I reported my boss’s boss for racism and now feel guilty

A reader writes:

I work for a marketing organization where all the top leaders are white..

My supervisor and I recently hired three well-qualified employees, who all happened to be Black. Shortly after the first two started, I received an impromptu phone call from my supervisor’s supervisor, Tammy. Tammy said she did not believe these two new employees were well-qualified or would work out long term. This was directly after one of the employees said in a meeting that he noticed that he didn’t see any other Black men in leadership in the organization. (Note: This comment was relevant and delivered professionally at an organization that says it’s all about everyone being heard.)

Then I hired Rachel, who would report directly to me. I was overjoyed to hire her because she hit every assignment out of the park. Rachel was also exceptionally well qualified on paper, with perfect references. Rachel was also the first Black employee in this role since the program started in 2012. She has gotten good feedback already from all of the external organizations and people we work with.

During Rachel’s first internal meeting with other staff, she talked about her background and said she was studying to become a X (specific job title). Tammy called me immediately after and said: “I just wanted to talk to you about Rachel. There’s no way she has the qualifications she says she has. She said she’s a X already? There’s no way … I’m just trying to protect you here.” I was shaking at this point; I did not see this coming (maybe that was naive). I told Tammy I was shocked to hear that she felt that way and told her there must have been some miscommunication. Then Tammy sent out an email to all managers saying she now wants final approval on all new hires.

I told my supervisor, and together we reported this to HR. HR set up a conflict resolution type meeting with Tammy and me where Tammy said, “I’ve taken all the DEI training I can take, I’ve read White Fragility, but it seems like you’ve made up your mind that I’m a racist. I’m also concerned about the performance of white employees like [random white coworker], so I don’t see how this could be racism … You accusing me of this is changing my whole self-image.” I was confused about why this was being treated as a personality clash. I have nothing against Tammy; I am just concerned about the pattern of saying our Black employees aren’t qualified.

After the unproductive meeting with HR, my supervisor and I brought this to our executive director, who asked us to make written statements about what happened. Once I sent that in, the organization hired an outside law firm to investigate. I have an interview with them on Wednesday. I think Rachel also filed with the EO office. I also reported this to a membership agency that our organization belongs to.

I don’t want to hurt Tammy (my supervisor’s supervisor), who has been a mentor to me (maybe because I’m another white woman). (And she hasn’t spoken to me since she found out I reported her when she used to call me all the time and even ask my advice about the organizational culture.) But I also know that this felt like racism or, at the very least, inappropriate scrutinizing of new employees in my gut. I don’t want anyone to have their qualifications questioned inappropriately; how awful for that to be your welcome to a new organization. And it completely goes against our values and “commitment to equity.”

But I’m wrestling with this question: Was it appropriate to report this to HR as possible bullying or racial discrimination? Or was it overkill?

It was 100% appropriate. When you notice a pattern of Black employees being scrutinized in a way white employees aren’t, or their qualifications questioned in a way other people’s aren’t, that’s absolutely something you should flag to someone who’s in a position to examine it and act on it. Your organization can’t claim to have a commitment to equity if it doesn’t embrace taking a closer look at patterns like that.

As for Tammy … it doesn’t sound like her DEI training or reading has gotten through to her. “You accusing me of this is changing my whole self-image (and therefore you are wrong)” — and her stronger concern for her own image than the actual experience of Black people in your organization — is the epitome of the white fragility she claims to have educated herself about.  And her refusal to consider that she might have some unconscious bias playing out is exactly the defensive response that prevents organizations from making meaningful progress in combatting racism on their teams. Unconscious bias shows up in well-meaning people all the time, and you can’t counter if it you don’t first accept that we can all have biases no matter how well-intentioned we are. That reality doesn’t make someone a bad person; it’s what you do or don’t do with that understanding that matters. Tammy seems to have missed that super basic, foundational plank in her DEI training.

The right response from Tammy would have been, “Thanks for pointing this out and let’s take a closer look at what’s happening.”

So yes, you were right to report it. You needed to, in fact. Don’t let Tammy’s defensive response shake your confidence in that.

Read an update to this letter

{ 388 comments… read them below }

  1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    All the stuff in OP’s last paragraph is a screaming whoop-whoop-whoop red alert to me. This seems like a place with a lot of naive/clueless/bullheaded people that have no respect for other peoples’ privacy, boundaries, or feelings.

    1. Jean*

      Seriously. This whole organization needs intensive training on How Not To Be Awful.

    2. Casper Lives*

      Yes, it signals there’s a lot of institutional issues at this org rather than “just Tammy.” Which would be an issue on its own as she’s a higher up in the org. But the last paragraph shows a culture of jerks permeates throughout the org.

    3. Siege*

      They sound like awful people to be around. I’m sure they’re very nice and “well-meaning”, but I really doubt they’re good people, if they’re interacting with OP like she has Magical Gay Tea Leaves that can tell them if they need to put their kid into finishing school to make sure she’s girly enough.

      1. FrenchCusser*

        Oh, gosh, yes – having grown up in the South I’m well acquainted with perfectly nice and generous people having attitudes and supporting institutions that are profoundly evil.

        It’s a lifelong quest to be a good ally, and that means listening to your allies and taking to heart the lessons when you get it wrong (and you will sometimes get it wrong).

        That said, it’s not my allies job to educate me – I’m responsible for doing that myself. Don’t be a Becky.

          1. Nomic*

            It’s the “banality of evil”…the casual assumed racism that infuses many companies (and NOT just those in the South either, stop that). It’s all the people that probably let Tammy’s comments slide rather than take action to curb the casual racism.

          2. Siege*

            Really? What’s not evil about racism? I realize it’s not evil in the religious sense, but if evil doesn’t start with treating people like things that you can pick and choose to match your decor, or hurt and harm for reasons that are a problem with you, what is it? I think treating people like they’re not people at all is evil.

    4. M_Lynn*

      I wonder if the discomfort the OP is feeling about reporting Tammy when letting things slide is that she’s applying the same lens when calculating “how bad” this harm is. I get why she made different calculations in not reporting her own experiences with harassment/bias/bigotry, and that’s 100% valid, but it’s different when you’re a manager of the person being targeted. As Rachel’s boss, the OP’s duty is to protect her so a different kind of calculation is needed. If after seeing the results of this experience, the OP wants to re-evaluate her responses when she’s the one facing harassment/microaggressions, etc, that’s great! Or she doesn’t need to change anything. But I hope she doesn’t feel discomfort when having to use her power to advocate for and protect her staff. That’s the responsibility of being manager-there’s no “letting things slide” unless explicitly asked for by the target of the harassment.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      I know, right?! My chin dropped closer and closer to the floor with every sentence.

      1. SixTigers*

        “There’s no way that person is qualified — just look at that skin tone!”

        Do WHAT?? I — but — okay, I know that bigots still walk the earth, and they’re amongst us, but I just kept gaping at each new enormity.

        1. Medusa*

          “My brother has this qualification so it’s impossible that this person has this qualification, because she’s Black”. Boy, is this an all-too familiar story for me.

        2. Wilbur*

          “I don’t understand what you mean, can you please elaborate?”

          Then watch them dig a deeper and deeper hole.

    6. Midwestern Scientist*

      Honestly there’s only so far I can go with “well meaning but clueless/naive” as an excuse and most of this is over the line for me, especially in an organization that claims to have DEI training. Tammy is so far over the line the line isn’t in view!

      1. Siege*

        Well-meaning is an excuse someone can choose to accept or not, but we should strive to keep up with developments in the world. I do think people can mean well and do harm by accident – I sure have – but I also think an awful lot of folks take cover under “I meant well!” when in fact they didn’t. Tammy didn’t mean well, whether she’s willing to admit that to herself or not.

        1. Your local password resetter*

          Yeah, people like to think they mean well. Otherwise they (or their friend/colleague/family member) would be a bad person! And they’re obviously not, so it’s all a misunderstanding and nobody is to blame. And therefore nobody needs to change right?

          1. Ally McBeal*

            This. I came across some framing recently that has been really helpful for me specifically (having been raised among mostly politically conservative evangelical Christians): We are taught growing up that “racism=bad” so if someone says we are being racist, our knee-jerk reaction is “I’m not a bad person so I can’t possibly be racist.” Which then explains the outsized reaction to being told that our behavior is crappy.

            1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

              There’s a whole issue w/ ethics and language there.
              You should teach your kids that it’s ok to say “I hate it when Lucinda does X”, but not to say “I hate Lucinda.”
              Similary, “Joe, that’s a racist thing to say” vs “Joe, you’re a racist.”

              Focus on the discrete act (or in religious terms, the sin), which is fixable, not the identity of the person who committed the act.

              1. Lenora Rose*

                Saying “This thing you said comes across as racist” helps with SOME people, but the Tammys of the world immediately jump to “You said I’m racist!” no matter how gently you bring it up, and it’s very rare that they change their attitude about the accusation, no matter how kindly you strive to reiterate “I said you did a racist thing, possibly because nobody told you it was, which I thought you, as a non racist person, would want to know”.

            2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Yes. Everyone’s heard people saying “I’m not racist but”, and that’s because they’ve taken on board that racism is wrong, and of course in principle they may believe in equal opportunities for all. But then when we get down to the nitty-gritty, the racism blares right through.
              Like, people will say that domestic violence is not OK at all, but when faced with an actual woman suffering from it, they’ll point out every single fault of hers, as if not being perfect was a justification for DV. Recent high-profile court cases have proved this perfectly.

        2. Clorinda*

          Just because someone is surface-polite and would never use the n-word or other slurs out loud doesn’t actually make them well-meaning. Tammy doesn’t sound all that well-meaning to me; she sounds like a person who is very comfortable with the way things are, and would be quite happy for her company to continue to be an all-white space.

          1. Siege*

            But she’s also not willing to admit that she doesn’t mean well. I didn’t excuse her behavior, I said she’s standing there saying she’s a good person who means well so how can OP call her racist acts racist. Well, mostly because she sure looks racist from here, and the rest of the company sounds not much better. Seriously, who asks whether a certain shoe means their kid is gay? But I’m sure they all think they’re great people who mean well.

        3. ferrina*

          If someone truly means well, then they want to do well. And if they aren’t doing well, then they grow and change until the impact of their actions aligns with their intent.

          If someone claims “good intentions” but isn’t willing to change and apologize for unintended consequences of their action, then the intentions aren’t actually good because they don’t care if the outcome is good (or rather, don’t care enough to risk their own comfort).

        4. Migraine Month*

          Intentions are a red herring. I don’t care what you meant to do, what you actually did is completely unacceptable and it did real harm. If you didn’t mean to do that, great, do the work and never do it again.

          1. Lucy Skywalker*

            “If you didn’t mean to do that, great, do the work and never do it again.”

            Exactly. And that’s something that everyone needs to remember.

    7. Looby_Lou*

      Call me an old fashioned boomer but if someone called me up and told me I had made a mistake in my hiring decisions I’d tell them to take a long walk off a short pier.

      Someone who calls to complain that Rachael has not done something and the deadline was yesterday has valid point but I am not listening to Rachel’s dreams of being X might be pie in the sky.

      1. Batgirl*

        I think OP needs to let themselves off the hook for caring about Rachel’s feelings quite so much. Does Rachel get paid to have a lot of feelings out loud instead of doing her job? Because she seems to think she does. Instead of emoting, inferring and making assumptions, she should learn how to communicate facts and bottom lines. If she’s upset she was called a racist, then she needs to cry about her feelings on her own time. At work, she needs to look carefully at just how concerning her behavior is, and how much she fucked up.

  2. Lacey*

    Ugh, this does sound like some pretty overt racism from Tammy.
    It does suck when people you know and like turn out to be racist, but you absolutely did the right thing.

    1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      Yes. And white women (I am one myself) need to call this shit out to our fellow white women. So let go of the guilt OP. You 100% did the right thing. And Tammy, instead of doing the right thing and being like “oh shit, yes I was being racist” and examining her bias, did what all racists do and double down on how that couldn’t possibly be racist (I’m actually surprised she didn’t pull the “I have black friends” card)

      I also hope you’ve made it clear to Rachel that she is amazing and you truly value her work.

      1. LTR FTW*

        99% of the time, when you call out racism, the person being called out lets you know in no uncertain terms that the only thing worse than racism is being called a racist.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          And the proper response to that is, “You will never, EVER be affected by being called a racist the same way people will be affected by your racism.”


        2. Zennish*

          This. Maybe if bringing up a pattern of potentially racist behavior causes you to question your entire self image… it’s because you need to?

            1. Medusa*

              She either will make the connection or will double down that she’s not racist while becoming increasingly racist until she dies.

            1. Very Social*

              This time with her brain, not just her eyes (or her ears, if she read an audiobook).

        3. The Rules are Made Up*

          And nobody thinks they’re racist. Even back in the 50s there were people (like gossip columnist Hedda Hopper) who were staunchly against integration but swore they weren’t racist and in fact had at least 1 Black person that they thought were neat. They weren’t racist they just didn’t think the races should be mixing that’s all! So basically, it does not matter one lick that a racists self image is being damaged. It’s not required for them to agree with the assessment for it to be true.

        4. Erin*

          “noun-ing” racism is a major tell in itself – if I hear someone say “I’m not a racist”, I immediately suspect that they are, in fact, somewhat racist.

          It’s not a box to tick on the census. You don’t make a single choice to tick that box, and say either “I am A Racist, and I kick puppies” or “I am not A Racist, and I am a basically decent human”. You can 100% have ticked “Not A Racist” and then… be marginally more likely to click headlines that have the word “Muslim” in, or assume non-native English speakers are less intelligent, or judge a scruffy black office worker more severely than you would me (a scruffy white office worker) or or or…

      2. Malarkey01*

        And it sucks to be called racist when you feel like you aren’t, but having someone directly point out to me that something I said was racist was incredibly eye opening. It was a product of unconscious bias and institutional racism and my first INTERNAL reaction was “but I’m not racist, I’m a huge ally, I’m accepting, and I’m a ‘good person’”. Taking a beat and realizing that all that could be true and I could still be guilty of being or acting racist was one of the most profound learning experiences of my life.

        Realizing that you can do something racist, own it, apologize, make amends, and grow is important work we all need to do because it is so deeply ingrained in our culture.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I feel like one of the biggest lies white people are stuck in is the belief that there are two separate and distinct categories of “racists” and “good people.” The truth of the matter is that human beings are messy and we all have a mixture of good and bad impulses and beliefs and that some of us will tend more toward one side or the other at various points in our lives. I don’t know how to get my fellow white people to understand that “you said a thing that was racist” isn’t the same sentence as “you are a bad person who can never be redeemed.”

          1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

            Agreed. If you are white, you’ve likely been racist at some point. Perhaps unintentionally, but own it, learn from it, and do better. Doubling down on how not racist you are is going the opposite way.

            And I’m trying to get my fellow white women to understand, but they are all complaining about gas prices. That is what will base how they vote (which is factually misguided, sigh) and they fail to see they’ll be ensuring BIPOC, LGBTQ, women’s rights, and gun responsibility will be the casualties to their fight for cheap gas.

        2. El Muneco*

          Racism and bigotry are not the same thing. Racism is institutional, and centers on differential impact in power relations.

          I am a 50-something cishet white male who has something like 90% of the privilege classes it’s possible to have. I was fortunate to have good parenting and exposure to diverse situations from an early age, and I’m fairly confident that I’m less bigoted than the average dude my age who grew up on problematic 80s comedies.

          However. As a manager, who implements policy as part of my company’s power structure, I am always aware of the possibility of inadvertent, or even default, racism or sexism in my actions. It is quite possible for me to be racist without even realizing it, and certainly without intention.

      3. Jennifer Schmidt*

        The new White Lady version of the “I have Black friends” card is “I read White Fragility”

        1. Clorinda*

          The irony of “White Fragility” becoming a signifier of white fragility is really something.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Maybe she read it as being a justification for being white and fragile? OK that’s what I am, deal with it?
            (haven’t read it myself tbh)

      4. quill*

        Yeah, OP: two of the many things that you are experiencing are 1) disappointment that a former mentor does not share your values, and 2) being suddenly shunted out of Tammy’s mental in-group. Both are naturally stressful, but they’re not indications that you’re in the wrong.

