updates: I walked in on the company owner having sex, coworker sent a horrible email company-wide after a janitor won our contest, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager and I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

1. I walked in on the company owner having sex in his office

You were right that I was able to move forward without incident. The issue didn’t come up for months, actually. Earlier this month, though, the owner took me and one of the other junior/mid-level staff to lunch. I was nervous but the lunch itself went fine. When the three of us returned to the office, he pulled me aside and said, “By the way, I’m sorry about what happened when you first started. That shouldn’t have happened and I’m glad you’ve had a positive experience here so far.” I just said, “Understood, thank you for saying that” and left it there.

In terms of your question about whether I could work with him comfortably, I’ve mostly put the incident out of mind and moved on successfully in my job. That’s primarily because the job itself is a good fit for my skill set, despite the lingering thoughts that do pop into my head sometimes. Many thanks, once more, for taking the time to respond and for offering such thoughtful feedback! Your blog continues to be a favorite.

2. My coworker sent a classist, racist email company-wide after a janitor won our Christmas contest

I have read every comment on my letter and this one looking for advice. I am new to the working world (this is my first full-time job) and every time I brought up Gaston with my mentor or other people I either got, “keep your head down, you’re new, establish yourself before you try to make waves/take a stand or you’ll be labeled a trouble maker and accomplish nothing,” or “that’s Gaston, no one pays attention to his rants anyway. just roll your eyes and tune him out like the rest of us.” Reading the comments I went back and forth between, “I didn’t explain this correctly and made him sound more important than he is,” and “this place has completely warped my sense of normalcy, I need to get out of here before I turn into a racist.”

I have since made it a point to try to socialize with people outside my team both to try to distance myself from Gaston and to make sure I don’t start normalizing his rants. I was able to meet up with the coworker who called the team I was on racist and was able to work an apology into the conversation. (“I’ve thought so much about the last time we talked. When you brought up the email I panicked. I had brought it up to my manager when it first happened and was more or less told to leave it alone and not cause trouble. I was worried if I agreed with you, the story would get around that I was calling Gaston a racist. I tried to noncommittally distance myself from the whole thing and I’m sure just made myself look worse. I take the full blame for that, and I have worked on how to address things like this going forward.”) The coworker in question assured me it was all water under the bridge, and he heard of Gaston’s tendency to run to HR with every little thing.

Nevertheless, I know as far as my credibility is concerned I’m going to be starting with a deficit so I need to be careful moving forward. I would love it if any of your readers have suggestions on how to be actively anti-racist when you are newer at a company, many of the resources I’ve found seem to believe the reader has a certain amount of power/authority. I don’t and I want to make sure to be an ally, not a “savior.”

In talking with other people, I’ve learned Gaston has quite the reputation for dog whistles and going up to the line without crossing it. According to office gossip, he runs to HR over the slightest thing and has claimed in the past his managers was retaliating if any of them tried to check his behavior. As a result, he’s been moved from team to team. Most people think Gaston believes he is untouchable and is just running his mouth without caring about the consequences. A few people say they think he is trying to get fired so he can threaten to sue for age discrimination and get a payout from the company because the company won’t want the expense or PR of going to court. I do know he is fond of making statements like, “I’m going to retire in 2023, what are they going to do, fire me?”

My manager did stress that if Gaston said anything against a protected class or legally created a hostile work environment I should let him and HR know right away. Unfortunately Gaston says things like, “First {name of woman who won year 1} wins, then a janitor, I don’t know, it doesn’t seem like something that actually happens, more like something someone writes the end of a movie. Just doesn’t pass the smell test.” Sorry there is no triumphant “Gaston was fired in front of the whole company and everyone got a raise and a vacation.” Just everyone waiting for him to go away like a bad odor.

3. My terrible boss asked for feedback — should I be honest? (first update here)

My update in December wasn’t very positive, but things changed not too long after it was published. I had been trying to get out of that job before I even started working there, which ended up being four years. I went from only applying for jobs that were in the direction in which I want to move my career (I am trying to make a lateral move to a different specialization in the same industry) to applying for anything that I am remotely qualified for, regardless of how uninteresting it sounded, and I gave myself a deadline for getting out of the country.

Three weeks before my deadline, I got a call for a phone screen for a job that I thought was interesting, but also was very far away from the specialization I’m trying to move into. The phone screen went well, and then I was called for a day of interviews a few days later. I didn’t think I had done that well, but I was offered the job less than 24 hours later. I started in March and passed my probation in June.

Regarding Kate, although she really was an awful manager, she was also somehow far less toxic than other people who work at that place, including people I had previously reported to. But 24 hours after I sent in my resignation, she called me and screamed at me for 10 minutes about how (a) she no longer trusted me, (b) I should’ve told her that I was looking for a new position, (c) she hoped that I found a better job because our company was toxic, and (e) she no longer trusted me (again).

I genuinely don’t think she realized that she was exemplifying exactly why I was quitting. It should’ve been pretty obvious that I was looking, because even with her utter lack of self awareness, she still should’ve known that I was literally criminally underpaid (the company has the ability to work outside the confines of the law, which is why someone of my nationality was allowed to even work there in the first place) and received no PTO.

No job is perfect, but everything about my new job is an improvement. I received a nearly 100% salary bump which puts me at the lower-middle end of market range for my position, qualifications, and experience. I also have a lot of PTO including generous sick leave.

I am doing much, much better. I went off my antidepressants. I am regularizing my status so that I’m not dependent on a job to stay in this country. I even moved to a much nicer (and cheaper) apartment.

{ 146 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Deviant*

    Whoever is in charge of managing Gaston is très mauvais. He IS actually discriminating on protected classes, and should have been retrained if not fired.
    Anyway, sounds like you’ve got the measure of him LW, if you can get out when you can that will limit the professional warping going on.

    1. Lance*

      Absolutely get out while you can. This is a plain case of a missing stair that nobody wants to actually deal with, and if he’s been moved around so much and none of his (however many) managers have actually dealt with him, I wouldn’t have any confidence that anyone will.

      1. Fizzyfuzzy*

        I also wonder if this is partially a missing stair and partially that there are others at the company in positions of authority who actually agree with Gaston and are just quieter about it. In my experience for every loud mouth racist there’s usually 5 more who know to keep their racism under the radar but actually agree with the loud mouth.

        1. NotRealAnonForThis*

          Same. I’ve found that the response detailed here is pretty typical….even when you have documentation of the behavior.

        2. Another health care worker*

          I agree. Past a point, refusing to deal with this kind of behavior is a quiet endorsement of it. When people show you who they are (even by inaction), believe them.

        3. Batman*

          Yeah, that was how I understood why Gaston’s manager didn’t intervene: he agrees with Gaston.

          1. Petty Betty*

            That’s my assumption, too. Someone, somewhere in the hierarchy agrees with Gaston and that’s why it’s impossible to be rid of him for his very loud words. He’s speaking the “truth bombs” someone else knows they can’t say without a potential lawsuit.

