do with the experience of a minority person in the majority culture. You and I, just by virtue of what we look like, get the benefits of belonging to majority culture. You and I, because of what we look like, get cut more slack at work, get unconsciously favored, and so on. I mean, I assume we both have names that are associated with majority culture and even that gives us benefits that we might not even recognize since we are so used to it. What we navigate in work culture is NOT THE SAME THING; and while it could be and would be a valid discussion at a different time, right now we need to hear from people who are dealing with something neither you nor I will ever have to face. It’s hard work to try to understand but we have to, and the way to do that is here what they are telling us and believe it at face value. That last part is particularly important.

    5. Blaise*

      As someone with a master’s degree in linguistics and who teaches linguistics to middle schoolers, here are the questions I ask my students on the first day of class:
      -Who decides what is the “right” way of speaking?
      -Why would these people do such a thing? What do they have to gain from this?

      Answer those questions, and you’ll have your answer.

    6. Managing In*

      I appreciate your question ‘Is there any way I should be trying to think about this that I can’t recognize?’ , let me take a stab at some things you could consider. These questions are all meant kindly and sincerely for genuine reflection.

      – When you say “Shouldn’t everyone be polite and professional?” you’re erasing the most important part of the process – Who gets to decide what’s considered professional? Why are they the ones who get to decide? What values did they use to decide?

      – Do you understand how having a regional accent is not comparable in depth, breadth, severity or intensity to being a racial or ethnic minority in a predominantly white institution? Do people with your regional accent make less on the dollar than people without it? Do people with your regional accent get passed over for professional advancement opportunities? Do people with your regional accent worry that when they need to see a doctor, they won’t get the care they need, and might even die because of it? Are people with your regional accent subjected to extreme police and state violence and incarcerated at disproportionate rates with disproportionately harsh sentences?

      – Why was your instinct to say, I’m looking at my own experiences and I don’t see the problem so I don’t think there is a problem, instead of, I don’t see a problem so what am I not seeing?

      – Did you read the rest of the comments here? Especially ones by people of color?

      1. EchoGirl*

        I would add that if certain regional accents ARE considered less professional, it’s usually BECAUSE the accent is associated with a racial/ethnic minority, even if some white people also speak with that accent. It’s sort of along the same lines as how things that are culturally coded as feminine are looked down upon even when men do them (not making a direct 1:1 comparison, just a point about society as a whole).

  31. Perspective of a Young Woman of Color*

    This thread has been super disappointing in the way that white people continue to center themselves. I generally find the commentariat here open and willing to learn so it is frustrating to see that is not the case this time.

    I understand the impulse to compare parts of your experiences to BIPOC experiences as a way to provide some understanding and empathy. However, when someone writes about their experience and tries to compare it the specific experiences of marginalized communities, it ends up derailing the conversation from the actual intended topic of racial justice. We end up spending more time discussing DnD and introverts vs extroverts instead of racial justice. I know the intent is not to divert the conversation from the topic but that is what is happening in reality. There may be some times where these types of conversational diversions can be helpful in providing understanding & empathy but I don’t believe this forum and this topic is the time or place for it.

    This is my perspective but if you truly are committed to racial justice and being an ally to marginalized communities, engaging in conversation like this does not engender trust especially when you are not close to the person.

    If I had a close white friend who did something like this, I would probably tell them but otherwise, I would not bother. There are white people who I work with who would ostensibly say they support racial justice efforts or an ally to communities of color but their actions don’t live it up to it. However, I would never tell someone that in a work setting because I don’t trust them and I don’t trust them to take appropriate action to fix it if I did tell them what they were doing wrong. I will do my best to get along with them and have a smooth working relationship to achieve our organization’s goals and to help my career grow especially with power dynamics I face being relatively early into my career. Think about if YOU may be that person to somebody else at work and what you can do to show that you genuinely care about racial justice. If I knew that a white person at work reacted like some of these comments, I would never want to discuss this topic with them.

    The thing is I know how to get along in “mainstream white culture” for lack of a better terminology but I know that white people do not know my own culture. I understand that white people do not know what it is like to be me and I do not fault them for that but an unwillingness to listen and learn. I know how to navigate primarily white workspaces and my first priority is to make sure that I thrive and grow my career not educating who don’t want to listen. I would never do it unless I had serious trust that they would listen and take it seriously.

    I hope the commentariat learns when it is time share their own stories and when it is not and recognize when they need to take a step back.

    1. Willis*

      Thanks for this comment. This post generated a lot of comments, but it would be interesting to see how many would be left if those that detracted from or re-centered the conversation were removed.

    2. Middle-aged woman of color*

      Thank you for writing this and wholeheartedly agree. Most people of color are working in places where their job is not HR or DEI. We are hired for the regular work of the org / company. We are here to do our work, not to educate white people on racial justice. (If we are willing to do that, you should pay us extra.)