  3. Warrior Princess Xena*

    If your first response is “I’ve read X or seen Y, I can’t possibly be doing Z” instead of “huh – I didn’t think my pattern came across as Z, let me take a look at what I was doing and see if I should self-correct or if I can pass on additional relevant information” then you can set aside any worries that your report was inappropriate. It’s people’s actions that count, not their training and reading materials.

    1. Sillysaurus*

      Yeah Tammy was basically like, “how can I be racist? I’ve read a book by a Black person!”

        1. Sillysaurus*

          Oh wow, I was giving Tammy way too much credit. I knew White Fragility was not considered a good resource on anti-racism but I’d forgotten the specifics. Yikes.

          1. SaffyTaffy*

            @Sillysaurus, what’s considered wrong with White Fragility? I found that book really helpful, I’ll be so bummed if it’s not considered a good resource anymore. I tried googling about negative feedback but evertything I found is, you know, racist.

            1. As per Elaine*

              The critique I’ve heard is that it’s a white woman saying things that Black people have known for a long time and getting credit/respect/income from it. I don’t think I have heard anyone say that it’s a bad resource, but it’s not the be-all and end-all resource.

          2. New Jack Karyn*

            I don’t know that it’s a terrible resource, but I get the sense that it’s like Fisher-Price: My First Anti-Racism Book.

            1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

              Nod. Like people don’t seem to note that things you don’t know about don’t mean they’re easy. There’s years of scholarship and work BECAUSE this stuff is complex

            2. Anon for this*

              POC here, and that is a great way to describe it in my opinion. I kept hearing about how great it was and how it changed people’s whole worldview (usually when they read it as part of some kind of reading group or book club), so I read it. I kept waiting, and by then end I was super frustrated. I spent the entire time thinking “seriously, y’all don’t know this?!?” I didn’t hate the book, but I was tangibly depressed for days after realizing that multiple people who I considered to be extremely educated and worldly (many of whom were actively involved in DEI work) felt enlightened by it.

              1. RuralGirl*

                I am a white woman (for context) and I felt the same way. White women who told me they rethought their lives shocked me. It made me rethink people I thought I knew. It’s not that I hated the book, but I hated people’s response to it. The best response, in my opinion, should be, “I see how we need to do better. What should I read next?”

                1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

                  Same. I (a yt woman) bought it, started reading with a pen and highlighter in hand (as I do for most books). I made it to maybe the first chapter before I tossed it aside. I was dismayed at how many friends thought it was the be all and even all. Like, REALLY dismayed.

                  Then I thanked the universe for working in a racially and socioeconomicly diverse school. I don’t know all the things, but anyone who uses that book changes to defend themselves is not okay.

                2. Anonomatopoeia*

                  A former administrator to whom my boss’s boss reported had us all read/watch a film about White Fragility. This administrator was queer and BIPOC and thought we all would get a lot out of it.

                  I attended and participated, and like you came away going, what the hell how do we all need this extremely remedial information, but I imagine it’s telling that they thought we collectively would.

                  (My current extremely passive definitely-least-I-can-do approach to quietly learning more things about people who do not check the same demographic boxes as me (and are not white men, because I don’t have any trouble finding content by and about white men) is that I have Audible pretty well trained to suggest materials in my preferred fiction genres that are both by and about queer and/or BIPOC characters. This has been a much more effective way for me to come to understand things about, as a recent example, complex feelings about being Muslim in North America, than any workshop (but I would totally attend workshops too, course. Again, least we can do), and I expect that in some ways it mimics what happens when people grow up in very diverse places and Just Know stuff that I, a person who grew up in a very white, fairly conservative, environment do not.)

                3. Midwestern Scientist*

                  In my experience (as a late 20s white woman in the midwest), responses to White Fragility were pretty generational. I too read it as part of a book club and the folks around my age (under 35ish) were pretty underwhelmed (very remedial info) but folks my parents age/older (50s and up) acted like it was all new information and we had some pretty intense conversations brought about by their new looks at situations.

              2. SQL Coder Cat*

                Coming in to second Anonomatopoeia that as a white woman, I get a lot of mileage out of seeking out books by diverse authors. I’d also like to call out the many great resources provided by the Well Read Black Girl community (just google Well Read Black Girl) for finding new material.

              3. quill*

                The degree to which you realize “we really need to boil it down this far to reach everyone” whenever you read about anything you’ve personally experienced is a huge letdown, for sure.

                (White, but I’ve had a similar experience with ‘how not to be an asshole to queer people 101’ type resources. And facts about my field of study, etc.)

            3. NNN222*

              Yes. It might not be a bad starting point but it definitely can’t be the thing you hold up as proof that you’ve done the work and saying “But I read White Fragility!” as proof of why you can’t be racist is such a display of white fragility.

              1. OtterB*

                This. I read it a couple of years ago and found it helpful because it assembled pieces I knew into an overall picture that I hadn’t seen. But it’s a starting point, not an ending point. IMO its major flaw is centering the experience of white people (like me) when one of the tasks of the work is to learn to stop centering that experience. That helps make it a useful start for people who need to be led into the topic by starting with a perspective like their own, and less useful for people who, for whatever reason, don’t need that.

                1. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

                  YES YES YES, that is exactly how I felt about it. I was really icked by the centring of white experience (another white woman here, pushing 50 and with a 73yo girlfriend who felt the same – but she was involved in the counterculture in the 70s so, again, learned a lot of this stuff a long time ago.)

            4. amethyst*

              I mean, but some people need that though. It’s day one on someone’s anti-racist journey every day. They don’t immediately have to jump into Black Sexual Politics or some such.

            5. SaffyTaffy*

              I guess I’m just surprised that people are surprised we (white folks) need to start at such a basic level. If we weren’t this coddled by privilege and uneducated, we wouldn’t be having these problems in the first place.

            6. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Let’s not disparage it, if it gets people thinking. I learned a long time ago to always start where people are at, even if it seems like they’re really backward. Judging them for not being as woke as you, just doesn’t help them move forward and is more likely to make them dig their heels in.
              The fact that it’s a white person simply helps them to relate more. It’s not Blacks exaggerating, this non-Black is confirming the facts.

              It’s like getting your husband to tell the doctor that you don’t want X procedure during childbirth. The woman says it, the staff will think her head is messed up with hormones and anyway, she’s only a silly woman, but if her husband speaks up, it’s “yes sir”.

              1. GythaOgden*

                Wintermute (themselves BIPOC) had a good post on this many moons ago. They are an awesome poster with many nuanced opinions on social justice — search the site for their name and you’ll find hundreds of well-argued posts.

          3. louvella*

            The author has been criticized for making tons of money off writing and speaking about anti-racism as a white woman, when there are plenty of non-white people doing very similar things.

      1. Ann Perkins Knope*

        Which White Fragility is not – so we do not know that she has, actually, read a book by a black person.

        Also she’s “taken all the DEI she can take” appears to be more like “I can’t take it anymore! I’m sick of this shit!” not, as I think she was attempting to imply “I have acquired all knowledge it is possible to acquire on DEIJ principles”

        1. Ell*

          Yes! In my experience, the people who are really trying to address their biases and incorporating DEI principles into practice at work would never ever ever say or imply they’re “done” with educating themselves and improving. I mean, what even is that? That alone demonstrates she hasn’t really taken onboard the stuff she’s supposed to have learned.

          The correct response from Tammy would’ve been to at the very very least say “I really need to sit on this and consider how unconscious bias might’ve played a role in my behavior, can we have this conversation in a few days?” And then followed up by actual reflection and thoughtfulness. Her defensiveness is the most fragile white person crap ever.

          1. SeluciaMD*

            You know, even if she’d responded this badly in the moment but come back later after she’d had a chance to get over her defensiveness and indignation and sit with what she’d been told and said “I see what you are saying and I don’t know why I felt that way but I’m going to work on it” I’d be OK with it. We don’t always respond perfectly in the moment, particularly when we feel attacked or like someone is saying we’re a bad person. I’m willing to give some grace for that. But Tammy does not seem to have one ounce of doubt that she is not, in any way, a racist despite all evidence to the contrary. So screw her.

            OP you absolutely, positively did the right thing. It’s hard realizing that someone you liked is not who you thought they were but you can’t let your fear of confronting that keep you from doing your job as a human ally and as a manager – and you didn’t. And that is something you should feel GOOD about.

          2. Nightengale*

            Yes in health care that is why we used to talk about “cultural competency” and then it moved into “cultural humility” because competency sounded like a person could become competent once and for all. Which isn’t how it works. At all. I give talks on cultural considerations and DEI in my field. And I am making mistakes and learning all the time. The people I know in the field who are the most informed are the first to describe the work as a constant learning and self-reflective process.

            1. SeluciaMD*

              I love the framing of “cultural humility.” I’d not yet heard that term (where I am it’s still all cultural competency) but that framing is so problematic for all the reasons you articulated! I’m going to share this idea with my org and suggest that we start shifting our language. I’m going to suggest it to my partners at the Health Department too!

            2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              well yes, this is true of all subjects. You take Knowledge 101, you learn heaps, you think you know tons. But experts in that field will be full of doubts as to whether even the basics are actually completely valid and will start any answer to any question with “I don’t know. What we have seen is that..”.

        2. Observer*

          Also she’s “taken all the DEI she can take” appears to be more like “I can’t take it anymore! I’m sick of this shit!”

          Yeah, that’s how it came across to me, too.

        3. RuralGirl*

          The number of white colleagues who conspiratorially tell me they’re going to skip a DEI workshop because “it doesn’t apply” to them, is exhausting. I am white, but I am not a sister in arms with people who aren’t willing to self reflect. Just because DEI work is exhausting doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. It’s exhausting for minorities that it needs to be done at all. They are exhausted every day. The least, the absolute least, we can do as white people is show up to the workshops and try to get something out of it.

          1. Rolly*

            Saying “it doesn’t apply” is absurd.

            Saying “I’m tired of it, am too busy, and frankly can’t deal” is at least honest.

            Those two are not the same.

            Though someone saying the latter should just STFU and take it if called out for racism. If they don’t do the work, they have not right to push back.

            1. GammaGirl1908*

              Also, “it doesn’t apply” is likely part of the loop of “but I’m a good person, so clearly I’m not racist.” It DOES apply, even if you are also a generally decent human.

              1. BubbleTea*

                “It doesn’t apply to me because I don’t know any black people” is another possible, even worse interpretation.

                I once had someone tell me there was no racism in South Korea because there weren’t any foreign people. I raised an eyebrow. The person in question was a pre-teen (from South Korea but in the UK for a couple of years for parents’ work) so I gave them a pass on lack of experience and knowledge, but I highly doubt it’s true.

        4. Le Sigh*

          Yeah, her comments have a real checklist vibe, as though Tammy views this as a to-do list to not be called a racist. Note — not how to not be racist, or how to be anti-racist, just a checklist to avoid getting called a racist.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yes, exactly what Xena said here. I don’t know if it’s always that case that someone accused of racism who reacts this way is definitely racist, but it sure seems like a pattern.

    3. Not that other person you didn't like*

      Yes. Bluntly, it doesn’t matter what her intent was or if she was clueless or well meaning or whatever… She got called on it and doubled down. I don’t have to know what’s in someone’s secret heart to judge their behavior.

  4. Chilipepper Attitude*

    OP, if you need it, I am one internet stranger who is applauding you! Thank you so much for reporting this!

    There might have been some tiny miscommunication in this pattern of challenging black employees surrounding that claim Rachel never made to already be an X, but Tammy’s response is exactly as Alison said, Tammy is proving the point about white fragility in her own behavior. If there was a miscommunication, she could have asked what you mean and been open to hearing it.

    Kudos to you!

    1. OrigCassandra*

      Another internet stranger grateful to you for doing what you did.

      It’s not clear to me what jolts the Tammys of this world out of their racism — indeed, if anything can reliably do so — but I’m quite willing to say it’s vastly less likely to happen if they’re never once called on it.

      1. Project Management Princess*

        Third in line of gratefulness.

        Tammy sounds so self-absorbed and unwilling to take a look at herself. Just her comment of taking all the DEI trainings and having to change her self image grants a thorough revision of her behavior. Someone willing to combat their bias would take this as an opportunity to review their own attitude and actions, not as an attack.

        OP, great call on raising your hand about this, as a manager it fully is your job to take a hard look at these situations.

        As for the rest of the inquiries about queerness… It’s completely your prerogative answering or not. You are not their mother, teacher nor the community’s spokesperson about all things queer. Your coworkers are adults with agency to google their questions and get to their own conclusions. The onus it’s on them to educate themselves. If you feel like engaging, go ahead, but don’t feel bad/guilty if you don’t have the will.

    2. Sarah*

      Allllllllll the internet stranger applause!

      Also, as another queer person, I get the dynamic of “I put up with shit for me, but I won’t do it for my direct reports.” Sometimes it’s just easier to stand up for someone else. Know that what they’ve been doing to you isn’t OK, either.

  5. The Original K.*

    “You accusing me of this is changing my whole self-image (and therefore you are wrong)” — and her stronger concern for her own image than the actual experience of Black people in your organization — is the epitome of the white fragility she claims to have educated herself about.

    Couldn’t have said it better – this is textbook white fragility. Stand firm, OP. Based on the other things you’ve let slide (and I’m not saying you were wrong to do so – it’s exhausting being the only Other, and thus the default Other advice line, at a place), it sounds like some of the staff has some work to do too, not just Tammy.

    Also, Tammy’s response sounds like she did the trainings and read the books as a perfunctory gesture, not because she’s genuinely committed to equity. It comes off like “What? I did all the stuff, what else do you want?”

    1. Velawciraptor*

      The reaction is also a textbook manipulation tactic: Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender (or DARVO). Her entire approach is designed to put LW on the defensive and make her think there’s something wrong with having reported this behavior (as she is now), rather than keeping the focus on Tammy’s unacceptable behavior.

      LW, you’re doing all of the right things. Just because she’s trying to manipulate you into believing otherwise doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Wtf does that mean?
      “You’ve changed my whole self image.”
      OP challenged Tammy’s self assessment regarding her openness to DEI issues.
      Boo effing Hoo.

      1. El Muneco*

        This. I’m even wondering if Tammy actually said “challenged” and was just misunderstood by the others.

      2. MsSolo UK*

        “You’ve changed my whole self image.”

        “Great! That’s a great place to start, and I hope now you’re open to viewing your actions through a new lens you can see why your actions were problematic. Personal growth starts here!”

    3. Pied Piper*

      A wholehearted agreement, OK!

      As someone who recently read White Fragility as one step in learning how to be anti-racist, Tammy’s responses are, across the board, exactly what the book describes as, well, white fragility.

      The book is even supportive in hammering home how embedded systemic racism is in our society; as a white person, it’s virtually impossible in America to not have these unconscious biases – it doesn’t mean you’re a horrible person. Having these unconscious biases pointed out and getting up on your hind legs to defend yourself, though? I won’t say horrible, but it ain’t good.

      1. Velawciraptor*

        I’m having a very petty day and wish someone could have asked her “you realize White Fragility wasn’t a how-to guide, right?”

        1. Pied Piper*

          Oh, Velawciraptor, many thanks for your pettiness. I just spewed Earl Grey out my nose!

    4. yala*

      Textbook is right. I rocked back when I read that because, like. That’s LITERALLY how white fragility is explained. It’s like she copy-pasted it out of a book.

      And very much that “Ugh what else do you want?” vibe.

  6. kiki*

    In my experience, this is how a lot of racism presents itself in the workplace and it can be really damaging. Constantly having to disprove somebody’s belief that there’s no way you honestly have the qualifications you do is really toxic and makes it hard to get anything done. LW was completely right to report this.

    1. Lydia*

      This. And it’s difficult to articulate to people when you try to explain it. “I would question it no matter who it was” is a commonly heard refrain.

    2. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      It’s kind of weird though. I get the “Constantly having to disprove somebody’s belief that there’s no way you honestly have the qualifications you do” thing at work all the time even though I am a white female. I’ve also been blocked from using certain software systems to do my job by one particular department, and had my ideas dismissed, only to be taken up by others as their ideas.

