my coworker blamed me for not being offended enough by a racist comment toward me

A reader writes:

This happened last year and though I’ve moved on, I occasionally wonder if I’m crazy so I thought I’d ask your opinion.

I’m a Black woman who immigrated to Canada in my 30s. For my first job in Canada, I worked in a global organization and interacted with a wide cross-section of people. The environment was fast-paced and the workload was really heavy, but the people were mostly great and I knew I was valued. I left after two and a half years and was able to give two months’ notice.

Early in my notice period when my leaving wasn’t widely known, a new VP was hired for a team I worked closely with in a different country. I hung around after a call (as asked) to be introduced to him. On the call at the relevant time were me, new VP (white male) his deputy (white female), and a team lead (female, not visibly a person of color). Part of my job was to create certain documents which needed a lot of back and forth. I explained my role and jokingly said something like, “I’ll be bothering you about documents soon enough!” He responded, “That’s okay, I like dark chocolate.”

I had been jumping to another call and my immediate reaction was confusion and taking him literally (wondered if he wanted a bribe) but I saw that the two other people had gasped and their eyes widened, so it sort of slowly hit me that “hmmm, I think he said that because I’m Black.” I grew up in a majority Black country and my radar is not always as tuned to some of the ways microaggressions present. When it hit, I shrugged it off, to be honest. I was swamped and it just didn’t stick.

His deputy took great offense. Important additional context here is that the deputy had applied for the VP job, didn’t get it, and felt humiliated (her words). Before the new VP even started, she’d complained that she looked him up on LinkedIn and he wasn’t qualified. I was sympathetic but told her to give him a fair chance. However, I knew she was predisposed against him from the get go.

After the call, she messaged me saying he was so racist and she was sorry that happened and he should lose his job. I told her thanks, but I hadn’t taken offense because I hadn’t realized at first and even so, I thought losing his job would be an extreme consequence. She pushed me several times to see it from her perspective, to the point where I no longer thought she genuinely cared about any offense to me, but that she saw this as her way to get rid of him. She reported him, her boss and our shared grandboss spoke to me, and HR investigated. I told them all I honestly hadn’t registered it as offensive in the moment but I saw that objectively someone could take offense and while I was glad they were taking it seriously, I was fine and didn’t need an apology, nor did I want to see him lose his job. At the end, I was told he was spoken to but would stay on. Fine by me.

The deputy occasionally lamented that he “got away with it” but I was too busy and sleep-deprived so I let it pass, wrapped up my work and left on good terms (I thought). A month later, I received a message from the deputy telling me that because I wasn’t offended, the VP was retaliating against her for reporting and she was put on a month-long PIP because she didn’t make the VP feel welcome, and therefore she was on the brink of losing her job which would leave her unable to pay her bills, so I needed to learn a lesson and think of other people because she was experiencing these events since she was the only one who did the right thing. It was a long, awful screed that blamed me for everything going wrong for her at work. I responded saying that I was sorry to hear she was facing difficulties but her blame was misplaced and she should report the VP for retaliation. She responded with more blame, said she was glad there was no racism in Canada (what?), and that it was nice that I could so easily absolve myself of all the harm he would go on to cause others.

Friends said I should forward her message to the company HR but I didn’t want it to go any further. (Side note: I still speak to former coworkers and she’s still there several months past the end date of the PIP she told me about.) It’s a lot (and I’m leaving out a ton) but I’d love to hear how you think it should have been handled.

There’s a lot going on here!

To start, I agree with your coworker that the VP should have been fired. That’s a disgusting racist and sexualized comment, and someone who thinks it’s okay to say that — on a call with multiple people, no less — and when he’s brand new to the job, no less — is someone who has terrible judgment and terrible character, and it’s going to come out in other ways. When a brand new employee is saying crap like that, usually it’s better for an employer to just cut their losses and be done.

That’s true even though it didn’t bother you! It’s okay that you weren’t bothered; you’re allowed to have whatever reactions you want to things like that, and no one should be criticizing or second-guessing you for not being angry enough. But even with you not being bothered, your employer should be deeply bothered that their new VP thinks that’s an okay thing to say, and they should want to ensure someone like that doesn’t work for them — completely independently of how strongly you did or didn’t feel about it. (After all, think about all the horribly offensive things someone could say at work; it wouldn’t become okay if the target wasn’t that upset. As an employer, you don’t want people making comments like that in your workplace, period.)

Now, maybe the deputy took such offense to the VP’s words because she was already predisposed to dislike him. But it’s also perfectly plausible that she took offense because it was genuinely offensive. It’s also possible that the two things fed off each other; I could imagine someone in her shoes thinking, “They hired this unqualified guy over me, and now he’s spewing racist and sexualized BS on work calls and no one is doing anything?” Either way, it’s so reasonable to be disgusted by the VP that I don’t think the deputy’s previous dislike of him really matters. What he said is unacceptable no matter how anyone felt about him before it happened.

However, the deputy’s behavior to you crossed a line too. She should have accepted it when you told her how you felt about it and not pushed you to feel the way she thought you should. That doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have reported it, though — she should have (because, again, the comment was objectively a problem for bystanders and for your company). It’s possible that she worried you felt pressure to say you weren’t bothered when you really were; that’s a thing that happens, and it’s one of the reasons (but not the only reason) that companies need to act on bigotry even if the target doesn’t push them to. But she shouldn’t have hassled you about it. And she definitely shouldn’t have blamed you for her boss retaliating against her later (and you were absolutely right when you told her to report the retaliation) or said you’d be responsible for future harm he caused. If this guy caused future harm, he would be responsible for that, not you. She shouldn’t have tried to make you feel responsible — and ironically, for someone who was so concerned about the original offense, she didn’t seem concerned about subjecting you to more blowback from the incident.

So no, you’re not wrong. That VP is a racist ass, but your coworker wrongly shifted the blame to you for not responding as strongly she thought you should.

{ 519 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    There are some comments below suggesting the VP’s comment was a bribery joke, not an obvious racial/sexualized remark. The letter-writer, who knows her situation best, has not suggested that is the case, and has not suggested that anyone else involved believes that to be the case, including the VP himself when it was investigated. (She does indicate that it didn’t register with her immediately since she comes from a different cultural context, but that she did then realize what was meant, and the two other women in the meeting gasped when it was said.)

    Stop looking for ways to explain away a racist remark that no one with firsthand knowledge of the situation believes was innocent, please.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      100%. I had a mouthful of food when I read this and it nearly ended up on my keyboard, monitor, and shirt.

      1. Christine*

        I’m quietly reading at 5 am (insomnia) while my husband is sleeping, and I started shouting before remembering the hour! He fortunately didn’t wake up.

    2. JSPA*

      Yeah. I would never say that somebody has to be offended, if for whatever reason a comment doesn’t register with them. But it’s…really bad.

      An equivalent might be someone swinging a (real) sword towards your head, and you happen to duck, and not even see it, really, until the action is over. So you weren’t scared. and you’re not traumatized. But someone still swung a freaking sword.

      “I’m not directly injured” — fine, that’s your reporting of your state, and NOBODY should castigate you for it.

      But when you put that behind the assertion, “racially sexualized comments are no big deal in the boardroom” or “swinging swords at people is no big deal,” that’s no longer about you defining the effect on you. That’s you weighing in on a general principle.

      For small and ambiguous slights, it makes sense for the person targeted to weigh in, on how they think it was intended, and on what they need, to feel ok about it.

      But this was egregious.

      The fact that you were the target doesn’t give you an infinitely huge “get away with egregious crap” card, that you can bestow on the offender.

      LW, you should not have been asked to make that call. And the deputy VP– whatever additional axe she might or might not have been grinding– was factually RIGHT, on the basis of what you’ve presented here, that the new VP was entirely unsuited to the job.

  2. FashionablyEvil*

    I mean, I gasped and my eyes went wide when I read the dark chocolate comment. That’s some racist, sexualized garbage of a remark right there.

    1. Haven’t picked a name*

      Me too. I feel like I am used to reading crazy behavior here and I don’t always have a visceral reaction, but I gasped and did cartoon giant eyes and had to re-read!

    2. House On The Rock*

      I said “OH NO” out loud in a way that startled my unflappable, lazy, sleepy cat. The guy absolutely should have known better.

    3. Artemesia*

      yeah it is a twofer, both salacious and racist. That guy should have been gone the next day. There are innocent uses of expressions without thought — but this one is well over two different lines. Ick.

    4. Yorick*

      It’s such a terrible remark that I first thought it had to be the bribery comment that LW first thought it was. Although I agree with Alison’s comment about not trying to explain away a racist, sexist comment – I just thought “it’s so blatantly wrong that it can’t actually be that, can it?”

      1. Wendy Darling*

        Even if it was intended as a bribery comment, which we honestly have no reason to believe, it’s a bribery comment that’s also a super racist, sexualized double entendre and therefore still very extremely bad.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Yes, this. Even if the VP meant it as a bribery comment (highly unlikely!), he still ought to have known that people would interpret it in the racist, sexualized way and NOT SAID IT.

    5. DameB*

      Like the OP, reading the article I was confused at first b/c it was so wildly wildly out of place and thought it was just a dude making a weird nonsequiter. I mean who even DOES THAT?! EVER? that’s so… TERRIBLE

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I’ve had a few occasions where someone has said something so wildly offensive to me that I wasn’t even offended by it, I was just baffled. Like I was so stunned someone actually allowed a comment to pass their lips that I forgot to be upset by it and was instead simply amazed.

        That doesn’t mean it’s not offensive though.

        (e.g. after my sibling died my grandmother told my mother, “Well, at least you have another one,” and everyone present just stood there with their mouths hanging open, including me, the other one.)

      2. Critical Rolls*

        Yeah, I was also fully thrown by just the cartoonish level of overt racism and misogyny. One of those rare times when “What? What do you mean by that?” would have been from genuine bafflement rather than a strategy.

      3. a good mouse*

        One time we were trying to divvy up a work coverage schedule with three teammates and my boss, and I said I’d like to have Thanksgiving off but was totally fine with working Christmas/the week between Christmas and New Years (I’m Jewish). A teammate said, “Everyone NOSE why that is.” And honestly went completely by me that it was meant to be a ‘jews have big noses’ joke until the two others in the room basically reacted like the two others on this call did. Once I caught on, it was clear from his emphasis and tone that it’s totally what he meant.

        I called him out later on a sexist joke (“ThAt’s JuST mY SeNsE of HuMor! I’m eDgY.”) and said the joke from above was not okay either. My other teammate added on that he also found it really offensive, and did the joker realize our boss is also Jewish? No, joker did not. Which means he didn’t think he was in a room with two Jewish people so hey, he’s joking around with them, he thought he was targeting me in a room where I was the youngest and only woman.

        Other Teammate was the best though, and I think joker teammate took it more seriously when he backed me up since Other Teammate was senior on our team and an old gruff white dude.

  3. Wintermute*

    I put it this way. I am offended by racism even if it doesn’t affect me, because I am a human being and no things human are strange to me. I, personally, choose not to allow racists in my vicinity, either they’re leaving or I am. That means if I have hiring and firing power, they are.

    Even if everyone else in the room is cool with it, I’m not, I’m not okay with racists and if I have the power to remove them from my presence I will.

    1. Pippa K*

      Sure, but the issue here isn’t how we ourselves react (virtuously) to racism, but what happens when other people’s reactions put more burdens on the original target of the racism. I can see how that would be hard to navigate, especially when it comes with the message that the actual target is obliged to have a certain type and degree of response or else *they’re* the ones responsible for consequences. It reminds me of the equally-bs claim that victims of sexual assault who don’t report it are “letting” the perpetrator go on to harm other women. What OP’s colleague was doing wasn’t solidarity, it was an attempt to appropriate what happened to OP for the colleague’s own purposes.

      1. Kara*

        I agree with most of what you say, but I don’t think ‘appropriate’ is the … er … appropriate word here. (heh – English is a weird language)

        I’m a white woman and my being hugely offended by racist comments is not “appropriating” anyone’s experience. Racist comments – and especially one like that – are horrific in and of themselves regardless of where you fall on the melanin spectrum.

        1. Admin Lackey*

          Yes, but presumably you wouldn’t repeatedly badger your Black coworker about how they should react and then scold them again months later.

          I think what Pippa K is getting at is that yes, the white coworker’s outrage was justified, regardless of her race, but the way she went on to treat the coworker DOES make it seem like her main interest was in making trouble for the VP she already didn’t like, rather than ensuring justice for the LW

          1. Admin Lackey*

            Just to add, the way she treated LW does make it seem like she was appropriating the real struggle for racial justice in the work place for her own goals. If she was truly disinterested, she would have checked in with LW once, reported it and then left LW alone.

            1. ecnaseener*

              Exactly. She doesn’t even have to be “disinterested” – if she was truly interested in and committed to anti-racism, she would care about genuinely supporting the person who the racism was directed at, not hassling them and blaming them in the guise of support.

            2. lurkyloo*

              That’s exactly what I was coming here to say. Once she’s checked in with the OP, that’s it. If the OP says ‘yes I was bothered’ she could have asked how she could help the OP, but still reported it on her own as an offended bystander! OP says she’s not bothered, she can still report it! MAYBE tell OP that she did, in case OP has a change of mind, but that’s it.
              Way to heap what I call ‘white man outrage’ on the OP. (I’m offended on your behalf so I shall make giant waves and make sure you’re sucked down with me = white man outrage)

              1. Mangofan*

                The colleague in question seems to be a woman, so not sure why “white man outrage” is an apt term here.

            3. MM*

              Yes. Her behavior in fact became racist after step 3 or so, when she began treating LW as 1) a racial representative 2) bearing a burden for all Black people and failing at it, and 3) wrong, invalid, or irresponsible for not following the script she herself had been taught for (corporate) racial virtue. Essentially she ended up roping LW in as a supporting character in her own heroism/martyrdom, which–in addition to misplacing the emotional and logistical burdens here–is such a common thing for white people to do.

              It makes me think of Toni Morrison’s comment about how one of the essential functions of racism is just to waste Black people’s (in this case, though it’s applicable to racialized people in general) time and energy. This woman contributed to doing that when she reached back out to LW.

              1. Duchess of ankh*

                This 100%, even if deputy started out in good faith, she didn’t seem to continue that way.

          2. Despachito*


            I think anyone has the right to be offended/bothered by a rude/racist comment whether directed towards them or not.

            However, in such a case the correct thing for them to do was to protest on behalf of themselves, not on behalf of anyone else.

            The coworker crossed the line the very moment she did not take OP’s “I am not bothered by that” at its face value and continued pressuring her.

        2. ENFP in Texas*

          Racist comments are absolutely inappropriate and need to be shut down when they are encountered, but you shut them down with the racist directly, not by badgering somebody else and telling them they aren’t offended enough and aren’t responding the way you want them to.

          1. Ann Onymous*

            Exactly. You don’t get to decide how other people feel. The coworker may have felt offended by hearing a racist remark; those feelings are valid and reporting the VP for making that remark was definitely the right thing to do. But repeatedly badgering the LW to tell her she wasn’t offended enough isn’t ok. It feels really problematic for a person who isn’t a member of a marginalized group to tell a member of the marginalized group how they should feel about micro (or not so micro) aggressions they experience. Her initial instinct to report the VP was good, but what she’s doing now feels an awful lot like whitesplaining.

          2. Wintermute*

            Yes, that was my entire point. That you being not okay with racism is enough. You don’t need to go find a minority person and make them be offended for you. No matter how mainstream, how majority you are, you can still say “I don’t want racism around me for my own sake” you don’t need to make someone else say it to have more ‘standing’

        3. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

          I may be wrong, but I feel like the deputy saw this as more of an opportunity to attack her boss instead of defend OP or prevent racism.

            1. Nina*

              I mean, yes? but not if the way you’re attacking them is making life harder or more awkward for the actual target of the racism.
              By all means report it to HR as ‘wow this was shockingly offensive and terrible judgement and you need to shut this down’ but trying to get LW to act as offended as the complainant thought she should be is just… no.

          1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            I feel that we can be generous and say that she wanted to defend OP as well as wanting to get her boss fired.

        4. Observer*

          I’m a white woman and my being hugely offended by racist comments is not “appropriating” anyone’s experience.

          True. That’s not the issue. The issue is that she pressured the OP to react in a certain specific way. And then when it did not work out the way she wanted she tried to put the burden of the whole situation – and any further harm that could happen! – on the OP. That’s just out of line.

          1. Umami*

            Yes, exactly. It’s the whole ‘I had to report him because you didn’t, AND NOW LOOK WHAT HAPPENED TO ME!

            1. Performative gumption*

              It basically reads as: Look I was your ally! Thank me! See my sacrifice for you?!
              If a white person stood up for me (a person of colour) against a microaggression then great – you’re a decent person.
              I don’t owe you thanks or endless gratitude or to behave in a way you deem acceptable just because you were not being a d***

      2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Yes it’s already bad enough to know someone is doing something embarrassing ( I feel embarrassment when someone is racist) towards me and now I gotta stage manage feelings of others??

      3. Rose*

        I disagree, the appropriate reaction/what should have happened to the VP is absolutely one of the issues. OP seems to think that because she was ok with the comment it should have been let go, and the coworker was only reacting strongly because she didn’t like this man already.

        The other issue is of course the coworker putting this entire experience on OP and being both horrible and illogical to OP.

        1. Wintermute*

          Yes, exactly, this is what I am reacting to, the idea that if the most dispriviledged person in the room is okay with it everyone else has to be cool with it too.

          First, no, they get to be offended at racism too, second you don’t know someone’s circumstances, or who their loved ones and family are.

          1. Red Wheel Barrow*

            I’m not sure, but I feel like some (not all) people in this thread (and others) may actually be agreeing and not realizing that they’re agreeing?

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          With OP’s comment about not picking up on it because of the cultural differences and the tone of the letter, it is seeming to me like she maybe did not pick up on the sexual nature of the comment at all?

          I agree that I think OP was actually off base in thinking it shouldn’t be a fireable offense–though of course the company was more wrong for putting that ball in her court. They should have just fired him regardless.

          And deputy was of course very wrong for lashing out at OP for how she was treated.

      4. Wintermute*

        I think you missed the point. What I am saying is that the person didn’t need to make it about anyone else and obviously should not have done that, because not being a member of a given group does not obligate you to be cool wish racism towards that group. You still get to be uncomfortable and demand action, you don’t need to go find a person of the targeted group and make them be uncomfortable for you.

        1. Willow Pillow*

          To me, it was the wrong focus. The person writing in is a woman of colour without hiring or firing power and who has constant choices about how much energy she devotes to dealing with microaggressions.

      5. JSPA*

        IMO, It’s more akin to how we prosecute people for shooting someone, or for domestic violence (because it’s violence, duh) even if the target of the violence doesn’t want to file charges.

        The “do you sense yourself as victimized” is separable from the “was it a firingly bad thing to say. Which it was! It’s shocking even just in general…let alone in a work context… let alone in a work context, to someone you’ve just met and outrank.

        I don’t want to assume that the first part is universal (countries differ). But once you’re at the international / multinational level, and you’re anywhere near VP? Hell to the no.

    2. Abundant Shrimp*

      As it should be. Back when sexual harassment awareness training first started out 20 years ago, in form of in-person meetings with the HR leading the training rather than powerpoint presentations that we have come to know and love today, our HR rep that ran the training told us that we totally can report the harassment of somebody else, by somebody else, that we have witnessed and it made us uncomfortable (and a few years later, people did in fact report an incident of a contractor harassing me. His contract was not renewed. I tried to warn him when he did it that it’d get him in trouble, but he was not willing to listen!) What she never said we should do is report something that happened to another person and THEN HASSLE THE OTHER PERSON FOR NOT BACKING US UP BECAUSE WTH (sorry yes i really am internally screaming)

      That said, the deputy should’ve never been put on PIP for this and LW’s advice to her was spot on.

  4. BecauseHigherEd*

    Working in international higher ed in the US. One of the biggest things that shocks that Americans have is that international students from outside the Anglophone world don’t want to talk about racism, particularly potential instances of racism directed toward them. These people tend to be well-meaning (extremely so!) but they often don’t understand that a) other cultures do not see race the way the Anglophone countries do, b) people from other countries may experience racialization when they come to study or immigrate in an Anglophone country, and that’s a weird experience, c) there’s no right or wrong way to feel about it. Everyone has their own cultural background, biases, and frames of reference that inform how they see themselves and each other, and that gets extra complicated when someone goes to a country that is different and where their position in society is different from what it was where they came from. It’s an individual journey that a person needs to do on their own. OP is not “right” or “wrong” for responding the way that they did.