        4. Medusa*

          I am inclined to think it’s a missing stair situation, if for no reason other than even if people actually do agree with his bigoted-in-every-way views, he just sounds awful to work with

        5. FrenchCusser*

          I’ve never even thought about ‘rocking the boat’ or ‘making trouble’ when confronted with racism. I always deal with it in the moment. For Gaston, I’d probably pull out, ‘My dad was a Klan member. I can hear your dog whistles.’

          I’ve lectured coworkers in front of others. I’ve pointed out ‘casual’ racism (and sexism and homophobia). It’s something I’m supremely sensitive to and not shy about pointing out or confronting.

          I doubt it changes much, to be honest, but at least people know not to pull that crap when I’m around.

          1. Nodramalama*

            I kind of think this kind of response is a lot to expect of someone who is very junior and new to the workplace to confront someone who is not only presumably more senior but is having their behaviour effectively cosigned by management.

        6. The OTHER Other.*

          This is exactly why such behavior should be confronted when possible—silence is interpreted as agreement.

      2. Jora Malli*

        And that’s reason enough to leave the company, in my opinion. Even if Gaston does retire next year, all the managers who let him keep acting this way will still be there, and I wouldn’t want to keep working with those people if it were me.

        1. The OTHER Other.*

          I agree. Alison was right to call out the LW’s manager for dereliction on duty, but the fact that this toxic person was moved around from department to department and allowed to feel untouchable for years suggests widespread incompetence and/or cowardice in the company.

          Virtually everyone in the US is an at-will employee and can be fired at any time so long as it’s not because of discrimination, and these cases are very difficult to win even when they are true. Yet over and over again we hear of employers acting as though they are just powerless to do anything about truly awful employees.

          This guy Gaston lucked out finding a spineless employer just as George Constanta was hoping he had with the mismanaged mineral polishing company.

    2. Clobberin' Time*

      The LW’s boss and HR are très mauvais aussi. The only “protected classes” under Federal law are being over 40 and having a disability. Otherwise everyone is in a protected class because it’s about, for example, race, not particular racial groups.

      1. JSPA*

        If I understand correctly, Gaston names individual names, and drops broad hints about “commonalities,” but never quite names race (per se) or gender (per se). Paradoxically, if he’s bigoted against a large enough range of people, it becomes harder to draw the conclusion (at the level required for a legal argument) that they share “being a minority and /or female” (as opposed to whatever other common trait hes got ready to pull out of his backside, if challenged to explain himself). “I meant people from the east of the state, what did you think I meant? I meant people who did high school via a GED program! I meant people who kiss up to the VP and ask to see pictures of her grandkids!”

        Even if this is obvious BS due to the dog whistles it can be it can be solidly challenging to challenge it solidly.

        1. The OTHER Other.*

          But an employer doesn’t have to convince a jury what was said beyond a reasonable doubt. The boss could and should have simply said “stop saying the employees who work here keeping the place clean are not employees, and stop insinuating that the people that performed the drawing did so fraudulently. You can’t talk about our coworkers that way”.

          It’s not “he said, she said” when one of the people in the conversation is the boss.

          1. CoveredinBees*

            While that is true, there are definitely managers and HR who treat it as if they’re building a criminal case and will only act if behavior is super flagrant. Short of Gaston sending out emails about how he hates X group and thinks bad things should happen to them, they will wave it off.

            This is *not* the right thing to do, but I’ve seen many workplaces operate this way.

    3. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, this company is incompetent at best. If it’s true that Gaston wants to get fired so he can sue and get a settlement, honestly it’s probably worth firing him anyway. The company is indirectly losing tons of money as Gaston pushes away good employees. It would probably cost less to have the settlement.

      Besides, the settlement isn’t a guaranteed outcome anyway. We don’t even know for sure that Gaston wants to sue. Even if he does, it won’t be easy or cheap for him. He’ll have to find a lawyer and he will likely be surprised that a lot of lawyers won’t find his case worth pursuing. He could likely find someone eventually, but then he’ll have to pay. Some lawyers can make an arrangement to get paid after the settlement but it will be even harder to find one. Then if he does manage to sue, there’s still a good chance the company would win and pay less in legal fees than a settlement would cost.

      1. The Starsong Princess*

        My old boss used to say sometimes you just have to get rid of people even if you don’t have a clear cut reason to terminate them. Offer them a settlement and get them gone. It’s cheaper in the long run both in aggravation and in lost productivity from losing the good employees. Unfortunately management in this company lacks the will to do this – many companies are terrified of lawsuits when it is just a question of paying your way out.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I have seen a Gaston passed around because of a super risk averse HR staff. The ultimate cost to that company because the good employees with options bolting when they had to deal with him was very real. As far as I know it never ended either – because I was one of those people who opted to leave.

    4. Reluctant Mezzo*

      If Gaston thinks he’ll get a penny for age discrimination, he’s out of his mind. But then, we knew that.

      Normally, these guys *do* go way over the line because they think they’re bulletproof. And then management, some of whom have been waiting for that, make sure the Gastons are gone.

      Or perhaps not. But *you* should be gone as soon as you can.

    5. calonkat*

      I sort of assumed it might be a government situation. Our state shifted to a “no protections for new people” system, so if you change jobs or get a job now, you’re always one person’s phone call to a legislator away from being fired, but employees who got their job before that are still protected and you have to actually document problems before they can be fired (to avoid them winning appeals and such). Unless problems are egregious, it is often easier to just manage around those people.

      My sister had someone like Gaston, and she was the first manager willing to do the work to document issues, document the corrections, and document the responses and have the meetings with HR about everything so he could be fired. He’d literally been doing bad work for years and everyone just avoided him in processes because it was so hard to get rid of someone who was sort of doing the work, but not really (with a HEAVY dollop of sexism (dunno about racism). Then everyone wanted to transfer their “Gastons” to her so she could get rid of them, but she put the kibosh on that right away :)

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Especially this part:
      “I received a nearly 100% salary bump which puts me at the lower-middle end of market range for my position, qualifications, and experience”. Holy Macaroni! So glad you are doing better, OP!

  2. Justin*

    OP 1, as far as resisting racist practices without power, I always find it best to ask questions when something hits wrong. That way you’re not presenting yourself as an expert and are using your station to signal, “hey this feels weird to me, doesn’t it feel weird to you?”

    Even though I actually am something of an “expert” (whole dissertation on racism in organizations), this strategy still tends to work for me, though I’m at an actively anti-racist org (Black led, funny how that works) now so it’s less of a battle.

    1. earmouse56*

      Agree! Asking questions from a curious place with a neutral tone can help prevent stuff from flying by. I also think the practice of noticing and naming to be helpful, as well as the concepts of passive resistance (i.e. the team in HR taking longer to do Gaston’s HR paperwork about his racist complaints).