      I guess it’s more a organization thing, but sometimes I feel like I’m crazy.

      1. OtterB*

        Oh, it absolutely happens to white women, especially in male-dominated fields. It’s being discussed in terms of racism here because that was what the OP saw, since she mentions that at least one of the workers being questioned was a Black man. And Black women often get a double whammy.

        1. TheRain'sSmallHands*

          It SUCKS to be a white woman in business. I’ve done it for 30 years. And have been through it all – sexual harassment, interruptions, passed over for promotions, not getting credit, dismissive comments “Rain, you just don’t understand” (Really! I do understand….) and discovering I was getting paid 30% less than my less qualified male coworkers (I got that fixed – its surprising how much gets done when you state that the Equal Pay Act has been in place longer than you’ve been alive). But it must suck double to be a woman of color and get it from both directions – and no doubt I would have had a harder time getting my pay disparity fixed if I had been a women of color.

      2. JR*

        I am a white women in a male dominated field. I’ve dealt with the same things most of my career. It sucks. We have to work twice as hard to prove things and it’s just plain wrong!! I’ve been told I was too confident for a women and intimated my male co-workers (I was “downsized” from that job about a month after that, hmm, wonder why). I’ve spoken up in meetings only to have my comments dismissed yet a male coworker brings up the same comment and that is accepted. It’s wrong on so many levels!!!!

    3. Ping*

      I got this a lot as a woman. It can take hours/days proving that you are qualified. It wastes the companies time and money. The continuous challenged also wear you down psychologically. It makes you start to question yourself.

  7. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    Tammy also seems to be retaliating against the LW for involving HR, which is illegal.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Maybe. It seems like OP is framing it as a loss of trust and closeness as opposed to something that’s impacting her work. Where Tammy is a grandboss, chilliness or less social contact might not impact LW day-to-day other than bumming her out, so it might not rise to the level of legal retaliation. But it’s still not great.

      1. mandatory anon*

        Grandbosses often have a lot of say in promotions and other opportunities.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yep as I said below it’s something that should be looked out for moving forward, but what’s described here doesn’t hit it yet.

    2. Loulou*

      I was curious about this too. Is OP legally protected because she was reporting discrimination, even though it wasn’t against her?

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yes, the EEOC defines retaliation as “responding to the complaint in a disciplinary or inappropriate manner”. BUT, since the OP doesn’t report directly to Tammy and it doesn’t seem like any responsibilities or privileges were taken away from her, I think it would be hard to argue. The mentorship could be seen as a privilege lost if you tilt your head and squint but I think a good lawyer would also advise Tammy to maintain a professional distance during an investigation, so from my professional HR perspective I don’t think Tammy is retaliating in the legal sense. Unless there’s more details I’m missing.

        1. Ismonie*

          Retaliation doesn’t have to be something your boss does to you, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            No, it’s not and I give more detail below, but the comment this thread is in response to is asserting that TAMMY is retaliating, not the company, which is a specific focus.

      2. Wintermute*

        this is something a lot of people don’t realize, you don’t need to be the target to report it, and yes, since this was a good-faith claim whether or not HR found it substantiated she’s protected. Even though it probably falls below the legal threshold for retaliation since she’s not being demoted or fired, a good HR department would still but the brakes on it but quick.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Just to provide more information to people who may not know – demoted or fired are not the only things EEOC thresholds looks at! The EEOC website also includes exclusion from meetings or events, withholding a raise or promotion, transferring an employee to another department, providing a negative performance review, limiting hours, or making the employee’s work environment feel unsafe or uncomfortable (which is the only one I can see this infringing on but again I think it’s too marginal to meet the legal standard).

          And this is not an exhaustive list! The interpretation can be subjective when argued to a judge or enforcement entity. Since there’s an ongoing investigation keeping some distance is probably the smartest thing Tammy can do, but if OPs professional development is in any way impeded moving forward this is definitely something to consider.

  8. itsame*

    Her instant defensiveness only makes me more certain that Tammy needs to reevaluate herself and her biases in the workplace. That’s not a healthy or useful way to address concerns of racism and bias, and it will not serve Tammy, your employer, or the black/other poc employees well moving forward.

  9. Lioness*

    Tammy sounds like my MIL when she used to supervise employees. I was stuck in the backseat of the car with her when she was talking about work and started in with “I’m not a racist BUT…” and hooo it was all downhill from there. You did the right thing OP!

      1. Cat*

        I’m not a racist, but… I that being raised in a society that has racism woven into it means picking up biases without realising it, and that confronting and unlearning those biases is an ongoing project.

        Yeah, this is never the end of the sentence except in thought experiments about whether there’s any good end to “I’m not [flavour of bigotry], but…”

    1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      Oh man… if you have to preface your sentence with that… you are not off to a great start…

      We had a guy in high school who would say crap like that… I cringed and thought he was ridiculous even in the early 2000’s

      1. Aww, coffee, no*

        I can remember at age 16 saying to my sister “I haven’t got anything against lesbians, but (insert bigoted statement here)” This was 30-odd years ago and my sister was two years younger than me so she didn’t challenge my statement; instead I ended up internally challenging it myself.

        I can still remember mulling it over for about a week and eventually coming to the conclusion that I could take the first half of the sentence, or the second half, but I really couldn’t have both. And I didn’t want to be the sort of person that would say or think the second half of that sentence.

        It made me re-examine my prejudices and has stood me in good stead ever since, because I know first hand that just because I don’t want to think I’m biased, doesn’t mean that I’m not. I live in a biased world and however much I try not to let it happen, I know that at some level those biases affect my thinking. It’s on me to keep working to improve, and to accept that it will always be a work in progress.

        1. FrenchCusser*

          My awakening to that was my stupid assertion that bisexuals were just gays who hadn’t come to terms with that yet.

          I one day realized that I had no right to judge another person’s experience of themselves.

          That realization has stood me in good stead for any number of issues.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      Or “I can’t be a racist, I care about this [one] white employee’s performance too”
      So, that’s ~5% of white employees and 100% of Black employees that Tammy thinks are incompetent…

      OP absolutely did the right thing here. I hope the company considers this a wakeup call for their other non-inclusive behaviors.

    3. OneWeirdTrick*

      I’d love an autocorrect on some website that changes anything phrased that way to, “I’m a racist AND…” or “I’m a misogynist AND…”

    4. GammaGirl1908*

      As with so many contradictory statements that devolve into racism, misogyny, prejudice, bias, hatred, and misanthropy.

      A friend and I joke that there’s no point in starting a sentence with “No offense, but…” Just say what you mean: “Offense. You look fat in that skirt.”

      Tammy may has well have just announced, “Racism. I’ll never believe she’s qualified.”

  10. bunniferous*

    OP, you ABSOLUTELY did the right thing. You describe a whole pattern of behavior here -behavior that absolutely could do real career damage to your new hires. The fact this woman wants approval on all new hires? The racist red flags are a-waving over here.

    I hope you will see fit to give us an update when it’s appropriate.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      YES that stood out to me too. Stepping in when someone is expressing racism while simultaneously demanding more power over those her racism could impact is inarguably the right move.

  11. The Wizard Rincewind*

    You accusing me of this is changing my whole self-image.


    1. mean green mother*

      My thoughts exactly! That’s a good thing, Tammy!

      I fully believe that racism is an action–one is not “a racist” or “not a racist,” we are all living out and perpetuating racism every day in our society. It’s whether or not you acknowledge that and commit to fighting racism in yourself CONSTANTLY that makes the difference. Tammy’s response shows that she has not committed to that work in the least and her DEI education has been surface-level.

      From one White woman trying to unlearn racism to another, thank you. For me, it seems like this is how you’re supposed to do it. I hope you’re also giving your Black staff members as much support and benefits/time off/etc. as you possibly can.

    2. JSPA*

      Yes! A lot of our processes are designed for intentional, in your face racism (using slurs, intentional undermining) not “failing to notice one’s deep- seated biases.” So it can feel like “too much” to treat a Tammy as you would someone who intellectually subscribes to the belief that “those people” are intrinsically stupid and given to lying.

      But if you end up in the crosshairs of a Tammy–undervalued, presumed to be lying, lined up to be managed out– the end result is the same as if Tammy were doing it with full awareness of her motivations and biases.

      Tammy may be able to commit to changing, if anti- racism is something she believes that she believes in; but functionally speaking, she hasn’t stepped on that path, she’s merely eyed out through the window, and decided she’d rather go back to bed.

      As opposed to intentional, committed racists, sometimes Tammys can be allowed (limited) space and (limited) time and (maximum) coaching to do better; but that will only happen if some major wheels are set in motion. OP, you did the best you could with the tools at hand.

    3. Dark Macadamia*

      Don’t make me introspective! I won’t like me when I’m introspective!

    4. ToS*

      If Tammy is truly worth her salt, she will own this and do the work to change it, as she will have a cascading effect of losing solid employees, regardless of how the investigation resolves.

    5. Tumbleweed*

      Honestly a LOT of people’s reactions to the meerest suggestion something they’ve done or said could be routed in racism or involve bias seems to come down to “I identify as not a racist and therefore everything I do is automatically not racist” but it isn’t usually said this directly.

      1. JSPA*

        “I intend to be non-racist” is a much, much better starting point than “racist and proud of it.” But it’s a starting point, all the same.

    6. yala*

      Right? I’m sorry, is…is our self-image not supposed to change? Ever? Regardless of what we say or do or how we treat others?

      *insert Principal Skinner gif here*

  12. TypityTypeType*

    I was yelling at my computer by the end of this letter. LW, you absolutely did the right thing. That Tammy is apparently sticking to her initial defensiveness is a shame, but not anything you’re responsible for. Whatever is going on in Tammy’s head, there is no reason for your new employees to be doubted or harassed while she works it out.

  13. CeeKee*

    Oh wow. For Tammy to say that she “did not believe these two new employees were well-qualified or would work out long term” is already weird enough (*neither* of them are qualified??) but might have been worth investigating why she thinks that and whether she’s seen something that OP hasn’t. But raising this issue with THREE people is a clear pattern, and that PLUS her completely wrong-footed response in the meeting with HR makes it obvious that Tammy is really problematic. And it sounds like OP has addressed this just in the nick of time, if Tammy has now promoted herself to Final Decider on all hiring. I hope that OP takes reassurance from Alison’s confirmation that she did the right thing here, because this was something that very much needed to happen.

    1. Observer*

      And the thing is that Tammy knows perfectly well that this is a problem. That’s why she pointed out that she’s worried about the performance of one other White employee. But still – *3 out of 3* employees are giving you concern? That’s really, really weird. It’s POSSIBLE, but so improbable, that I would have expected her to have some very specific items to tick off (and “well, MY BROTHER had a hard time with X, so this person who everyone else sees as a rock star MUST be lying does NOT count!)

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        And Rachel said she’s studying to become X, not that she actually is an X currently. Tammy’s bias is preventing her from listening to the words actually coming out of Rachel’s mouth.

    2. LCH*

      odds are good that if you sent Tammy the resumes of these two employees, but with different names, she would declare these “alternate” candidates as fully qualified.

    3. WantonSeedStitch*

      This, exactly! I would want to ask Tammy exactly what her problems are: what performance issues has she noticed in the employees? What effect have those performance issues had? Tammy, if you can’t be VERY DAMN SPECIFIC, you’d better be self-examining a little harder.

  14. Wants Green Things*

    LW, you’ve done the right thing. And it’s good that Rachel filed an EO complaint, and that an outside law firm is involved. But based on the other comments from your coworkers, it sounds like Tammy is only a symptom of a much, much larger issue. Unfortunately, don’t be surprised if not much changes after this.

    1. Nea*

      I’m probably being a polyanna, but LW’s direct supervisor supporting LW and the exec heading immediately for a third party investigation suggests to me that there might be changes.

      The first of which is hopefully going to be bouncing Tammy right out the door.

      1. Wants Green Things*

        And HR treated it as a personality mitigation, and LW’s coworkers are practically the definition of “microaggressions.” That’s what has me doubtful that things are going to really change. And even if somehow they do, well, it’s gonna be ugly – I expect most people reacting like Tammy.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I mean, if I worked there and I saw all this happening, I’d make popcorn.

        1. BaeBoo*

          Popcorn is very fun, and while speaking up to create a welcoming culture in a way that strengthens the team may not be easy, it helps people stand up to difficult situations so they don’t repeat themselves.

  15. Allornone*

    Kudos, OP. You did the right thing. And I hope your organization continues to be more inclusive in its hiring processes.

    In my opinion, one of the reasons the nonprofit I work at has achieved its success is that we employ a very diverse staff and leadership team (our Board could stand a little more color, but we’re working on it). I’m actually one of the few white people here (only 6% percent of our staff is Caucasian). As the vast majority (98%) of the people we serve are minority youth, I think it’s important for our team to reflect those we are working to help. How better can we understand their experiences?

  16. J*

    As a person of color who has had to deal with this uphill battle, I want to thank you sincerely for reporting this. Unfortunately, many POC are told we are being too sensitive until the experience is validated by a whiten person.

    Thank you for putting action to ensuring a more equitable workspace.

    I have to say I am appalled that HR flagged you are the reporter. Ideally, HR would work to protect the reporter from retribution and maintain privacy while conducting an investigation to ensure the abusers cannot pressure the reporters to change their testimony.

    1. jane's nemesis*

      Yes, great point – this never should have been framed as a personality conflict at all! There should have been no mediated meeting – it should have gone immediately to an investigation of Tammy’s actions.

    2. InTheLibrary*

      Totally agree that HR is truly appalling here! Yes, Tammy is awful, but the reason that OP is questioning herself is because of the truly damaging HR response, treating the problem as a personality conflict between the OP and Tammy, rather than as unlawful and unethical behavior by Tammy which OP has reported as an observer. If OP had discovered that Tammy embezzled from the company and reported it to HR, would HR set up a mediation between the two of them?!

      1. TechWriter*

        I get the sense HR took it more as “Tammy is second-guessing all my hiring decisions”, which does maybe call for a mediation, rather than “Tammy is racist.”

        But yes. Bad, because the problem is the latter, which is resulting in the former.

  17. Candice*

    I agree you shouldn’t feel guilty but was there a miscommunication? It sounds like Rachel said she was studying to be an X and Tammy heard that she already was an X. How did Tammy react when told Rachel was still studying?

    1. itsame*

      Even if it were a miscommunication, jumping straight to “she’s obviously lying” instead of “huh, did I mishear that” is only more evidence that Tammy needs to think seriously and deeply about her own biases. That would be an inappropriate reaction even if race weren’t at play, which given her history of questioning new black hire’s credentials, it pretty clearly is.

    2. Chilipepper Attitude*

      What itsame said.
      Also, if I could pull you aside (call in) and give you feedback that your own comment lands on the side of white fragility I would. But I don’t have that option here so I’ll have to do a call you instead. Yes, there might have been a miscommunication there. But there is a much wider pattern of behavior from Tammy that needs to be addressed even if that one call is left out of the equation. Please believe commenters.

      1. Candice*

        I didn’t disbelieve her and said she shouldn’t feel guilty about reporting. But I was legitimately confused because the first paragraph described two different things being said/heard and then no follow-up on how that played out. I don’t think it means she shouldn’t be reported but I do think that you address things differently when someone makes a bad assumption and then is willing to be corrected on it vs. sticking to it despite being corrected. It doesn’t make either thing ok but they’re also two different not ok things.

        1. MsClaw*

          Yeah, I noticed that too. Like suggesting it’s a miscommunication is really, really softening it. Why not just say “Tammy, she said she was studying to be an X, not that she *is* an X” It does seem like Tammy was probably primed and/or looking for some reason to be upset. But given some of the other exchanges OP has reported, it seems like OP is not….. as direct as I would be in a lot of cases.

          1. Candice*

            That’s kind of what I was wondering. I would have assumed OP said that on the call and the response informed what they chose to do next. And again, I think even the first instance is ample grounds to report much less the second.

        2. Emma*

          Except Tammy clearly demonstrated she’s not willing to be corrected. She has given up any right to the benefit of the doubt.