    Your coworker was wildly off-base here, first for wanting to presume how you should respond and then for wanting to drop all of her feelings at you or to make you feel put on the spot. Everyone at this company needed a training in DEI and cross-cultural competency.

    1. You don't know what you don't know*

      As a person from another culture in which the majority of people look like me, race in the the United States can be different experience than what you are used to (the nuances of interactions, the microaggressions you don’t register, the context you’re supposed to understand, the U.S. history you haven’t been exposed to)

      1. wanda*

        Yes. My mom is from East Asia, and she referred to herself and other people from her country as “Orientals” long after it became racist to refer to people with that term. But she’s not a native English speaker, and although she is a fluent, college-educated speaker, she uses English exactly enough to get through her life- she is otherwise immersed in her native language’s news and media and is only friends with other immigrants from her country. She simply had no context for why “Oriental” was a more dehumanizing term than “Asian” and was not really aware when the usage changed. (I think someone must have told her though, because she doesn’t use it any more.)

    2. bamcheeks*

      Working in higher education in the UK, also with a significant amount of experience with international students– I partly agree with this, but I think “international students from outside the Anglophone world don’t want to talk about racism” is too broad. I have heard lots of international students talk with shock about the racism they encountered in the UK. But it’s true that the things they are shocked by or sensitive to are often different from the things that British people of colour are shocked by or sensitive to.

      Also I think the VP very clearly lost the “well-meaning” badge when she berated her colleague of colour and blamed her for the retaliation she experienced. Apart from anything else, if a [possibly white] VP is experiencing retaliation for reporting a racist incident, what the hell makes her think it would have been safe for her colleague of colour to take the incident further?

      1. Observer*

        what the hell makes her think it would have been safe for her colleague of colour to take the incident further?

        I was thinking of that, too. Which is one reason why I think that the company mishandled the situation in how they talked to the OP. There is very good reason to believe that someone in the OP’s position would soft pedal their reaction because they are not sure of the potential blow back. And would be true, even without the supposed retaliation. If it is true that the PIP was retaliation, the the OP would have been 100% correct to soft pedal it – she is not responsible to save the organization from itself and she is not required to set herself on fire, metaphorically speaking, to protect others.

      2. Hazelfizz*

        Are you able to give an example of “the things they are shocked by or sensitive to [that] are often different from the things that British people of colour are shocked by or sensitive to” ?

        Culture shock of all types fascinates me.

      3. BecauseHigherEd*

        Definitely don’t think VP was well-meaning–I meant *in general* well-meaning people may be shocked that others may not experience racism the way that they expect.

      4. Boof*

        Allison, I agree with your assessment, but was wondering what you would suggest the LW do about it if it were happening now (sounds like it happened a year ago, so I presume the answer now is nothing further)? Specifically, report the VP to HR or, let it go, or (something else)?
        Overall I’d say OP can let it go as they are inclined to do, but I also tend to really err on the side of going with whatever the [reporter] wants and, well, the original comment the OP wouldn’t have reported (and I understand why!) even if in an ideal world it would be.
        So, I’m curious if you would have encouraged the OP to report the VP because they are also mishandling the incident in their own way. (it does sound like you would also have encouraged OP to report the original remark to HR; but I imagine though you think VP should have been fired it’s a ok for OP not to push for any specific action, if they don’t have one in mind, just as long as it’s reported?)
        Whole thing sounds exhausting and frustrating, I’m sorry OP.

      1. Rebecca*

        Ha! Right?

        I teach in a very diverse university in Paris, and I’m married to a French person of Tunisian descent.

        The conversations are absolutely happening, but they are also absolutely happening differently. It’s so taboo to talk about racism here, especially as an immigrant, because the government and the culture is so hellbent on the propaganda that there is no racism here. We all check ethnicity and religion at the door and are one big happy French family! We’re not even really supposed to talk much about the fact that we might be French And something, but also, everybody is quick to point out if you’re not French. As a white person who isn’t French, if I bring up racism or colonialism, I am either quickly corrected by someone who thinks I don’t know, or accused of being anti-French and not really wanting to be here. It’s wild.

        But my uni class is majority North-African, first and second gen, and it’s a whole different ball game.

        1. Andie Begins*

          Glad to hear the playbook is the same everywhere and my racist US relatives did not invent “WELL IF YOU DONT LIKE IT HERE YOU CAN LEAVE”

          1. Stuff*

            The context is a bit different for France. In France, it is straight up illegal for the census to even ask about race. What this means is, there’s no census data about race and ethnicity, which deeply reinforces this ideological idea that “racism can’t be a thing in France”, and makes it extremely difficult to address or discuss race, because the statistical data to demonstrate one’s points very often does not and cannot exist, because it’s illegal to collect.

      2. BecauseHigherEd*

        Definitely racism, but different from what they’ve experienced/seen before. That’s what I hear consistently.

    3. TriviaJunkie*

      American here, living in UK. Also a pasty-white person. I definitely agree woth you about different frames of reference. even two remarkably similar cultures, I didn’t notice the racism here for a while because, as I usually put it, it wears very different clothes. The US is quite blatant and often sexualised. the UK, it’s often dressed up as classism. I was only just starting to realise this, then the rhetoric that went around during Brexit and around Meghan Markle were QUITE an education.

    4. ThatOtherClare*

      Sometimes, people of all countries forget that just because I agree with you doesn’t mean I’m going to respond in the same way. That doesn’t mean I think your emotions are wrong, or not valid – it just means that I’m experiencing a different, equally valid set of emotions from the same event, and that’s ok. You’re right, I’m right, it’s OK.

    5. Hiromi*

      Yes. When I moved to the liberal Bay Area in the US I was shocked by language that I thought was deeply racist, like “white trash” or “banana” for ABCs. I couldn’t believe you were allowed to say such a thing, but apparently my calibration for finding things offensive was off. I saw no problem with negro because it just means black in Latin languages, but apparently that is way rude. So it is cultural. I also would have been bemused by Black chocolate, but yes, pretty offended after thinking about it.

      1. Not American*

        Did you know there is an ABC brand of bananas in Australia? I found it after my fruitless (no pun intended) search for a definition of ABCs that would make sense in the context of your reply. It took me a while, but to save others who’ve never heard that acronym from searching, I will explain:

        ABC definition: American-born Chinese

        1. Today I learned*

          I grew up in the Bay Area and I’ve never heard the term ABCs or bananas. Thank you! Also, I love your not intended pun. White trash was something constantly bandied about, though, and I didn’t reflect on that as a kid.

          I live abroad now and I concur that racism is inextricably tied to culture.

  5. Rex Libris*

    The fact that he finished the day still employed after making a comment like that is a terrible failure on the part of the company, and has nothing to do with the OP or anyone else’s individual reaction.

    1. Me*

      Without further context it is hard to say. All of us have opened our mouth and said something we instantly regretted. Is this one of those incidents? Does he actually enjoy that food and did not think about the context before he spoke? Is he supportive of a diverse workforce or is this consistent with his personality /actions? I say this as someone who a:hates racism and B: is self aware enough to know that people sometimes accidentally blurt things out without thinking of the context

      1. Expelliarmus*

        The fact that he didn’t apologize does seem to suggest that it wasn’t a case of “accidental blurt that didn’t take important context into account”

        1. Me*

          I dunno. He could be one of those people who responds to embarrassment by changing the topic. An immediate apology would have been better, but I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt when I can and instead of firing going to a very clear conversation about expectations with close monitoring to ensure this never happens again

            1. Green great dragon*

              Because it’s helpful to consider alternative possibilities when giving advice? I don’t think Me’s explanation is likely, but it’s possible. And it’s better advice to OP to consider possibilities than to tell her something is definitely the case when we just don’t know.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                But the OP knows because she was there and this is her situation and she’s not suggested that anyone involved believes it wasn’t a racial/sexual remark, including the VP himself when it was investigated. Let’s not do this, please.

                1. Quantum Possum*

                  The LW said that her initial response was that it was a bribery joke. It was the white women who convinced her it was racist/sexist. We don’t know what the VP said when HR investigated. The LW did not appear to want to know any details.

                  I think on all sides there are assumptions being made that aren’t actually reflected in the LW’s words. Which is basically what the LW’s initial problem was – that people around her were all acting on assumptions rather than what she actually wanted or was comfortable with.

                2. Bigger-the-hair…closer-to-god*

                  Isn’t there a responsibility…as in “See something, Say something”? The OP wasn’t overly offended, but what about the next young woman of color who doesn’t have a cultural background to brush this comment off. The company should know that a SVP has the social etiquette AND the emotional quotient of a tree frog (no offense to tree frogs).

                3. Green great dragon*

                  Ah, I took Me’s comment to be in relation to Rex Libris rather than contradicting anything OP said, and was not intending to question anything in the letter, but I was not clear. Apologies.

              2. Observer*

                Because it’s helpful to consider alternative possibilities when giving advice?

                Not always. Sometimes these exercises are actively harmful. And there is no upside to the OP in trying to deny her experience or trying to brush off the unfiltered reactions of the other people in the room are “over-reaction”. (And it’s gross to even have to type that out.)

                1. Quantum Possum*

                  I kind of think we’re still denying her experience in ways. Some of what’s being stated as fact is not actually reflected in her letter.

                  It’s human nature with topics as important and personal as these, and it’s not inherently a bad thing. I’m glad that healthy discussion is happening – we need to discuss broader implications and varied experiences.

                  At the same time, it’s important to zoom back in to the person’s literal words and make sure we’re really seeing them. LW herself considered alternative possibilities behind the remark. She didn’t ask what VP said when he was talked to – she doesn’t seem to know what his response was (if any). Her own personal reaction was then hijacked by someone who is apparently unhinged.

                  It’s like dehumanization piled on top of dehumanization.

                2. Inconvenient Indian*

                  @Quantum – Uh no. You’re more interested in playing whatabout. I’ve seen your game on this website before. If you haven’t personally experienced it then it’s not a problem and has never happened. Sit down.

                3. Bitte Meddler*

                  Quantum Possum – “LW herself considered alternative possibilities behind the remark.”

                  Yes, and so do almost all the victims of every kind of harassment. How many letters have we seen here where women have twisted themselves into human pretzels trying to explain away the gross behavior of their male colleagues?

                  And it wasn’t one unhinged person who decided that a comment about liking dark chocolate was racist and sexist, it was BOTH white women on the call. BOTH women gasped.

                  As for zooming back in on the person’s literal words…. holy shit. You honestly think there is any other way to interpret this??

                  OP: “FYI – I’ll be taking up a lot of your time.”

                  VP: “That’s OK, I like dark chocolate.”

                  Please, Quantuam Possum, zoom in on that for us in a way that erases the sexism and racism.

          1. Prismatic Garnet*

            Let’s not do the “if you can possibly conceptualize a situation in which it was an honest mistake, the discussion is moot” deal. Interpreting an established racialized inappropriate comment is a “think horses, not zebras” deal.

            If you are in a less common/zebras situation, there will be some evidence of that, including a mortified apology from the VP.

            1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              Bingo. This is where I am at. I have been the zebra–my brain and mouth often get out of sync and sometimes the consequences have been REALLY bad. And sometimes I don’t even hear it because I am so overwhelmed/busy. But you know what I have done? APOLOGIZED MY ASS OFF! I have beaten myself up for YEARS over comments I never intended to even make.

              The zebras feel like shit because they know they said/did a shitty thing that made other people feel shitty. The horses just go about their lives doing their “people are just looking to be offended these days” dressage.

          2. House On The Rock*

            This is a high level person in a business setting. This isn’t Awkward Person Says Awkward Thing And Regrets It. If he’s truly qualified to be a VP, he should be self aware enough not to say that. If he for some reason does, he should immediately own it with humility and sincere apology. Part of being a leader is being held to a higher standard, and holding oneself to a higher standard.

            1. Kay*

              This. Anyone inept enough to not immediately realize the implication of saying “I like dark chocolate” to a Black woman and profusely apologize to all is in no way capable enough to be a VP of anything.

              1. Andie Begins*

                Yeah, this is not some new turn of phrase he accidentally stumbled on or picked up from his grandkids. He knew what he said, he knew what he meant and so did everyone from the same cultural context as him, which is why they gasped out loud when they heard it.

              2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

                Yes, particularly for a VP working in a global organization. Not being racist is even more important in that particular context than it is in other contexts.

          3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            Though the LW didn’t say anything about the VP seeming embarrassed. I can’t know for certain, though I imagine if there was any evidence that the VP was embarrassed or regretted the comment, the LW would have mentioned it, since it’s such vital context. Particularly when assessing the deputy VP’s reaction.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I dunno, Me, the topic of conversation was work documents and any comment about candy seems really out of left field, which leads one to the very obvious conclusion that he was not literally talking about candy.

        1. Salsa Verde*

          Yeah, blurting out weird comments is one thing, but that had to be in his back pocket for that to come out – I wouldn’t even be thinking about candy when discussing work documents. The situation as described here is not making me inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

          To me this is like someone saying the n word and people chalking it up to “people accidentally blurt things out without thinking of the context”. You already had that word on the tip of your tongue or it wouldn’t have come out of your mouth.

        2. not nice, don't care*

          I’m white, but as a young woman have been subject to all manner of ‘candy’ comments from men. Dicks gotta dick, and racist dicks double-dick.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            I mean, as a white lady, I wouldn’t even say this to a Black person if I was trying to flirt with them, because of the racial overtones. I know that a lot of Black folks wouldn’t like it, so I don’t.

      3. Warrior Princess Xena*

        The fact that his response to being called out on his comment was to retaliate against the person who called him out does not speak well to his character.

        1. MK*

          I don’t know that we can take the retaliation for granted, given that the deputy VP is showing obvious bad judgement.

          1. AngryOctopus*

            Yeah, there could be retaliation at play. But it could be that the deputy VP has gone a bit off the deep end with this, and her behavior at work has resulted in the PIP (Exhibit A being her berating of the LW. If she’s writing screeds to women no longer employed there, she may be acting worse at work). But again, she can’t put all this on the LW. Checking in? OK. This? Not so much.

            1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

              Totally agree. It certainly could be retaliation, since the VP showed early on that he sucks. And not being welcoming is pretty vague, meaning it is easier to use it to retaliate or bully. Like, is it just that she’s not being as nice (or deferential) to him as he wants?

              It also could be that the deputy VP legitimately has been doing stuff that’s unwelcoming to the point that it’s making the VP’s job harder. That’s a problem, since an implicit part of any job is being a basic amount of nice (or at least professional; it’d be hard to be nice to someone who thought it was OK to make that kind of racist, sexualized comment) to others.

              And, of course, the two are not mutually exclusive. Maybe the deputy VP was unwelcoming and the VP retaliated by doing this as a PIP from the jump rather than starting with having a conversation.

        2. Insert Clever Name Here*

          This is where I fall.

          When I do something for someone at work, I occasionally joke “you owe me 1 taco.” I’m a food motivated person, this is a known thing about me, tacos are delicious, we chuckle and move on. So from that perspective I could see someone who loves candy saying something similar with absolutely zero ulterior motive other than “I am obviously going to complete this normal work task, and I’m adding my joke about doing it for candy because I want to show that I am not a stuck up person!” I’d be mortified if someone heard me say “you owe me a taco” to my Mexican coworker thought I was being racist.

          Buuuuuuut I wouldn’t retaliate against them. So probably he did mean it as a racist, sexual innuendo.

          (Also I realize “you owe me a taco” and “I like dark chocolate” are not an apples-to-apples comparison)

          1. Rose*

            And also I’m sure if someone told you “hey that coworker is Mexican and everyone there interpreted that as a weird, racist comment” you would go apologize to that coworker, and anyone else who was there, and explain what you had been trying to say. That obviously isn’t what happened here.

            1. Insert Clever Name Here*

              Yes, exactly. Which is what the VP should have done and didn’t, which is part of why I fall on “this dude knowingly made a racist and sexist remark.”

          2. Kay*

            You might want to consider how the word taco is occasionally used in certain contexts – it isn’t as far off as you might think. I get you are just talking about food, and I love tacos too! But… I would just be careful.

            1. Insert Clever Name Here*

              I’m aware of those contexts and do try to be aware of situations where it could run afoul — no joke is always acceptable, and I definitely don’t want to 1) make anyone uncomfortable or 2) be a racist jerk.

        3. Quantum Possum*

          I’m not sure he’s actually retaliating against the Deputy. I think her PIP is probably unrelated.

      4. CommanderBanana*

        ^^ No. There’s a different between making a dumb or awkward comment and making a racist and/or sexist comment (this was both – two terrible flavors that are terrible together).

        1. Rex Libris*

          Yep. I’m kind of amazed at the number of people arguing the case for the defense on this one. Yes, it’s (barely, remotely, marginally) possible that he only meant “Gee I could really go for a candy bar right now.” It’s not possible that the VP of a company shouldn’t be expected to have the emotional intelligence and professional sense to see how a comment like that would land.

          One of the very basic entry level skills you have to develop as a manager is an awareness of the words you’re using and how they’ll sound coming from “management”. So either he’s a sexist racist, or oblivious and incompetent, or some combination thereof.

          1. SnackAttack*

            People will bend over backwards to try and make excuses for clearly racist/sexist statements – there’s giving the benefit of the doubt, and then there’s doing it so much that it’s taking the benefit of the doubt away from the person it was directed towards.

      5. Observer*

        All of us have opened our mouth and said something we instantly regretted. Is this one of those incidents?

        Not likely. Because if that was the case, he should have apologized on the spot. Or afterwards. The fact that he didn’t means that, at the very best case, he is incredibly oblivious to the people around him. Keep in mind that two people gasped and their eyes widened.

      6. jane*

        >>B: is self aware enough to know that people sometimes accidentally blurt things out without thinking of the context

        I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way but implicit in this is ‘no one who saw this as racist has the self-awareness to consider that he could have accidentally blurted it out without thinking’

      7. Bitte Meddler*

        What on earth??

        A white man in power says to a black woman, in response to her letting him know that she’s about to be taking up a good portion of his time, “That’s OK, I like dark chocolate,” and you actually want us to think that his association of a black woman with dark chocolate is an innocent slip of the tongue and not deeply-rooted racism and misogyny combined with a stunning amount of self-entitlement???


      8. Fluffy Fish*

        “Without further context it is hard to say. All of us have opened our mouth and said something we instantly regretted. ”

        Hard no. I have def stuck my foot in my mouth.

        I have NEVER made casually made a comment that is blatantly both racist and in the realm of secual harrassment.

        That you think “we’ve all said stuff like that” Concerns me both for what you have said and excused and what you have excused in others.

        Curiosity wants to know exactly what context you think excuses making that kind of comment but the reality is there is none and if you think there is you need to do some serious introspection.

      9. Nina*

        I feel like if you’re at the VP level you should have cultivated enough awareness to a) recognize the shocked expressions of the other people at the table and b) instantly apologized profusely, and if necessary made up something about how you actually did mean the food and you’re so sorry and you weren’t thinking about who was at the table and how that could have sounded. The fact he apparently did neither suggests he should probably not be a VP.

      10. Ellis Bell*

        Honestly if he is dumb enough to say something so sexualized and racist accidentally (which he did not do accidentally), they have a whole host of different problems on their hands. OP didn’t get the “joke”, because they are outside this type of gross racism, but they knew he wasn’t making sense or saying something normal. Imagine what other types of sexual things he might say accidentally! Then he will be to embarrassed to apologize and be openly mortified, making it someone else’s problem to excuse him. There’s always someone I guess! Honestly if he can’t manage that, someone should tell him to stay home for his own safety.

  6. Dust Bunny*

    Well, that’s a hot mess.

    The VP’s comment made me gasp out loud. At work. But not letting you decide how to respond is really patronizing and not OK in its own way.

    1. NotSarah*

      I think “hot mess” is the most concise way to describe it.
      When I’m really busy and full on in my work, I have a tendency to push past offense. To me, the LW response is very natural.

    2. Rose*

      It’s also such a crappy way to heap more work on the plates of people of color. Why is this OPs problem to solve? Any woman there could have been totally grossed out and never want to work with that man. Anyone under him in the org chart might have walked away nervous to interact w him because of how he might abuse his power. Anyone who has a client might be afraid to put him on a call. Any human with human emotions and morals might be grossed out and horrified. But this is somehow OPs problem and job.