      I would also encourage you to practice speaking up and saying something when these things do happen. Start little and work your way to the big stuff. From my observations, when someone does end up saying something about a racist situation, there’s usually other people who are like “oh, thank you for saying something! I didn’t like what they were doing” (begs the question why didn’t you do or say something, but that’s on them).

    2. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Also, play clueless. Whatever he says, respond with some variation on “Whatever did you mean by that Gaston?” 50/50 odds of him deciding to expound explicitly on the implications of his statement, for most bigots like that.

      Hopefully he’ll eventually get explicit enough to be fired.

      1. cardigarden*

        Gaston may also give a “well, if you don’t already get it, I’m not gonna bother explaining” answer, which I’ve gotten before. But it still gives you your answer.

        1. JewishAndVibing*

          “I don’t understand, why can’t you repeat it?” is a possible response to that.

        2. calonkat*

          “No, no, you made the comment and I really want to understand what you meant. Please explain it to me. It was clearly important to you and I want to understand your position.” has worked for me in the past. At least it makes people unlikely to ever comment around you again.

      2. ferrina*

        Yeah, when I read the comment about “doesn’t pass the smell test” my first thought was “well it passes the laws of probability”. I’d be tempted to push back, but this might also make you a target. (I also have some Gastons in my family, so I’ve got more practice than I ever wanted. And I sincerely apologize to the rest of the world for my family.)

      3. StrikingFalcon*

        I’ve gotten good mileage out of “innocently” saying “I don’t know what you mean by that” repeatedly. Sometimes you can get them to entertainingly stumble around it trying to say the thing without actually saying it and sometimes you can even get them to say the thing plainly. Either way, it sends a pretty clear “I’m not a satisfying audience for your racist euphemisms” message.

    3. Ally McBeal*

      Another strategy for allyship when you have little to no power/influence is just supporting your POC colleagues. It can be little, like in a meeting if a coworker makes a good point, pipe up to agree, especially if you have anedotes or data that will bolster their statement/suggestion. One thing I did after George Floyd’s murder, especially because I knew we were all struggling already due to the pandemic, was reach out to one of my coworkers and ask if I could take something off her plate; I ended up writing a story for her when normally I would be more involved in marketing the story.

      1. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

        +1. This was the first thing that came to mind, along with the suggestion about calling out comments. I’d add that bigots will often ignore pertinent questions or requests for clarification that come from whatever group they’ve got a problem with. When that happens, make a point of asking the same question: “I’m curious about what so-and-so asked as well. Can we circle back to that please?” You can also answer the question if you know in largely the same way you’d boost a good point that’s been ignored: “So-and-so asked a good question/made a good point about X and I wanted to touch on that for a moment.”

    4. Nobby Nobbs*

      I’ve been noticing that in, say, Leverage or other shows about con artists the good ones will do this thing where they ask the mark questions, or deliberately fumble their own backstory, or otherwise invite the mark to do part of the work of selling themselves on the con. It seems like the same principle applies to your strategy: invite the person you’re talking to to come to the conclusion that what just happened was racist themselves, and they’ll be more invested/convinced once they do. I’ll make sure to try is out next chance I get!

    5. JewishAndVibing*

      Also, ask him to explain! So the “doesn’t pass the smell test” one, for example, just start going. “Why doesn’t it?” or things like “is x not qualified?” or even just “x is qualified.”

      I know that there’s a lot of scary thought of rocking the boat here, but those above questions focus more on him than you.

  3. Witch*

    For OP 2, I understand you say you don’t have power. But you kinda do?

    Granted I’m quite a direct person who’s willing to just go, “that’s a weird thing to say,” in the moment. However, small pushbacks against Gaston is very unlikely to harm you, and may make you feel more like you’re doing something rather than just sit there and absorb racists’ thoughts and energy.

    Especially if you consider yourself an ally, taking a risk to quickly, deftly, call him out with a simple, “Oh, I don’t think that’s correct,” isn’t being a “savior.” It’s taking on the burden of correcting racist thought so other people don’t need to all the time.

    1. KofSharp*

      I’m a big fan of “I hope you aren’t saying that to me because you think I agree with you.” But I literally practiced that one in the mirror until it was gut reflex.
      It helps distance yourself from him in the moment, and isn’t anything offensive.

  4. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Gosh, it disturbs me to see you, Gaston
    In my workplace starting fires
    Every guy here’d love to be you, Gaston
    Sliding just under HR’s wires
    There’s no man in town as edgelord as you
    You’re everyone’s least favorite guy
    Everyone’s sickened and bored by you
    And it’s not very hard to see why

    No one’s slick as Gaston
    No one’s ick as Gaston
    No one’s head’s as incredibly thick as Gaston
    For there’s no man in town half as racist
    In bias, a pure paragon
    Only white rappers play on his playlist
    And he’ll tell you whose team he prefers to be on

      1. Lemonlime*

        My favorite part : There’s no man in town as edgelord as you. You’re everyone’s least favorite guy

        Because really, you know this guy sees himself as ‘just tellin’ it like it is’ or ‘oh everyone’s just too afraid to say what I’m not afraid of saying.’ And you just wish you could shake him and be like “NO! That’s not the case. You’re not edgy or brave or parroting everyone’s secret thoughts. You’re just a sad angry person who people avoid.”

        1. DarthVelma*

          This. How in the h-e-double hockey sticks is it “edgy” or “brave” to spout the same tired racist, sexist, all the ists bullshit that has been spewed at us all for WAY too many years/decades/centuries/even millennia in some cases.

          1. Another health care worker*

            So true. After centuries of male and white supremacy, we have a few decades in which norms and laws start challenging that (to some extent?) and then suddenly you’re “brave” for advocating male and white supremacy as new ideas?

        2. Clobberin' Time*

          You CAN shake him (metaphorically) and say that. Or at least you can if your department is staffed by people who are not incompetent cowards, which sadly does not seem to be the LW’s lot.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Yeah, one of my preferred techniques is to (unemotionally, which is hard) point out how boring these kinds of people usually are. Like, Gaston has spent three months complaining about this! Even if he wasn’t obviously regurgitating garbled racist dogwhistles, there’s no way he hasn’t been using the exact same talking points since day one. Heck, I’m pretty sure the smell test thing is directly from an “owning the libs” facebook post, so it’s not even like these are his own original thoughts! Frankly, I half wonder if he’s been on this so long because he’s trying to get a reaction so he can make his own post about owning the libs… which is kind of pathetic.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              (clarification that I don’t mean pathetic in the “I pity him” sense but in the “who lives their life like that” sense)

    1. Llellayena*

      This is genius! I now want to watch Beauty and the Beast again but the dvds are still packed after my move last weekend…

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Lol – I watched the live action version over the weekend, and this is such an awesome parody of that song.

        But what popped into my head was a line in a different song from the live action sung by LeFou
        “There’s a beast, that’s for certain
        But I’m not sure the correct one’s been released”
        It’s so quietly sung, the chorus is sung-shouting kill the beast all around him – but I like the way it emphasized quietly not all things that look beastly are beasts.