          1. Candice*

            I’m not saying she gets the benefit of the doubt. I asked what happened. Knowing full well that letter writers may or may not engage in comments. But sometimes they do and it’s useful additional info.

      2. Candice*

        Also I think your comment is really condescending to be honest. I’m not siding with anyone. I’m asking a legitimate question about an ambiguity in a question that appeared on a public blog.

        1. Chilipepper Attitude*

          To me, I saw more emphasis on that one point than on the larger pattern. And that is the problem. Does clarification of this one comment change the fact that there is a pattern by Tammy of challenging black employees’ credentials? If not, then the comment/question does not help the conversation. I recognize it is uncomfortable to get this feedback.

          1. Candice*

            Because Alison covered the larger point deftly and it seemed pointless to reiterate it from a rando.

          2. Candice*

            And again “I realize it is uncomfortable to get this feedback” is condescending. You don’t know me or my background OR my feelings. I’m not someone you have any kind of relationship with. Assigning a narrative about those things based on two lines of text is not a great way to behave.

  18. New Jack Karyn*

    I have said racially insensitive things on the internet. When called out for it, I felt defensive. It did not fit with my self-image. It took time for me to absorb that, figure out where I went wrong in my thinking, and see where I need to get better.
    I did that work on my own time–not on the internet. And I sure as hell didn’t do it at work.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Defensiveness is a common first reaction to being called on something. One thing missing from here is where to go next with Tammy. Because another common human reaction is to dig in when the attack is strong, and listen and reflect when given a bit more space.

      Many of the commenters don’t see any hope for Tammy, but the OP has said she was a mentor. So how does the OP effectively work with her in the future, and allow her the opportunity to change?

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        It’s really hard to answer that question, because Tammy is OP’s grandboss. The power differential makes it especially difficult to address. This is an HR issue; OP might consider returning to HR to mention how Tammy has changed her interactions with OP after their ‘conflict resolution type’ meeting.

      2. Chilipepper Attitude*

        I saw that too, about Tammy being a mentor. Does this mean the OP should reconsider what she has learned from Tammy in general? Maybe other things from Tammy are not great advice after all?

        It sounds like Tammy is so dug in and defensive that she will stop acting as a mentor to the OP so maybe that problem has solved itself and the OP just has to do what Alison says and remain professional and polite?

        But if there is an opening, should the OP bring up this issue? How?

      3. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I don’t know Tammy so I don’t know if she’s a lost cause or not, but I do know that with the way she’s currently behaving, anything OP says on the topic of anti-racism is not going to be something Tammy will be willing to hear. I think all OP can do is remain professional and calm in their interactions and wait to see what Tammy does.

        It’s important to remember that OP is not the person who damaged this relationship and it’s not up to her to fix it. If Tammy realizes the harm she’s done and wants to mend the relationship, OP can decide what she wants to do about that when the time comes.

        1. Observer*

          t’s important to remember that OP is not the person who damaged this relationship and it’s not up to her to fix it.

          OP, I think that this is a very important point.

          The problem hers is not of your doing.

        2. RVA Cat*

          All of this. I may be reading too much between the lines here, but Tammy sounds arrogant AF in addition to the racism. If anyone is unqualified, it’s her!

    2. BubbleTea*

      Yes, this was my exact experience too. I was hurt at being called out, I was angry at the person, I felt incredibly defensive. I took a beat, I went to a private forum with people I know very well, some of whom are POC, and I said “can I please ask a white person question? Are they being unfair or am I missing something?”

      The answer was, both/and. My wording was very open to the interpretation that was taken by the person calling me out. I should have been alert to that, and made it clearer what I was saying. Even better, given the context of the discussion, I shouldn’t have joined in at all – my voice wasn’t needed. Yes, they took the least charitable interpretation of my ambiguous wording but they weren’t reaching by doing so.

      The interesting part for me was how strongly and fiercely defensively I reacted at first. I’d never have expected to respond that way (thankfully I was self aware and educated enough to keep in internal, and recognise that it was a sign I needed to reflect more).

      So yeah, I’d have a tiny scrap of sympathy for Tammy, but she’ll extinguish it entirely if she isn’t doing the work right now and if she doesn’t come back to OP with a sincere, informed apology and more importantly a genuine change of attitude towards the new hires.

  19. anonymous73*

    You were 100% in the right in what you did. And please stop worrying about hurting Tammy – she only has herself to blame for any consequences that some from you reporting her behavior.

  20. Librarian of SHIELD*

    I think I’ve said this here before on a post about sexism, but I’m gonna say it again because it applies to racism too.

    Being anti-racist is like gardening. You wouldn’t weed your garden one time and walk away expecting it to be blooming and beautiful forever with no further maintenance. You need to keep watering and weeding and pruning and keeping the pests away. It’s long term work that never really stops.

    Tammy claims that she’s been to training and read a book, so clearly she can’t possibly be acting out of biased or racist intent. But that’s not how it works. What she’s done in the past didn’t finish the whole job and make her 100% unracist forever. If she’s not willing to participate in continual reexamination of her beliefs and behaviors, then she’s not committed to anti-racism and it was absolutely appropriate for you to report her, OP.

    1. Ell*

      Love the analogy. And anyone who has been to a halfway decent training on DEI issues before has learned that the IMPACT of what you’re doing matters more than the INTENT. Even if she was completely free of internal biases, the fact that she’s openly questioned the qualifications of three new hires without due cause while actively mentoring white employees is an impact any organization should be concerned about.

      Of course, she should reevaluate the intent behind her actions too and really dig deep there, because big doubt it was free of racial bias. But sounds like that’s too much to hope for with Tammy.

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        … and more to the point, her soul-searching is *her* business. Providing a bias-free environment (or, if this train has left the station, corrective action against biases that exist) is the company’s business, reforming Tammy is not.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Exactly this. The company can tell Tammy that her continued employment is contingent on stopping her racist behavior, but Tammy’s the one who has to decide whether she’s going to do the work or end up without a job.

    2. Meep*

      So much this. I am a white woman who grew up in a very conservative area. I am always checking my bias and if I am called out on it, I reflect on my preconceived notions and prejudice. It may not be intentional, but neither is letting weeds into your garden. It is going to happen whether you like it or not. You just have to get on your hands and knees and do the work.

    3. Purple Cat*

      Yes! I have read this here (must have been you) and I can’t express how much it has deeply resonated with me.
      Said another way – we’re not perfect and can’t expect ourselves and others to act perfectly. But we can acknowledge our mistakes and work to do better and know that it’s a continuous process.

  21. Ellen N.*

    Original poster, not only did you do the right thing; you are a brave person. It’s difficult to call out racism at work, yet everyone who does so makes the world a better place.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Even more difficult when it’s someone a couple of levels above you. Really, well done.

    2. Student*

      I think maybe it’s also worth saying: calling out racism is hard, and it doesn’t always get the end result we hoped for. Maybe the OP is doubting herself because this didn’t have a straightforward happy ending, and it’s not clear yet if it will have a positive resolution.

      Calling out racism is a good action. It’s a social and moral good. Even if it doesn’t get the results you hoped for, or if it turns uglier than you expected, or doesn’t fix things. Losing a fight feels really crappy, and losing a fight against racism can feel extra crappy. I’ve been there. But if you aren’t willing to risk a loss, to risk feeling crappy, to risk some of your own social capital, then you will never win, because you’ll walk away from every meaningful fight. If you don’t ultimately win this fight, then dust yourself off, think a little bit about whether there’s anything you can learn from losing this fight, and try for a better outcome in the next fight. Racism wins out if we decide to do nothing and look the other way.

    3. Julia*

      Yeah, I’m no shrinking violet but I’m not entirely sure I’d have had the guts to do what OP did. Actually, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have. Point of reflection for me! And big kudos to you, OP.

  22. Meep*

    Nah, man. I made excuses for a Tammy for literal years. She is an older Southern lady who occasionally made racist, xenophobic, sexist, and other generally bigoted comments that could be chalked up to “she is an old white Southern woman who doesn’t know any better.” We hardly had any non-white (male) employees anyway and the one we did have was still “half-white”. But one time I actually tried to explain to her why something was harmful (it was the George Floyd incident – she was going around saying the officer was justified because Floyd was a druggie) and she would… just not budge… It was at that point I had to come to terms with the fact she was ignorant and a bigot by choice.

    Hatred is learned. You can fix it if you want, but you have to want to. And if you don’t when being called out for it, you are a racist jerk.

  23. DG*

    Somewhat off topic, but situations like this are why I hate that impostor syndrome is always presented as a self-esteem issue/personal failing. There are so many people in the workforce who have worked with a Tammy (and others who may be better at hiding their biases, but are no less bigoted) and who have been told over and over again that they’re not good enough.

    No amount of power poses or self-help books are going to overcome systemic discrimination in the workplace.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Interesting, I don’t think that’s how I’ve seen imposter syndrome presented at all. It’s not a personal failing, it’s a reaction to how (mainly women and POC) are socialized to undervalue themselves – absolutely systemic, but something that’s easier to combat if you’re aware of it in the first place/

    2. Cedrus Libani*

      I think it’s a locus of control issue, though? Yeah, people develop impostor syndrome because they’ve been chronically underestimated by the Tammys of the world. And people develop its opposite, the “confidence of a mediocre white man”, because they’ve been chronically overestimated. It’s really hard to avoid internalizing the default way that the world interacts with you.

      That said, if you have impostor syndrome, it would be in your best interest to fix that. You’re more likely to succeed if you have a realistic view of your abilities. If you know you can do it – even without Tammy’s help, and probably with her actively trying to stop you – then you can do it. If you let her convince you that you can’t, then you’re going to prove her right, because you won’t even try.

      None of this is right or fair, but it’s true.

      More broadly, there’s an entire genre of advice-isms like this…genuinely valuable advice for surviving and thriving in an imperfect world, but also a genuinely awful thing for one human being to say to another. Nobody will love you unless you love yourself! Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent! All true. But I can’t just lob one of those at a hurting fellow human without context, even if they manifestly need to hear it; it’s victim-blaming at best, gaslighting at worst.

      What I do is imagine these sorts of things being said by the Universe, who I’ve personified as a Loki-esque trickster god. I am perfectly aware that the Universe is a jerk. That’s why I have insurance and an emergency fund. Also, I can’t really be mad when the Universe patronizes me; it’s the boss around here, I am not.

      1. quill*

        Impostor syndrome: one of those absolutely environmentally acquired mental health problems where all the extant advice is about how to work on it internally, because the root cause is too complex for you to tackle. So you never solve more than half the problem.

  24. EPLawyer*

    You did nothing wrong. You did nothing wrong. You did nothing wrong.

    OP, you saw a HUGE FREAKING problem and reported it. The higher ups took it from there. Trust me if they brought in outside lawyers they are REALLY REALLY FREAKING CONCERNED about liability.

    Tammy is not in trouble for anything YOU did. Tammy is in trouble because she is an unabashed racist who didn’t like getting called out for being an unabashed racist. if Tammy suffers the consequences of HER actions, that is on Tammy not you.

    Also not much of a freaking mentor if this is how she behaves. Stopping talking to someone because they did EXACTLY what they are supposed to do is not only unprofessional but immature. Find a mentor who more aligns with your actual values, not just seems to want to mentor you.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yes the response from everyone-but-Tammy is really encouraging here and you should take that to heart OP. MANY places would sweep this under the rug. They are looking into it, and bringing in the big guns to do it. That’s huge.

      1. Observer*

        Not entirely. HR initially REALLY mishandled this. This should never have been a “mediation meeting”. Because this was never about the OP’s feelings. They should have realized that they need to look more closely at the behavior towards Black employees, especially around evaluations, coming from Tammy.

          1. ToS*

            I’m not sure anonymous reporting is an option, especially if Tammy expects that only one person heard her end of the conversation. Regardless, fully participating with investigations like this CAN produce better, more fully informed results.

            Firing is not the only outcome, sometimes people get an opportunity to learn and improve, so don’t get too focused on one outcome.

            For the OP, do what you can to be calm while participating with the investigation. Do you have a support person, or even EAP to call and just unload the “this is stressful” of it all? You and Tammy will live on beyond this. By reporting this, and participating in the investigation as anti-racism, you are helping to move the course of a river.

            An interesting read on forgiveness and moving on (the facts are not the same) is “Picking Cotton” by Jennifer Thompson Cannino

            Tammy, as a leader, should model leadership by acknowledging that she was flexing her power in a way that set off liability alarm bells, and embrace the teachable moment. There is a TED talk with Jay Smooth – New Hampshire? Not one of the big platforms – and he compares fighting racism to brushing your teeth. We want to be “clean” people, just like being non-racist, however we are exposed to so many flavors of germs and racialized influence that it’s about hygiene, not one training and reading one book.

            Seriously, OP likely felt gross after those conversations, and wanted some way to get the ugliness out of her ears and brain. They might have said, Ugh, I feel like I need a shower!!!!

    2. MM*

      Yeah, like – let’s put it this way. If Tammy’s mentorship ends here, that’s because she couldn’t mentor you into running a racist workplace (or complying with one). This is a win! This is not a loss!

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yep. Who you align yourself with can impact you in ways you’re not even aware of. This is probably a good thing.

    3. Clobberin' TIme*

      Yes. And: OP doesn’t know what else may be in Tammy’s file. That HR brought in outside lawyers strongly implies that there is a lot more they are concerned about regarding Tammy than her having made a couple of questionable comments to a subordinate.

  25. Clobberin' TIme*

    I don’t want to hurt Tammy (my supervisor’s supervisor), who has been a mentor to me (maybe because I’m another white woman).

    If you looked like Rachel, do you think Tammy would have been a mentor to you? Or would she have tried to get you fired?

    You’re seeing who Tammy really is.

  26. MM*

    Yes, Tammy was being racist, and yes, you were right to report her. I specifically want to address the feeling of panic and doubt you’re experiencing now that the process is underway, OP, because a) I don’t want you to lose your nerve and b) I think it’s important to recognize what it is that’s making you feel that way.

    There’s a wonderful essay by Christina Sharpe titled “Lose Your Kin” (will link in reply). It was written in the context of the 2016 election (hence the reference to safety pins), but I go back to it often. An excerpt:

    White people are searching for ways to show solidarity to people of color and some have landed on the performative symbol of wearing a safety pin. Symbols are important and a safety pin is not enough. A safety pin is a temporary fix for a rend in the fabric. One must be willing to say this is abhorrent. One must be willing to be more than uncomfortable. One must be willing to be on the outside.

    What she’s referring to here is the basic sense of secure inclusion (a political kind of kinship) white people afford one another. Among other things, it manifests as the pressure of “don’t argue with Racist Uncle, you’ll ruin dinner,” and the urge to just brush off a friend’s racist joke. To keep things calm, not rock any boats. What makes that pressure work on us is the implicit, sensed, often unconscious threat of “being on the outside.”

    I think you are feeling that really hard right now. I think it’s probably extra hard because of the added precarity you’ve been made to feel through your queerness–and make no mistake, that precarious status has been communicated to you clearly and for a reason. I want to encourage you to resist this feeling. Think about how you can form alliances with Rachel and the other hires, if that makes sense as this goes on; don’t focus so much on “losing” Tammy. That is a choice she is making, and to “keep” her would require a complicity you’ve already shown you don’t want to participate in. I won’t go on about my own thoughts on that essay, but I hope you’ll read it (again, link below) and take some heart.

    1. Miss Muffet*

      “and make no mistake, that precarious status has been communicated to you clearly and for a reason. I want to encourage you to resist this feeling.”


    2. ecnaseener*

      Yes, the system works as designed! The thing where you feel fear and guilt and doubt after pushing back against racism, that’s a powerful tool of structural racism.

    3. ---*

      Such a wonderful, thoughtful, completely true comment. I hope you can take this to heart, OP.

    4. M. from P.*

      Thank you for this comment.
      OP please be willing to stand with Rachel even if that means being outside.

  27. Also Not a Free Gay Advice Line*

    Ok, when she said she has taken alllll the DEI training and then she said she read “White Fragility” as if that was that is really everything you need to know about this person.
    Good grief. Kudos to you for seeing this pattern and calling it out.