      1. Madame Arcati*

        This struck me too. The coworker objects to a racist comment but then ends up berating the direct recipient of it. How is it helping anyone or anything to deny the LW their honest emotional response and thoughts, and use it as a stick to beat them with? It’s making it worse for LW!
        “I’m mad that something offensive was said to you” is one thing but “my anger, and indeed VPs future bad behaviour, is now your fault because you haven’t acted according to my feelings” is bananas. Congratulations LW you are getting verbal abuse and shaming – that takes the edge off the racism and misogyny doesn’t it? (Sarcasm!)

    3. Lady Blerd*

      This is how I feel about the letter and about a few comments here that seem to be coming for OP for not being offended enough. And honestly I don’t think the deputy was looking for justice for OP, she just wanted to knock down the VP. What the VP said was appalling and the deputy had standing to report it to HR or the higher ups. But lets not take away OP’s agency here because some comments are coming of like it’s her job to take on the mantle of taking down any racist or sexist encounter for the good of the world. It is unfair and it is exhausting.

  7. Kai*

    And this is the exact reason Black people rarely believe white “allies” have the best of intentions.
    Most are only allies when it serves them, personally.
    I believe LW that the deputy saw this as her way of ousting the racist guy, rather than genuine upset about racism.
    Sorry Alison, I disagree that we need to consider this deputy’s POV.

    1. Admin Lackey*

      +1 yeah, if she was truly an ally just in it for racial justice in the work place, she wouldn’t have repeatedly badgered LW and then come back months later to spew venom. Yes, she should have reported the comment but I think her actions show that her main interest was the way in which the new guy’s racism could be wielded to benefit her

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I’m sorry you have this cynical attitude. I am a white ally (and also a straight ally to the LQBTQ+ community) and I don’t think my ally-ship changes based on whether I am personally served better by the situation. Case in point, about a year ago an outgoing exec at my company commented about how hard it was for her to remember the non-Western names of some of our outside consultants, ending with the unfinished phrase, “Why can’t they just have…” I was outraged and I definitely told my supervisor (who was at the same mtg) how I felt, but because we both knew nothing would be done about it and she was retiring soon anyway, we didn’t actually report it. Now, if I’d thought any action would have been taken I definitely would have said something to her superior, but there wasn’t much point.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        That said, I do agree with you, Kai, that the deputy definitely seemed to be doing “performative outrage” to try and get rid of the guy and that she really didn’t care about the actual racism of the situation much or at all. If she really were just being a decent white ally she would have reported it and then left well enough alone after that.

      2. Andromeda*

        I think it shows good allyship (context: I’m white!) to allow people who are marginalised to feel their justified emotions about this kind of situation. I’m also LGBTQ+ and, from that perspective, I can tell you that fair-weather allies who don’t *really* want to go to bat for communities they support when the going gets tough are sadly common.

        And that’s what the conversation is really about: an instance of really poor behaviour by a self-proclaimed ally. I think that listening to someone who has lived experience of very similar behaviour is more appropriate here than responding in a way that implies that you, personally, were attacked/insulted. This feels like a bit of a derail, even if you didn’t mean it to be.

          1. Hot Flash Gordon*

            Proclaiming yourself to be an ally but then impotently throwing up your hands when it actually comes time to test out that allyship isn’t really the flex you think it is. It actually pretty much makes Kai’s point.

        1. WorkplaceSurvivor*

          Thank you for saying it more nicely than I would have.

          To quote Bo Burnham’s song “How the World Works”:

          “Why do you rich f*ing white people
          Insist on seeing every socio-political conflict
          Through the myopic lens of your own self-actualization?
          This isn’t about you
          So either get with it, or get out of the f*ing way”

      3. Hola Playa*

        What kind of true ally tells a person with a marginalized identity that their lived experience is just a ‘cynical attitude’?

      4. Eve*

        Good allies don’t call themselves allies. Marginalized groups should be the ones to decide if you are an ally

      5. Prismatic Garnet*

        To paraphrase a quote for Maintenance Phase, you don’t get to decide whether you’re an ally or not. The marginalized people do, based on their evaluation of your actions.

        You can try to show solidarity and be considerate, but labeling yourself an ally comes across as a little cringe and a little melodramatic.

        I know you don’t mean it that way, and that it’s not uncommon for people to call themselves that, and I don’t read anything into that about your sincerity or genuine amount of caring. But it just comes across as more mature to frame it as “I try to show up for POC/LGBT in my life” rather than labeling yourself an ally in so many words.

      6. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        I like the formulation that you cannot simply declare yourself an ally and have it be meaningful. (White cis lesbian here). I can and do act in ways that I hope show allyship towards Black or trans people, but I don’t get to declare myself an ally and have that be meaningful or trusted – only people in the community in question get to do that.

      7. Kella*

        Announcing to a thread of folks discussing racism that you are an ally– not just when it comes to race but LGBT rights too!!– is self-serving. Allyship is a set of behaviors and values that you follow regardless of whether anyone knows you’re doing it, simply because it’s the ethical thing to do. Making sure everyone knows that you’re doing them only serves your reputation, not the actual cause.

      8. 2e*

        That’s a deeply patronizing response.

        And yes, your ‘allyship’ in this situation with the outgoing exec *does* serve your interests. Your interests aren’t limited to concrete professional advancement or financial gain. You’re telling the story now to bolster your credibility, to claim social status, and to justify tone-policing someone who’s made you uncomfortable by speaking about their lived experience.

        All of that, and apparently without doing anything to improve the treatment of those outside contractors.

      9. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think this kind of thing is exactly why a lot of people tend to inherently distrust anyone declaring themselves to be an ally tbh. It’s not really something you can claim yourself but rather something other people see in your actions.

    3. Reaganomics Lamborghini*

      Hard agree on all points. The deputy centered the conflict on herself from the start and disregarded the perspective and wishes of the actual aggrieved individual. There’s nothing more annoyingly reliable than seeing an “ally” pull these kind of shenanigans.

    4. RVA Cat*

      What leaps out to me is that the deputy focused solely on the racism when this misgynoir is just as bad for the sexual harassment. Anyone else thinking the VP was harassing her but the company already shrugged it off? Yet another reason for her to report the retaliation. It’s a shame her screed at the OP might get subpoenaed and hurt her case against him and the company.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        You’re totally right that the deputy could have shouldered this herself and just objected to the sexual comments she and another woman besides OP were made deeply uncomfortable by. Regardless of prior motives, there’s a legitimate “can we even leave him alone with the interns after this” concern. I dunno about other white women, but in my experience when men think certain ethnicities of women are snacks, you have to watch them like hawks. It’s never just a joke, and in spite of trying to categorize women, they usually feel that all women are there for their pleasure and they’re just waiting for the right power imbalance to happen. Also, you’ve got to be aware of the privilege you have as a white person and do more of the rabble rousing if you have a problem with the guy! Making this the job of a black colleague when she could be doing it herself is lazy and gross. The victim isn’t responsible for managing the outcomes no matter how they feel about something, and OP is entitled to feel however she feels, and to do whatever she feels comfortable doing.

    5. snowfall123*

      Yeah …. the way the deputy pushed this issue onto LW for ‘not doing what she do’ in that follow-up email (basically LW should lead the charge to HR – adding to LW’s mental burden), made it seem like the deputy was just using this as a reason to benefit her own agenda.

    6. Rose*

      But Alison didn’t say that anyone needs to consider the deputy’s POV. She said this comment wasn’t ok, and the VP should have been fired, regardless of how OP felt about it, which is totally true.

    7. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

      Where do you see Alison saying we need to consider the deputy’s POV? I didn’t interpret that anywhere in her answer. She says the deputy’s previous dislike of the guy doesn’t matter, the comment was bad and that both the deputy and the company handled this very badly.

      The middle paragraph (where she goes into what the deputy may have been thinking) reads to me as providing an explanation to the LW as to why this situation became what it did. Not a call to consider how the deputy felt.

    8. AKchic*

      I have to agree. I think the deputy was looking for any reason to prove the new VP was unworthy of the job and prove that she was better suited for it. Yes, in this instance, she was vindicated in the aspect of “he’s not suited for the job (based on what he just said)”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the deputy IS suited for the job, as evidenced by her reaching out to LW after she left the job to berate her and blame her for the deputy’s PIP and retaliation.

      I think that the deputy would have found any reason to go after the new VP, and this was just a convenient one. However, once the company didn’t immediately oust him, she may have kept trying to find reasons for him to be let go, or made things difficult for him, hence her PIP.

    9. Raging Iron Thunder*

      I agree with you. Work in Canada in a mostly white environment with the odd asian or south asian in the office. From my frame of reference, the comment struck me as inappropriate for sure, and not one I’d ever make as a white dude.

      The “gasping out loud” pearl clutching comments here strikes me as virtue signaling, however.

      The passed-over-would-be VP has an axe to grind and I do not believe her to be a reliable narrater of the events at that company. likely she wouldn’t let it go and faced discipline for insubordination.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        I really side-eye people using the term ‘virtue signaling’ unironically. It was a really, really racist comment said openly to a Black woman in a professional setting. It’s not pearl-clutching to find that to be shockingly over the top.

        1. Joron Twiner*

          It does read as virtue signaling (in the original sense of the term) to post about it here, though… Half the letter is about the white coworker co-opting OP’s victimhood, so comments like “I, a white woman, am SHOCKED” just read like another of OP’s coworkers ready to jump in.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Disagree on the “virtue signaling.” It’s much more likely that this was a genuine reaction of shock to a comment that anyone with more than three brain cells to rub together should realize was hella inappropriate. I’d be shocked if someone in management at my workplace said something like this and would probably visibly react in the moment.

      3. Ellis Bell*

        Literally, I gasped out loud too! I thought I’d heard every stupid thing a man could say to a woman at work (“sexy librarian” anyone?) but telling a woman she’s dark chocolate IN A MEETING is a brand new one on me. But I gasped because of my shock, not because of my “virtue”. I just told my partner who isn’t much of a gasper and his response was four seconds of stun before dropping his head into his hands in shock laughter. So we all have different reactions to stupidity.

    10. Sleve*

      As a white ally this kind of thing makes me want to scream, because a) it causes harm and b) it makes everyone else rightfully tentative about help from me and other actual allies until we’re proven safe, impeding their ability to access assistance even when it really does exist.

      The bar is so low Persephone is using it as a trellis to grow pomegranates, how do they keep tripping over the damned thing?

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Seriously. I really can’t blame POC for viewing offers of allyship from white people, myself included, with skepticism. As a group, we have a pretty terrible track record for doing the actual work required. It sucks, but I always remind myself that it isn’t about me. The only thing I can do is to let POC lead, offer what support I can and is welcome, and hope that I can earn trust in time.

    11. SnappinTerrapin*

      I’m inclined to agree with your view of the deputy’s perspective. It feels like she wanted to weaponize the situation for her own advantage. Nevertheless, I agree with Alison that we should look past her motive. Even if tainted by a bad reason, she was asking the company to do the right thing.

      Likewise, even if (for whatever reasons), the LW wasn’t offended, the company has a stake in this situation, and they have an overriding need to remove (especially new) management officers who display such incredibly poor judgment.

  8. Sharon*

    Ugh. It was great for the deputy to stand up against racist comments (we should all do that), but it wasn’t right for her to try increase the impact of that comment on you, the target. It would have been an inappropriate comment if made in a room of white people and should be treated the same way regardless.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Agreed. The deputy should have taken this up based on her own values, which is perfectly appropriate (the part about her being out to get the guy notwithstanding). If the LW wants to step out, that’s her prerogative.

  9. Stuart Foote*

    I am sure people will not like this, but while this was a terrible thing to say I don’t think the consequence for saying stuff at this level should be firing, especially since the employee in question wasn’t even offended. I think most people have said something like this at some point, and those who claim they haven’t are either a) giving themselves much more benefit of the doubt than they would give others or b) aren’t considering that other people may be offended by stuff they’ve said, even if they didn’t realize it was offensive or think it should be offensive. I’m sure even on this blog there is stuff that some would find highly offensive, came out differently than intended, or hasn’t aged well, etc.

    Again, I think this was a very inappropriate thing to say, but firing everyone who says stuff like this is just isn’t sustainable, or healthy, especially for one-offs that aren’t part of a pattern.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, this. I know groups of people in which this is true, but I know a lot more groups of people in which this is not true, thank goodness.

        Also, it’s such an aged, tired, and really obviously racist thing to say that . . . come on, people.

      2. OrdinaryJoe*

        No, not everyone says something *they* deliberately consider racist but I think everyone has said things that have offended people or have the potential to offend people. Everyone has told jokes that landed badly, repeated something they were told that ended up being offensive, used a word they grew up using (not even talking about the N word here) that is now understood to be offensive, etc. Language and culture is constantly evolving and changing and is often culturally and regionally dependent. We all make mistakes.

        1. Caramel & Cheddar*

          We definitely all make mistakes, and language and culture are indeed constantly evolving. The point is that the “everybody does it!” argument isn’t about learning and evolving, it’s about deflecting from the problem at hand and trying to absolve people who are behaving like this. If everyone makes these mistakes, then how can they be mistakes at all, etc. And with all the mistakes I make in life, inadvertent or otherwise, I’ve still managed to not make a racist, sexually charged comment towards a colleague in the workplace despite how much language and culture and understanding of racism has changed since I first entered the workforce.

        2. Rose*

          But not everyone has made extremely sexual, racist comments to a coworker. Everyone makes mistakes. It doesn’t mean all mistakes are equal and we are all equally flawed and no one should ever be fired.

        3. Bitte Meddler*

          And the ones who make honest mistakes (“I had no idea the meaning of that word had changed,”) apologize profusely and never make that mistake again.

          What they DON’T do is retaliate against the person who reported them for the “honest mistake”.

          Sorry, but VP’s behavior indicates that he knows it wasn’t an honest mistake.

      3. Fluffy Fish*

        This is the second comment (the person you responded to not you) that is attemptign to justify the guys behavior.

        I don’t think I’m going to make it through this comment section without ending up enraged and disgusted.

        Folks – EVERYONE does not in fact make gross racist and sexual comments – not at work and not in their personally life.

        For that matter even if EVERYONE did, that would not make it any more acceptable.

        There’s a lot of people who need to do some serious introspection about racism :/

    1. Keymaster the absent*

      I think most people have said something like this at some point

      I can confidently say I’ve never said anything racist and certainly not at work. This isn’t a question of ‘well,there’s some discussion of whether that phrase is offensive’ it just IS.

      It’s like hurling the N word around. I’ve never been inclined to hurl slurs around.

      1. Andromeda*

        Eh, I think in the sense of “microaggression that we didn’t notice at the time” or “statements informed by our subconscious bias”, we probably and unfortunately all have.

        I think that most of us also have the ability to tell when a comment crosses the line into “WTF”, which in this case it certainly did! It’s frustrating to read people immediately try to lump an obviously over-the-line statement in with less egregious ones, and then make a blanket statement about all of them at once.

        1. SnackAttack*

          Okay, but there’s microaggressions, and then there’s a pretty blatant racist and sexist trope that’s been around for a while. I just don’t know why so many people are trying to jump through hoops to give this white executive they don’t even know the benefit of the doubt, all while dismissing the concerns of the person who actually wrote in.

          1. Bitte Meddler*

            Welcome to the Western World, where racism and patriarchy are so baked in that even people who don’t benefit from it will carry its water.

          2. Andromeda*

            I fully agree! But I think it’s worth communicating both “that remark was miles and miles out of line” and “you are probably wrong if you insist that you have never said anything racist and you are white”. I did try to make that very clear in my original comment, but just to make it extra extra clear: what the guy said in the letter is NOT a microaggression and I am NOT implying that they are in any way comparable either

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        I wish I could say that I’ve never said anything racist, but language changes, and things that I thought were ok in the past are recognized for their harm now. I’ve never deliberately said anything racist, but that’s different.

        And I’ve most certainly said things that hurt other people. Again, not deliberately, but the harm still exists.

        Not being inclined to throw slurs around is an easy goal. Not ever saying something that hurts other people is something that I doubt anyone has achieved.

      3. ThursdaysGeek*

        I wish I were that confident about never saying anything racist. I’m only confident that I’ve never deliberately said anything racist and have been willing to change my language when I learn that something is hurtful. And that is completely different.

        I am confident that I’ve said things that hurt other people. But again, it’s not been deliberate.

        It’s easy to not hurl slurs around. It’s a lot harder to not hurt people with words and actions, through inattention or ignorance, and I doubt any of us has ever achieved that.

      4. Pyjamas*

        How do you know? Maybe the person you said it to brushed it off and moved on. Only way to be sure would be to go and ask every BIPOC you know if you’ve ever said anything racist; and that would be kinda racist

      5. hohumdrum*

        I genuinely don’t trust people who will say things like “I’ve never said anything racist” because that’s just not how racism works and it makes me concerned they only have a superficial and individualistic understanding of what racism is and how it impacts society on a structural level. It’s not actually possible to just clear yourself of ever having participated in any form of unconscious bias, that’s not how that even works.

        A far safer statement (to me) is “I spend time actually unpacking my thoughts, behaviors, and words to be aware of bias, both conscious and unconscious. I am aware that because I live in a society that is racist I must be thoughtful and proactive about decolonizing my mindset. *When* I slip up, I take accountability for my actions.”

    2. Butterfly Counter*

      Hard disagree.

      Firing for this means that people will hear that this company doesn’t stand for racism and that people will keep comments like this, that they think are not harmful but “edgy,” to themselves. Which they should. Losing your job isn’t a scarlet letter you have to wear. It’s just a job and people are fired for a lot less. This is a lot more and should be taken seriously.

      1. Anonym*

        Also, this person was in a leadership position. Success in that role specifically requires good judgement and relationship building. Aside from the ethics, this person also demonstrated a shocking lack of skills necessary to the role.

        There is a higher burden on people in senior positions, as there should be. Whether or not you think all people should be fired for this, leaders should definitely be fired for this.

        1. Miette*

          Came here to say exactly this. This person not only made an objectively racist remark, it is compounded by the sexual harassment overtones and there should have been consequences. He should be held to a higher standard since as a company executive his job is to uphold those standards.

          Also, it’s not like he meant “Ha, ha, I’ll be happy for you to bribe me with candy,” here, realized the abject offensiveness of the phrasing, then apologized. It’s appalling. And for OP to have then been doubly-harassed by this other woman just compounds the harm to her.

          1. RVA Cat*

            This. The fact that he’s not being held accountable means the problem goes above him. The deputy’s misdirected rage may be an example of how toxic places warp your norms.

        2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          And senior leadership in a global organization. This person is going to have to be interacting with a super diverse set of people, so it’s even more important that they know about things that are racist or considered offensive in different cultures.

    3. What? No.*

      Have I made a sexual comment about a subordinate at work that also included reference to their skin color? No. This is something you think a majority of people have done?

      1. Silver Robin*

        Seriously! Using outdated language? Sure, anyone could make that mistake once or twice. But this? This is gross and the VP knows it.

      2. NandorTheRelentless*

        I’ve been on the receiving end of this crap enough times that I can believe it’s widespread. Still think any grody old creeps who perpetuate it should be canned.

      3. House On The Rock*

        Yes, thank you! It’s such a weird take that people are equating this to someone naively using an antiquated term (for example) or being “awkward” or “mis speaking”. Anyone with a shred of self-awareness should understand that uttering the words “dark chocolate” to a Black woman is disgusting.

        1. Andie Begins*

          Yep! We’re decades past the point I would have bought this particular slip of the tongue as an accident. Anyone defending this looks like a rube from where I’m sitting. He knew exactly what he said and what it meant.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            For sure. Anyone who’s been paying attention should know this is super inappropriate.

    4. amoeba*

      Er, what? Like, seriously, I’ve never encountered a statement like that in the wild, and while I’m aware that was lucky, I also don’t think that’s nearly as common as you claim. That’s just so blatantly sexist *and* racist that I’m honestly a bit shocked you believe it’s something “most people” have said at some point! (And not even, like, on Tinder. Which would be bad enough! But as a VP in a company? Absolutely wildly inappropriate and definitely a case of “he should and probably does know better, he just doesn’t care”!)

    5. Green great dragon*

      I do not think most people have said “something like this”. I also think many people with… certain views… like to tell themselves everyone thinks like them really and are just afraid to say so. This isn’t true.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        In social psychology, it’s pretty well established that people substantially overestimate the extent to which other people agree with their views. I knew a prof who would get his undergrads in the intro course to fill out a survey that had their opinions about issues and their estimate about the number of their classmates who would agree with them. The effect turned up every time. If a student believed X, they would guess that a higher percent of the class agreed with them than what the class overall reported about their beliefs.