        1. NoiShin*

          “There’s a beast running wild, there’s no question
          But I fear the wrong monster’s released”. The Mob Song is really underrated as a villain song.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Oh agreed, it’s such an understated but excellent song. Thanks for correcting me on the lyrics.

    2. Gregory S Capozzoli*

      I don’t understand just what is the big deal
      I am just simply speaking my mind
      I thought this was a land where I could speak free
      And tell people to stick with their kind

    3. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

      That’s it, you just won the internet for today, everyone else go home. Thanks for the laugh!

  5. mcfizzle*

    In #3, there’s no “D”. Darnit! I’d love to know what else terrible manager spewed.

    1. Kes*

      Given the rest of it, it’s probably also that she no longer trusted OP lol.
      I like the combination of ‘she hopes you get out of this toxic company’ and ‘she’s so upset you’re leaving and is going to yell at you for 10 minutes’. Even beyond the irony that she sees there’s a problem but clearly doesn’t realize she’s part of the problem, if you realize the company is toxic why would you be surprised at anyone wanting to leave

      1. mcfizzle*

        Yes exactly! The swinging from opposite to opposite is pretty amusing (though poor OP and everyone at that company) so I greedily want another ridiculous / ironic example.

    2. LW 3*

      Hahaha. Kate also d) asked if she had done something to me and e) told me she told other people about it and f) what I did was so cold. There were also several more “The trust is gone”s. Honestly, I almost started crying, not because I care about Kate’s feelings (she sure as shit didn’t care about mine. I have way more stories than I shared in my original letter), but because it was kinda triggering. But she’s no longer my problem!

      1. Florida Fan 15*

        I don’t know that I’d actually say it, but in my head when she started with “The trust is gone”, I’d be saying “Well, my trust in you left a long time ago. Nice of you to catch up.”

  6. Beth*

    “No job is perfect, but everything about my new job is an improvement.”

    There’s something absolutely perfect about that observation.

  7. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP2: to be an ally and not a ‘saviour’ requires saying that the behaviour/words/speech are not acceptable. If someone says something racist to a white person and that person speaks up with ‘gross’ or ‘I do not want to hear such talk’ then that’s ok. That’s ally behaviour started right.

    Where the line, for me anyway, is when people talk over others – ‘but you’re a POC you must feel THIS way about what was said’ or ‘I’m going to make you go to HR and say how this is offensive to you’. Additionally I have a real problem with people saying that they won’t speak up against racism unless they talk to a POC first to get the confirmation that it was racist.

    It’s emotional labour we didn’t ask for and often do not feel like undertaking. Don’t make us your sounding board or insist we decide if something is prejudiced or not.

    This is my opinion however, brought up from years of being tired of being the checkbox for if something is racist/sexist/ableist. People where I work will quite easily say that prejudice and/or hate speech makes *them* uncomfortable – whether or not they belong to the group being maligned.

    1. Witch*

      You defined allyship so much better than I could. But yes, if you are an ally then at least making Gaston understand you do not at all agree with him is a minimum, here. There’re wildly different avenues here, and scripts you could use, but please strongly consider stepping up.

    2. ThatGirl*

      IMHO, if someone is attacking someone else *personally* (e.g. spewing racist garbage or being misgendering someone) I will ask them how they want me to handle it/support them. But if it’s just broadly being a bigot, then yeah, I don’t need someone else’s permission to say something.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        It’s only my personal opinion on this but I’d still prefer that the other person speak up and tell the hate speech bigot that their behaviour is making others really offended without asking me – the victim – what I want done.

        The reason is: If you ask me right in a really fraught situation what I should do my panic response is more geared toward ‘fawn’ and if I’m really scared I’ll probably tell you everything is okay and not to worry, he doesn’t mean it etc.etc.

        However, this is only my preference.

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          Yes, we can still say “I don’t like to hear this sort of garbage” – that is, not jump up as someone else’s protector, but speak in your own cause, as in regarding the kind of environment you want to work in.

    3. tamarack and fireweed*


      And this behavior that OP2 describes as “walking right up to the line” is definitely something a manager can and should shut down. Must shut down, if they want to run a racism-free shop. A manager *can* say, “Gaston, the innuendo about who won the contest has to stop. We run a fair contest, and all the winners won fairly. You’re coming across as acrimonious and unpleasant, and no one needs to deal with that.” Even if he sticks to the “what are they gonna do, fire me?” line and even if the upper management doesn’t want to, line management countering his little micro and not-so-micro aggressions would go a ways towards ostracizing him.

  8. Nosy Busybody*

    But was it his wife???? Kudos to LW for being able to move past it without getting a clear answer to that. I would be consumed and I would cause the problems with my inability to let it go.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      I mean, it feels like this is the least problematic resolution to this that we could’ve gotten. The awkward was acknowledged by both parties and seemingly moved past.

      Having once worked for a drama-llama-ding-dong, I’d probably go ostrich about “is it his wife” because that whole level of drama is exhausting. (Its awesome when the owner brings his side-piece to the office when the owner’s 15 yo daughter happens to be working….and the 15 yo has o-pin-yuns on the matter and no compunction about making them known.)

      1. Observer*

        Its awesome when the owner brings his side-piece to the office when the owner’s 15 yo daughter happens to be working….and the 15 yo has o-pin-yuns on the matter and no compunction about making them known.

        What do you expect from the 15 year old? It’s not like her father has shown any sort of example of discretion. And, let’s face it, it can’t be all that easy for her to deal with what is clearly a fairly toxic situation. Spouting off is a fairly typical coping mechanism – literally venting.

            1. NotRealAnonForThis*

              Oh, I didn’t want to be in that office either, believe me!

              “Awesome” = “Awesomely awkward for all” to the point where we regularly looked for excuses to go to jobsites, meetings, etc….

              And I had nothing but sympathy and compassion for a 15 year old who was stuck working in the family business while Dad flaunted his indiscretions. She’s done pretty well for herself in the intervening years, thankfully. And, I understand, she doesn’t have much to do with her father nowadays. Again – I do not blame her.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      Per the first letter (“he was in the middle of intimate relations with someone who was not his wife that I’d met on Thursday!”), it was not his wife.

      I feel weird for wanting to kudos the guy for his apology “By the way, I’m sorry about what happened when you first started. That shouldn’t have happened and I’m glad you’ve had a positive experience here so far.”

      but that’s actually a good apology; he named exactly what was wrong. Although getting caught should not be the thing it took for him to realize he should not be having sex in his office with his door open.

      Overall, though, I think the pretend it never happened was the best way to go. By the time the apolgy came, the LW knew that there were to be no repercussions from what happened.

      1. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

        I mean, “that shouldn’t have happened” is a little weaselly; it names the situation as inappropriate without taking any responsibility for it, and I’m going to assume it was, on some level, this dude’s intention to engage in some hot extracurricular lovin’ on his desk at work.