    1. CoveredinBees*

      From her other comments, it seems like she saw ‘White Fragility’ as a how-to instead of a how-not-to.

  28. CM*

    You handled this appropriately. HR handled it completely inappropriately!! They should not have treated this as an interpersonal conflict. Interesting that your ED escalated to an external investigation. If it’s because the ED is genuinely concerned about organizational issues, this investigation could actually help the entire organization and could lead to HR needing to get better educated. If it’s because the ED is worried about liability, ugh, then the investigation will be closed with a finding that you’re too sensitive and the organization is great and everybody will give you dirty looks after that. Crossing my fingers for the former!

    1. CM*

      Also, textbook white supremacy response from Tammy — no mention at all of the impact on Rachel, instead it’s all about how she’s so shocked and offended at being called a racist.

      I’m very curious about whether the OP has talked to Rachel about all this and what those conversations have been like.

    2. Green great dragon*

      Yes! What was HR thinking? If Tammy can be a little less racist out loud and OP can tolerate a little more racism than she’d like it’ll all be fine??

      1. Observer*

        Seriously. We keep on seeing letters where HR tries to do mediation / conflict resolution in situations where the concept simply doesn’t make any sense. It makes your wonder what on earth they are thinking.

    3. Observer*

      f it’s because the ED is worried about liability, ugh, then the investigation will be closed with a finding that you’re too sensitive and the organization is great and everybody will give you dirty looks after that.

      Not if the ED has any brains. Even if the ED has no real interest in equity and fairness, he should realize that allowing blatant racism to flourish in his organization could do a lot of damage. And given how blindingly white the organization seems to be, the ED may also realize that they don’t have a lot of wiggle room – if an issue hit the press / goes public / gets to the EEOC (or other relevant agency), that structure is going to work against them. So, the organization NEEDS to do the investigation right and act on it, because the results of not doing so could be a lot worse.

      Look at what happened at Uber. Most of the Board Members who pushed for a REAL investigation, and who then proceeded to push Kalanik out had no real concern for equity, fairness or even basic decency. But what they finally realized that the toxicity had hit a point that it was going to destroy the company if something drastic wasn’t done.

      The bottom line is that while it’s possible that the whole point of the “outside investigation” is to create a whitewash, it’s also quite possible that the ED is either decent enough or smart enough to understand that this would be a very bad idea. Because either way – ethically and practically, it really would be a bad idea.

    4. Lucy Skywalker*

      They also shouldn’t have called OP into the meeting, but instead said, “A coworker has mentioned….” without mentioning OP by name. That way, Tammy wouldn’t be taking it out on OP.

  29. Allegra*

    You absolutely did the right thing. You saw a pattern of racist actions, reported the pattern and the actions to the appropriate people, and she is now facing consequences for her own actions. You didn’t get her in trouble, she got herself in trouble! It’s unfortunate she’s chosen to respond with defensiveness and doubling down; it’s really disappointing when a mentor lets us down like that. But you did the right thing for your employees and for the organization as a whole, really. (And this is tangential, but…woof, I am sorry about the constant low-grade homophobia that it seems you’ve had to deal with, too. It’s exhausting and I super know how it all feels like little things, but it adds up.)

  30. Observer*

    Was it appropriate to report this to HR as possible bullying or racial discrimination? Or was it overkill?

    Oh me, oh my! No, this was NOT “overkill” and it was most definitely an appropriate reaction. Even without the rest of the background.

    I know that it feels really bad that Tammy is distancing herself from you, but it might not be a bad thing. She sounds racist enough that maybe some distance from her is a good thing for you, because you really would not want to be tarred with her behavior.

    From your description of the meeting, it sounds like your HR is not all that competent, although your company does seem to be trying to do the right thing. It also sounds like Tammy is not (yet) open to reconsidering her behavior. The excuses she was making are inane and made me roll my eyes.

    1. kiki*

      Also seconding that it’s not overkill. There’s a tendency for folks in leadership to wait until there’s some big, very obvious incident of racism to intervene. The way most racism plays out in the workplace nowadays is a slow burn. It starts with Tammy not believing Black new hires will work out in their roles and that environment begets even more racism. Nipping it in the bud early like LW did is exactly the right thing to do.

  31. CoveredinBees*

    Perhaps it helps to reframe the impact on Tammy as accountability, not hurt. You reported what she said to higher ups and they made the decision that it was actionable. Hiring a law firm to investigate is not something most companies do lightly. It is expensive and can feel invasive. As long as you weren’t embellishing or making things up in your report (and I’m assuming you didn’t), then you have no reason to feel guilty. She is dealing with the consequences of her actions.

    As for previous things you felt that you should not have let slide, that doesn’t disqualify you from trying to do better and speak up when you do witness something. It wouldn’t even disqualify you from saying something even if you had let it slide in the past.

  32. Dust Bunny*

    Yeah, no, don’t waste any more time feeling guilty about this.

    I know Tammy was a mentor to you but apparently she’s only capable of doing that for white employees? And it’s 100% possible for people to be great to one kind of person and terrible to another, because people are complicated. But Tammy’s got it way, way, out of balance. She’s bean-counting DEI training? Nooooooo.

    So I’m sorry about the unpleasant wake-up about who Tammy is, but this needed to happen.

  33. M. from P.*

    Ugh. Who cares what Tammy’s *intentions* are? She’s creating an awful environment for Rachel and other folks, making their work experience harder and sending a message to their coworkers that she doesn’t belong. It’s Rachel and other folks who are targeted and discriminated against that the OP should worry about hurting. Not Tammy who has more power in the organization and seems to be using it to push back.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yep. When you’re in a leadership position your impact matters far more than your intentions. Tammy can have all the existential crises she wants, LW did the right thing and Tammy needs to deal with the consequences of her own behavior.

  34. bamcheeks*

    OP, you did 100%, absolutely the right thing.

    BUT– doing the right thing doesn’t always mean being rewarded. Please take care of yourself too (and, of course, Rachel.) I really, really hope that the rest of the organisation lives up to its values and the report comes in from the external law firm and you and Rachel continue to be able to do good work at this organisation. But that isn’t always what happens, and you should also game out some worst-case scenarios and what you will do next if the organisation decides it wants to protects Tammy’s (and its own) image of itself as Good White People more than it wants to do the right thing by Black employees and their allies.

  35. Anon for this*

    Just here to join the chorus of support to OP for handling this so well. You were in the right to bring this up, this investigation is 100% merited, and you used your privilege as a white woman to stand up for a group that was being targeted. You are what Tammy probably *thinks* she is.

    My teenage daughter is very engaged social justice, and I had to give her a whole primer on how to talk to “woke” white people* (she and I are both women of color). Ten minutes of “I have Black friends/read Popular Book Attempting to Explain Racism to White People/would NEVER thankyouverymuch” is the prerequisite to basically any conversation about race or race related concerns with a white person who is not actually anti-racist but kinda knows they’re not supposed do racist s&*t. At best, they’re informing you that they have a long way to go, and you’ll need to proceed carefully if you want to get results with them at this point. At worst, they’re a capital R Racist who doesn’t like the repercussions of that, and the talk about how not racist they are is gaslighting intended to shut down the topic. I am straight up tired of hearing about how not-racist people are as a response to being told that they’ve said or done something racist. It’s exhausting. OP, you took on some of that heat of that in this situation, and I am grateful to you on behalf of Rachel and your other coworkers of color. If it doesn’t go anywhere productive (which is a distinct possibility IME, unfortunately), you still did the right thing and are part of the solution.

    *In the interests of heading off #NotAllWhitePeople, I want to explicitly clarify that of course not all white people. What I describe here is a specific experience with a specific type of person, and I assure you, it happens a lot. If your instinct is “I would never and how dare you” when I point that out….well, there’s a good chance you’re one of them. Sorry.

    1. Elle*

      All of this. White people need to as be afraid of actually doing racist things as they/we are of being CALLED racist. Especially the ones who think they’re woke. I was especially not impressed by this woman’s protest that she’d read White Fragility… Okay you read a book by a white woman… on racism. Yikes.

      1. Betsy Devore, Girl Sleuth*

        “Okay you read a book by a white woman… on racism. Yikes.” Like people who gush about The Help. I’ve never heard from a POC, online or in meatspace, who thinks it’s any good. I’m white, and I can’t stand it. The author didn’t even get white people right.

    2. TransAcademic*

      As something of an aside, I find it disheartening that those of us in the targeted/vulnerable/minority group have to perfectly phrase our statements, and provide disclaimers like you did to head off the #NotAllWhitePeople (or #NotAllMen, or #NotAllCisPeople, etc.) discussion. It just serves to highlight that even people who present themselves as allies may not actually be allies, or may want to be allies but get defensive and try to deflect negative feelings to feel better about themselves. It seems to me like just another example of how those of us most affected by the issue (such as racism, sexism/misogyny, homophobia, transphobia) have to shoulder the burden of soothing the feelings of the privileged group in addition to all the other burdens that have already been placed upon us.

      I agree that OP did the right thing in this situation by helping shoulder some of that burden. I hope others in her company follow her example when dealing with similar situations. Heck, I hope that people reading this letter follow her example.

      1. Flash Packet*

        Yeah, this is the type of situation where my old Bad Manager’s advice of “Don’t step in front of an arrow that’s not aimed at you,” would actually be appropriate.

        Of course, *he* meant as a way to wave off complaints when he called mandatory department meetings to, say, tell everyone that being late would no longer be tolerated… when only two people in the department were habitually late. I asked him after one of those meetings if he had a problem with my arrival time and he threw out that quip about the arrow.

        But it fits in situations where someone says something that is true of the general dominate group but may not be true for some of the individual members of that group. If you know for a fact that you’re not *that* white person / man / Christian / heterosexual, then maybe just keep quiet and don’t start defending yourself against an arrow that wasn’t even aimed at you.

        1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

          Being trusted enough that someone will complain about a group that you are part of, in front of you, is an enormous gift.

          Being told that you’ve done something racist is also a gift: this person hopes that you’ll take it seriously and figure out a better way on your own time, instead of figuring it’s not worth their effort and starting the process of cutting ties.

        2. MM*

          The version of this I learned long ago on the internet was: “a hit dog hollers.” I.e., if what’s being said didn’t apply to you (“hit” you), why are you hollering?

    3. Too many birds*

      All of this. I have been that white person (I am embarrassed to say it, but it’s true). I have seen many, many other white people be that white person. We have to do better.

  36. Goldenrod*

    Whether or not Tammy “is a racist” is not the point. Her actions were CLEARLY racist.

    OP 100% acted correctly and I am so glad she did! Tammy needs to stop acting like Black employees are unqualified – there’s a clear pattern here of prejudice – and if her feelings are hurt in the process, so be it.

    1. Troutwaxer*

      And maybe the OP needs to be very ready to defend her Black employee’s credentials, experience, knowledge, etc. as well as making clear to the rest of the organization that the Black employees are getting positive reviews from external organizations. This may mean gathering materials, checking references (if she hasn’t already) making sure that the necessary proofs of the Black employees good performance are instantly to hand if they are needed, etc. – In short, making sure she can’t be blindsided by some effort to move the Black employees out. So far the OP has played offense, but it doesn’t hurt to be ready with a powerful defense as well.

      1. Flash Packet*

        Nah. That level of defense would only reinforce the racist narrative that POC must be exemplary to even be allowed the “privilege” of working alongside white people.

        The OP can simply say, “I am satisfied with both the interview process to find these employees and with their performance since they’ve come on board. Unless you can point to specific, measurable deficiencies in their work during the time they’ve been here then this conversation is closed.”

        1. Troutwaxer*

          I’m not viewing it from the standpoint of “POC must be exemplary to even be allowed the “privilege” of working alongside white people” but more a matter of being able to say, “Yes, Tammy, I checked Rachel’s references and they all said nice things about her,” or “Yes Tammy, Frank does, in fact, have a Master’s Degree from State University of Someplace, and his GPA was similar to our other hires.”

          I say this as a matter of proactive paranoia, because Tammy might not be done attacking the Black hires at this organization, and might even attack the people who hired them, and when it happens, it will be very nice for the OP to say, “Due diligence was done, here’s the big data-sump full of evidence that we checked Rachel, Frank, and Joe’s references, educations, etc., and everything looks like it should, so let’s stop going down this road because we serve the X and Y communities, and we can’t do that while fighting employment lawsuits from Z community.” (Or whatever the magic words might be.)

          As I frequently recommend, it might be worthwhile to print this out and keep a copy where the organization can’t conveniently erase it from the servers – YMMV on this recommendation, of course.

          1. Ismonie*

            If you scrutinize the credentials and references of black employees, but not white employees, to build that kind of file, do you see the problem? Everyone should be equally vetted and that vetting should be documented.

            1. Troutwaxer*

              I absolutely agree with all your points. You’re right in the philosophical/moral sense, but you’re wrong in the practical sense, because if the OP doesn’t have all the right documentation available in the event Tammy tries to convince HR Rachel must be fired, (or whatever the next stupid, racist move might be) they will be morally correct, but unable to protect their Black coworkers or themselves. Morally speaking, this is be a very difficult position to be in – the OP might have taken useful action to fend off the racism, but did not!

              This is the real world version of the “trolley problem.” The OP doesn’t have a perfect moral path to follow, so they must do what leads to the least harm for all concerned, and must consider contingencies.

              Where the moral issues are concerned, I blame Tammy. The only moral perfection available here would have been for Tammy to keep her damn-fool mouth shut and learn to appreciate her new coworkers!

            2. Observer*

              If you scrutinize the credentials and references of black employees, but not white employees, to build that kind of file, do you see the problem? Everyone should be equally vetted and that vetting should be documented.

              This is absolutely true. And, in fact, the fact that the OP needs to do this is something that could (and probably would) be used against the company if it ever got to a point where the EEOC got involved or there were to be a law suit.

              But the thing is that the OP *already* needs this documentation. Tammy is going after the Black hires. She has already announced that going forward “she now wants final approval on all new hires”. In other words, she is saying that something is wrong with the process that the OP and her manager went through and with the qualifications of these hires. The OP needs to show that Tammy is incorrect. Hopefully whoever is investigating will recognize the problem inherent in this need.

    2. Gracely*

      Honestly, if the actions are racist, then yeah: the person is racist. I wish people stopped making the distinction, because there really isn’t much of one as far as the impact on POC goes. Because literally every time someone says “I’m not a racist but” they INEVITABLY follow it with something that is racist as hell.

      Being racist doesn’t make you irredeemable; in the US, we’re basically all racist because we’re raised and exist in a racist system (and if you’re white, you benefit from that system whether you want to admit it or not). But not admitting you need to work on yourself/your bias, that’s where a person becomes unredeemable (IMO). You can’t fix the problem until you admit you have one. Too many white people want to just say “I can’t be a racist! Only the worst people are racists!” and be done with the discussion. A discussion POC are never able to be done with.

      1. Hen in a Windstorm*

        This comes from the idea that labeling someone an “ist” equals telling them they are permanently that thing. It is part of their identity. It is who they are. That means it’s unchangeable. Also, this is the source of the defensiveness that prevents people even attempting to change their behavior. You just told them they can’t change because it’s who they are (and it’s a big bad thing as well) and they don’t believe they are the thing at all.

        A person who does a racist thing can stop doing the racist thing. A person who is “a racist” fundamentally can never change. It’s a valuable distinction. I’m not sure it comes from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but that’s where I learned about it. You are not a bad person, you did a bad thing. Do better next time.

        1. Lucy Skywalker*

          You described it much better than I did, and much better than I’ve ever seen it described.

      2. Lucy Skywalker*

        There’s a difference between racist (as an adjective) and being a racist (as a noun).

        A racist (noun) deliberately does racist things.
        A person who is racist (adjective) doesn’t intend for their behavior to be racist, but it is racist nonetheless.

  37. Dark Macadamia*

    All I can think of is the old Facebook fail meme where someone posted “I have been accused of being a racist at work” with a balloon background.

    “You accusing me of this is changing my whole self-image” is the funniest, most useless way Tammy could have responded!