    6. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      Oh, noononononononononono. I have never made a comment like that. WTF, Stuart. Saying racist shit and accidentally offending someone aren’t even in the same county.

      Firing everyone who says racist shit is totally sustainable. Then only people who don’t say racist shit will have jobs. Then people who want jobs won’t say racist shit. It’s a virtuous cycle.

      It can’t become part of a pattern if you fire them after the first offense.

      Truly, replace what you just said with a VP grabbing a subordinate’s ass. “It was just a one-off, it’s not fair to fire him when it’s not part of a pattern.”

      1. Hot Flash Gordon*

        Yeah, I’m kind of tired of giving racists and misogynists the benefit of the doubt and treated with fairness, when people of color and women aren’t given that same largess. Won’t someone think of the white men indeed…

        1. Timothy (TRiG)*

          In this case, there really isn’t any doubt to give him the benefit of. It’s a pretty cut and dry case.

    7. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “but firing everyone who says stuff like this is just isn’t sustainable”

      That has not been my experience. I find it highly sustainable, and do it without hesitation. Proper investigation, but no quarrels on my end. Beyond being sustainable, it opens the door for better fits in the role.

      I would closely examine why you think this is such a common occurrence that we’d simply run out of people to hire if we took it seriously.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        And, presumably, firing one person for making a sexual comment that is also racist would let the remaining employees know that you don’t get to just say stuff like that and keep your job. The ones who are smart will STFU.

    8. Snow Globe*

      “Most people have said something like this?” No. The combination of racism plus sexual innuendo *at work* is absolutely not something most people have said.

    9. Silver Robin*

      I have *never* been around people who thought saying something that obviously awful was okay. I *have* said thoughtless things before and the reason I care for my friends so much is because they called me on it immediately and I corrected, immediately.

      But this is at a job, where he is a VP (aka has power). On the job is not where people should be learning how not to say obviously racist things. In their early days. With multiple witnesses. On an intro call. What does the company really have to lose by firing the guy in the his first week or so? This was such an astounding lack of judgement, be rid of him and hire somebody else. There are probably several from the pool you could go back to, you only just hired the guy.

    10. Pippa K*

      Hm. But if the test for ‘fireable offence’ is ‘the person targeted was actually offended’ imagine the consequences – targets of misconduct would face pressure to say they’re not offended (or are offended, depending on the politics of the office, perhaps). And you’d get inconsistent outcomes across similar cases, which seems undesirable from the employer’s point of view. (And yeah, I know that inconsistent outcomes are already a feature of this kind of thing in practice, but I wouldn’t bake it into the procedures.)

      1. Anonym*

        So much this. You have power dynamics that make it hard for people to report, even if they take more offense than the OP did. It’s either acceptable behavior to the organization or it’s not. Don’t put the burden on the target to determine what the organization should do.

      2. kalli*

        All of which we get already regardless of whether the subject person disclosed harm or not – not just the inconsistency, but the pressure.

        Here I have to wonder whether the result or the investigation would have been different not based on whether LW was offended or understood the remark to be offensive, but whether they had made the complaint rather than the complaint being made by the deputy, and also, if it would have differed if LW had participated in the investigation instead of effectively minimising it. Some approaches to these incidents recommend taking into account the wishes of the person/s who are (meant to have) experienced the most direct harm, given that they may have to stay in the workplace with the consequences. If this HR is like that and weighted LW’s request that VP not be fired, combined with the fact that they did not complain – then the person targeting them now is coming from a place where they may well have known that and incorporated it into the pressure to report it then and the blame they are laying now.

        And that is why it is not a thing that should be done, regardless of how one constructs victim-centred justice.

    11. Um, ok*

      Ok, but there is a very significant difference between something that “hasn’t aged well” on a workplace blog, and a vice president being directly racist and sexist to a person’s face?

    12. Venus*

      I think a big factor is how he responds. If someone pointed out that a comment of mine was racist, then I would feel horribly guilty and be much more careful in future. When I was in my 20s I learned that habits I had as a teenager weren’t always appropriate at work (for example slap on the back was still fine after hours but shouldn’t be done to friends at work, or calling them by silly nicknames), and I vowed to never do them again. If it was a term that was more culturally appropriate in his country then it’s still not appropriate in that workplace, but if he was deeply apologetic to HR and was clear about never doing it again then I could maybe see him getting a second chance, and ensure he knows that he won’t get another chance. Yet at that senior level it really surprises me that he thought it would be okay and I do question his judgement. We should hold our senior managers to higher standards, and have bigger consequences.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        This is a thoughtful comment. I also hear people say things, think common idioms, that are not okay – and maybe a lot of people know are not okay but it hasn’t reached everyone yet. How the person reacts when corrected is really what matters.

        But this is deliberate, targeted, sexualized even if you take the racial component out of it, and for someone in a senior position it would be a first and last strike for me.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          And until everyone here has said it, I didn’t recognize it as sexualized at all – I would not have seen it that way. We don’t know what we don’t know.

          1. Inconvenient Indian*

            I’m tired (more than tired) of having to live with the consequences of your “ignorance”. It’s 2024 – time to learn.

          2. Sharon*

            I think I was so overwhelmed by the racism that I didn’t even catch the sexualized nature of the comment until someone here brought it up.

    13. Seashell*

      It’s a really odd and creepy thing to say, especially in that context. Even giving him the benefit of the doubt that he blurted out something stupid and supremely regretted it, I would think that’s a circumstance where any further comments in that vein would be the final straw.

    14. Dust Bunny*

      Oh, no–this would be fully sustainable at my job.

      We had a filter-challenged intern for awhile and nothing she said was this bad, but she still got a very stern lecture and was put on notice that, yes, her internship would be canceled (meaning her MLIS would be delayed by quite a bit) if it happened again.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Thank you. Speaking as someone who teaches future librarians, I do try to tell them but with a few it just doesn’t get through.

        I hope you reported this to the intern’s school as well. I often serve as a job reference for students — I would absolutely want to know this, because it’s my rep on the line too when I take reference calls.

    15. Kara*

      I think most people have said something like this at some point, and those who claim they haven’t are either a) giving themselves much more benefit of the doubt than they would give others or b) aren’t considering that other people may be offended by stuff they’ve said, even if they didn’t realize it was offensive or think it should be offensive.

      I have NEVER made a comment like that. Ever. And that’s not “benefit of the doubt” or otherwise. Yes, I’m sure I’ve said things that were offensive inadvertently – in fact I know I have and I’ve been corrected on them when I have.

      This isn’t a “didn’t realize it was offensive” situation. This was an outright, flat-out, no-bones-about-it freakin’ racist AF comment.

    16. Jiminy Cricket*

      Absolutely not. I can confidently say that I have never made a racist, sexually charged comment at work. 100%.

      How on earth could that comment “come out differently than intended”? Unless he was actually asking someone to send him a Tony’s Chocolonely?

    17. Ho-ho-holey hose*

      Sorry, no but I have never heard anyone make a comment like that. I’ve had some bad managers who no doubt had all sorts of internal bias, and even they never actually said something like this. “everyone does it” is both not true, and a terrible excuse.

    18. Lauren*

      Most people have absolutely not said anything like this ever.

      If that’s even a semi-normal thing for you, you really need to a second look at yourself and your environment.

    19. Michelle Smith*

      Respectfully, I wonder if your experience that “most people have said something like this at some point” says more about the people you specifically have been around and less about society at large.

      Also the fact that the person the comment was directed to wasn’t offended by it isn’t particularly relevant in deciding what level of HR action is appropriate here. It’s not okay for a business to allow creating a hostile work environment regardless of who it offends, which is one reason why bystanders have standing to report these things in the first place. We can agree to disagree on whether he should be fired, but I don’t think the personal opinion of the target should be the deciding factor here. Other people were in that meeting. Just because they were visibly white doesn’t mean they can’t be offended by an objectively offensive comment (either because no one wants to hear sexualized and racialized comments at work, directed to a group they belong to or not, or because they know or have loved ones that are part of that group). Otherwise, if you factor in whether the target was offended in deciding whether to fire, I think you run the risk of (1) undue pressure on them to make that decision, (2) overt or subconscious pressure to downplay any actual offense they do feel because they don’t want to be responsible for someone else losing their livelihood, and/or (3) at least some coworkers feeling like the target of the harassing comment or behavior is to blame for the firing rather than it being an HR decision.

    20. Cat Tree*

      No, most people don’t say these things. But racists *think* everyone else feels and does the same things they do but are better at hiding. I think your comment says more about you than about everyone else and I hope you’ll truly reconsider how universal you think your experience is.

    21. Siege*

      I mean, I used a metaphor for a while without realizing how racist it was, so I’m not gonna say I’ve never accidentally said something racist (no, it’s not the one you’re thinking of) or said something I didn’t intend to be racist and the other party heard that way, but I’ve never once in my life looked at another person, taken into account the race of that person, referenced my preference for a common sexualisation of that person’s race, and then let it fall out my mouth, so I’m thinking that’s on you and the people you know. There’s a huge difference between living in a racist society and sometimes speaking that racism and abetting it by actively choosing to identify with it. And the person who does the latter, particularly in a senior leadership role, SHOULD be fired.

    22. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

      This isn’t some stupidly ignorant comment someone made with friends (not that it would be okay then, either, but I’ll grant that there are younger people raised by racists who grow up sheltered/in a bubble where they don’t find out this is bad until they get out into the wider world). This is someone at the VP level saying something like this AT WORK. It is absolutely a fireable offense.

      There is a huge difference between the kinds of terrible/offensive things people can say in private and not get in trouble for and the kinds of things people can say at work/in public and face serious consequences for. Especially anyone in a leadership position. This is not just about being offensive–this is about the culture you create and allow in a place where others do not necessarily have the choice to opt out.

    23. Stuart Foote*

      Just to be clear, I don’t think everyone has said this specific thing, or said stuff this offensive, but I do think that the majority of people have said things in the workplace that would make other people very offended.

      I also think it’s worth considering if offensive things are part of a pattern, or a one-off incident. I have never said anything racially or sexually offensive in the workplace, but I have definitely had things I said get taken very differently than I expected that with hindsight seemed obvious.

      1. Jay (no, the other one)*

        Not all offensive statements are created equal. This one is off-the-charts bad regardless of how the targeted person reacted. I’m a white woman and I would absolutely report this.

        And yes, I’ve said offensive things at work, been called on it (or realized it myself) and learned from the experience. None of them were racist because that’s a bias I’m aware of. I tend to misread or flat-out miss issues of class and educational level. In one case my lack of awareness permanently damaged an important working relationship and I still regret that. And it is *not the same as this.* Not even close.

        1. OrigCassandra*

          Yes, I lost the respect of a Black colleague through thoughtless white-knighting. I may never get that respect back; I fully accept that’s the cost of what I did.

          It wasn’t even in the same ballpark as what OP is recounting. Merciful heavens, that was foul.

      2. aqua*

        I’m pretty confident I’ve never said anything in the workplace that would make other people “very offended”, other than times I have deliberately chosen to offend bigots by calling them bigots.

      3. Victory Vice*

        If you genuthink this summer true, I am so, so sorry that you have lived your whole life around such awful people. This is simply not true of the world as a whole, and most of us have not had the appallingly ignorant and bigoted family, friends and colleagues you have had.

        I hope you find better company in future.

      4. Aitch Arr*

        Good thing the law considers the severity, as well as the frequency.
        One single action or behavior can rise to a level of severity that creates a hostile work environment.

        In my org, this VP would have been put on investigative leave and then fired after the investigation was completed.

      5. Critical Rolls*

        What you said was “I think most people have said something like this at some point” and therefore firing was unpracticable because who would be left!

        The VP’s comment was grossly, overtly racist and also clear sexual harassment. I am not new to the work force, and I have never made nor even directly heard a comment that was so obviously over both lines. Now you’re trying to walk your comment back and minimize the issue by muddling it up with lesser offenses and misunderstandings, while still trying to assert that anyone could find themselves on the wrong side of something like this. No, a thousand times no, not at all or in the least.

      6. Hot Flash Gordon*

        There are a lot of things that can be offensive that aren’t party to creating a hostile work environment in the legal sense of the word. Have I inadvertently offended someone with my opinions on whether or not REM sucks or whether or not leggings are pants? Sure, and I always apologize if confronted by that person because I never mean to offend.

        Have I ever said something wildly out of line about someone’s ethnicity, gender, age, or sexual orientation at work? Absolutely not. It’s really not that difficult to converse with colleagues without bring up their gender, race, etc and I’m pretty suspicious of those people who bemoan the fact that they can’t possibly keep up with what is and isn’t appropriate at work.

      7. Ellis Bell*

        Okay but this letter is talking about a comment where a man is telling a woman the colour of her skin is a sexual turn on. Choices are: 1) Mull on the horrific-ness of that and on the fall out of saying such a horrid, dehumanizing thing. 2) Change the subject and minimize this. I guess you went with Option 2.

    24. ClaireW*

      Really? I’m not in the US but if I heard someone I worked with say this I’d be genuinely taken aback and disgusted and would refuse to work further with them. It’s extremely unacceptable, racist and sexist, and I would not feel comfortable working with someone who is so willing to cross boundaries of acceptable behaviour.

      1. SnackAttack*

        To be fair, this took place in Canada, so clearly racism can happen in any majority-white country and people should be on the lookout for it.

        1. Aitch Arr*

          I lead HR in Canada for my org and my post above still holds.
          Investigative suspension/leave, investigate, term for cause.

    25. Khatul Madame*

      The incident showed not only VP’s racism, but also bad judgment and lack of tact, which are pretty important in executives.

    26. Loose Socks*

      I work in HR, and I can confidently say that this is absolutely a fireable offense, and it does not happen anywhere near as often as you seem to think it does. I think you need to take a really good introspective look if you think this kind of comment just slips out.

    27. birb*

      Even if the employee he said it to wasn’t offended, other people should not have to hear racist sexist comments like this at work, even if they are not a member of the race or gender being dehumanized. It isn’t ok because the employee wasn’t offended, he was just VERY LUCKY. It clearly grossed out the other woman present, who is probably super tired of him saying sexist stuff to and around her (and legitimately should not have to hear it).

      I would not work somewhere where the culture was “it’s ok as long as the person it was directed at thought it was fine” because that means that I have to listen to racism and sexism and so does anyone else who doesn’t have the power and agency and financing to stop it or leave. It makes the problem “getting caught” and not “being a racist sexist scumbag”.

      I am a white woman. I never put the responsibility to report on the person it actually happened to, because victims of this gross stuff shouldn’t have to do extra work and have extra scrutiny and relive the situation and and be asked if maybe they’re just sensitive or looking for racism everywhere and if they really want to ruin someone’s life over it. The burden is on me. The majority of racist sexist people are not stupid and go out of their way to make sure that they don’t face consequences for that. The most awful things I’ve ever had to report or write someone up for were said to me, a white woman, privately, or in a work meeting of exclusively other white people. They still needed to be held accountable, even though members of the groups they were disparaging were not present and could not be offended.

      I’ve had the misfortune of racist strangers telling me who they really are pretty much immediately upon meeting them, because they assume I agree with them. When I correct that notion, the response is ALWAYS confusion and “but it’s just us here!” because they sincerely believe that everyone else who looks like them privately shares their beliefs, and that the “problem” is just who you say it in front of.

    28. Lobstermn*

      Of course I’ve never said anything like that at work, and if I had, I’d expect to be fired on the way to my MRI for a brain tumor.

    29. not nice, don't care*

      Yeah, no. Make it hurt. Make it absolutely actionable, even one time, even the first time, even is everyone does it.

    30. ecnaseener*

      What a wild thing to say. This wasn’t an ignorant comment you could make without knowing better, it’s a radicalized, sexualized, overtly gross thing to say. No, most people have not said this kind of thing, at least not past age 12.

    31. MissConch*

      If everyone you know has made racist and sexist comments and it happens often enough that you now consider it to be no big deal, then I suspect you are in a deeply toxic environment and it may benefit you to find new circumstances for your own mental health.

    32. Jessica*

      Firing openly racist men who sexually harass your employees is only unsustainable if the only workers you value are openly racist and misogynist white men, and not the EVERYONE ELSE.

      Men like this drive actually valuable employees away.

    33. Prismatic Garnet*

      When they’re in a position of power and they’re new and it’s this casually racist? Yeah, they should.

    34. Rex Libris*

      If this was the guy’s first internship out of college, I’d be more inclined to believe it could have been a horrible mistake and a teachable moment. He’s a VP of a company. If he doesn’t know better by now, it’s intentional.

      Anyone in management knows that on a certain level, they are a voice of the company, and can be fired for saying something that the company doesn’t want to be associated with.

    35. Irish Teacher.*

      Honestly, I have very rarely heard people say stuff I would consider on a par with this.

      I agree that most people have said something thoughtless that could offend somebody and I know I have said things that I later realised had connotations I wasn’t aware of. But sexualised comments based on somebody’s race? No, I don’t think most people make those or comparative comments.

      I think this goes way beyond things that some would find offensive or that came out differently than intended. It really sounds as if he did intend it to refer to her race.

      And I think his behaviour afterwards pretty much supports that this was not just a case of his saying something without realising it was offensive. Most people, if they are decent human beings and they say something and are later told it was interpreted in a way that offended people, are likely to be horrified and apologetic. Decent people who made a mistake don’t retailiate against the person who reported them. I know that happened after he would have been fired but I do think it shows who he is.

      Yes, many people are guilty of microaggressions or have said something that had connotations they were unaware of or just didn’t think of in the moment, but I don’t think those things are on the same level as this.

    36. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

      If people knew they would get fired for making ridiculously racist and sexist comments like the one described in this letter, they’d either figure out how to keep that BS to themselves or they’d be out of work. The only thing that makes this “sustainable, or healthy” is companies not really doing anything to address behavior that goes against their own code of business ethics and putting undue burdens on employees who are members of underrepresented or marginalized communities for adjudicating this stuff.

    37. i babysit adults in the sky*

      Fascinating how quick you and others are to defend a misogynist bigot! Something to reflect on, even.

    38. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

      “At this level”? So you think casual, unthinking racism is MORE acceptable for someone in a position of power than someone without power or authority?

    39. Kella*

      The problem here is that you are mistaking the problem for “saying something offensive” when it’s really “saying something harmful.” The fact that OP was not offended is irrelevant to the fact that the VP’s gross misogyny and racism was harmful *to black women in general*. That would’ve been the case even if zero black women were in attendance at the time.

      There is a common problem where people from a privileged group will gain the understanding that X type of comments are “offensive” but see them as existing in a purely theoretical context, as if when they are said as a mistake, they don’t actually cause real harm, as if they’re more like an inaccuracy that needs to be corrected. But the harm these comments are doing is *real* even if it’s not visible to you.

      And while no one should make comments like the VP did here, a “mistake” made by someone in such a position of power, at the very start of their new job, is absolutely a context where a “mistake” deserves much more scrutiny than when you make an off-color comment with your friends at a bar.

    40. Totally Minnie*

      Racism and sexual harassment are both circumstances in which I’m fine with a person being fired after their first offense, and both were present in this VP’s comment. You don’t need to write someone a PIP about how they should not be racist or make sexual used comments about their coworkers, you just need to get them out of positions where they are in control of other people’s livelihoods.

      The situation LW described was not a slip of the tongue or something you could argue would have been seen as a compliment in some past age when this VP was young, it’s straight up racism and sexual harassment. We do not need to keep men like this in positions of power, there are too many of them there as it is.

    41. MCMonkeyBean*

      I am reminded right now of the time someone went on a racist rant and Gary Oldman defended them by saying “we all think this stuff.” I don’t even remember who the original ranter was, but I do remember Gary Oldman telling everyone he apparently thinks super racist things all the time and was just previously smart enough not to say it out loud.

      No, truly, we do not all think this stuff.

  10. Sara*

    That comment is so crazy out of pocket. I don’t necessarily think you underreacted – you can be personally offended or not, its up to you how to respond. But that’s an insane thing to say and I’m guessing that the fact that it was in front of three other women means he’s not subtle about his sexism or other racist comments. HR dropped the ball. There’s no way this guy is acting in their best interest.

  11. soontoberetired*

    One thing the whole things show is that neither of these people should have been in upper management.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Thank you.