      If you are white and you want to share your unsolicited thoughts on uprisings / riots / property damage / “better ways to protest” / police murders / DEI and the non-white coworker you are talking to isn’t paid for this conversation (they don’t work in DEI or HR) then I suggest you do not bring it up. If you assume this non-white coworker is a friend and thus it’s OK to talk to them about this, consider the fact that you are work friends and you still need to not bring it up. Why do you feel the need to discuss this with BIPOC at your work? Do you want a cookie? Do you want us to tell you that you’re a good person, that you’re not racist, that you’re a good ally? Are you going to get mad or punish us if we don’t tell you that?

      The workplace is not supposed to be your therapy space. For me personally the workplace also should not be a “let me learn how to deal with my white guilt and figure out how to be anti-racist” space, UNLESS it is a space that people have specifically opted-into. If I haven’t opted-in, you’ve just put me in a very uncomfortable position.

    3. Argh!*

      Excellent comment. Thank you.

      As a white person, my efforts as an ally are behind the scenes — I’ve worked with a lot of POC in the past, but now work in a 99% white environment. I have heard some truly ignorant stuff coming out of well-meaning mouths, and I try to (gently) educate people when I hear it. It’s not that difficult for white people to get up to speed on the important concepts if they really want to, so I often reference books, e.g., “I read that anti-racist book, and this is what the author meant by that…” so they “hear” the minority voice through my majority voice. People who believe that simply being ‘nice’ should be enough just don’t get it, and they need help from people who have gone through the journey as a white person who is clueless to one who has & continues to listen. Where I work (Midwest), being “nice” means being innocuous, and when I tell someone they’ve hurt me, they say “that was not my intent,” as if that erases the hurt. Being unintentional is just as mean as being intentionally mean. It’s thoughtless.

      I do reference other ways of being a minority — when talking to white people. I have a gay friend who questioned why it’s wrong to use the n-word when Black people use it. I was able to get through to him by reminding him it’s okay for him to use the f-word, but I would never use it. Or a left-handed person — they learn to handle everything from zippers to driving in a right-handed world. It’s not at all like being a POC, but if they are part of a majority in every way and have absolutely zero insight into others’ experiences, it’s a starting point.

  32. Philly Redhead*

    I would love to suggest this to our HR department. They have a Diversity and Inclusion Council, and make a few meaningless attempts at diversity and inclusion (one year, our internal calendar celebrated diversity through food), but the executive committee is nearly entirely white men.

    Now I just need to figure out how.

  33. WoodswomanWrites*

    Alison, I’m coming in late here but want to add my thank you for highlighting this important topic front and center on AAM. I’m looking forward to reading the interview.

  34. Finland*

    I’m a black woman, the only one in my office. I have to deal with people’s curiosity about race and their pontifications on their opinions. I just love when people walk to my cubicle and start blabbing about whatever thought comes to their heads about race (/sarcasm). I had one former coworker who was an IT guy (a white man) approach me yelling and asking my opinion of the Black Lives Matter movement. We weren’t even talking at the time and he just walked in my cubicle yelling like we were in the midst of an argument.

    I had an acquaintance (a white woman) say to me during a lull in a conversation, “I don’t believe racism exists anymore.“ We were likely talking about the weather or gardening. It was the most random sentence I had ever heard.

    And worse, there was someone (another white woman) I thought was a friend but every conversation devolved into an utterly exhausting endeavor to help this person see my point of view. I constantly had to correct, and re-correct, this person and over-explain why they didn’t quite get it (through their tears, hand-wringing and sob stories about racist family members) and then do it all over again, every single time.

    At this point, it’s become a process of elimination for people I’d consider associating with. Now, I permanently work from home thanks to Covid.

    1. Nope, not today*

      That sounds exhausting. I used to be in the cube next to a black coworker, she and I were good friends and every week after she’d get her hair done she’d have a parade of coworkers stop to mention it and ask a million questions about it. I found that exhausting and I was only hearing it all over a cubicle wall!

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      To these people, it’s an intellectual exercise or interesting debate topic. To us it’s our life.

      ‘I just wanted to ask your opinion’ results in ‘I really don’t have the energy to justify my existence to every curious person’ quite quickly in my experience.

      I’m not a zoo exhibit.

    3. Middle-aged woman of color*

      Ooof. That IT guy should have fired. White people love to randomly interject their racist thoughts, yea?

      It stinks you had to do all that emotional labor with the presumed-white-friend-with-her-sob-stories. Eliminating people you associate with (beyond of course the normal workplace interactions for work) – that part right there!

      When the white coup (Jan 6) happened I was so glad I was working from home away from my white co-workers and bosses. The boss still “reached out” to me, but it was great to not have to deal with all of their thoughts and tears about it in-person.

      1. Finland*

        He was was fired and good riddance! Although I think he might’ve had some sort of crush on me because he would just not leave me alone. Everyone was happy when he left.

        I’m at the point where I just leave when white people start crying about racism. I don’t wanna hear it anymore. I have tons of friends who are sensitive and treat me like a person, rather than their racism priest.

        1. Middle-aged woman of color*

          Hooray for the firing!! But ugh gross about the possible crush.