    1. DarthVelma*

      If it wasn’t for the fact that this situation is so terrible “You accusing me of this is changing my whole self-image” would go in the lexicon along with the “cheap ass rolls”.

    2. Gerry Keay*

      Truly one of those moments of like “ugh you’re so close Tammy, just keep thinking that thought for a bit longer and you might actually reach the entire effing point.”

    3. Decima Dewey*

      Shouldn’t the follow up to “You accusing me of this is changing my whole self-image” have been something like “Wow, I didn’t realize I said something that bigoted! I need to talk to our DEI person for some help!”

  38. zebra*

    OP, you 100% did the right thing. I’m sorry that when you first started at your company, you didn’t have anyone to stick up for you against the awful things people said to you, but I’m so proud of you for turning around and being that person for Rachel and the other new employees.

    The whole point of learning about white fragility is that we (speaking as a fellow white woman) are supposed to be able to recognize that because we live in a racist society with racist systems of oppression, we DO sometimes do racist things unthinkingly. If Tammy can’t even handle the suggestion that she may have hurtful unconscious biases, she has no business being a leader in a company that’s “committed to equity.”

  39. DTalla*

    Whew, OP! On behalf of the other Rachels in the world, thank you for this. Without folks like you, we’d be in an *EVEN* worse position and fighting ever more battles just to earn the right to show up at work every day.

  40. Irish Teacher*

    I once read a comment that said that was tells whether you are a decent person or not isn’t whether you mess up – we all do that – it’s not even how BADLY you mess up because there are various factors that can affect what mistakes one is likely to make such as upbringing and education and so on. What really tells what kind of person you are is how you react when you are called out.

    I think there is a lot of truth to it. A decent person would be more concerned about the possibility they had misjudged Rachel than about the fact the LW thought them racist. If a person is accused of racism or sexism or homophobia and their first thought is “how dare you accuse me of that? I’m the least racist/sexist/homophobic person around. You’re just being ‘woke,'” etc rather than “yikes, could I be guilty of bias? Am I being unfair here?” it says something about their priorities.

    1. Gracely*


      No one is perfect. We are all human, we all make mistakes. Sometimes we do it unintentionally because of how we’ve been brought up or because we’re genuinely ignorant. Either way, mistakes that impact others are still going to hurt. But how we react to that hurt (are we focused on the impact on us, or on the impact to others? Do we deny it, or try to fix it?) makes a big difference.

    2. Flash Packet*


      I have a roofing company and an HVAC installation/repair company that I will recommend at the merest hint of someone needing a new roof or their HVAC system needing repaired/replaced. Both of the companies seriously botched up their first pass at doing the things I needed *BUT* they stuck with it, fixed their mistakes, and went overboard making sure I was truly satisfied with the final work product.

      It was how they handled their mistakes that made all the difference.

      Contrast that with plumbers and handymen who I will proactively tell people to avoid at all costs because they denied making the mistake I watched them make and then tried to convince me they couldn’t possibly have done the thing I watched them do.

      Tammy could have said, “My immediate reaction is to push back on this and defend myself so, if it’s OK with you, I’m going to take some time to think this through because I truly do not want to be the kind of person who discriminates based on skin color. Can we meet again tomorrow?”

      Tammy could have earned the respect of every person in this story by taking a step back and being open to the idea that she may have biases that are clouding her judgement.

      But she didn’t. She doubled-down and centered the conversation around her hurt feelings.

  41. RJ*

    It sounds to me like Tammy and your HR department need a lot more DEI training. OP, you did the right thing in reporting Tammy’s actions.

    1. Anonononononononymous*

      I don’t know that more DEI training is the answer. DEI training does nothing to change people who don’t want to change (or don’t even think they need to).

      And my organization’s DEI training is terrible. There’s nothing quite like sitting through multiple videos of white dudes explaining implicit bias.

  42. Alex*

    “Oh wow, you’re totally right, I AM a racist. I should definitely change!” said no racist ever, when accused of being racist. Doesn’t mean that calling them out isn’t the right thing to do. Good for you LW.

  43. learnedthehardway*

    I mean, it would have been one thing if Tammy had questioned the qualifications and suitability of ALL or most of the candidates that are hired to this organization – some people are simply suspicious by nature. But when it’s ONLY the Black employees whose qualifications and suitability are questioned…

    No, you did the right thing, OP.

    Don’t feel badly about people who aren’t willing to confront or deal with their biases. If Tammy had responded with a “OMG I can’t believe I did this, I feel terrible,” then there might have been some hope for her, but doubling down on what is a pretty OBVIOUS pattern of biased statements really is awful of her.

  44. Elle*

    I just want to say how much I respect you, OP, for speaking up. You were totally right to do so and it’s a pity Tammy isn’t taking the opportunity to examine her behavior and beliefs and correct her course! I’m also a queer woman who deals with some infuriating crap at work (though I think I fly under the radar on account of being femme) and also a white person trying to speak up when I should. Just reading about this strengthens my resolve to do the right thing in similar situations.

  45. Fluffy Fish*

    OP if it helps – that bad feeling in your gut because you think Tammy is targeting your black employees? Think about how it would feel to actually be Tammy’s target – it’s a lot more than a bad feeling.

    You are doing the right thing. That’s the thing about so much -ist behavior – it’s not someone standing in the middle of the room shouting they hate POC’s or gays. It’s subtler. It makes you question. The perpetrator tries to cover with plausible deniability. They claim they aren’t racist or homophobic. And you – you question it. Because it’s a serious thing to accuse someone of and here’s this person you know who isn’t a 100% horrible person…so maybe just maybe….

    And that’s how it perpetuates day after day, year after year.

    Call it out. It’s on us white people to shut this sh*t down from other white people. Use your privilege to protect your employees.

    You are doing the right thing.

  46. LKW*

    Do not feel guilty. There are three possible responses to being called a racist
    1. Shutting up and listening. Looking inward and accepting that you have biases and you need to be better.
    2. Refusal to accept criticisms or concerns. This often includes some variation of “But I have a Black friend!” or “I treat everyone the same!”
    3. Proudly going off on some racist rant that would be appropriate for a Klan meeting.

    That’s it. Those are the responses. As a middle aged cis-white woman I’ve been called racist. Did I feel defensive ? Yup. Did I keep my mouth shut and opened up my ears to hear the specific behavior that was leading to the critique? Hell yes. It’s on me to do better.

  47. The Crowening*

    Racists always expect and demand that their brand of racism, whatever it is, should be not only permissible but somehow treated as noble or sacred. They are very proud of their racism. But they hate to have it pointed out! (Which is weird. I am a proud cat parent, and if someone points out that I have cats, I don’t fling the cats out of the room while bellowing indignantly that I do NOT have cats and how dare you.) You had the nerve to not play along and not uphold your side of the deal. Of course she’s pissed. She gambled (on her racism being OK) and she lost.

    Bravo, OP.

  48. mreasy*

    You reported Tammy for being racist because Tammy is racist. Perhaps it’s good that her self-image was shaken and her feelings were hurt. Because maybe she will stop being racist!

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      At the very, very least Tammy’s actions were racist, and if Tammy doesn’t want to be perceived as racist she needs to take that to heart and not do racist things.

      But it does seem that yeah Tammy’s pretty racist.

  49. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    “You accusing me of this is changing my whole self-image“


    1. tamarack and fireweed*

      Yeah, this opens a lot of opportunity for hooking in with “that’s one of the good things of being alive – we all grow and learn”.

      1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        Yep. “That’s really brave of you, it can be really hard to change something you’ve thought was okay but then realized it wasn’t, I’m really inspired by you”.

        Just act as if she was sincere the whole time. I bet Letter Writer could go back and say that later too “you know, I have been thinking about a comment you made ever since you said it, it’s just so inspirational and exactly what the anti racism books reach about being willing to confront hard truths even if it means changing your whole self image. Thank you for setting such a high bar and an excellent example for all of us to aspire to”

        What’s she going to say to that?

        1. Ismonie*

          Tammy might not have a comeback, but she might continue to discriminate against black people if she doesn’t do some real work that she seems completely hostile to.

  50. Speaking as a Queer Ethics Prof,*

    You did the right thing, LW.
    Thank you. Things will only improve if people insist that they improve.

    And to those talking about how terrible this workplace sounds, honestly, it sounds . . . normal? Maybe on the “good” side of average, since the company apparently does have someone advocating for the right kinds of change, though it hasn’t really taken root and flourished yet.

  51. a_ttvina*

    As a Black woman in a corporate office culture, I can nearly guarantee that your Black employees were very aware of Tammy’s suspicion of their abilities – it’s one of the more demoralizing things about work sometimes. Thank you for reporting Tammy AND for following through on the process.

    1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      Yeah, this is really insidious because it’s not as overt, but still felt. And people like Tammy are really good at making it all seem so plausible whilst doing it.

    2. The Original K.*

      Co-sign. If a white person thinks you don’t belong, they will find a way to tell you you don’t belong. How overtly it’s done varies but it has happened to me constantly, in a lifetime of navigating white professional and educational spaces.

  52. Petty Betty*

    Tammy is one of those racists who doesn’t believe she’s a racist because she’s not actively wearing a hood and roaming the streets in a lynch mob while publicly calling for a full revocation of all POC rights and active slavery again. To her, *that* is racism. What she is doing can’t be racism because she’s not saying they can’t work at all, just that they aren’t good enough to work for HER and work WITH her and they’d better not move into her neighborhood because she has no idea what values they were raised with (yeah, I grew up with these types, I know exactly how they think/act).

    But straight up – she is being racist. Racially biased thinking is racism.

    You didn’t ask for advice about the rest of your office, but oof… I’m not sure if I’d be staying if I had other options. Sounds like you may not have many?

    1. Purple Cat*

      Yup. And these are the same people who insist that they don’t have privilege because they only look at other people’s economic privilege and thinks that’s the only one that matters.

  53. FrozenSky*

    I needed to read this today to be reminded that there are people out there who choose to do what’s right vs what feels comfortable and easy. Thank you LW. Please send in an update.

  54. Beebee*

    It was definitely right to stand up! I hope Rachel and your other employees are feeling okay and supported.

  55. Faith the twilight slayer*

    OP – I can only imagine how much you spent thinking about this before you reported it, and the second-guessing you’ve done since then (enough to as Alison!). It can be agonizing wondering if you’re doing the right thing, weighing it against what you think it will do to you professionally and/or personally, and then to have to be told your views are skewed. Please know that regardless of how your organization resolves this that you’ve done the right thing and your coworkers/employees are lucky to have someone like you.

  56. WellRed*

    Off topic: running a fake meeting, a questionnaire and essays for a one year contract? That seems a lot and Anyone that makes it through all that should be applauded. On topic: you did good, OP. This needed to be reported.

  57. tamarack and fireweed*

    Another one to applaud you.

    I think the story illustrates that this is genuinely hard. DEI training and reading material are all nice and well, but no amount of process can eliminate racism and other kinds of inequitable attitudes from an organization.

    In particular I applaud you for holding the line “whether Tammy, or anyone in particular, is racist is neither here nor there – what I care about is that our black employees’ expertise is respected and that they don’t receive unreasonable amounts of scrutiny. This is what we need to achieve and this is what I want to achieve.” Well, that and the clueless microaggressions over sexual orientation and gender expression! So there’s work to be done – and a caring organization will at least agree that this is the case, even if it’s a pill to swallow for any particular person to realize that – *because of their own actions* – they have lost the status as a paragon of equity and non-discrimination. Jay Smooth’s now 14 year old video “How to tell someone they are a racist” is helpful here too (easy to find on YouTube via Google).

  58. WantonSeedStitch*

    So HR treated this like a situation of “OP hurt my feelings” from Tammy rather than a report of bias that could potentially put the company in legal trouble? This…is not a good HR department.

  59. Luna*

    Tammy’s excuse of having read an apparent book (?) would just make me question, “What does that have to do with this?” Like, reading a book doesn’t mean you can’t be a rude-meaning racist. She might as well have said, “I can’t be racist, I have non-white friends!” Just as utterly pointless to mention and not part of the problem of how she’s acting.

    One of the questions your coworkers asked is making me think, though.
    I don’t believe kids have it ‘harder’ these days because they have to ask themselves if they are non-heteronormative in romantic or sexual orientations or even gender identity. I think it might actually be easier for them because they grow up with terms that rather decently explain how they might feel.
    Like, I was happy to hear that asexuality was a thing, and I now had a term to describe my own sexual orientation than to try to explain to people in multiple sentecnes that involved my not really sure what words to use.

    There’s no need to feel guilty, OP. What was said by Tammy was noticed by you because it appeared as a pattern, not simply focused on Rachel, but on other employees or candidates, with an overlapping factor being their skincolor. Maybe Tammy does have legitimate worries about white employees’ qualifications, but she never brought them up until she apparently had to explain herself. It’s just a case where it’s better to look and be sure there isn’t a bigger problem.

    1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

      My kid was SO RELIEVED to hear that there were multiple possible explanations and a few terms for what she was feeling! (She was still in the window where she might develop allosexual feelings later, which I also mentioned, but it was important to her that ace was a valid option and that there were terms she could use to search and read more without an adult hanging over her shoulder.)

  60. Minerva*

    Unconscious racists frequently twist the conversation to “I’m not a racist and being called a racist hurt my feeling.”

    You were right to do what you did and HR was wrong to frame this as a “personality clash.” The clash is that she doesn’t think of herself as a racist person, so she she believes that it is impossible that she is capable of a racist action.

  61. Another Rachel*

    As a Black woman, you absolutely did the right thing and you were the only person in a position to do it. Tammy has been saying the quiet part out loud to you- but I guarantee Rachel could sense it. It’s exhausting being a Black woman in the workplace and to have to constantly prove that you belong. I also want to applaud you for pushing back when the first report wasn’t handled appropriately and escalating it past that HR meeting. Thank you.

  62. Sick of Workplace Bullshit (she/her)*

    Good for you, OP! It’s hard to report someone on a good day, let alone someone who’s been a mentor to you. That takes guts. I’m glad you recognized this for what it was, and kept at it until it was dealt with properly.

  63. SMH*

    This reminds me of the time my former grandboss told me, “I’m as big a supporter of women in this field as anyone, but hiring someone 6 months pregnant would just be stupid.”

  64. Silverose*

    I totally saw this on Reddit’s AITA a few days ago and my first thought was “they should send this to AAM”. I’m so glad they did!! I was not disappointed by Allison’s response. OP, your company has a massive culture problem. You should be considering whether you personally have the bandwidth to stick around for the massive work required to turn it around or if it would be healthier for you to find a more inclusive employer to start with.

      1. BethRA*

        The moderators deleted the post and locked it before verdict was rendered. But it was trending “NTA” and “yes your boss is a racist.”

  65. Foila*

    Hey lw, another vote thanking you for taking much needed action. If you haven’t already, might I suggest checking in with Rachel? Letting her know that you are not only aware of how messed up Tammy’s position is, but that you are completely happy with Rachel’s performance, and you are actually doing the hard work to support her.

  66. Bookworm*

    Nope, not wrong, OP. I’d say it’s clear your organization has significant issues that need to be addressed. Thank you for speaking up.

  67. Pets banshees*

    Simply another vote for OP absolutely doing the right thing. An excellent example of using privilege to benefit others.

    1. BluntBunny*

      Was definitely necessary to report her. For someone at director level to personally call and say 2 employees won’t work out when they have only just started it is pretty disgusting.
      Also because of they are all on temporary contracts it’s worth flagging this early rather than wait for her to be more obstructive. I can easily see them being blocked for permanent roles or no suitable roles being available.

    2. T horton*

      In a way, Tammy did say ‘I can’t be racist; I have non white friends!’. Op stated Tammy said “I’m also concerned about the performance of white employees like [random white coworker], so I don’t see how this could be racism…” like, yea Tammy you can be concerned about a white employee’s performance, but if you aren’t giving them the same level of scrutiny as POC employees, if you don’t question a white employee’s qualifications but do when that employee is a minority, then yes, you are racist.

  68. Jas*

    I am a AA woman and in all of my jobs, I’m been the first or second person of color in a given title (Library Supervisor, Museum Director of Education, etc.)