        “I shouldn’t have done that” would be more on point.

  9. RKMK*

    OP1, one strategy – since he’s the type to walk up to the line, is the confused and innocent, “I don’t understand, what do you mean?” They usually drop it or deflect, but it’s not normalizing because it signals there’s a problem with what was said to everyone else.

    He might also double-down in an actionable way, though it sounds like HR and management are useless. Still, if he does, there are various responses depending on how sassy or passive aggressive you want to be. (“Oh,” with a quick dismissive glance up and down. “I see.”; “Strange, that was considered actionable where I last worked”, whatever you’d feel comfortable with your power ratio.) Then memorialize it to HR in writing with basic facts.

    I mean, he’s retiring in 2023; what’s he gonna do to you?

    1. pancakes*

      A lot of commenters here seem to favor this approach. I think it is normalizing racism at work for people to pretend not to know it when they see it. I also think it normalizes racism at work to take an approach of “I hope this person stops saying things like this on their own out of frustration or boredom” rather than something closer to “this isn’t appropriate and I can tell them to knock it off.” What lacks “innocence” about saying that? A workplace where people feel at ease making racist remarks is one where racism has already been normalized. If the workers know management doesn’t care about that, of course they’re going to be limited in terms of how much they can turn the atmosphere around themselves. That’s a different type of problem than not knowing whether racism is an issue in the workplace or not. The letter writer in this scenario knows it is. That’s clear. Pretending not to see it would be a step backwards.

      1. JewishAndVibing*

        I know a reason I favor it is because, especially in the case of dogwhistles, there are people around who don’t realize it is sexist/racist/islamphobic/antisemitic/anti-LGBT, etc. As much as some people do, and some people claim to, know some dogwhistles, we create allowances in certain environments and don’t know all of them

        The issue going on here is that this group has a distorted reality due to this guy going unchecked for so long. A pushback in this form means, hopefully, the rest of the team starts to get the picture again.
        Also, the secondary point is to push back. But it’s hard to pushback with dogwhistles alone. So you try to get them to explain, and then push back. If they refuse to do so, you iterate that it must have been inappropriate if they do not want to clarify.

        1. quill*

          It’s very context dependent and dependent on your relationship with the audience. For example, “please explain” works okay on, say, crotchety uncle at the family barbequeue because it means that when he explains, people know he’s been rude and you haven’t. It works sometimes on “obnoxious dude hitting on you in front of his buds,” because throwing off his groove can also throw off his cool factor when it comes to his buds.

          It doesn’t work (in terms of stopping his behavior) when you are assumed to be too junior / naieve / second class citizen to get the reference anyway, or when Gaston is the social authority in the group. In a professional setting one would HOPE that the consequences of being crass / rude would give Gaston pause. But if it’s a situation where everyone else has a social contract and Gaston never signed his, your goal is often not “getting Gaston to stop” and more “don’t look complicit in Gaston’s bullshit,” which is where “explain to me why that’s funny” comes back in handy.

          1. pancakes*

            It wouldn’t occur to me to worry about being misunderstood by bystanders for challenging the proverbial racist uncle, or to think of my own conversation with him as a Socratic method lesson for the other people present. I think that’s a pretty weird way to communicate. I think that’s a good example, actually, because I think it would be similarly weird and a little stage-y or something for someone in the letter writer’s position to be scripting dialogue for themself around the goal of “don’t look complicit.” That type of consideration is something I’m inclined to think should be secondary to, “push back on that because it’s gross.”

            1. quill*

              Mostly I added the bit about complicity in because OP’s original worry was partially about how Gaston’s ranting reflected on them, and sometimes it’s helpful to reframe things away from “but if can’t make him stop, what’s the point?” to “at least I’ll make it clear where I stand,” when dealing with a Gaston.

              1. pancakes*

                It’s a bit too late for that in this instance, though. The letter writer talks about not wanting to be seen as normalizing his rants, but that’s precisely what this workplace has done, collectively – that’s what the line “no one pays attention to his rants anyway” and the rest of the context reflect. Whether the letter writer attempts to distance themself or not, his behavior is considered normal in this workplace. It isn’t considered worthy of discipline, and it apparently isn’t even considered objectionable to the point that no one higher up seems to have made a point of saying, “That isn’t how we behave here and those aren’t our values” after he circulated that email. They don’t even pay lip service to not tolerating his behavior. Anyone who even talks about it being objectionable seems to be branded a troublemaker.

          2. Eyes Kiwami*

            I agree. I think it can be an effective technique when you’re in a group that doesn’t catch dogwhistles and is still learning to be anti-racist but does actually want to be anti-racist. It’s also effective when you are in the same “in group” as the racist and they value your opinion and respect your status.

            But it has major drawbacks too. As you say if you are assumed to be too junior/naive/second class citizen to get it, then you just damage your own reputation and people think you’re stupid and the racist learns nothing. If the racist is unapologetic and firm in their beliefs, then asking them to explain them will just give them a platform to rant on. If the bystanders are too passive, or if you’re not sure what they believe, you could accidentally give the racist a platform and an audience.

            If your goal is to draw a trap where the racist steps out into the open and becomes vulnerable, you have to make sure that being in the open will actually be negative for them. If your goal is just to stop the racist speech, you can still tell them to knock it off. It depends on the situation and what you want to do.

            1. pancakes*

              A racist isn’t vulnerable in environment where talking about racism is considered being a troublemaker. Everyone in this workplace seems to know perfectly well who this guy is. I don’t think the goal at work should be to dig into why racists are racist and try to work through that with them – the first step needs to be staunching the flow of racist remarks. It’s a workplace, not group therapy for Gaston.

        2. pancakes*

          I’m not accustomed to spending much time with people who don’t pick up on bigotry as unsubtle as what’s described in the letter, or with people who’ve gotten lost in “distorted reality” that way. I think some of these coy methods of pushing back are distorted as well. They also don’t seem particularly effective in terms of reducing the amount of bigotry people have to encounter at work. A team that needs to hear this stuff repeated several times to figure out whether they’re ok with it seems quite lost to me.

      2. Sue Wilson*

        It quite literally not normalizing racism to expect people to explain themselves every time or not speak. The fact of the matter is that plausibly deniability is a useful technique because of the way social dynamics work (I.e. people who can come up with in alt explanation can control the conversation). Removing the actual deniability forces the speaker to shut up and signals to other people that they too will be expected to explain themselves and allows people who want to speak up a way to join into your equally plausible objection.

        1. pancakes*

          I don’t think it often does need to be repeated or rephrased in order for people to recognize it for what it is. I think a lot of the time people have that impulse, it’s because they’ll do anything to avoid having to speak up in a conflict, even with someone they have a sharp conflict of ideas with. Likewise “plausible deniability.” Another way to get someone to stop making remarks like that is to simply tell them you don’t want to hear it.