      VP who made the comment – racist.

      Deputy VP – really poor judgment to dump on OP and then also blame her for anything that happened afterwards. There’s a reason she didn’t get the job, besides possibly the company wanting a white guy in the role.

      1. ENFP in Texas*

        Or she didn’t get the job because HR knows she acts like a guilt-tripping victim who blames others when something doesn’t go her way.

        1. Rose*

          And if she wanted to be a victim, be a victim!! Go to HR and tell them the new VP is making gross sexual comments in front of you and you are deeply uncomfortable about working with him. Why drag OP down let alone blame her?? Crap behavior all around (aside from OP’s).

    2. Anon Again... Naturally*

      Exactly. I believe the OP wasn’t offended. From her description the other two people in the room were offended, which I understand- from my US perspective the comment is completely unacceptable. At minimum, HR needed to make clear to the VP that his comment was unacceptable before other people that he works with closely start talking about a hostile work environment.
      As for the deputy VP, her response was completely unhinged. She is the one who had a negative impact on OP, and she just kept doubling down on being awful to the OP. From the outside, her behavior smacks of racism/sexism to me as well- the whole “I have to tell this person how they should feel” is just so patronizing I want to scream.
      OP, you’re the only one here who behaved with professionalism, in the face of pretty awful behavior. Kudos to you, and best of luck in the future.

      1. birb*

        I think it is really rigid black and white thinking along with a heavy dose of emotional immaturity and Main Character Syndrome. “My coworker is evil and my quest is noble and just, so if my coworker is in a position to help my noble quest for justice and decides not to, then they’re ALSO evil and wicked and just as bad as the racist coworker!”

        1. Anon Again... Naturally*

          Oh yes, that’s a much better take. Still an absolutely unhinged response by the deputy, though.

  12. Venus*

    Completely agreed with Alison. The comment is completely inappropriate because it’s both racist and sexualizing an employee.

    Workplaces are thankfully shifting from the expectation that women, BIPOC, or disabled people are the only ones who are allowed to complain personally about something said about them. Now bystanders are valid witnesses to something offensive, and are in fact encouraged to say something. I think the situation was made worse because the deputy had a known grudge, and therefore didn’t feel comfortable saying that she was offended, so therefore pushed you very inappropriately to file a complaint. In a good workplace both the deputy and team lead would have spoken to HR, who would have then spoken to you in order to confirm the facts, and they would have dealt with it in such a way that you wouldn’t know the details because HR decisions are meant to be private (although it would be a clue that they fired him over it when he suddenly left for ‘a new opportunity’).

    You did everything right, including suggesting to the deputy that she complain about retaliation. Really sorry that you had to deal with this!

  13. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    This is like the jilted lover blaming the paramour for the cheating incident.
    Except you did nothing wrong.
    You are not at fault because she was (in her opinon) slighted by the company.
    You are an actual victim of his ineptness. She is not.
    HER claim that VP is less professionally qualified for the position is ultimately subjective. He may have unique experiences that edged her out. She really doesn’t know.
    But blaming you because her work life blew up is bullshit.
    The company sucks. They failed by hiring him (not by hiring him over her. I don’t think she is the best option either, harassing ex-employees is not normal).
    The VP sucks if he did indeed retaliate for her reporting racism and not because she became disruptive and unproductive employee because (in fairness) the company effed up on this.
    She sucks because she is mistreating you because you didn’t respond as she felt you should. In her narrative, she, the main character did her due diligence, and you, in the role of “insulted minority” dropped the ball.
    This is no longer about the incident of racism. This is about a disgruntled employee becoming unhinged and losing the plot to her life.
    OP, not your circus, not your monkeys.

  14. I should really pick a name*

    Just to add a data point:

    I’m black.
    I didn’t read the comment as unequivocally racist.
    A bad judgement call yes, but I initially read it as a joking “this is the treat to bribe with me if you want paperwork”

    1. Quantum Possum*

      This is how I read it, too. I’m glad I’m not the only one!

      But based on how his coworkers responded, I do think he WAS being racist (they know him and his character, after all).

      1. amoeba*

        Also depends heavily on the delivery. Sure, if he said “haha, well, you know, my favourite chocolate is the 70% from Lindt!” it reads a bit different. But otherwise? Horses, not zebras…

        1. raktajino*

          Exactly. If the emphasis was on “like” or in a tone that otherwise read as “I enjoy time spent with people” then it probably was more obvious that he wasn’t referring to candy. I understand why she might not have immediately picked up on it.

        1. Quantum Possum*

          That’s a good point. Plus it sounds like the Deputy has a vendetta against the VP.

          There’s a lot going on in that office. I wouldn’t want to have to deal with any of it.

        2. Aitch Arr*

          Even more of an egregious lack of judgment on VP’s part, then.

          You know the old netiquette saying of “read the Usenet group before you start posting and replying?”

          (Yes, I’m aging myself.)

      2. jtr*

        I read it the same, and I’m multi-ethnic. As state elsewhere, tone matters in this case – light hearted or winkwinknudgenudge?

        I don’t think the coworkers DID know him that well, though – he was brand new to the company, yes? – and we don’t know what HR said to him or what actually happened within the company itself. LW was leaving, and she said she didn’t want an apology, so HR may have just left her out of the loop. Don’t we often hear that you won’t know what sorts of actions HR has (have?) taken about a complaint?

        From the Deputy’s response to LW later, I’m not sure I believe that the VP was actually retaliating, either, or that the PIP for being “unwelcoming” (not crazy about that terminology, but again, this is coming from the deputy so may not be what was actually said) wasn’t kind of appropriate.

        In any event, NONE of this is LW’s fault or problem!

        1. Quantum Possum*

          I’m not sure I believe that the VP was actually retaliating, either

          Yeah, upon re-reading, I don’t believe that “retaliation” is the actual reason for Deputy’s PIP.

          In any event, NONE of this is LW’s fault or problem!


          LW, please let HR know. You’re being put in a terrible situation through zero fault of your own.

      3. Letter Writer*

        Hi Everyone, Letter Writer here. I’ve been trying to respond for ages but my phone was playing tricks. There are a lot of comments and I’ve definitely not kept up but I will come back and read everything. I saw Alison’s main comment that she put up about bribery and I appreciate it, but the truth is that is how I interpreted it at first (which is why I’m responding here to “I should really pick a name” & “Quantum Possum” and others. I thought at first that he was saying he wanted me to give him chocolate for him to review the documents. I did think it was very odd but I honestly likely would not have thought of it any further if I hadn’t seen the other persons’ reactions. He and his team were in the US so everyone who thought that was right. Apparently when he spoke to HR, he told them he really had meant that he did like chocolate and he pulled out a bar to demonstrate. Given that by that time he would have known what the call with HR was about, it definitely sounded as if he was using it as a prop to claim plausible deniability. I did not hear anything about him seeming apologetic about how the comment could have been interpreted and received. When I spoke to HR, I did say that absolutely I objectively saw how it could be interpreted as racist (even though I hadn’t subjectively been offended).

        The deputy VP honestly angered me a lot more though. I left out a lot due to space constraints but when I say she was against this man before he got there, I mean that she would very loudly, very frequently, and very bitterly complain to me on calls, on IMs and most inappropriately, on wider calls with her direct reports, that he was unqualified and she couldn’t believe he’d gotten the job and how she hoped he would leave her and her team alone when he got there. This woman also often told me she was the least woke person ever (ok?) and completely unprompted, volunteered a story about how she stood up for a Black woman on her team who had faced racist behaviour from someone else. She repeated the story multiple times and with each telling, her anguish seemingly multiplied. She mentioned how she nearly burst into tears at the woman’s treatment and I kinda just thought ok, does she want a cookie? I wasn’t sure why she kept telling me this but I am kind of the person people vent to (I must have that kind of face) and I’m extremely non-confrontational so I just tried to be very non-committal. And all of this was BEFORE the VP even started so she had never met him and she didn’t know anyone who knew him (she went looking). She was also the kind of person who refused to take responsibility and didn’t seem to read emails fully but was quick to say she hadn’t been informed about things (even when she had been cc’d). Example, I had worked with the previous VP on project that had an annual review cycle so I sent her an email setting up a meeting and attaching background documents and in the email I specifically said I was booking the call to explain because I knew she wasn’t involved before and not even five minutes later she responded saying she didn’t know anything about the project and didn’t think she was the right person and she didn’t know what I wanted her to do. So all of these things really reinforced the feeling for me that this was simply a tool for her to use for her own benefit. The sort of “funny” thing was that if she had let me be, I don’t even know what my response would have been because the VP did go on further to prove he was a legitimate ass (related to the work itself) but she got my back up a bit and I just wanted to finish my time and leave. There was just a lot going on but I appreciate Alison’s response. I certainly hadn’t wanted to be “responsible” for someone losing their livelihood but I do take the point that it was the organization’s decision to make. Thanks again for everyone’s support, it’s really nice to know I’m not crazy here.

        1. AKchic*

          Honestly, had she been terminated, it would have been her own fault, not yours. She sounds openly hostile towards that VP simply because he was chosen over her, and to be frank, she doesn’t sound suited for the position to begin with. She sounds like a performative ally at best.

          I’m glad you’re away from that organization. If she reaches out again, maybe let the HR know and block her?

        2. Aitch Arr*

          It sounds like a total housecleaning – of VP AND Deputy – is in order.

          What a googoocluster.

        3. Venus*

          Oh wow, they were all from the US and he was unapologetic? Yeah, yikes, that is really bad. Sounds like everyone was awful, although you are still in the right! I tend to give the benefit of the doubt, but sounds like the chocolate bar was absolutely covering his ass.

        4. Llamalupe*

          Sorry for all the crazy you’ve been dealing with. The VP’s comment was pretty awful, but deputy VP using you as a prop was somehow even worse. You deserve better from everyone here.

        5. amoeba*

          Oh wow. Yeah, I think that whole place is just full of bees and I’m glad you’re out of there!

    2. Ella Bee*

      I mean, if that was the case the reaction from the VP once confronted by HR should have been ‘oh my gosh, I totally didn’t realize my innocuous comment about my favorite treat could be interpreted as inappropriate in context! I should apologize to everyone on the call and explain that it was just an unfortunate accident!’ Maybe he did and because OP didn’t want an apology he was told not to say anything to her, but I don’t understand why something wasn’t done to clear the air if it really wasn’t an intentional (gross) comment on OP’s race.

      1. Silver Robin*

        Yeah, and that he retaliated against the assistant VP makes me think he is badly suited to his role *and* that he meant the gross version. Because if it had been a misunderstanding, why retaliate?

        1. Venus*

          If he did really like Lindt chocolate, and felt awful about what was said and promised to never do it again, and deputy was refusing to believe it and then refusing to work for him… then it’s not retaliation and becomes an issue of VP addressing bad work from the deputy. This is unlikely, but without more info from HR it’s hard to know what really happened. Then again, if that was happening then I think HR should be working closely with both of them, or move deputy to another VP if it didn’t affect her career. It sounds like the entire situation was dysfunctional so hard to know for sure that it was retaliation given that the deputy was wildly inappropriate herself.

          1. Silver Robin*

            Fair enough that the VP is not reliable, but this still does not pass the sniff test for me. Others have mentioned that HR was mishandling things as well, which may be another layer of making the whole thing turn out badly and why we never heard from the VP again.

            1. Silver Robin*

              *Deputy VP is not reliable. and of course I only notice when I already hit “reply” *facepalm*

        2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Well we only have the Deputy’s word for it that she was retaliated against. She may well have been put on a PIP for reasons completely unrelated to reporting the racist comment. OP said one of the reasons was not making the new VP feel welcome. Considering how angry Deputy was at not getting the job, I can see her acting out in ways that were less than professional. Which would cause her to be a PIP even if she never reported the racist comment.

          Deputy VP is what we call an unreliable narrator.

        3. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

          The only person who said he retaliated is the deputy, who we know is biased. He might be, but I wouldn’t take her word for it.

          1. Hiring Mgr*

            Maybe, but it’s not much of a reach to think that someone who’s blatantly racist and sexist would also be vindictive if called on it

            1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              Yeah, unfortunately, I can see both as possible. Because then the Deputy VP went and harassed the Black woman to whom the comment was actually addressed and proceeded to pull a whole “Well, I guess there is just NO MORE RACISM if you’re soooo not offended!” thing. That strikes me as someone who is likely going to re-write facts and events to suit whatever narrative they are advancing.

              Mostly this is making me very glad that the LW is away from both of these two people.

            2. Expelliarmus*

              Especially when the person in question is still at their company and the subordinate is on a PIP.

      2. Warrior Princess Xena*


        I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth before, and can say that the appropriate response when being told “hey, that phrase is actually super inappropriate” is “oh no, I had no idea, I’m so sorry and will never do it again”.

    3. Ferret*

      I think this is one which would depend entirely on tone which is of course not possible to determine from this letter

    4. londonedit*

      I may be wrong but here in the UK I’m not sure this would immediately rise to the level of gross misconduct/immediate firing. I think what would probably happen would be that the VP would be spoken to by HR, formally warned (possibly a written warning) and most likely sent for sensitivity/DEI training. I think you’d have to go some way to prove it was absolutely intended as a racist comment before you’d be able to fire someone outright.

      1. Haggis*

        If he is a new hire, then he’s within his probation period and this would almost certainly be a valid reason for failing his probation.

    5. Rocket Raccoon*

      That’s what I read, too. She jokingly said she would bother him, he jokingly said what he wanted to be “bribed” with. That’s it.

      It is quite unfortunate that his favorite candy ran afoul of North American race words/tensions but without other context it seems like a genuine faux pas.

    6. Some Internet Rando*

      This is also how I read it. I think it is difficult to interpret without the tone or facial expressions. But I have had many coworkers make jokes about responding to bribes specifically with chocolate and dark chocolate is a preference for several of my coworkers. I don’t want to assume this was not a racist or sexualized comment (without the tone or context I don’t know), but is it possible it was a classic office “I respond to bribes” joke?

      Either way I still think the VP needs coaching about how the comment could be interpreted plus coaching on how the “I respond to bribes” joke is still not appropriate especially if he has more power.

    7. Venus*

      Agreed, as I regularly visit a local specialty chocolate shop to buy their best dark chocolate, and my boss has a big bowl of chocolates on her desk, and I have bribed others with chocolate.

    8. juliebulie*

      In my (admittedly white) experience, when I am introduced with my job title, sometimes a person will tell me “you can bribe me with chocolate” or something like that. Because, for some jobs, getting what you need from other people can be like pulling teeth, and I’m a person who needs to get things from people. (And I do not give them candy. If I have candy, I will eat it.)

      But yeah, the colleagues know him better. Or maybe not – he was new. (Interesting that he didn’t react when his colleagues winced.)

      HR could perhaps put him on notice for now, and fire him if he does it again, even if it’s another ambiguous statement. You can’t have a person going around doing microaggressions, regardless of their intent and/or sincerity.

      1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        But I think the operative word of bribe helps in that case – it makes it clear in a playful manner that it isn’t commentary on a person’s body.

          1. AnotherSarah*

            Yes this—the fact that he didn’t explain the comment to HR or the deputy or the LW as “I’m mortified and this is what I meant!” means, to me, that it was meant in a racist way.

            Unless he DID explain it to HR, that’s why they kept him on, and the deputy isn’t sharing that because she’s got a vendetta. It is possible LW wouldn’t be in on those conversations. But I’m skeptical.

    9. JAnon*

      I read it as such also. I have had many interactions with coworkers where they joke about what they would like as a bribe when I am asking them for a rush job or something like that. Not the best wording to a black female, but that may not be what he meant at all.

    10. L-squared*

      I’m black, and I agree.

      I read it as extremely questionable, but not enough for me to make a determination, especially if it was my first time meeting them. For me its one of those “I’m keeping my eye out for other instances of you teetering on the line”.

    11. Jaybeetee*

      I could buy that, because the alternate is that the guy was just brazenly racist and sexist in front of a crowd. I could see it being a kind of standard joke/line he’d used in other situations, and he didn’t think about how it would land in this context.

      That said, I still think it’s a problem, considering how far up the food chain this guy is. VP at a global organization who works with international teams need to be pretty aware of how their comments will land. If it was a genuine gaffe, he doesn’t necessarily need to be fired, but he absolutely needs a reprimand.

      1. jane*

        Have you genuinely never seen someone be brazenly racist or sexist before, to the point that you don’t think it’s possible? Because it happens literally all the time. People don’t think “Oh, I’m going to say something that will be deeply offensive.” They think, “I’m going to say this gross disgusting remark because I think it’s okay to say and I expect everyone else to feel the same way.”

          1. jane*

            I read your comment as framing that the alternative of brazen racism and sexism would be a dubious and infrequent alternative. It’s actually very likely.

        1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          Yeah, I’m feeling like there are several people commenting who view racism/sexism as having to have an active motivation. Like a person has to actually be thinking “This person is black and a woman and because I think of black women as objects, I shall reduce her existence to “dark chocolate””. Chances are, the VP was thinking that the LW was an attractive woman with dark skin and he wouldn’t mind her bothering him. Horribly racist or sexist? No, mostly because we can’t really be in full control of where our minds go. Where the racism and sexism comes in is that he then saw NOTHING wrong with voicing his sexual attraction to her and specifically that he was fetishizing her race. To him, a comment like this is something that she should just have to hear because he wanted to say it. And the reason he thinks she should just have to submit to his comments about her sex and race is because on a fundamental level he believes himself above her in hierarchy of humanity.

    12. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      Also, while the LW says she lived in a majority Black country, she didn’t say she grew up in a nunnery–she may be less keyed in to racist microagressions, but unless she has never interacted with men, she is probably very aware when a man is making a comment with sexual undertones. But nothing about the tone of the comment made her think “ugh, really, this guy is trying it on with me?”.

      The point I bump up against though is that the VP didn’t address it with the LW after HR asked him about it, or after HR finished investigating. If it was a totally benign comment, I would have thought he would have gone straight to the LW and explained himself. Is he just “cool” with the LW thinking he made a racist and sexist comment towards/about her when he really just meant he could be swayed by a Hershey’s bar?

  15. Hiring Mgr*

    You said this was early in a two month notice period, I’m curious how the three of you all got along during the rest of your time there. Did the VP even attempt to apologize, or say it was a bad joke or something?

    1. Letter Writer*

      Hi Hiring Manager,
      The two months actually passed ok. I was never on a call again with the VP alone but we were on wider calls several times over the period. He didn’t try to apologise and as I mentioned in another comment, someone had told me about his reaction in the HR interview and he did not at any point seem apologetic. Additionally, he proved to be an ass generally – he argued with me and others on a call for 20 mins about the meaning of the word “prospective” (we were the ones using it correctly) and he would do things like review documents and brag about how many comments he had when the majority of them were things like “should a full stop/comma be here” when the drafts were at the preliminary stages and I was looking for a review of the substantive issues with grammar to be fixed at the end. However, I was crazy slammed with work and sleep deprived so I just wanted to get out. If he was upset with me, it went completely over my head.

      The deputy seemed ok as well. As i mentioned she would (frequently) lament about him getting away with it and lambasted the HR department as “fake woke” but I recall her specifically saying she didn’t blame me (lies) and she was fakely effusive and congenial with me up to the very end, hence why her message out of the blue shocked me but after a little while, it also kind of didn’t if that makes sense, given how I had experienced her before and how I know she can badmouth people. I actually have no doubt that she’s badmouthing me to everyone who’s still there. I have to get back to work so this might be my last comment until tonight but thanks again to everyone.

  16. ENFP in Texas*

    The comment from the VP sucks and he needs a serious recalibration. But the Deputy has some serious issues and needs a recalibration, too.

    “The VP said something racist and offensive to you and it upset me, but you didn’t respond the way I thought you should! What’s wrong with you?”

    “The VP is retaliating against me for my actions and my job is in danger and it’s ALL YOUR FAULT because you didn’t respond the way I thought you should! What’s wrong with you?”

    The Deputy is fricking nuts and the OP should not waste any more time or energy worrying that the Deputy is somehow “right”.

  17. Quantum Possum*

    Your coworkers know this guy and his character, so I would definitely listen to them.

    I will say that I didn’t read his “I like dark chocolate” comment as racist or sexual. We say stuff like that at work – “remember, I like chocolate” – when we talk to people who might need something from us (like staffing/signing documents). My boss takes chocolate with him whenever we go visit HR to beg them to speed up some process.