    I am happy there is a law firm reviewing things, because you can’t refute facts, which I hope they highlight. Once things become about people’s feelings and personal perceptions, all is lost.

    I read your post and didn’t see that you were able to clarify and refute Tammy’s suggestions on missing or low qualifications for the new hires? I think it’s easier to say to Tammy or HR that you did your due diligence by reconfirming qualifications and bouncing that against your supervisor. So then it’s not a question of proving Tammy’s bias, the facts and her faulty actions/comments will expose that. If you double check the qualifications and Tammy was right, irrelevant of her bias, she is doing her job.

    BUT if Tammy is wrong, “Hey Tammy, I double checked on the qualifications based off our conversation and found no errors. I’m sure your goal was to make sure we have the best qualified people. I hope I’m not speaking out of turn… But I think it’s important to weigh heavily doubting qualifications of new hires without merit, especially individuals of color. It might seem like a pattern and counter productive. I have also shared these thoughts with my boss and they are in agreement. I hope you will continue to trust my judgement with hiring recommendations and decisions. I appreciate you!”

    Translation, “ Thanks, Tammy, but stay out of my business and keep your bias to yourself…”

  69. RhondaDawnAnonAnon*

    I’m a white employee in an organization that pays lip service to DEI but isn’t doing nearly enough to address actual documented instances of bias and a lot of this is sadly familiar to me. Tammy’s tactic of making vague unprovable allegations is a common bullying technique used against people of color. It’s not okay and the OP was absolutely correct to escalate.

    All Tammys of the world need to understand that repeating unproven innuendo is not the same thing as making a factual allegation of wrongdoing. Regardless of the specific results of the investigation, I hope Tammy realizes that she can’t just make sh*t up anymore and expect there to be no repercussions for it.

  70. Carpe Manana*

    You definitely did the right thing! But ummm, Rachel isn’t still looking for a job, is she? She sounds amazing.

  71. Invisible today*

    OP, you are brave and strong and did the right thing.
    I wanted to flag a factor that OP mentioned that we haven’t discussed much… the fear / guilt of causing harm to those we have a personal or professional relationship with. The very real risk of damage or loss in that pre-existing relationship, no matter how justified is still a loss, and it is perfectly normal for OP to mourn that, even while being confident she did the right thing.

  72. Yes.*

    LW, this was not overkill. It was just enough. This is what any White colleague of a Black person should automatically do when you witness anti-Black racism. I’m glad you acted the way you did, but that you’ve been made to rethink the decision shows just how far we have to go.

    The alternative to you reporting was a harmful environment for your staff and future prospects being shut out by her hiring practices. Those are massive, massive consequences. I’ve stayed in not-so-great jobs before because even though the work itself was sloppy, I felt safe as a Black woman. All because the alternative would be somewhere like your office. Always the right choice to act.

  73. Person with unconscious bias doing her best*

    Your doing what you did is what needs to happen. Just saying “we’re not racist” does not cut it. That’s how Wells Fargo and the NFL ended up doing fake interviews for black candidates. People need to escalate. I’m glad the executives at the top listened, whether that’s because they don’t want to be in the next Wells Fargo-esque lawsuit or because they have compassion.

  74. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

    I just wanted to say to the OP you did EXACTLY THE RIGHT THING. I’m sorry your organisation isn’t responding well, but (as a white butch lesbian trying to be an anti-racist in a subtly/institutionally racist organisation) I am so, so impressed with your actions here. Thank you – we’re all chipping away at this granite mountain and it’s hard, but every little chip helps. I hope I will behave as well as you when I see something like this.

  75. Tech Writer*

    I noticed you said the coworkers are one year contractors. Does that mean that these black coworkers will not have benefits for an entire year while white coworkers will have benefits, like good health insurance and paid leave? I don’t know if that’s the case and if it is, it’s not your fault. But dang, if that is the case, that also sounds like unintentional but serious discrimination to me.

    1. Contract to Hire*

      A LOT of organizations act in this way, particularly tech and non-profit orgs. Non- profit is notorious for this. The companies/organizations will include them in their demographic surveys but not break down who are the year-round employees receiving health insurance and retirement savings. The POC employees (especially Black employees) aren’t granted the assurance of stability, let alone the chance to create generational wealth.

  76. Chickaletta*

    You’re doing great, OP! Sorry you’re having to deal with someone who fights back by attacking your intentions and character. I’ve had that happen before and it also sent me into a spiral of questioning myself. You did the right thing though, and those types of people just lack self-confidence, which is why they try to bring the other person down – it makes them feel better about themselves.

  77. SEM*

    Just another internet stranger thanking you for reporting it. I am white but focused on DEI in my work and you did the right thing and I am glad your org is taking it seriously. And well done on hiring a qualified and diverse team, I wish we had more people like you at my company

  78. Nines*

    You did exactly what you should have done. Thank you for having that courage. That nagging “what if this is all in my head” is what keeps people like Tammy in power.
    I believe she might not INTEND to be racist. But if her first thought about a black woman is “she can’t be that qualified” she has some unconscious bias that she needs to take a LONG look at.
    I love that part of her complaint was “this is changing my whole self-image” She should be thanking you for that. Now she has the opportunity to change how she sees things.
    Also. Spot on to being confused why it was being treated as a personality clash!

  79. Suzie SW*

    You were more than justified to do this, and your hires deserve to have this investigated.

    On another note…how can I get my hands on that cultural competency questionnaire? I would love to know how companies are positioning this in the interview process!

  80. Mouse*

    Unpopular opinion but yeah, this was a bad way to handle it. Unless she’s overtly racist, a simple conversation with her would’ve been more effective as a first step. Sometimes all it takes is “Hey Tammy, I saw your message about approving new hires. Can we discuss the concerns you have about our current new hires?” for someone to realize they’re being prejudicial. Or on the other hand, you could realize she has valid, non-prejudicial concerns.

    Reporting to HR as a first step is a lose/lose any way you spin it. -If she’s secretly racist, she’s still racist but now racist and pissed off. -If she’s racist but unaware she’s racist, she’s now forced on the defensive and closed off from feedback. -If she was never racist in the first place, she’s rightfully insulted.

    You have to offer someone a golden bridge to retreat on – it’s unrealistic to expect someone to absorb feedback when there’s no way for them to save face while doing it.

    And all this is *assuming* she is in fact racist. It sounds like the last one is a very clear case of miscommunication. Allison’s advice on this is antithetical to most of her past advice. Very bizarre.

    1. Mouse*

      Just to clarify: if you have a conversation and determine yes,Tammy is definitely just racist and proud to show it, go to HR. But the conversation needs to happen first.

    2. Ismonie*

      I disagree. If you witness someone treating white employees and black employees (or contractors) differently, you have to report that. It’s discrimination. As Rachel’s boss, it was OP’s job to report this.

    3. Ask A Manatee*

      If she’s not a racist she’s “rightfully insulted?” No, if she’s not one, she realizes that her behavior was perceived as racist, and she needs to address that. Like, for example, giving a reason why she doubts the employee’s credentials. And asking herself if she has unconscious bias. And she’s not “forced” into being defensive, that’s on her. It’s not on the OP to seek clarification on something that *looks* bad on the part of her boss. HR is supposed to ask the right questions, it’s their job.

    4. M. from P.*

      Ok, wait. This is not primarily about Tammy herself. Her “being racist” is not something that happens in a vacuum. Her actions are undermining and excluding a human being with feelings. She threatened the livelihood of three people in the organization. She also made it clear she’ll block future hires that are not to her liking. The org should not just review her actions. It should look at how the entire system is mysteriously resulting in close to no POC in positions of leadership.

    5. Observer*

      I don’t know what letter you are reading, but it doesn’t sound like the letter that everyone else read.

      What Tammy said was overtly racist. She complained about the “fit” of the first two black hires in what sounds like a pretty direct response to one of the them pointing out, in appropriate context that there are no black people in leadership, while having nothing to point to by way of issues with their actual qualifications or behavior. Then, she again called to call Rachel a liar, based on the fact that her brother has qualifications that Rachel is working towards. The OP did point out that Rachel didn’t say that she has those qualifications, but that doesn’t seem to have penetrated.

      Then she upped the ante by declaring that clearly someone is messing up hiring, and she needs to personally vet every new hire.

      Then, when HR called the meeting, all she could say was that she’s read a book and taken all the DEI training she can deal with, so how dare anyone call her racist. If she actually had a real defense, such as concrete issues with performance, she would have brought those up and left out the fact that she’s taken so much DEI training.

      That’s not “reasonable” behavior, and whether Tammy is a racist person- which the OP didn’t accuse her of – her behavior certainly fits long standing patterns of racist behavior. Including reacting VERY poorly to and doubling down after the OP did try to politely push back in the moment.

    6. Shameful confession*

      I’m going to soft disagree here. I think ideally this could have been headed off with Tammy directly or with somebody directly above her (not sure if I missed in the question whether there was somebody appropriate), but reporting it to HR is not an overstep (we don’t, for example, know if LW had already taken a more direct approach or had a reason for thinking it would be futile and has just omitted it from the letter for length). HR turning it into a interpersonal conflict problem IS a misstep and has turned a situation which didn’t need to be adversarial into exactly that – but that’s on HR, not on OP.

      I have to shamefully admit I say this as somebody who has sort of been in Tammy’s position and did react in a not totally dissimilar way to Tammy. In that case, it was misunderstanding – basically I think what the person had been trying to say “I’m worried the process you’re suggesting could result in Bad Outcome. Before we go ahead, could you explain what we’re doing to mitigate that?” but what I heard was “You’re asking me to do Bad Outcome – do you not realise Bad Outcome is bad?”, to which my reaction was a very defensively along the lines of “I’m NOT asking you to do Bad Outcome. Of course I know Bad Outcome is bad. How DARE you suggest otherwise to other people?”. Yeah, it was ugly.

      In our case, it didn’t go to HR. We kind of sorted it out directly (I think we agreed, although neither of us were actually clear on what the other had misunderstood, there clearly was a misunderstanding somewhere so it might be best to apologise and drop it). I also think my manager may have had a separate meeting with the other person to talk through that, yes, this process had several safeguards and safety checks but while the chances of Bad Outcome were very small, they definitely weren’t non-existent and, if that wasn’t good enough, then we should put the thing on pause until we could think of a better approach (basically, the conversation I should have had!) but I wasn’t a part of that so can’t be sure. To be honest, it only dawned on me that the other person may have been questioning flaws in the process when I was auditing a very similar process at another company years down the line – upon realising this, I promptly wanted the ground to swallow me whole!

      In fact, in this situation, it would have been really helpful to have somebody mediate the situation because we were certainly talking at cross purposes and getting nowhere, while emotions were running high. HR could have been the right people to do that, and it could have led to the process being re-examined and improved. Like I said, in OP’s case, HR has missteped by turning into a conflict situation when it’s actually a “there’s a worrying pattern emerging and we need to examine what’s going on here” fact finding process – but, like I said, that’s on HR, not on OP for reporting it.

  81. TG*

    Don’t feel guilty – you absolutely did the right thing. Scrutinize minorities in a way you don’t towards white people is racist. End of story.

  82. Ask A Manatee*

    As a POC and a woman, I’d like to call attention to a pattern I see in the comments when issues of racism or sexism are discussed. A commenter might write, “I’m confused, did X happen first, or was that after OP did Y?” And they get attacked (for example, “The fact that you’re focusing on X instead of the larger issue means you are cutting the offender slack. You’re part of the problem because you don’t see that”). Sometimes a question is just a question. I don’t need every comment to start with a Position Statement. The absence of explicit agreement doesn’t indicate disagreement! And I find it patronizing when whites attack each other for not being verbose enough in their condemnation of racist behavior. Ok, back to your Regularly Scheduled Program.

    1. Eyes Kiwami*

      I think it’s a side symptom of white fragility in the comments. White commentors sensitive about their precarious position are quick to signal that they are an Ally and would Never Do Something Like That. We need to take yet another step back and think about what we can do that is anti-racist besides attacking people in comments sections whenever race comes up.

      1. MM*

        Ding ding. Yeah, it’s something I’ve unfortunately come to expect. Lots of patting each other on the back and narrating our own Learning Experiences. I call this “singing Amazing Grace in the town square.” (Witness my salvation! Let us testify together!) This comments section isn’t as intense with it as some I’ve seen, but it is…happening.

  83. M. from P.*

    I find it telling that we’ve been discussing Tammy ad nauseam in this thread but didn’t really address the issue of how to best support Rachel and other folks who have been actively undermined by Tammy. They should be made whole and a higher up should make sure any discriminatory actions are reversed (including making sure whatever has been implied about them is explicitly contradicted).

    1. Observer*

      That’s all true, but totally not actionable for the OP. All she can do in this respect is to make sure that whoever is doing the the investigation has all of the information she has, and to shield her employees from Tammy’s racist behavior as best as she can till the organization figures out how to deal with things.

      The key thing that people are addressing is the question that the OP asked, which is whether she did the right thing. The answer to that is unequivocally YES, and Tammy’s problematic behavior is the reason why. So people are trying to clarify for the OP.

  84. Stunner266*

    Im going against the grain here, but I really dont like how quick everyone is to scream “RACIST” as soon as a person who happens to be white says something about someone who happens to be black, especially as race wasnt mentioned at all in the comments that were made by Tammy.

    OP says:
    “I work for an organization in a majority white area”
    “one of the employees said in a meeting that he noticed that he didn’t see any other Black men in leadership in the organization.”
    Well yes, obviously if you live in a majority white area, you will end up with majority white people in every department, including leadership. This isnt racism, and I think its fair for Tammy to be annoyed at this statement made by the new employee basically claiming that the company is racist.

    For Rachel, OP says:
    “I just wanted to talk to you about Rachel. There’s no way she has the qualifications she says she has. She said she’s a X already? There’s no way.”
    The word “already” sticks out to me in this sentence. I read it that Rachel is young, and Tammy was pointing out that she knew it took many years to get that sort of qualification.

    When you look at both of the scenarios this way, Tammy isnt racist at all and so I think her response in the meeting was correct and shouldnt have been “Thanks for pointing this out and let’s take a closer look at what’s happening.” Why should Tammy just accept being accused of being a racist when she isnt just because shes white? isnt THAT racist? After all if a black person had said those things, it would be fine…

    To be clear, I am 100% against actual racism, but I do not like when things are called racist without them actually being racist, this is not the way forward and keeps a divide alive

    1. cappucino girl*

      I’m just going to address the first half of your comment. (I am addressing this from the lens of US law & employment)

      So, first of all, in the US, “On average, black men earned 87 cents for every dollar a white man earned.” So even IF this employee was being overly sensitive he has good reason to be. (For the record, I think this was a perfectly reasonable and justifiable comment, not that it should have to be justified to anyone.) Secondly, and more importantly, the manager does not have the right to express any level of irritation with the employee’s statement. Why? “[federal law prohibits]… punishing job applicants or employees for asserting their rights to be free from employment discrimination…Asserting these EEO rights is called “protected activity,”… Participating in a complaint process is protected from retaliation under all circumstances. Other acts to oppose discrimination are protected as long as the employee was acting on a reasonable belief that something in the workplace may violate EEO laws, even if he or she did not use legal terminology to describe it.” (Mentioning a lack of black men in leadership would fall under the category of ‘other acts.’)

      By the way, that means the employee is protected even if they are incorrect about discrimination in the workplace, as long as they are acting in good faith. Good faith doesn’t mean you agree with the other person’s reasoning, just that they are being honest and truthful.

      Obviously, people still behave in discriminatory ways and labor law is very loosely enforced in the US, but retaliatory behavior against employees who voice concerns about discrimination – even concerns that you might not agree with! – is illegal.

      Also, it’s very revealing that instead of the grand-boss actually addressing & thinking about the concerns, she chooses to get defensive instead. If she was actually not racist, her response would have been COMPLETELY different.

      I’m a white person who has said dumb (mostly just oblivious) shit, and my friends have been like WTF, and after actually listening to them, I’m like oh! you’re right! And if you’re not Black, you’d be surprised by how much racism & colorism there is that white & non black people don’t see.