          “I’m at the point where I just leave when white people start crying about racism. I don’t wanna hear it anymore. I have tons of friends who are sensitive and treat me like a person, rather than their racism priest.” I need to write this down and remind myself of it everyday – or at least every work day. haha

  35. pleaset cheap rolls*

    “People who want potlucks can have potlucks and who want to wear more formal clothes can do that? why does the workplace have to promote one or the other as opposed to promoting the idea that different people can do things differently.”

    These are reasonable questions but much of the response to Fish’s comment about being Jewish in the midwest is a distraction from the topics inclusion/exclusion/power related to culture, ethniciticy and race. This isn’t about the details but that bigger issue.

    And people jumping up and saying they talk like that, or not, for reasons related to the themselves as indivudals rather them as larger ethnic groups are missing the point. You’re distracting.

  36. Constant Reader*

    I’m a Black woman working in higher education in a DEI role. I sincerely want to thank Alison for highlighting Michelle’s work and so diligently moderating the comments here. While none of what I’m seeing from some of the commentariat here is shocking, it always hurts a bit every time it happens. No increase in exposure to this sort of work mitigates that hurt. I read this site every day but I was compelled to comment on this because this is so, so important to me. Thank you!

  37. Nope, not today*

    Same for me – Jewish family company. We get off Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Good Friday was scrapped and changed to a floating holiday a number of years ago thankfully. We work very closely with another Jewish organization, and they are of course off for Jewish holidays but not Christmas ones… which can make getting info back and forth between us tricky at times!

  38. Anonya*

    Wow, the comments on this thread are so disappointing. If you’re trying to equate racial injustice to … literally anything else, please do everyone a favor and take the time to listen and learn. I really thought the commenters on this site would be better than this. I am very interested in reading this book, so thank you for featuring it, Alison.

  39. His Grace*

    As a soon to be 40 year old black man in America (native born) who has a first name deemed “ethnic”, I can speak first hand that a lot of corporate America has paid lip service to issues of surrounding diversity and inclusion. This isn’t merely one or two companies or industries. It’s across the board. In fact, I remember a letter here a few months ago from someone whose husband had received a letter from a former employer to sit and do a focus group regarding diversity in the workplace. The husband had been subject to vile remarks from a supervisor regarding black people and an overall toxic and hostile work environment, forcing him to leave with a settlement and having him sign a non-disclosure agreement.
    In any event, there are certain things that companies can and must do to address this. It starts with the mission statement. Is it committed, fully and genuinely, to inclusion? Are we hiring people from all walks of life, especially as we move up the ranks of the organization chart? Are we committed to advancing the careers of people based on talent and merit, and not simply because they look a certain way? And from white, able-bodied employees and peers, are you prepared to have and more important, prepared to accept and support, people who don’t look like you in positions of authority? Think about that question. From people who are ethnic minorities, women, LGBTQ, over 50, and/or with a physical disability, when you go in to an interview, look around and ask how many people are there who look like you. Ask HR how committed they are to an inclusive, diverse workplace. Ask that from your potential boss as well.

  40. Ermeli*

    Hi Allison,
    Thank you for sharing this excerpt of Michelle’s book. My question for you is: how do we deal with ingrained racism and misogyny in a BIPOC-led org? It seems to me that the conversation about race and gender is usually centered around white and western-led spaces, but I can’t find much about exclusion, racism and discrimination among BIPOC people.
    I work for a small but well-known INGO based in South East Asia. It was founded and led by Global South people. Our current boss is Indian and she has been in that role for more than a decade. Except for one colleague (white man from Europe), all of us are from the Global South. I’m white-passing but Latina (I know this can be confusing because many people think Latinxs are all brown, black or indigenous but surprise!).
    Ever since I’ve joined the organization, I’ve seen countless examples of ingrained racism and discrimination within our team. The only white man is, of course, the favorite child. Even among staff with similarly ranked positions, I’ve seen how my boss treats me differently from other South Asian colleagues. For example, one day she snapped at our Thai admin in front of me and another colleague, and later that day she called me in to explain why she had snapped at her and how she realized it was wrong of her to do that. She didn’t call our other colleague in to explain this. My colleague, who is also Indian, thinks our boss didn’t feel the need to justify her actions in front of her because in India it’s very common for bosses and supervisors to raise their voice at others.
    We talk a lot about how Global North people feel more confident when speaking up and stating what they think, and how we as women from the Global South are constantly apologizing, smiling and softening our speech. Despite these conversations, what our white colleague says is always heard and taken into consideration, and what we say is usually ignored and/or misinterpreted.
    One of our South Asian colleagues was labeled as a person that “takes feedback personally” and “doesn’t push herself”, when in fact she was pretty much harassed by her supervisor about a piece of writing that wasn’t “up to the standard”. She was told her paper was “disappointing”. When she talked to her supervisor about what kind of feedback comments were useful and what comments were not, she was seen as problematic and was targeted to the point she decided to leave the org. She was also targeted for sharing that she was feeling unwell and needed professional help (counseling).
    So, yeah, it’s quite bad. My colleagues and I think a lot of the toxicity in our work environment has to do with ingrained racism and misogyny. But how can you tell your boss that she’s racist and the work environment is super toxic?

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