    It’s possible that a remark like that wasn’t meant to be racist or sexual. But his coworkers’ reactions say a lot.

    1. HugeTractsofLand*

      Agreed about the coworkers’ reactions! That suggests there was a sexual or derisive tone that OP might have missed since she was mentally preparing to leave the meeting.

    2. Decima Dewey*

      Nope. Let’s not pretend the executive’s comment referred to what he wanted his friends to get him for his birthday. In context, the comment was racist and sexist. It could also be considered sexual harassment, according to the training my library system has all staff take every year.

      1. Expelliarmus*

        Quantum Possum is not “pretending” anything; they are simply saying that while they personally didn’t read ill intent into the remark, the reactions of OP’s coworkers override that instinct. They are agreeing that in that context, it was a problematic comment.

  18. AnonInCanada*

    Wow! Yes, that VP’s racist comment was uncalled for no matter the context and should be at least harshly reprimanded if not fired. But the deputy’s conduct is also disturbing (though not in the same degree as the racist VP’s.) It’s obvious the deputy had a predisposed vendetta against her superior from the onset, and likely got upset with OP because of her reaction to the racist comment. The deputy was looking for added ammunition to get the VP fired immediately so she can take the role she was passed up on for racist VP’s, which I believe clouded her judgment and shifted her anger toward OP that was uncalled for.

    I’m happy for OP she’s no longer involved in this circus. Let’s hope for that company’s sake both of them are let go.

  19. Enn Pee*

    About twenty years ago, I worked in a place where the CFO was frequently rude and inappropriate. At a meeting, she referred to one of her direct reports by a highly offensive term (no wiggle room, it is a word that should not be used). My boss, who attended the meeting, asked the direct report if he was interested in (a) reporting this himself or (b) having her report this to HR.

    The direct report who was targeted by this comment chose (c) not report it at all.

    My boss was in a similar situation to this deputy: the CFO was horrible and it would’ve been great for the organization to crack down on her bad behavior. But she chose to follow her colleague’s lead, because he was the one directly targeted.

    She didn’t give him a hard time! She didn’t blame him for not wanting to be involved in a process that he wasn’t comfortable with!

    1. Jiminy Cricket*

      Unfortunately, your boss was in the wrong and probably in violation of your company’s policies. As a people manager she almost certainly had a duty to report any harassment, discrimination, and bullying she became aware of, regardless of the target’s desires.

      1. Rex Libris*

        This. From a management perspective, it’s never just about the personal affront to a single employee. It’s about the judgment and character of the offender, and their toxicity to the overall workplace.

    2. Cat Tree*

      She shouldn’t have pressured the employee to report but she absolutely should have reported it herself. Bystanders can be hurt by these comments in a variety of ways, both directly and indirectly, even if they’re not the target of the comment. The company has a legal and ethical responsibility to protect others from that.

      1. Venus*

        I’m grateful that my large company has a way to anonymously report these types of situations, and they wouldn’t care if a comment was made in a room of only straight, white, able-bodied men. They treat bystander reports equally because they should.

    3. Jiminy Cricket*

      Your boss was in the wrong and probably in violation of your company’s policies. As a people manager, she almost certainly had an explicit duty to report any instance of harassment, discrimination or abuse that she became aware of.

    4. nopetopus*

      While I agree with the other comments that there was likely a policy broken by your boss, as a person with marginalized identities (but white, for transparency’s sake): sometimes we have very good reasons for not reporting things. If there’s already a target on our back or if our financial situation is precarious, sometimes it’s self-preservation to not want to paint an even bigger target on ourselves.

      1. Enn Pee*

        As you suspected, my boss was being bullied by her boss as well. She was the first one in and was in a very precarious position. The CFO had been hired 4-5 years earlier and was so well-regarded by the upper leadership. (A similar situation to the one the letter writer’s deputy was in.)
        Without someone to back her up, she would have been out on her tush with no way to support her kids.
        I’d also say that this was twenty years ago, and times have changed. These days, that workplace would likely have taken a complaint seriously, but back then, I’m not sure that it would have been.

  20. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    OP – I’m going to say this — you are allowed to decide which battles you have the bandwidth to fight. You felt this wasn’t one of them. That’s fine. No one else should try to force you to fight a battle you aren’t up for.

    1. Quantum Possum*

      ^ This, 100%.

      The Deputy is expecting you to carry part of HER emotional load here. If she wants to fight the VP, she should go fight him herself.

      YOU get to choose what actions/reactions you have. Only you. <3

  21. Snow Globe*

    HR messed up multiple times here

    1. He should have been fired. There were multiple witnesses who at least agreed on what he said, even if their reactions were different, so this wasn’t a case of not being able to prove what happened.
    2. He should not know who reported this. There were 3 people who heard the comment and no reason to tell him which one reported.
    3. If he was given a warning instead of being fired, it should have been clear that he is on thin ice right now, and HR should have emphasized that any retaliation would lead to his firing.
    4. The person who reported this should have been told to contact HR if there was any further bad behavior, including retaliation.

    1. Siege*

      I don’t disagree but I see too many ways the reporter could have been identified that don’t involve HR directly saying it. For all we know, the deputy told him, or the other two people said “nope, wasn’t me,” or everyone said it wasn’t them and he landed on the deputy because of her other antipathy to him.

    2. Velawciraptor*

      HR also should have had their antenna up that the PIP could have been retaliatory, especially if the grounds were that deputy was “insufficiently welcoming” of the new VP. That HR department is…not great.

    3. Aitch Arr*

      I agree with you, in theory.
      Frankly, in practice, too, assuming I’m the one controlling the practice.

      Which is to say that one’s HR department is only as good as one’s senior management allows it to be.

      This would have been a hill I die on – in fact, I did so in a similar situation which was less racist, but more sexual harassment this this one. Luckily, the numbers of senior leaders who agreed with me outnumbered the numbers who did not and the person was fired.

  22. HugeTractsofLand*

    Yeah, the deputy put an unreasonable amount of pressure on a PoC to lead the charge against the racist VP. Part of being a good ally is stepping up yourself (which she eventually did), and that other team lead was on the call to corroborate. It sounds like the fish is rotting at the head in this company, since the VP stayed on and the deputy was being retaliated against. I don’t blame OP for getting on with her life! How you felt about the comment is valid, and you handled the situation as well as you could.

  23. Juicebox Hero*


    LW, your feelings and reactions are your own and perfectly valid. No one can tell you the “right” way to react to something that happened TO YOU.

    If the deputy was feeling hard done by due to being passed over for the VP’s job and felt he was an underqualified upstart, she’s certainly allowed to have those feelings. In that case, though, you’d think the racist remark would have been a godsend because she’d then have something actionable to go to HR with – and I agree that he should have been fired over this because he’s only going to get more comfortable letting his bigot flags fly if unchecked.

    But it’s sooo not her business how LW reacted to the comment, and making her into a Tool of Retribution is just… bananapants. Blaming LW for the VP’s retaliation and whatever else was wrong with her life is really bananpants.

    If he did retaliate. If he did, he’s a crap human being. However, I find her to be an unreliable reporter.

    1. Margaret Cavendish*

      She is absolutely an unreliable reporter. There’s no way she’s about to be fired just for reporting NVP’s racist comment. I mean, it’s possible, but I would be very surprised to hear that her email to OP was 100% reflective of what actually happened.

  24. Margaret Cavendish*

    I received a message from the deputy telling me that because I wasn’t offended, the VP was retaliating against her for reporting and she was put on a month-long PIP because she didn’t make the VP feel welcome, and therefore she was on the brink of losing her job which would leave her unable to pay her bills, so I needed to learn a lesson and think of other people because she was experiencing these events since she was the only one who did the right thing. It was a long, awful screed that blamed me for everything going wrong for her at work.

    This is entirely unhinged. Regardless of the original comment, regardless of whether or not you were offended, regardless of whatever happened to New VP as a result of the investigation – none of that matters. Deputy VP is *wildly* out of line here.

    OP is in no way responsible for any of this. DVP chose to report, NVP chose to retaliate. They’re both adults, they’re both responsible for their own behaviour. They’re both behaving like complete asses of course, but that’s nothing to do with OP. I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this!

  25. Maleficent*

    I gasped when I read about the deputy’s screed! Holy cow that is wild. How awful, that she’s blaming YOU for her issues! As if any of this is your fault in the slightest, because it definitely is NOT! I am angry at the deputy for her stunning decision to write you a nasty letter blaming YOU for her PIP. Maybe the PIP is warranted (I mean, writing that screed-letter alone is… a really poor choice) and maybe it’s not (it does sound like retaliation) but in both cases, writing YOU a letter is awful. I am so sorry this happened and I hope this helps you realize that you handled this very professionally and you did nothing wrong. The VP and the Deputy, on the other hand…. grr

  26. Lacey*

    I see this too often.

    People correctly identify bad behavior & want to take action – which is great.
    But, then they get upset at the target of the bad behavior for not being as upset or willing to take action as they are.

    A lot of people who experience discrimination or harassment don’t have the band-width to take on every instance of it or get upset about it every time.

    Or maybe they haven’t processed it enough to be ready to deal with it yet.

    It’s extremely unkind to add another burden to them on top of the one we’ve already identified (discrimination, harassment, what-have-you)

    1. CommanderBanana*

      “But, then they get upset at the target of the bad behavior for not being as upset or willing to take action as they are.”

      ^^ This is a really good point and I think it’s worth emphasizing. I have worked/volunteered in domestic violence programs for many years and so often I see volunteers/caseworks directing their frustration towards the victims, and while it’s not ok, I absolutely understand it and I’ve felt that way myself.

  27. Me*

    People get to react to things they way they choose to react, the deputy feels the OP must react in a certain way because she’s black. The VP’s comment was not the only form of racism here

  28. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    Gotta say, I would take that deputy’s claims of retaliation with a generous pinch of skepticism. Maybe he’s retaliating, but maybe he just wants to get rid of her because she’s being an awful deputy.

    1. Book Addict*

      I thought this as well. I’m not at all convinced that it was retaliation OR that he knew she was the one who reported (although it’s entirely possible she told him herself). Her behaviour through all of this was so wild I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the rest of her work life was equally bitter and uncooperative.

    2. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

      Yup. The deputy’s summary of the PIP needs to be taken with a HUUUUUGE grain of salt. An industrial salt lick sized “grain.”

  29. H.Regalis*

    That it was nice that I could so easily absolve myself of all the harm he would go on to cause others.

    For fuck’s sake (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

    You are not responsible for other people’s racism. The VP has choices about what he says and does. Of all the victim-blaming garbage for the deputy VP to spew at you. “You were not sufficiently angry (in my opinion); therefore all future racism is your fault.” No.

    1. Zap R.*

      Maybe 10 or 15 years ago, Elizabeth Smart didn’t support some sort of proposed crime legislation and Nancy Grace played the “I thought you of all people would care about protecting victims” card. It was very satisfying to watch Elizabeth Smart shut her down but it was still a vile thing to say.

      I’m sorry the DVP said this to you, OP. Any future racist crap this guy pulls is not on you.

      1. Zap R.*

        Ah, wait. I misremembered. Smart was actually trying to support the legislation but Grace kept badgering her to talk about details of her abduction and pulled the victim-blaming shit when she said no.

  30. Alex*

    The deputy is being just as racist as the VP! Assuming you must have certain feelings about the comment, but also, blaming you for not taking on the labor of Making It Right in her eyes. What a load of BS.

    Yes, what the VP said was disgusting. I wouldn’t want someone like that on my team–someone who thought that was OK/funny. But blaming you is beyond! Blame the VP and the company.

    1. Lizard*

      I agree. Seems like the VP had her own axe to grind and wanted more from the OP to move forward… making her outrage more about internal politics than the offensive comment itself.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Good point – the deputy really IS being racist, in a particularly pernicious way. Her attempt to centre herself and use the situation for her own ends backfired on her, and now she is blaming the Black OP for not being offended enough (ie. not using their “Blackness” to support the Deputy’s own self-interested objectives). Effectively, she was trying to exploit the OP’s status as a Black person for her own ends, and now is angry at the OP for not being used this way.

      Incredibly offensive of the Deputy.

  31. Craig*

    “I explained my role and jokingly said something like, “I’ll be bothering you about documents soon enough!” He responded, “That’s okay, I like dark chocolate.””

    “I explained my role and jokingly said something like, “I’ll be bothering you about documents soon enough!” He responded, “That’s okay, I like Skittles.””

    I gasped when I read the first statement but we lack enough context to know he wasn’t meaning the second.

    Was he making an overtly sexist and racist comment in front of witnesses or was he joking about how to “sweeten him up” for document hassle & didn’t realise it would land wrong.

    It’s very rare I disagree with Alison but I feel this is a rush to judgement. We need to know more.

    1. Zap R.*

      That’s a false equivalency. Regardelss of intent, the term “Skittles” doesn’t have a history of being a racially-charged euphemism. Kinda impossible to remove that bit of context from the situation.

    2. Expelliarmus*

      There is no evidence that he apologized for the optics of the situation, which should have been done regardless of what he meant, making me less inclined to assume the best here.

    3. Coffee*

      Nahhh, no we don’t. Dark Chocolate is a very well known thing said to us Black Women, and it really does only mean one thing.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        But I do not like Skittles at all, think white chocolate has no flavor, milk chocolate is ok. As a white woman, am I not allowed to have a preference for dark chocolate? Because if I told a Black friend that I liked dark chocolate, that would only mean one thing: I like dark chocolate. (And yeah, now that I know there is another meaning, I’ll be more careful in my language. I try not to offend even though I know in my ignorance I do.)

        1. Coffee*

          No one is talking about Skittles except this guy.

          You are allowed to like dark chocolate.

          You are not allowed to say that in a racist and sexualized manner to a black woman in a work environment

        2. birb*

          Wait I thought it was supposed to be a “joke” that they have to be bribed to do their job? Surely it wouldn’t matter that they knew your actual preference correctly if its a ha ha joke and not a ha ha power imbalance being exploited for personal gain… even if that personal gain

          I sincerely can not imagine telling a coworker whose performance depends on me doing my job what my favorite snacks are in the hopes of them remembering and buying them for me later. If a coworker was so desperate for me to do my job so that they not be impacted that they showed up with a treat they bought just for that purpose, I’d be mortified. As a manager, if I found out this was happening on any kind of scale, I’d be really curious about whether or not our actual priority policies were being followed and why people felt the need to resort to buying special snacks for their coworkers, and how it was impacting who I believed to be my best and worst performers. I’d also be worried about having a culture where people brag about being impartial or needing to be bribed with little treats, because it makes accusations of favoritism and taking real bribes harder to fight.

        3. Yorick*

          If you accidentally said this to a black friend in a creepy way, you’d probably apologize to them and explain what you meant, right? The VP didn’t do that.

        4. k*

          “As a white woman, am I not allowed to have a preference for dark chocolate?”

          I suspect you know the answer to this question already. But if that’s truly what you got out of this letter and this comment section, then I think you need to do some self-reflection on why you feel it’s appropriate to center yourself in this situation.

      2. birb*

        I want to scream and shake people giving him the benefit of the doubt. That’s literally WHY they say things like “dark chocolate” now. That’s the whole point! It has a built in safety!

        Also, all the people saying “Well at my job I make jokes about people needing to bribe me with chocolate to do my job, that’s all he meant, misunderstanding, ha ha!” Maybe stop doing that? I literally cannot fathom saying that to someone who I had any form of power over, which includes “whether or not you get what you need to do your job depends on how I feel about you, so remember my candy preference!” I would straight up leave a job if things I needed to be successful languished because the person whose job it was to do them was prioritizing based on how they felt about people, and I’ve never worked somewhere that even jokes about being this kind of impartial wouldn’t be an issue on their own. I can’t imagine trying to defend someone against accusations of impartiality that’s been making active jokes about accepting bribes.

        1. Quantum Possum*

          I literally cannot fathom saying that to someone who I had any form of power over, which includes “whether or not you get what you need to do your job depends on how I feel about you, so remember my candy preference!”

          It’s a joke. It’s small talk. I have never met one person at work who says that and means it in a literal way.

          You don’t have to find it funny, but this seems like an overreaction.

          1. birb*

            There are literally people in the comments defending that they HAVE to specify dark chocolate because they don’t like white or milk chocolate.

            This feels like it falls under “Schrodinger’s Douchebag” jokes. It’s simultaneously just a joke and ha ha its not really a bribe and I’d never be impartial or expect anything, but also I need to be very specific or else when they do bring me my chocolate it’ll be WRONG.

            1. penny dreadful analyzer*

              Seriously. These people can’t come up with a fake second-favorite candy for their totally joking jokes about how they need to be bribed with treats like puppies in order to do the jobs they were hired to do? What does it matter what item you say, since you are an adult who is actually going to just do your job because that’s what you were hired to do, which is what makes it so hilariously absurd to imply that you’re not?

  32. AMY*

    I’m not sure the VP was racist/sexist whatever. Maybe the Letter Writer’s initial intuition was correct, it was a simple attempt at humour/here’s what to bribe me with joke. She doesn’t need to have others try and convince her to be offended? Obviously the deputy has no credibility since they are completely off their rocker.

  33. Serious Question Here*

    Real question here:

    I am a White, 42-year-old cis-female. I interview a Black, 60-year-old cis-male County Commissioner monthly. He calls these interviews our “monthly milk chocolate meetings.” As he explains it to others, he brings the chocolate, and I bring the milk. Should this be bothering me? I would never dream of saying it, and just laugh along when he does, but really…should I be bothered?

    1. Coffee*

      If you two agree on this joke that only you two witness, feel free to be unbothered. I wouldn’t make this joke outside of the two people involved.

    2. Sloanicota*

      No need to be bothered if you’re not! I probably would be careful not to say it myself (certainly not to others), but I’d say – despite what people online may argue – racism goes with the power system, so for someone of color to choose to make a remark they’re comfortable with is not the same as going the other way, as in OP’s original case.

    3. bamcheeks*

      I think the moral of this story is that there is no “should” be bothered– you get to decide whether it’s a silly joke from someone you trust, or whether you feel weirded out by it. It’s not up to anyone else. But if you do feel weird about it, that’s OK and a very mild form of pushing back would just be to stop laughing. You get to decide whether it’s affectionate and funny, or well-meaning but inappropriate, or disrespectful.

      I had a colleague who was about 15 years older than me (I’m mid-forties) and who called me “our kid”, including after I got promoted to a management role. Genuinely, I thought it was hilarious, and I was also kind of touched that he didn’t feel he had to get more formal and Appropriate with me even though I was a grade higher than him.

    4. Almost Empty Nester*

      Why would you be bothered? He’s referencing REAL milk and REAL chocolate, not using them as a euphemism for something else.

      1. Cyndi*

        I also read it that way at first, but on second look I don’t think Serious Question Here is referring to them literally eating chocolate and drinking milk at their meetings, no.

      2. Starbuck*

        Is he though? I was assuming that no actual milk and chocolate were present, that it was meaning the skin color of the participants. I don’t think they are drinking milk and eating chocolate. I personally would find that an uncomfortable comment in that context.

      3. too many llamas*

        yeah no, he’s not. He’s meaning that he is black and she is white. They are not eating actual chocolate.

      4. Yorick*

        No, that’s totally a euphemism that typically would refer to the milk and the chocolate mixing in some way so I’d personally be weirded out. But if Serious Question Here doesn’t mind, then it’s fine.

      5. Naive Nelly*

        Almost Empty Nester – I thought the same but then read the responses. I thought they were having a nice little morning tea alongside their meeting. I’m a bit naive it would seem, or perhaps its just that I am not from America.

      6. Joron Twiner*

        Some of y’all need more diverse life experience before you’re ready to give advice to others…

    5. Sparkles McFadden*

      If you’re not bothered, you’re not bothered. If you are bothered, you get to say “Dude, that’s weird. You need to stop saying that” or the more benign “That joke’s getting a little old. It’s time to let it go.”

    6. Ginger Baker*

      I honestly, truly, cannot take this in any way that is not sexual so I personally would feel very very uncomfortable. As a white woman who has dated a number of Black men, I have definitely heard comments like this and – like someone below – think that racism is inextricably tied to power structures and therefore if a Black man chooses to describe things this way, it’s not my thing but I think they have every right to use language in a way that is comfort for them. BUT I cannot stress enough how kind of phrase this has NEVER been said to/around me in a way that is NOT sexual…ever. The shudder I had when I read your comment hit my whole body and soul.