      I heard horror stories from Black students at my HS around 3 yrs after I graduated. I had zero idea this was happening.


      EEOC: https://www.eeoc.gov/retaliation

    2. Minerva*

      That sure is some selective reading.

      Of particular note, Rachel fully checked out, including references. She is working out as an employee, yet Tammy felt the need to call Rachel a liar rather than engage in any good faith examination or actually as LW if the X was confirmed in the hiring process.

      LW noticed that race was the 1 unifying factor in all of Tammy’s misgivings about these employees, to the point where Tammy wanted to have final say in new hires. It can be inferred that Tammy has never expressed this level of concern or scrutiny over white new hires.

    3. Speaking as a Queer Ethics Prof,*

      Your stated opposition to racism is admirable, as far as it goes.
      It does not go as far as you probably wish, however, because you are not operating on an accurate or true understanding of what racism is and how it is supported in institutions and systems. I strongly suggest seeking training or doing some reading in this area.

    4. NeedRain47*

      Why do you assume that the OP, who hired Rachel, didn’t verify her qualifications at all? And why does it matter so much when she’s doing an excellent job? Tammy has no concrete reason to bring this up.

      Also, you’re just wrong about racism.

    5. Liz T*

      Hmm, sounds like you don’t know much about what racism is and how it works, and like you don’t care to.

    6. Jennifer Strange*

      Im going against the grain here, but I really dont like how quick everyone is to scream “RACIST” as soon as a person who happens to be white says something about someone who happens to be black, especially as race wasnt mentioned at all in the comments that were made by Tammy.

      Race doesn’t have to be mentioned for it to be a factor in the situation. Racists don’t loudly proclaim “I feel this way because he’s black!” In fact, they either go to great lengths to claim it has nothing to do with race or (in many situations) they themselves don’t realize they’re singling folks out due to race.

      Well yes, obviously if you live in a majority white area, you will end up with majority white people in every department, including leadership. This isnt racism, and I think its fair for Tammy to be annoyed at this statement made by the new employee basically claiming that the company is racist.

      But in what ways is the company working to create a greater diversity within their leadership? Simply shrugging and saying “Whatcha gonna do?” shows a lack of caring and comfort with the status quo. It may not be overt racism, but the lack of effort to have different voices within the organization still shows that they don’t have a plan for creating a diverse work force, and the employee was right (and helpful!) to point this out. You want those voices showing you where you can improve. The OP even says the comment was relevant and delivered professionally.

      When you look at both of the scenarios this way, Tammy isnt racist at all and so I think her response in the meeting was correct and shouldnt have been “Thanks for pointing this out and let’s take a closer look at what’s happening.”

      So when you whitewash the scenarios for your own comfort Tammy looks better? And even if her actions weren’t guided by race (and let’s not claim she isn’t racist at all) what’s the harm in doing some self-reflection on the matter and seeing if she could have handled it better?

      Why should Tammy just accept being accused of being a racist when she isnt just because shes white? isnt THAT racist? After all if a black person had said those things, it would be fine…

      No, she’s not being accused of being racist just because she’s white. You’ll notice that the OP (who is also white) wasn’t accused of anything, so clearly this was based on her BEHAVIOR not her race. Also, the “whataboutism” doesn’t really work when non-white folks have an entire history of oppression they are still trying to overcome.

      To be clear, I am 100% against actual racism, but I do not like when things are called racist without them actually being racist, this is not the way forward and keeps a divide alive

      Actually, what keeps the divide alive is the refusal to acknowledge our own biases because it hurts our feelings.

      1. Stunner266*

        But in what ways is the company working to create a greater diversity within their leadership? Simply shrugging and saying “Whatcha gonna do?” shows a lack of caring and comfort with the status quo. It may not be overt racism, but the lack of effort to have different voices within the organization still shows that they don’t have a plan for creating a diverse work force, and the employee was right (and helpful!) to point this out. You want those voices showing you where you can improve. The OP even says the comment was relevant and delivered professionally.

        So, to make sure I understand what you are saying here, even though the area is majority white, you think that majority leadership positions should be given to black people for no reaon other than their skin colour? Isnt that racist?

        So when you whitewash the scenarios for your own comfort Tammy looks better? And even if her actions weren’t guided by race (and let’s not claim she isn’t racist at all) what’s the harm in doing some self-reflection on the matter and seeing if she could have handled it better?

        Why arent I allowed to give Tammy the benefit of the doubt? Is it guilty until proven innocent when you are white? Self reflect on what? If she isnt racist there is nothing to self reflect on. How do you suggest she should have handled things?

        No, she’s not being accused of being racist just because she’s white. You’ll notice that the OP (who is also white) wasn’t accused of anything, so clearly this was based on her BEHAVIOR not her race. Also, the “whataboutism” doesn’t really work when non-white folks have an entire history of oppression they are still trying to overcome.

        Ah, so because white people were all racist years ago, they must all be assumed racist now? Should I assume every German person I meet is a Nazi until proven otherwise? Because they were in history! Yes, I quite like this, if my German boss ever says anything about my work that I dont like ill just scream NAZI, problem solved.

        Actually, what keeps the divide alive is the refusal to acknowledge our own biases because it hurts our feelings.

        Actually what is keeping it alive is people seeing racism where it doesnt exist. You will clearly never see sense because what are you going to do with your life if you arent part of the woke bregade

        1. Minerva*

          You really should have just included “Woke brigade” in the first sentence so everyone knew the bad faith argument they were dealing with off the bat.

        2. Jennifer Strange*

          So, to make sure I understand what you are saying here, even though the area is majority white, you think that majority leadership positions should be given to black people for no reaon other than their skin colour? Isnt that racist?

          Interesting that you copy and pasted my exact words, yet still accused me of saying something I clearly didn’t say. Having a plan for diversifying leadership doesn’t mean booting out everyone who is white and just shoving in black folks, it means taking a hard look at hiring practices and the internal workings of the organization to make sure you’re not creating unnecessary obstacles that historically keep non-white employees from being hired/moving up the corporate ladder.

          Why arent I allowed to give Tammy the benefit of the doubt? Is it guilty until proven innocent when you are white? Self reflect on what? If she isnt racist there is nothing to self reflect on. How do you suggest she should have handled things?

          You can certainly give her the benefit of the doubt, but you can’t just change the narrative to better fit what you want it to be. Even if she didn’t intend to be racist, there is always merit to self-reflection. I suggest she should have thanked OP for bringing it to her attention, if she had further explanation for her comments made them, and then said she would be more aware of potential unconscious biases going forward.

          Ah, so because white people were all racist years ago, they must all be assumed racist now? Should I assume every German person I meet is a Nazi until proven otherwise? Because they were in history! Yes, I quite like this, if my German boss ever says anything about my work that I dont like ill just scream NAZI, problem solved.

          Again, you copied and pasted my exact words and still managed to accuse me of something that wasn’t said. We can’t just ignore history and the fact that we’re still fighting the issues our ancestors allowed to fester for so many years, and which remains embedded in our government today. We all have unconscious biases, even if we strive against prejudice. And that’s not just in terms of race, but in terms of sex, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age, etc. Everyone is guilty of it! However when all you do is shout “Oh so white people are always racist!” you do nothing to actually fight the problem and instead act like you (or your actions) being assumed racist is worse than the systemic racism that continues to exist today.

          Actually what is keeping it alive is people seeing racism where it doesnt exist. You will clearly never see sense because what are you going to do with your life if you arent part of the woke bregade

          Actually what is keeping it alive is people who think ignoring racism will make it go away, and who think that actually fighting racism makes someone part of the “woke brigade.” Congrats on being part of the problem, I guess?

  85. InfiniteSchruteBucks*

    Chiming in to add – HR has really opened up the LW to retaliation for reporting. They openly named her to her grandboss as the reporter, made them sit together and talk about it (!!!) instead of investigating, and now the LW is already facing lost mentorship opportunities and a strained relationship. When it’s time for raises and promotions, there is every reason to think Grandboss will pass over the LW because of this incident. Which is the definition of retaliation – something HR had a legal liability to protect her from.

    LW, when you have your outside meeting, be sure to explain you’re already facing retaliation from Grandboss in the form of an iced relationship and lost mentorship, that your HR department opened you up to this by forcing you to sit down with the person you reported, and that you are very concerned you will continue to face increased retaliation in the future. You might want to also consider talking to an attorney yourself and making your own EO complaint.

  86. Justin*

    You did a good job, OP. The news focuses on people yelling slurs but the racism most of us experience is from people like Tammy who doubt us and dismiss us. I just finished a whole dissertation on racism in organizations and it’s the Tammy’s who are the obstacles.

    As for her, sometimes the most anti-racist action is retirement.

  87. That One Person*

    No its probably good this got called out. For one thing if Rachel claimed to be STUDYING to become something, then there’s no need for Tammy to get up in arms over that. Somehow her brain turned it into an unwitting insult on Rachel’s part with how much on the offensive she sounded in your call afterward accusing Rachel of lying when…Tammy misunderstood? Yet it sounds like she doesn’t believe Rachel could do it anyways? I wouldn’t be surprised if in those three contracts every time Tammy came to you with “concerns” you picked up on the tonal signals she was putting out. She may have come to you with concerns about other people, but if for instance her tone was more even or even conversational rather than drastically concerned…then that probably also flagged your radar.

  88. Hired Hacker*

    Tammy is clearly a racist person and OP was 100% right in reporting her.

    This said, can we know why, in the letter and the answer, the word “Black” is capitalized while “white” isn’t?

    1. Minerva*

      The TL;DR version: “Black” is a race, cultural, and ethnic identifier due to the African diaspora, whereas white is often used in a racial context but rarely in an cultural or ethnic context.

      The long version, per the AP Stylebook:

      “AP’s style is now to capitalize Black in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense, conveying an essential and shared sense of history, identity and community among people who identify as Black, including those in the African diaspora and within Africa. The lowercase black is a color, not a person.

      We also now capitalize Indigenous in reference to original inhabitants of a place.

      These changes align with long-standing capitalization of other racial and ethnic identifiers such as Latino, Asian American and Native American. Our discussions on style and language consider many points, including the need to be inclusive and respectful in our storytelling and the evolution of language. We believe this change serves those ends.”

      1. Hired Hacker*

        Thanks for the explanation. Makes sense, but it still sounds a bit odd. Probably “Afro-American” would fit better then.

        1. Lucy Skywalker*

          Not necessarily. Black people who were born in the West Indies are Afro-Caribbean, not Afro-American.

          1. Hired Hacker*

            “Afro-Caribbean”, then. Or whatever the ethnicity of the referred person is.

        2. Liz T*

          “Afro-American” (or, “African American, which I think is what you mean) isn’t in common or preferred usage anymore, for many reasons:

          -It conflates ethnicity and nationality in a way that’s confusing at best, marginalizing at worst. Blackness and Americanness aren’t on the same vector the way, say, Polishness and Americanness are.
          -Similarly, we don’t use that framework when talking about white people. We’re not Euro-Americans. Black people are Black whether or not they’re American, and not all “Africans” are Black.
          -It implies an immigrant experience, when most Black Americans descend from people brought here unwillingly.
          -It erases diaspora through the Caribbean. Many Black Americans identify with their Caribbean/West Indian heritage.
          – …and this part is my white person speculation, but with all that America has done to Black people, doesn’t it seem extra rude to insist on putting “America” in the name of who they are? When we don’t even do that with white people?
          -Also it’s just clunky and very 1990s Look We’re Trying But Also We’re Terrified.

          Worth a google.

        3. Minerva*

          My mother’s is an immigrant from Trinidad.

          If we use the terminology applied to say, and Irish immigrant (Irish American), she is not African American, she is Trinidadian American. At that point calling her African American erases the country she claims as her origin by highlighting her ancestor’s slave background above all else.

          But we can easily acknowledge that she is Black without engaging in that erasure, and that Blackness gives her a shared experience of racism in the US (and Canada, and the UK) irrespective of her actual country of origin.

          1. Minerva*

            To note…I say “her” because I am biracial, I am very ethnically ambiguous and while I personally identify as Black I also can’t deny that her experience of racism as an OBVIOUSLY Black woman is a different experience than mine, something I have been aware of since I was a child.

            Sorry Alison if this is getting off topic!

  89. I'm Not Phyllis*

    1000% what Alison said. White fragility/the tears of white women is what came to mind when I read Tammy’s response … but not knowing Tammy I will give her the benefit of the doubt by saying at the very, very least she probably has some unconscious bias that she needs to sort out. As a white woman, raised in a racist society, I believe that I absolutely have racist tendencies and that it is my responsibility to unlearn them and to absolutely listen when someone is kind enough to point them out to me. It is DAILY work and not something that you can do by attending a few EDI trainings … it’s a commitment.

    Also, so proud of you for speaking up and being a great ally.

  90. Dynamic HR Manager*

    There is a lot going on in this story and I think it is important that the separate components get broken down which most in the comment section have not done so.

    First off, there is the issue or perceived “racism” involving what appears to be differential performance standards on the basis of race. It is important to note, in a work context, that “racism” is not what is generally actionable, but it is “discrimination” on the basis of certain protected classes and those policies that control. Now some companies have other conduct standards that might include activity that is not necessarily “discrimination” but might fall into “racist” or “bigoted” conduct that might make that actionable. But, it is important to note that the two are vastly different and enforcement ought to not get confused or conflated. Ask yourself “is this discrimination in an employment context?” or “is this a behavioral or conduct issue that might implicate other policies?”

    Next, although not specifically forbidden in a Title VII capacity (check your state and local laws which may be different) it is generally inappropriate to approach any “discrimination” allegation with any form of mediation. The proper route is to investigate and, if warranted, take corrective action. I can only think of about one example in about 100 incidents I have handled or advised on where meditation might have been appropriate. Here is an example of when it is just not productive, and indeed can be counterproductive. If you are an HR professional that gets any complaint or information that looks like an allegation or claim of discrimination always, always, always recommend investigation over meditation. You can alway do mediation later if the investigation shows that there was no policy violation.

    Finally, I think there is a “teachable moment” here for managers in general and a practice pointer. Here some pointed questions could have given a lot of clarity on the motivations of the other manager. Instead of assuming that it must be “racism” because white employees are not, in the eyes of the manager submitting this letter, not held to the same performance standards as employees of other races, ask questions that will get you to the root of the statement.

    “Why do you think Employee X does not have the qualifications that are stated on their resume?”
    “Can you expand on your the reasoning for your beliefs that this employee might not fit into our company culture?”
    “Why do you think there is cause in this instance to deviate from our standard employment practices when it comes to hiring, background checks, and determining qualifications?”

    All of these would have either helped the complaining manager further develop their allegation or dispelled the assumption without adding too much on to the overall interaction. I know the writer might have been a little short on the facts due to the nature of the medium, but I also find many professional outright assume discriminatory practices are the motivator with no real evidence of such when say two similarly situated protected classes seem to have differing standards. Making unfounded accusations of bigotry does not make you some hero for equality or equity, it hurts the overall effort. If you suspect discrimination is at play, it is really your duty to help develop any case that will bring it to light and root it out.

    Finally, just a reminder. Non-discrimination laws protect classes of people. This includes “majority” classes and “minority” classes. It applies equally regardless of the class at hand as long as it is a protected class. There are quite a few court cases coming up where a member of a “majority” class is suing for discrimination because a “minority” class was given the preferential standard. It is not OK to give a “minority” class a preference or treat them differently than a “majority” class (even though this is seen as socially acceptable by some) anymore than it is to do so in the reverse.

  91. Vio*

    even if there was nothing racist going on, it is still 100% appropriate to report that something could be interpreted as being racist. sometimes it’s people being racist, sometimes it’s unconscious bias and sometimes it’s just happenstance that can look like discrimination without all of the context and any reasonable person is going to be bothered by any of those. had it just been the latter, then it would still be important to flag so that the context could be made clear
    obviously in this case it’s incredibly unlikely to be a coincidence that all of the employees this manager flags as problems just happen to all have different skin tone to every employee she doesn’t have any problems with. her only possible defence could be that her head is shoved so far up her own arse that she can’t see what colour anybody is, but that would require more self awareness than she has

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