      3. Dawn*

        While I don’t necessarily disagree with you, I think for someone like this who is known to go running to HR when confronted directly, depending on how much capital you have to spend, sometimes (it shouldn’t be like this, but it is,) you have to decide for yourself where the line is between calling it out and protecting yourself.

        And Gaston is EXTREMELY unlikely to change due to being called out, by the sounds of it, and that factors into “how much capital to spend” as well.

        The LW getting into a screaming match with Gaston – who sounds like he’s been doing this a long time and knows exactly how to manipulate people and the situation to his advantage – and getting themselves fired isn’t going to be to anyone’s benefit except for Gaston.

        It sucks, but sometimes the reality is that you have to do this math and figure out how far up to the line you can walk it.

        1. pancakes*

          Totally agree about a screaming match; I’m not advocating one of those. I think that’s part of the problem, though – a number of people seem to think there’s no middle ground between silent acceptance and a screaming match.

          The HR issue seems like a red herring. If they had decent HR, it wouldn’t be a problem that he goes to them with spurious complaints, because decent HR would shut those down quickly and cleanly, without breaking a sweat. Clearly this place does not have good HR. People send out wild, racist and classist all-office emails without consequences, for a start, and managers apparently don’t feel able to get rid of people like Gaston; instead they shuffle him from team to team.

          1. Dawn*

            No they OBVIOUSLY don’t have good HR, and that’s kind of the problem.

            When people rely on jobs to house and feed themselves and their family, there’s a calculus on how many waves one can cause and to what degree, especially in jobs where bad HR makes your position precarious.

            I’ve literally lost a job before because I pushed back on a literal screaming racist man and he had 20 years seniority and told my manager he needed to get rid of me Or Else.

            1. Dawn*

              (The Or Else being that my boss would be the one removed instead. And this was in 2008; people didn’t have a ton of options.)

      4. Lana Kane*

        “Please explain” is a way for coy racists who hide behind vague statements to be goaded into coming out and saying what they mean, which can then be actionable.

        1. pancakes*

          Sometimes it instead seems to be a way for people to end up hearing a whole lot of bigotry at work, without anyone ever really taking action on it. This guy’s behavior is actionable, and apparently has been for some time. And he’s still at it!

      5. Nodramalama*

        I don’t think it normalises it. I think forcing people to spell out what they mean, means that they don’t keep getting away with vague, dog-whistle comments. It also prevents you from coming across as combative, especially as a junior. It’s just a way of signalling that you don’t think what they’re saying is OK and forcing them out of a position where they get to claim plausible deniability

        1. pancakes*

          The meaning of this guy’s remarks isn’t vague. The context is that people in this workplace take the “no one pays attention to his rants anyway” approach not because they can’t tell what he’s ranting about or whether he’s a decent person or not, but because they know perfectly well no one with authority is going to do anything about it.

      6. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

        I get what you’re saying and agree that a direct callout is a better approach if the person doesn’t already know that others don’t share their opinion or that what they’re saying is platypus droppings. When faced with someone who is looking for a fight or ‘martyrdom’, refusing to engage is the best way to deprive them of their treat.

        An example: my oldest friend “Lana” married “Jim” several years ago for all the wrong reasons. He is ciswhitemale with a laundry list of bigoted opinions. I am a POC with a law degree and little tolerance for fools. Every time I visit, Jim tries to bait me with the same kind of crap Gaston does, and I can tell from the gleam in his eye and his little smile that he’s trying to start a fight that will suck up all my time and attention. It didn’t take me long to realize that Jim does this to everyone, even the next door neighbors, and uses the confrontations to fuel his rants about why he’s lost yet another job because of “politics.” I could obliterate him easily, but why? He already knows that I could blow him up without breaking a sweat. Jim’s an attention suck, and so I just roll my eyes at him and make a point of spending all my energy on Lana and her kids. Gaston is exactly the same way.

  10. bamcheeks*

    “First {name of woman who won year 1} wins, then a janitor, I don’t know, it doesn’t seem like something that actually happens, more like something someone writes the end of a movie. Just doesn’t pass the smell test.”

    Man, this dude is bad at probability. I’m trying to work out whether there’s a way you can turn this to your advantage, like playing high-stakes poker with him expecting to win every hand regardless of his cards because he’s the main character.

    1. Robin Ellacott*

      Ha! Yes. Someone who thinks any outcome other than one that fits his biases is impossible is probably pretty vulnerable in other areas too.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      The OP needs to educate Gaston about probability – fight racism and bigotry with in-depth, detailed, malicious mathematics instruction!!

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        Explaining, like he was 5, sample sizes and how you need a bigger sample for it to appropriately reflect the population would be pretty tempting, but unlikely to be the right move at work. (“See this biiiiiiiiig jar of jellybeans? We have so many different kinds of jellybeans in here! Wow! Ok, now let’s close our eyes, shake up the jar, and pull out a single bean. Huh, it’s a grape one. Does that represent every kind of bean we could have gotten? Why not? How many beans do you think we’ll need to draw out for them to do a good job of telling us what kinds of beans are in the jar? Let’s try it and see!”) He doesn’t exactly sound like someone who is looking for more logic-based information to use to understand how the world works, but rather someone who has already concluded how the world “really” works and is now simply going to point at anything that may support his preexisting conclusion.

    3. Gumby*

      My reaction to the sentence you quoted was “great, he’s sexist too, but apparently less sexist than racist/classist since at least the winner in year one got a name.”

  11. Marina*

    OP#2, I highly recommend Hollaback’s bystander training. They talk about a wide range of possible responses to racism, in the moment and afterwards, and give practice thinking through which options are safe for your situation. “Just speak up!” isn’t always a response that leads to a better outcome, and speaking up when it will make things worse isn’t allyship. I highly recommend Hollaback to everyone.

  12. JewishAndVibing*

    I mean, to me that “doesn’t pass the smell test” thing does appear to create a hostile work environment for protected classes. At least one, maybe two of them.

    1. quill*

      It sounds very recently radicalized online to me. I mean, nobody liked Gaston already, but there might be some value in realizing if it’s “Gaston, who has been an obvious bigot since he was a lad eating 3 dozen eggs every day” or “Gaston, who was able to cosplay a moderately respectful coworker until current events started showing his prejudice.”

  13. IT Heathen*

    I, unfortunately, have a lot of experience with coded racism around me. I have found one of the best things to do is to push back by asking them to explain themselves. Act like you don’t understand their statement and make them spell it out.

    It’s amazing how quickly folks shut up.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I have deployed “I don’t understand, could you please explain” and a puzzled expression coupled with “why do you think I would agree with that” many times. It worked well when I was in situations where I had no power to change what the other person was saying to mark me as one disgusted by what the “Gastons” of the world thought and said.

  14. An Aloe Plant*

    #5 – You have power/authority here. Gaston is demonstrating how much power a non-managerial white person in a white collar job can have.