      1. Yorick*

        Yes, it’s an inherently sexual comment in my opinion but I totally disagree that White women should allow Black men to talk about them however they want just because there are racist power structures in our society

    7. the Viking Diva*

      Yuk (unless you are drinking cocoa together). Coworker thinks of you first and foremost as a Person With Boobs.

    8. learnedthehardway*

      Hmmm….it’s possibly quite sexist. But I would look at in the whole context – do you find this person otherwise professional and appropriate? If not, then it’s another strike against him.

      You should probably tell him to stop, in any case, based on the feedback you’ve gotten here. Whether this guy is a creep or not will really depend on the overall context of his behaviour and his response to your objection.

    9. Madame Arcati*

      I think if you wouldn’t dream of saying it and wouldn’t want anyone to hear either of you saying it, it probably shouldn’t be said. It indicates to me that at the very least you know it looks bad. I think if you didn’t subconsciously feel it wasn’t right, you wouldn’t ask the question.
      Also even if it is just between you, you don’t want to risk the underlying attitude getting entrenched. I a female had a message from a female colleague, a peer, referring to female staff she managed as “the girls”. In my reply gave her the benefit of the doubt in terms of intention, but I politely said that it could look very patronising and rather (internalised-ly) misogynistic and suggested she not get into that habit. Not only because someone could hear her that might justifiably react differently to me but because you don’t want to let that sort of thing get entrenched into your brain, if that makes sense? Being accustomed to even supposedly mildly offensive or -ist language is the thin end of the wedge in terms of underpinning worse language or attitudes.

  34. Jedi Sentinel Bird*

    I agree it was in very poor taste. I think the person should have received a strong talking from HR and his boss have it marked on their record to document it but not necessarily being fired.

    The deputy who raised the issue should have talked more to the LW beforehand. this person should not blame LW for being placed on a PIP. it sounds like that deputy was having other issues if they got placed on a PIP.

    if I was LW, I would forward the email to my boss and possibly HR.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I think it’s reasonable for the org to decide to fire them off the bat (it’s a liability for the company to knowingly keep on someone who has made a racist remark!) but if I were HR it would depend on how the person responded to the concern; maybe if they were mortified that they said this through some weird neural misfire and were abject in their apology, completely understood the harm, and were willing to make amends – and because in this case OP was comfortable moving forward – I’d be willing to give them one more chance. Only if all those conditions were met though. But I don’t blame the company for not wanting to take the risk of another incident hurting anyone else.

  35. MikeM_inMD*

    Or was he only making a joke about being open to “bribes” that involved dark chocolate candy bars? It’s hard to tell without seeing facial expressions and hearing tones of voice. HR investigated and he was kept on, so I have some doubts about how egregious his statement was.

    1. Wine not Whine*

      That was actually my first take.
      I’m not a person of color.

      And on thinking about it, I can absolutely see how it would come across as racist and completely offensive.
      Just because a thing is said without specific intent, doesn’t mitigate its impact. If the VP had immediately stopped, said something to the effect of “oh, carp, that came out totally wrong! I very much apologize for what that sounded like – I meant to joke that I could be bribed!”, it might have been received differently. But by leaving it as is, the VP effectively invited OP’s (and the other participants’) interpretation.

      1. anywhere but here*

        Eh, I think that requires a certain awareness of the kinds of existing racialized comments that a person may not have. Some people are genuinely ignorant to the point of not realizing that could be interpreted as sexualized racism. Reminds me of a DEI training that (among other things) pointed out the “Black people are good at sports” stereotype is problematic, which was actually the first time I learned the stereotype existed.

        I’m not saying that the VP was innocent in this case, especially since the people involved do think it was intended as a racist and sexist comment. Just that the “If people hear me say dark chocolate they might think I am making a racial comment” thought pathway might not exist in everyone’s brain.

        1. Run By Fruiting*

          That’s fair. Between that lack of awareness and him not making an effort to clarify, it is pretty wild he didn’t get fired.

    2. sacados*

      Yeah it’s possible I suppose that something like that did happen. I can see a case where maybe the VP didn’t notice the others’ reaction in the moment (or did, but it was so awkward that he just blanked instead of being able to jump in with an “oops that came out wrong”). And then later when it was reported and HR was investigating, he was able to explain “omg that’s so mortifying that’s not at all what I meant.” In a case like that it would make sense if he was simply given a warning about being more conscious of/careful with his words and no further action taken.

      But. That said, the only part of the situation that really changes is whether LW’s old employer sucks or not. It doesn’t really have an impact on whether LW should have acted differently, or how out of line the other coworker’s email was.

    3. jane*

      Let’s take the LW and their colleagues at their word. The devil doesn’t need any more advocates. As we’ve seen numerous times throughout this site, HR is not objectively always correct.

      1. Green Tea*

        LW says she interpreted the comment as a joke about bribery and only thought of the other possible explanation when she saw how others reacted. So taking OP at her word here doesn’t necessarily agreeing he was definitely, objectively being racist and sexist. He very well might have been, of course, I’m not saying he wasn’t, just that OP didn’t initially think so.

        1. Dinwar*

          The LW stated she’s from a majority black country–which obviously means she’s from a different culture, and not necessarily tuned in to the nuances of American culture. Favoring her initial reaction against the reaction of MULTIPLE other coworkers who (presumably) ARE Americans and ARE aware of the sort of racial tensions that exist in this nation is simply untenable, even without the VP’s subsequent actions.

        2. Lea*

          Op said they are from a different culture I believe so unless the vp was also from a different culture it makes sense to accept the other coworkers explanation

    4. Dinwar*

      “It’s hard to tell without seeing facial expressions and hearing tones of voice.”

      There were two people in the room that took it that way. Pretty sure we can take their (admittedly non-verbal) word on the subject. Further, they made obvious facial expressions (to the point where the LW noticed), so if he didn’t mean it to be racist and sexist he had the opportunity to correct the misunderstanding.

      To see that sort of reaction and shrug it off–even if you intended it as a joke–sends the clear message that you’re perfectly fine with it being taken as a racist and sexist comment, which in fact makes it one, whether you originally intended it to be or not.

    5. House On The Rock*

      Even if that was his intent (which I doubt), saying something so tone deaf speaks volumes in itself. Heck, I’d argue that intimating to a subordinate that they should be bribing you to get you to respond to them is a little questionable…but let’s be honest, uttering the words “dark chocolate” to a Black woman really should never happen and leaders especially should know that.

      1. Observer*

        Heck, I’d argue that intimating to a subordinate that they should be bribing you to get you to respond to them is a little questionable

        Yes, it’s so questionable, that I’m having a hard time cutting him much slack. Because the best case scenario is bad judgement. It would be an out of line comment, compounded by totally failing to read the room.

        Not good, regardless.

    6. Observer*

      HR investigated and he was kept on, so I have some doubts about how egregious his statement was.

      Yeah, but the reactions of both of the other women on the call is very telling. Also, I’m not sure I trust this HR’s judgement completely. They should never have put the OP in a position to weigh in on his continued employment. All that they should have asked her was for what happened. And all they should have told her is that they are taking this very, very seriously and will follow up on it. Also I don’t know what “spoken to” means, but no matter what he meant, that comment needed to have, at minimum, a *severe* talking to along the lines of “This CANNOT happen again! There is no three strikes here”. And it’s not clear that that’s what happened.

      Because even is what he “meant” was actually about chocolate, it was a wildly inappropriate comment to make. And the fact that at least two of the people on the call clearly saw it as a comment on the Black woman on the call is a problem even if that’s not what he meant. As we say so often, intent is not magic. Yes, it matters, but not THAT much.

    7. Jaybeetee*

      I feel like the thing here is, he apparently retaliated against the person who reported him, which, even if he didn’t mean it “like that”, is a really bad look.

      Like, if I accidentally said something racist or incredibly tone-deaf to a colleague, then got reported or reprimanded for it, I’d be mortified and take my lumps. I’d be apologetic. Bearing in mind we’re reading all this third-hand, it sounds mostly like this guy either didn’t realize his gaffe in the moment or didn’t care, and went on the defensive later. “VP at a global company” makes this even worse. You (general) gotta be more aware than that.

      1. Expelliarmus*

        And yeah, it sounds like the deputy might have other problems with her performance, as evidenced by her haranguing the OP and centering herself in this situation. But yeah, the optics of him retaliating against the deputy after this are really bad, and it’s surprising that no one involved in decision making there is addressing that.

  36. Justin*

    Oh yikes.

    I’ve experienced racial slurs in the workplace (from the public), and my colleagues left me out of how it was handled because they didn’t want to force me to do anymore than necessary (I had to sign off on the incident report but I didn’t have to be the one to write it).

    This reminds me of the scene in American Fiction where they’re all saying it’s important to listen to Black voices while talking over Monk.

  37. Sloanicota*

    This is like an attempted murder not getting the same sentence as a murder. The fact that OP wasn’t concerned is incidental to the facts of the case, just as if the victim happened to survive an attack through some quirk of fate. Or similarly, I was a victim of a crime a few years ago and, although I would not have pursued it in court, the prosecutor explained that the state viewed it is a violation of their own laws and didn’t need my approval to proceed with the case, and in fact I was compelled to testify. OP certainly didn’t do anything wrong and at this point the VP is very wrong. As OP states, they have their own case for retaliation if they are justified, none of which is OP’s fault or problem. I’m sorry this is happening from beginning to end.

  38. Quantum Possum*

    Your Deputy is effectively dehumanizing you. Her behavior and words are Very Uncool.

    I suspect that she was put on a PIP for an entirely different reason, which had nothing to do with you. I can imagine how she presented the situation to HR and her management – based on what you’ve said about her, I think it’s likely that she was very adversarial and confrontational. She may have even expressed to them her anger that you weren’t offended…which would be a huge red flag for her boss, grandboss, and HR.

    Bottom line – this is about HER, this is a HER problem, and YOU should not feel obligated to carry her emotional weight for her. If I were a betting woman, I’d bet good money that the Deputy won’t be around this time next year.

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. Good luck!

    1. Ink*

      Yeah, a guy who makes comments like that probably isn’t above retaliating against people who report him, but the deputy gave LW a great big sample of why she might be legitimately put on a PIP. The company shouldn’t have kept him, but unlike overt racism feelingsbombing your coworkers is something a PIP might actually manage to correct.

      1. Quantum Possum*

        unlike overt racism feelingsbombing your coworkers is something a PIP might actually manage to correct

        Great point!

        And I misread – it sounds like LW is no longer working there, so yay! There was obviously A LOT going on at that company.

  39. Ess Ess*

    The fact that the VP said this to you, especially in front of others, means that they would also treat other employees of color inappropriately. So even if YOU weren’t offended, it is absolutely necessary for a complaint to be made and that behavior shut down immediately for the sake of all other employees that will be impacted in the future. The comment absolutely needed to be reported to HR. Letting comments/behavior like that go unchecked opens the company to serious legal liabilities.

    The fact that you are now experiencing new harassment from the deputy related to this situation also needs to be immediately reported to HR. This falls under retaliation, since you are being harassed for your actions during an HR investigation.

    1. Pyjamas*

      But she’s left that job. She’s not asking if she should report the “ally.” She wondered if she was wrong not to spend her last 2 months at the company—when she was busy and sleep-deprived—on an offence she didn’t even notice in the moment.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        And the correct answer is — no she shouldn’t have. If she did not feel up to fighting the battle, then she shouldn’t be required to.

        Sure in a perfect world all such behavior would be reported and the offender appropriately dealt with. We don’t live in a perfect world. So people get to choose how much they want to fight. OP made a choice that it wasn’t worth the effort because she was leaving anyway. That’s the end of it for her. If VP continues to be racist, that’s on VP NOT on OP.

  40. Observer*

    OP, I agree that this guy deserved to be fired. But I also think that you are almost certainly correct that the VP was not acting out of concern for you. I’m not even sure that she was really worried about racism in general given just how unreasonable her behavior to you was. Because the idea that YOU would be responsible for any harm he does because you didn’t insist on hum being fired is some bigoted garbage right there.

    Both things can be true. And it’s reasonable to acknowledge both things.

    I will say that I am seriously unimpressed by the way the company seems to have handled the situation. They should never have asked you or implied to you that it’s up to you how it’s handled. They should have spoken to you to get the information about what happened, and also to assure you that it will be handled with the seriousness that it deserves. Because, as Alison says, even if it rolled right off of you, he still exhibited some really bad judgement and gross attitudes. And there are many people who would feel like they had to soft-pedal their reactions for a whole host of reasons, so the truth is that they can’t even know for sure how you really felt about it.

    None of that is your fault or responsibility, of course! And you were 100% correct in telling your former colleague that she needs to report the retaliation. But having said that, given her behavior, it’s also possible that she was on a PIP for actual performance issues, since her judgement is none too reliable here. But given his terrible judgement, if she did report retaliation, I think that the company would have to tread very carefully. Because it’s a situation where it’s very easy believe that he would retaliate – and also be highly sexist.

    The bottom line is that the VP is bad news. Your former company doesn’t seem to have handed things all that well. And your former colleague was definitely pointing fingers in the wrong direction.

  41. Jade*

    Or maybe dark chocolate meant dark chocolate and he didn’t think about his words. Would it be different if he answered M&Ms when she said she’d be bothering him a lot?

    1. jane*

      He didn’t though. Several people who actually witnessed the interaction found it offensive. Can we just leave it there?

    2. Miette*

      Yes, actually. One is an established racial and sexist slur given the context, the other is a lame attempt at a joke about being open to bribery.

    3. Observer*

      Or maybe dark chocolate meant dark chocolate and he didn’t think about his words.

      Yeah, well that’s a problem too. This is not a child, or even a newbie to the work world. How does he not realize that he needs to THINK about what he is saying? How does he not realize that at least two people gasped when he said that? Or he did realize but just went on as though nothing had happened? There is just no scenario where his behavior is OK.

      Would it be different if he answered M&Ms when she said she’d be bothering him a lot?

      Very much so. Still highly inappropriate, to be honest. Those jokes are dicey to start with, and should ONLY happen if you already have a solid working relationship with everyone in the conversation and a solid track record. But still not as bad as using a well known racial trope.

    4. Rose*

      Obviously it would be different if he answered MMs, or skittles, or anything that is not an extremely common and sexual euphemism for people with dark brown skin. It would also have been different if he answered with “your mom” or “that ass.” Different words mean different things, and some words mean gross, racist, or sexual things. This doesn’t feel like a good faith question.

    5. OrangeII*

      The knots ppl will contort themselves in to not admit racism is racism lol. Yes that would have been different. If things had been completely different, things would have been completely different.

    6. Ember*

      Removed. Please don’t use multiple user names; while I don’t disagree with your point, it looks like sock puppetry, which isn’t permitted here. – Alison

  42. Dawn*

    White Canadian here just popping in to say that there absolutely is plenty of racism in Canada, and it says a lot about your former coworker that she’s decided that there isn’t. Such as, just pulling an example out of the hat, expecting your Black coworkers to do all the hard work of standing up to anti-Black racism.

    1. Sloanicota*

      It drives me nuts when people in other countries act like racism is an American problem! It’s definitely a problem in America, but it’s NOT uniquely American, and in fact some of the people I know who have said this are pretty far behind the curve in terms of their awareness :(

      1. JimmyMcFanBuyer*

        It’s hilarious that someone believes with apparent sincerity that a nation of 40 million people is entirely devoid of a very common and widespread flaw in our species.

    2. Quantum Possum*

      I read it as the Deputy saying that sarcastically – e.g., “Well, I sure am glad racism doesn’t exist in Canada anymore! No need to fire [VP] since it’s impossible to be a racist Canadian!”

      1. Dawn*

        I don’t think so, because the VP was explicitly called out as being for a team in a different country. It read to me more as saying, “well at least that would never happen with YOUR team HERE.”

    3. Jaybeetee*

      Fellow white Canadian here. Can confirm we are sooooo racist. US takes the heat, but Canadians pat themselves on the back for not doing slavery (much…) and ignore all the other racist stuff, past and present.

  43. Ink*

    It’s not as overtly disgusting, but her dumping her feelings on you isn’t great either. A check-in or 2 after it happened sure- you missed it in the moment and might not have felt confident reacting to his face, and following up is a good idea anyway. But after that there’s a loooooot of putting you in charge of her emotions/job/life when you didn’t do anything wrong. Was she sending screeds to the VP and HR? My money says IF she was, they were significantly less bananas than what you got. THEY’RE the people acting on her, not you… and yet.

  44. Almost Empty Nester*

    I read it as since she’s going to be asking him to review a lot of documents, he’d take dark chocolate as incentive to get it done faster. Never saw a racist element in his answer. I think OP’s read of the situation was correct that the deputy was offended because she was sore about losing the job and saw it as a way to get rid of him. I think if you look at something long enough you can make it be what you want it to be. I’d also be very suspect that she was being retaliated against because of reporting it; more likely she was framing it that way to justify reporting him and to cause further damage to the VP in the process.

    1. jane*

      Genuine question – can you walk me through your thought process of, two other coworkers who were present for the remark thought it was an issue and upon having time to think about it the LW agreed, but you (not present) think your interpretation is the right one?

    2. Grace and Flavor*

      Do you always manage to find a way to ignore racism? What’s that like? Or is this a special case where you are invoking additionally ignorance powers?

    3. Observer*

      Never saw a racist element in his answer.

      That’s nice. But the OP did not say that it was not racist. She said that she didn’t clock it at first, but then concluded that maybe he is.

      If you still cannot even see the possibility of the racist element, that’s definitely a “you” problem. Because you are resolutely ignoring the shocked reaction of the other two women in the moment. A reaction which the OP *clearly* does not see as out of line.

      I would point out a few things here.

      1. The real possibility that the person who badgered the OP had an agenda simply does not negate his racism.

      2. Making the kind of joke you refer to is *also* and extremely bad look. In *some* contexts (which include existing respectful relationships and a solid track record) you could maybe get away with it. But even in those rare contexts, you don’t use a trope that is know for it’s racial and sexist history. And if the words come out of you mouth, you APOLOGIZE. That did not happen. Despite the fact that *both* of the other women in the meeting (not just the woman who wanted his job!) gasped and opened their eyes wide. Whenever a person makes a gaffe that provokes such a reaction, you apologize!

      3. By the time that you reach this kind of job you should have enough awareness to recognize the implications of the things you say. If this guy really didn’t realize what he was saying, that’s problematic.

      I think if you look at something long enough you can make it be what you want it to be.

      Indeed. And your post is a perfect example.

  45. MicroManagered*

    He responded, “That’s okay, I like dark chocolate.”

    I had been jumping to another call and my immediate reaction was confusion and taking him literally (wondered if he wanted a bribe)

    I swear I’m not defending a racist comment or trying to make excuses… but I really HAVE heard people say those words “I like dark chocolate” in the way the OP is describing, as a jokey suggestion that you bribe them with candy for some unpleasant part of their job. Sub in “I like Reese’s cups” or gummy bears… but I have ACTUALLY heard at least one person I can recall specifying they like dark chocolate in this way, because it began a whole conversation about the merits of dark chocolate vs. milk chocolate.

    I don’t get why we’re all so quick to discount OP’s interpretation of the events and their meaning. What am I missing?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      1. Cultural context for those words in those circumstances; it’s a well established racial and sexist slur when said to Black women.
      2. The fact that the three people who were there recognized what it was (two of them gasping). That includes the OP, who says she did recognize it, just more slowly.
      3. The fact that nowhere in this account is anything like “when it was reported, the VP said he didn’t mean it that way and was mortified that it was taken that way,” which one would expect if he didn’t know exactly what he was saying.

      1. Quantum Possum*

        nowhere in this account is anything like “when it was reported, the VP said he didn’t mean it that way and was mortified that it was taken that way,”

        This was what swayed me from “bribe joke” to “sexist/racist remark.”

        But to be fair, we don’t know what the VP said when it was reported. The LW just says that “he was spoken to.” It seems like the LW wasn’t interested in any of the details, and HR didn’t offer any. And the Deputy is obviously an unreliable narrator.

        It’s messy. There’s a lot going on here. This company sounds like quite the toxic workplace, and it’s good that LW has moved on to better things.

      2. MicroManagered*

        1. I understand the cultural context for those words, but I also understand OP’s interpretation and have witnessed her interpretation in context. I can think of many examples of words or phrases that can have multiple meanings, but don’t want to derail into what-aboutism.