    It might help to consider that power and authority in this case is about how much impact your words and actions have. Having power does NOT mean that you can say and do what you want without negative consequences to yourself. Even white executives who are actively anti-racist (there must be at least one, right?) take great professional and personal risks fighting against institutionalized racism (systems of power do not respond well to threats from within). Even as a new employee, your continued silence has power behind it and your continued pushback has power behind it.

    1. An Aloe Plant*

      Also, I’m not a lawyer, but couldn’t the company’s failure to respond strongly to something as public as Gaston’s email be used as evidence of a hostile workplace down the road? Especially with testimony that a department at the company has been called “the racist department”? I’m not a lawyer but if your company is this scared of a lawsuit from Gaston, that question might at least give them pause.

  15. Cafe au Lait*

    A couple of things I’ve learned over the years about speaking up & out, and missing stairs.

    1) Speaking up very rarely corrects the behavior of the comment maker. Speaking up does influence those who are remaining silent. If you can shift your mentality from “I need to speak up so Gaston stops being a bigot,” to “I need to speak out so Lauren, Amanda, Ty’shaun know that I recognize Gaston’s coded remarks for what they are, ” it makes speaking up in the moment easier.

    2) Asking the comment maker to repeat themselves, or to explain their “joke” is a good way to speak up in a non-threatening way. Other commenters have already mentioned this technique but I wanted to mention it again.

    3) Missing stairs will (WILL) shift goal posts in conversations. It’s probably the largest reason management has struggled to get rid of Gaston. I have a couple missing stairs in my life and trying to stay on topic as well as respond appropriately to concerns they bring up is mind spinning. I felt like I needed a PhD is psychology to keep track of all the twists and turns our conversations took.

    4) If you’re trying to manage a missing stair employee I highly suggest prepping for your meeting. Including writing down the talking points you need meet for the conversation to conclude. It also helps to write down any possible refutes they’ll make as well as some key phrases to keep the conversation on track. Remember: missing stairs don’t have conversations, they’re an offense of one.

    5) Conversations with missing stairs can look and feel rude to someone on the outside. In a recent conversation* with my missing stair coworker it felt like a bad comedy skit. To everything she said I repeated firmly, and loudly “The headphones were never the problem.” If you had watched from the outside you would’ve assumed I was acting rudely because I didn’t respond to my coworker’s tangents. However allowing her to control the narrative meant I was feeding her victimization complex.

    *Several years ago my coworker wore headphones while she worked. Except she had her music up so loud she constantly missed when people talked to her, and paid more attention to the music than her work or what needed to be done. My boss made the decision to ban headphones for everyone.

    1. Important Moi*

      5) Your observation of what a conversation looks like with a missing stair is spot on.

      I use the analogy of a picture versus a movie. In the picture I look rude. In the movie the missing stair is rude.

    2. Dramatic Intent To Flounce*

      Yeah, realistically ‘Please explain this’ won’t get Gaston to knock it off OR say something unambiguous enough HR can step in, because he seems to work in plausible deniability. What OP can do is remove the plausible deniability he likely holds that ‘everyone’ (or at least everyone on his team) agrees with him and holds views like that. They do not. A very mild ‘how rude’ or ‘that seems inappropriate’ might also work for that purpose. Unfortunately, the company’s made it clear they either can’t or won’t replace the missing stair, and OP doesn’t have the power or social capital to shut him down completely. Pushing back while not giving GASTON any room to go to HR about THEM is likely the best option they have… though privately documenting incidents of Gaston Being Bigoted just in case a coworker could ever use them probably also wouldn’t go amiss. Probably, no one will sue. But if they do, it can’t hurt to have documentation of Gaston’s plausible deniability dogwhistling.

    1. allathian*

      Because he goes to HR as soon as someone directly confronts him, and because management isn’t willing to deal with him because they’re afraid he’ll sue them if they do. Although I’m a bit puzzled about what he’d be able to sue them for…

      1. pancakes*

        Why is HR seemingly hopelessly unable to discern which complaints are spurious and which are actionable? It sounds like even the flimsiest complaint from this guy has the effect of freezing management in place like deer in headlights. I’m more inclined to think the higher-ups don’t consider his behavior particularly objectionable vs. they do but have no idea how to handle it. The mentor’s comments about being seen as a troublemaker are pointing in that direction.

        1. RVMan*

          Because HR’s ‘math’ is based on total legal cost, not liability or right and wrong. The squeaky wheel is more likely to sue, and even if they don’t have a case, it costs money to defend against, and it is highly unlikely that the squeaky wheel will be required (or able to) pay the company’s legal costs. The person who rarely complains, or does so quietly, statistically is a person who won’t impose costs on the company. The white person who does complain about racism against others or the guy who complains about sexism against women won’t sue (no standing), and so won’t be paid attention to, if there isn’t a ‘bona fide’ minority with an actionable case actually complaining. This is where the ‘allyship’ concept breaks down – the labor is on the minority, because they are the only one with legal standing to actually challenge the hostile work environment.

          In this case, think of the situation as a siege. Gaston is behind the walls, lobbing stones at those outside, but it is lower cost in the long run to just starve him out (wait for him to retire next year) than to try to dig him out of his high seniority, protected class (age) redoubt.

    2. Florida Fan 15*

      I have the same question.

      Racism is a CHOICE. Calling someone a racist who acts and talks like a racist is not a slur, it’s acknowledging the reality of something that person has CHOSEN to do. If you steal from me and I call you a thief, it’s not a lie, it’s not a slur, and it’s not rude. You chose the label, now wear it.

      I get that there are times when calling something out might not be the best choice, for all sorts of reasons, but if it was me, I’d much rather be known as the person who called Gaston racist than the person who is seen as agreeing with or accepting of his racism.

    3. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

      Because Gaston wants the accusation out there so he can finally air his 1 man opera “Cancelled By The Woke Mob: One Victim’s Harrowing Tale” and also throw in a banjo solo.

  16. Critical Rolls*

    LW2, you may not have the power to fire Gaston or put him on a PIP, but you have personal power as a decent human being that enables you to not just go along with this. If you don’t want to use the “can you explain that?” avenue recommended by several commenters, you can still say coldly, “I don’t know what you mean (by that)” or simply “I disagree” and then pivot to a work topic. Silence is, functionally, complicity. But it doesn’t have to be a big dramatic call-out to be effective, and a lot of people like this are going to prefer audiences who agree, who are intimidated into silence, or who are easily baited. Calm, low-key, non-engaging, discouraging responses are very much in your power.

  17. Dawn*

    I didn’t get the chance to say this at the time, so I’ll say it now – “It’s a car or nothing” has bothered me since I read this story the first time, as many people don’t or can’t own a car! It might be different for an internal contest but where I’m from that contest wouldn’t even be legal; you have to add an “or cash equivalent” caveat because otherwise the contest is discriminating against people with disabilities.

    I know you don’t have much capital but one thing you could do to combat ableism might be to casually bring up that this contest discriminates against any employee who, for medical reasons, can’t drive! (Or who for income reasons can’t afford the other costs of car ownership but that’s not a protected class as such.)

  18. SpicySpice*

    First a WOMAN and then a JANITOR??!? How dare they!!! /s Gaston is terrible; that is all.

  19. Observer*

    #2 – Racist co-worker

    Get some new mentors. You’ve gotten some terrible advice and your instinct that your norms are getting warped is on the money.

    You probably don’t have a lot standing to force the issue. That’s true. But “that’s Gaston, no one pays attention to his rants anyway” is nonsense, of a particularly noxious sort. And you KNOW that it’s not true! But now you know why that colleague said that your team are a bunch of bigots. Too many people just don’t care.

    You write that “My manager did stress that if Gaston said anything against a protected class or legally created a hostile work environment I should let him and HR know right away.” The problem is that your manager does not mean that. Because what Gaston said is not just “up to the edge”. Even if it weren’t a pattern. Given that it’s part of an ongoing pattern, it is most definitely clear that he’s being racist and sexist.

    The fact that he keeps going to HR doesn’t change that. The fact that he keeps running to HR when anyone tries to check his behavior shouldn’t be a problem, and the fact that it is speaks volumes. If HR were competent, there would never be any blowback to someone for trying to reign him in, and in cases like this, HR would be doing something about it. At minimum they would be documenting and reaching a point where they tell him in no uncertain terms that his behavior needs to change. That’s not what’s happening and it seems that HR is protecting him, and that is a HUGE problem. I don’t know if they are incompetent or really just don’t care, it’s a problem.

    Honestly, if I were you I would be looking to leave. And in the meantime keep reading things like this site to help keep your sense of what is reasonable.

    PS I get so annoyed with a lot of the ally-ship vs rescuer language. I do get it – as a woman I don’t want someone deciding for me what I want or what I “really” think but am too “scared / demoralized / brainwashed” to understand. But if you are genuinely respectful and willing to LISTEN, that’s not the issue. It’s better to sometimes get it somewhat wrong than to freeze because anything less than perfection is terrible. Calling out bigotry when you see it is always a good idea. The idea that a competent adult can’t recognize bigotry for what it is without the “permission” of a victim is not especially respectful to victims.

  20. Not A Real Manager*

    Someone else said it, but I want to echo “First {name of woman who won year 1} wins, then a janitor” IS saying something against a protected class. Document his comments and report them while you look for a new job.

    1. Not A Real Manager*

      And also remember that it may seem like a one-off to you, but if someone is documenting other things he says it becomes a demonstrable pattern.

  21. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

    “First {name of woman who won year 1} wins, then a janitor, I don’t know, it doesn’t seem like something that actually happens, more like something someone writes the end of a movie. Just doesn’t pass the smell test.”

    “Well, they do say your sense of smell goes as you get older. Guess it’s true.”

  22. Seconds*

    OP2: Good for you, looking for ways to address this kind of things in the future! I’m taking notes myself on how to deal with these situations; I like the suggestions but I might actually freeze in the moment, so I’m trying to rehearse these things now to increase the chance of my remembering them later.

    Now I’ll quote something you said that I also might have said in the moment: “I tried to noncommittally distance myself from the whole thing and I’m sure just made myself look worse.” Not “I didn’t even say how profoundly I disagreed with that email,” or “I can’t imagine how that email made people around the company feel,” but “I made myself look worse.”

    My understanding is that the worry about “how I look” is one of the biggest problems for white people dealing with racism. I understand that it helps if we can forget about our sensitivity to being called racist, and instead focus on learning, helping others learn, and not letting awful behavior stand.

    Now I’m wondering too, did you originally also feel like you were protecting the team from looking bad by trying to downplay the racism? I feel like that would come naturally (given our history and culture), but the goal of keeping the team from looking racist is less important than the goal of combatting racism by acknowledging awful opinions when they come up.

    1. MLH*

      Here’s the thing about being anti racist. Doing the right thing inherently involves a little risk. Risk to your job, risk to your safety, risk to your reputation, risk to your comfort, risk to your relationships, etc. That’s why most people never REALLY do the right thing when it REALLY counts.

      1. Dawn*

        I don’t know that I’d be THAT dismissive of risk to job and safety.

        We specifically ask people NOT to come out to counterprotests, etc, if the risk is more than they feel comfortable assuming or if they have dependents who need them not to assume that risk.

        1. Dawn*

          Like I can’t speak for POC but within my own lane, please, please do not risk your job if you can’t afford to lose it or your physical safety unless you know you can handle the consequences to speak up to a homophobe. Especially if you have kids who need you healthy and able to house and feed them. There will be other times and places to speak up.

        2. pancakes*

          “Don’t risk losing a job you can’t afford to lose” seems like something people need to (and are best positioned to) evaluate for themselves. It seems unlikely there are people so new to the idea of pushing back on objectionable behavior that they don’t even know it might be risky to do so. I would assume that’s why they haven’t been pushing back on things they want to push back on.

          1. Dawn*

            All I’m saying there is that it’s a little cavalier to say “well of COURSE there’s risk to your job and safety involved, accept that and DO THE RIGHT THING.” It’s not really ok to pressure people to put their own safety on the line or imply that they’re bad people for not doing so, particularly when the stakes are RELATIVELY low.

  23. That One Person*

    #2 – Not every battle need be loud and proud. I like a lot of the suggestions here because they help you stay casual and yet professional rather than getting drawn into Gaston’s show. Staying beyond reproach in demonstrating calmly, “I don’t understand this, and upon hearing it explained I don’t agree with it either.” It’s not a war you can really win it sounds like, but you can win the personal battles and little scuffles.

    #3 – I’m amused that she can congratulate you for escaping the toxicity while being toxic. It’s like she can’t quite escape the chains so at least she’s somewhat happy that someone can? But then the poison once again covers up that inner kindness to go back on the attack. That said being attacked like this can be hard to take, so getting upset at this is absolutely understandable on your part OP. Just remind yourself that this is NOT how a manager should be when you put in your notice. They can be bummed and disgruntled, but those are emotions for them to deal with: not you. Instead they should be focused on the exit and transfer of duties strategy.

  24. Just Me*

    LW2 – more generally about being actively anti-racist in an office when you are new and have little clout: my first job out of college was with a nonprofit working with at-risk youth. Everyone on my specific team was white and conservative when I first started, and there were some veryyyyyy questionable things that were said about and to clients. I actually made some decent headway with my coworkers by framing it as a messaging and communication issue, saying, “Based on research we know that our target clients are, say, from xyz group with abc life situations, and we have this research showing that they respond well to messages that are lmnop…” It actually ended up working pretty well when basically framed as a way of communicating professionally and effectively.

  25. Raj*

    I’m fascinated by OP3’s saying that her former employer was in some way above the law. Can you elaborate, OP? I think they may have been spinning tales!

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