        2. I hear that other people who were there interpreted it differently than OP.

        3. We probably can’t know what the VP said because OP doesn’t work there anymore.

        Again, my intent is not to excuse bad behavior – If he meant it that way, that’s gross. If OP heard it that way, I’d believe her without question. But I’m also taking OP at her word, per commenting rules of this site, and she didn’t hear it that way. I also don’t see where she thinks that now… so I’m surprised at how vehement others are (including you Alison) that it was intended in a racist/sexualized way.

        1. Inconvenient Indian*

          If you don’t want to derail into whataboutism – why are you? Cuz that’s what you’re doing! FFS

          Plus, the OP says the following: “it sort of slowly hit me that “hmmm, I think he said that because I’m Black.” What more do you want?

          But do please continue to pretzel yourself because he couldn’t possibly be blithering racist / sexist crap.

        2. ecnaseener*

          I kinda doubt you’ve witnessed “I like dark chocolate” as a complete non sequitur like that. LW was saying she’d be contacting them for feedback a lot, not a context where bribery even makes sense. If the joke was “haha sneak some candy in with the files if you want me to pay attention to it! my favorite is dark chocolate” then why didn’t he…say any of that?

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            Exactly. This wasn’t in a conversation about what snacks people like. The problem isn’t the specific words “I like dark chocolate.” The problem is the context in which he said those words.

        3. Dinwar*

          “But I’m also taking OP at her word, per commenting rules of this site…..”

          And stopping where it’s convenient to stop. The LW changed her interpretation based on additional evidence–evidence that she lacked, as it’s contextual to a culture she did not grow up in. By excluding that you are painting a false picture of the LW’s opinion of the statement as well as defending an egregious violation of common decency, much less workplace norms.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            Good point. The LW came from a different cultural context and straight up said that when she learned more, she agreed the comment was not OK.

    2. Jay (no, the other one)*

      You’re missing a century or more (in the US) of history and comments about black women’s bodies as sources of pleasure for white men. I’m not going to quote the usual tropes here because they’re disgusting and I wouldn’t do an internet search for them at work because the images that show up will definitely be NSFW.

      While the OP didn’t immediately clock it as racist, she did come to the conclusion that it was. One of the commenting rules here is that we take letter-writers at their word. And marginalized people know bias when they experience it.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        As a Canadian, I’d suggest that this history and comments apply here, too. Specific historical events may be different, but the broader historical context is very similar. Black people were enslaved in Canada as well, though we don’t talk about it much (or nearly enough). Our governments enacted systemically racist policies and laws to disenfranchise racialized people, particularly those who are Black and/or Indigenous. Africville is a powerful example of this that is specific to Black Canadians.

        Plus, cultural norms in Canada are shaped by cultural norms in the US, since we consume a lot of American media. We watch American TV shows and movies, listen to American music, read books written by Americans, etc.

        Just adding this in case someone wants to complain that your comment doesn’t apply because the LW was in Canada.

    3. AMY*

      This is what rubs me the wrong way too. OP initially thought it was a bribery-joke. I don’t like the whole “oblivious black woman needs to be schooled in racism by the white folk” vibe that went on that workplace

      1. Quantum Possum*

        This rankles me, too.

        If Deputy had just been offended on her own behalf, that’s a perfectly reasonable response! After learning that LW didn’t want to pursue it for herself, Deputy could have easily gone to her management and HR and filed a complaint because the remark offended DEPUTY.

        Instead, Deputy dumped all of her existing resentment and humiliation onto LW’s shoulders and then had the nerve to call it “helping.”

      2. Observer*

        I don’t like the whole “oblivious black woman needs to be schooled in racism by the white folk” vibe that went on that workplace

        Except that for the most part, that’s not what happened. The OP says that she wasn’t really paying attention and it was the reaction of the other two women that made her pay attention. That’s very different. And even the sounds like it was unfiltered shock rather than any attempt to “school” anyone.

        The fact that the deputy had an ax to grind does not negate that reaction. Especially since in the best interpretation of the comment, it was still inappropriate *and* it’s really, really hard to believe that anyone at that level outside of an actual chocolate factory is unaware of the connotations.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Yeah, I read it as meaning that when she had the chance to sit down and think about it – and possibly to learn stuff about the cultural context she found herself in and the history of the phrase – she changed her mind.

          I mean, the connotations of “Black woman manipulated and influenced by her colleagues” aren’t great, either.

    4. NerdyKris*

      I literally work in a chocolate factory and we have a “what chocolate do you like” intro question, but even then this is clearly the sexual connotation since it wasn’t prompted by any sort of question about what chocolate he likes.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        This is where I fell. If he wanted to make it about bribery, he could have pretty easily have done so. His remark was racist and sexist.

  46. learnedthehardway*

    OP – you don’t have anything to feel badly about here. You are entitled to not feel overly offended, and your actions had NOTHING to do with your coworker’s situation – they didn’t cause it or affect it. Your coworker is in the wrong to blame you. In fact, your coworker didn’t do you the courtesy of asking whether you were offended before she went off and made a complaint about the incident – it’s pretty clear that her primary motivator was her own feelings about having not been promoted and having lost out to a candidate she felt was under-qualified. (She may or may not have been right in her assessment of her own situation, but she tried to use the chocolate comment for her own ends, not for your benefit, and that’s not a nice thing to do.)

    If the VP retaliated against your coworker, then that is something she should have brought up with HR and her second-line manager (ie. the VP’s manager). For all you know, her disgruntlement about being passed over for the VP spot is more the cause of her PIP, than anything else. Honestly, given that her complaint was over something that was tone deaf rather than overtly racist and that wasn’t even about her – it wouldn’t surprise me to find that she had found other ways to make her resistance to the VP quite obvious.

    Whether the VP was being racist or thoughtlessly put his foot in his mouth with a joke about accepting bribes of chocolate – who knows? He was dealt with by HR. There’s a limit to what the company is going to do to someone who says something apparently innocuous, although it might have been a good idea to review how to NOT be insensitive / oblivious.

    All this said, I’ve been in meetings where the merits of different brands of chocolate have been debated as potential “bribes”. Also, people have said, “I would do anything for a donut”. This type of “I will take a bribe of a very low stakes nature” joke is really common and is usually a way to diffuse the other person’s discomfort for asking a minor favour.

    1. Observer*

      In fact, your coworker didn’t do you the courtesy of asking whether you were offended before she went off and made a complaint about the incident

      That’s pretty much the only thing she did right.

      The VP was wrong, regardless of how the OP felt about it. And also, it’s inappropriate to put the burden of waging this war on the backs of its victims. Many Black women would have said much the same thing as the OP, but not because they were actually not offended, but because they knew that it could have negative effects for them. And given that the issue was reportable, regardless, why put that burden on her?

      What the VP said was wildly out of line in the best interpretation, and any person hearing it was well within their moral rights to report it for that reason.

      If she had stuck to that the deputy would have been fine. The problem is not that she reported it, regardless of her motive, but that she badgered the OP. That is out of line, and I’m inclined to agree with some people who are looking at her racism as well.

  47. Procedure Publisher*

    This situation is why I value being exposed to a diversity of viewpoints. Your experiences may influence how you interpret what others say and do. It is clear from the letter writer that her experiences and the deputy VP’s experiences have factored in how they reacted to the VP’s comments.

  48. Jaybeetee*

    So I’m a white Canadian, and I gasped aloud at that line – in my workplace, a VIP making a joke like that in front of a Black (or frankly, Indigenous) woman would go over like a lead balloon. Maybe wouldn’t get fired (I’m in government, no one ever gets fired), but something would come down on that VIP like a ton of bricks.

    I’m seeing some people saying he might have meant it in a jokey way about “bribing him with candy” and failed to take his audience into account. I can believe that possibility, but that’s still bad. This wasn’t a random colleague, but a VP at an international company who works with international teams. The *best possible* interpretation still paints him as incredibly oblivious and tone-deaf for being in that kind of position.

    OP, it’s okay to not be more upset about this. You can feel whatever you want, to start with. But moreover, it’s not uncommon for people to just be completely stunned at inappropriate behaviour and mentally sort of skip over it – there are a number of letters on this site describing that sort of reaction to other types of inappropriate behaviour. And of course, you’re perfectly within your rights to just want to move on from the whole thing. That deputy was also massively inappropriate towards you, for reasons I can only speculate.

  49. Artistic Impulses*

    What a mess, and I am sorry that OP has to deal with all of this. I agree with Alex that the Deputy was just as racist as the VP, maybe more.

    If Deputy had been quietly encouraging, then left OP alone when they didn’t want to report the incident, that would have been OK. But Deputy’s nasty, aggressive approach was way over the line, and the guilt tripping was unforgivable.

  50. Ferris Mewler*

    Add me to the list of people who gasped out loud when I read/heard the VP’s comment. Yikes.

    LW, I don’t blame you for not realizing right away what the VP meant or for wanting to basically keep your head down and ignore it. I also agree that the deputy was likely more motivated that this was a chance to get rid of him more so than simple offense at a racist, sexist comment. And she was definitely out of line to rant and blame you for the unfortunate consequences of her own actions.

    I’m a person who really struggles with setting boundaries and standing up for myself so I likely would have responded exactly the way you did, especially if I was already on my way out.

    If they didn’t let the VP go over his comment then they definitely should have if it was true that he was retaliating against the deputy for reporting him.

  51. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

    This is adjacent to Alison’s advice and feedback, which is spot on: it is ridiculous to me that the responsibility for handling a situation with a racist person like this VP falls onto the person at whom the racist remarks were aimed, and I see this so often across companies where the problems ranging from unconscious bias in hiring all the way to outright racism like this VP’s comment are left to the people in underrepresented communities to fix. And if someone, like the LW, isn’t “angry enough” at what happened, the company then uses that to scapegoat keeping the offending person (or offending practice) in place. It’s completely bananapants!

  52. Yorick*

    LW seems to be overlooking the sexual nature of the comment. As a woman, I’d be upset by that kind of comment even outside of the racial context. Like, if he said something creepy about being into blondes in response to being told he’d be contacted for a work-related matter, I’d also be offended and report that no matter what the blonde woman thought about it.

  53. HA2*

    This illustrates a second way companies and people in them can be racist – by implicitly assuming that it’s on their minority employees to “fix” company culture.

    In this case, Deputy assumed that, because LW is Black, that IN ADDITION to all of LW’s other job duties, they ALSO have the unwritten job of documenting and reporting any racist behavior they see.

  54. Dinwar*

    There are two things that jump out at me here.

    First, what the VP did wasn’t a microaggression. This was just racist and sexist. Calling it a microaggression downplays the seriousness, in my opinion. The difference is, microaggressions are a matter of ignorance–the person doesn’t realize that what they’re doing has offensive implications, or the person is trying to avoid offense and screws up. What the VP did was a failure of ethics. There is simply no way he didn’t know what he was doing.

    What your coworkers are doing, though, is equally wrong. They’re basically telling you how you should feel, robbing you of your voice in the matter. You stated you had a different cultural context through which you initially interpreted the statement, and you’re allowed to have that; that is, in fact, the whole point of diversity. This does NOT excuse the VP’s racist and sexist remark in ANY way; rather, you should be empowered to feel how you feel about it. There’s also a weird aspect of focusing on emotions here. It doesn’t matter–ethically OR legally as I understand the concept of hostile work environments–whether you’re sufficiently upset; what the VP did was wrong, and as a matter of business the company needs to demonstrate that they will not tolerate such behavior at any rank in the hierarchy. This is driven by purely business concerns, and should be approached with the same attitude as if an employee had flagrantly violated any other part of the code of conduct. We don’t fire people for embezzling because we’re upset about it, we do it because it’s wrong and it harms the business. Ethics, including business ethics, isn’t a matter of mere emotion, but one of the major branches of philosophy!

  55. Ms. Murchison*

    I’m glad that the LW’s company consulted her about the consequences she thought were warranted, but I agree with AAM that that comment from a brand new employee warrants firing. LW’s lack of context to feel injured by the comment doesn’t change the inherent gravity of it.

    If a new manager used the K word in front of me in a meeting, I wouldn’t feel pain because I grew up in a world where it wasn’t used (I don’t think I ever heard it until I watched “Gentleman’s Agreement” as a teen), but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s vile, shocking, completely inappropriate, and would cause pain to anyone who has the lived context that the slur came from.

  56. Rosyglasses*

    I’m sure I’m not the first to think this (and hopefully I didn’t miss something obvious in the writing) but I wonder if the deputy was white. It is interesting how many times white (women in particular) end up making racially charged situations all about them.

    That doesn’t detract from the comment made and subsequent consequences that should have happened, but was the first thought in reading about the over-the-top behavior from the deputy.

    1. Expelliarmus*

      Yeah, I think the deputy was white; if she wasn’t, the plausibility of her claim that the VP’s remark wasn’t taken seriously due to OP not being offended would have gone way down. My guess is that if the deputy was also a POC, she would have used that as leverage for why the VP should face more punishment when making her case to HR.

  57. Quinalla*

    Thank you for this very nuanced response as damn there is a lot going on there. I agree entirely with everything you said, deputy should have reported it but was way off base in pressuring OP (!!) and then blaming OP (!!!) when VP wasn’t fired and for VP retaliation (!!!!). VP maybe should have been fired, but sometimes people say foolish crap and are genuinely sorry (based on retaliation, unlikely), and I am one who doesn’t think people should be fired every time they say something foolish. If there is a pattern yes and depending on the severity it might be a pattern of 2 or even 1. This one is way out of bounds, so I could see them firing especially a VP level.

    And this didn’t make me gasp, just made me shake my head in disappointment as I still hear an occasional comment like this in my industry – not at my company thank goodness – but vendors, contractors, etc. yeah still happens. So my reaction is more same shit, different day, but I would be shocked if someone at my company said this as we are well past the BS boys club mentality at my company thankfully. People still put foot in mouth, but it’s things like calling all contractors Mr. or saying gentlemen out of habit to a meeting with women in it cause industry is still overwhelmingly male.

  58. Anna3*

    While slightly tangential, I cannot resist to ask: Am I the only one who’s more offended by the sexism and blatant note of a fetish in WM’s comment yet less offended by the racism?

  59. Anne Shirley Blythe*

    I can’t stop thinking about this one. OP, if you’re reading these, what were the VP’s further interactions with you like? Did you ever witness or hear about similar behavior from him? I would expect something like this on “Mad Men” but not in the present-day world.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Hi Anne Shirley Blythe (love that username btw!)

      I had responded on that to someone else further up so just copying to directly reply to you:

      The two months actually passed ok. I was never on a call with the VP alone but we were on wider calls several times over the period. He didn’t try to apologise and as I mentioned in another comment, someone had told me about his reaction in the HR interview and he did not at any point seem apologetic. Additionally, he proved to be an ass generally – he argued with me and others on a call for 20 mins about the meaning of the word “prospective” (we were the ones using it correctly) and he would do things like review documents and brag about how many comments he had when the majority of them were things like “should a full stop/comma be here” when the drafts were at the preliminary stages and I was looking for a review of the substantive issues with grammar to be fixed at the end. However, I was crazy slammed with work and sleep deprived so I just wanted to get out. If he was upset with me, it went completely over my head.

  60. Stuff*

    I think a big problem with “Well, we should give the VP another chance” is the power disparity, here. There isn’t just somebody who came out the gate with a racist and misogynistic comment, it’s somebody women and people of color have to report to. And they now have to report to someone they are aware is willing to make that sort of comment. That’s extremely toxic to the whole workplace, and a deeply unfair environment for those women and people of color. I do think it is important and just to hold management to a higher standard, because they have so much power. Power should come with accountability, and the most appropriate accountability would have been firing him.

    I also agree that the letter writer is under no obligation to feel any particular way, or to take any particular action in response to this comment. I think it is very legitimate for other witnesses to report the incident themselves, and for the VP to be fired based on witness reports without the letter writer ever having to be involved, but there is nothing wrong with the letter writer deciding not to personally take action. It was beyond the pale to continually pressure her to do so, or to blame her for the decisions the company made about how to proceed, or for the retaliation that ensued. She didn’t do anything wrong, and deserved to be left alone.

    1. Stuff*

      Actually, to clarify further, while the letter writer was under no obligation to go to HR over the harassment from their colleague who was upset about what the VP did, if the letter writer had, I would hope HR would have issued consequences to that colleague. The PIP from the VP was blatantly retaliation, but some sort of formal warning or even PIP for the harassment against the letter writer may well have been appropriate in this situation, to drive home that they needed to back off and leave the letter writer alone.

  61. Hashtag Destigmatize Therapy*

    I don’t often encounter an opinion bananapants enough to shock me these days, but “there’s no racism in Canada” really threw me. I can’t wrap my mind around how someone could possibly believe that. But it does add up that someone who thinks that also thinks it’s the victim’s fault if the perpetrator of discrimination gets away with it. This is, like, exactly why we have the phrase “victim blaming.”

    For what it’s worth I (a white dude) thought it sounded like LW was right about the deputy’s motivations. If the deputy was really motivated by racial justice, I think she would’ve shown at least some sign that she cared about LW’s well-being.

  62. Lady Blerd*

    People who don’t have the lived experience of minorities should take a step back and let the person decide what they want to do. In this case, I understand that OP didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with it. Maybe she would have revised her position of the VP was a serial offender but for a first incident, I think that she is entitled to decide if she wanted to pursue this or not. In restorative justice, the victim has a say on how the harm that was done to them has to be addressed and that is the lens I’m using here. I understand Alison’s point about the liability of the company if the incident got blown up but let’s not forget that it was the deputy who made a bigger deal than what OP wanted, she should have simply reported the incident as a witness and leave at that. OP gets to decide for herself what she wants as in the outcome, including doing nothing on her behalf. The company had enough to punish the VP without OP’s involvement.

    1. Observer*

      OP gets to decide for herself what she wants as in the outcome, including doing nothing on her behalf.

      Yes. Very much this.

      The company had enough to punish the VP without OP’s involvement.

      Yes. They had enough, and I am concerned that they did not seem to have done enough.

    2. Stuff*

      The problem is, the letter writer is not the only victim, here. Any woman or black person who had to witness that comment is a victim in this context, not just the person the comment was addressed to. That’s why I don’t think that letting the letter writer decide if there would be punishment would be a fair way to handle this. Now, the deputy crossed the line into outright harassment, so I’m certainly not justifying their behavior towards the letter writer, but I do think anyone witnessing this behavior had standing to formally complain, and I don’t think doing so is speaking over the letter writer. The letter writer isn’t the only victim.

      1. Lady Blerd*

        You skipped over the part of my comment where I do say that the company had enough to punish the VP without OP being involved based on the deputy’s report. I didn’t say that LW got to decide that the VP not get punished.

        1. Lady Blerd*

          Addendum : I am saying is the LW gets to decide if she wants to file a complaint and go through the process. I do also think she can tell the company she doesn’t want consequences for the VP but that doesn’t mean the company has to follow thay wish if there is a credible report of the incident from a third party.


  63. Tiger Snake*

    Deputy went over the deep end there, but it’s probably still a valuable thing for LW to remember is that Deputy can be offended herself as well, not just on LW’s behalf. I think anyone in Deputy’s position would be, finding out that HR is allowing the company’s leadership team – those both in power and setting the entire culture for the company – to sexually or racially harass someone.
    More than that, a part of what Deputy told you later is important for you to know even if you weren’t offended this time (and might have been her original intention in reaching out) – that is, the company isn’t going to fix the issue, so if there is a next time that you are offended by you now have a good idea of what options are really in front of you.

    1. Observer*

      More than that, a part of what Deputy told you later is important for you to know

      Given how poorly the Deputy acted, I don’t know if I trust her judgement.

      It is absolutely true that she has the standing to be offended on her own. But what she did not have the standing for was to push the OP to act in a particular way. And to *blame* the OP? No. Absolutely not!

  64. Raida*

    We’ve always used the “Don’t fire people the first time they fck up” approach, and it’s worked really well.
    Knowing they *could* have been fired, they are still employed to be *graciously* given a chance to show they should be here – we end up with excellent staff, grateful for the second chance.

    And if they are one of the vicious little bullies in the world? They don’t stop at one, it’s already recorded, they get fired and not only do they look bad for ‘just one offhand comment’ but they also look vindictive and stupid for not stopping – even better for tanking their professional rep.

  65. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    I probably would have screamed, “WHAT!!!” at him, just as I did at my screen while reading…

  66. Zarniwoop*

    “I received a message from the deputy telling me that because I wasn’t offended, the VP was retaliating against her for reporting and she was put on a month-long PIP because she didn’t make the VP feel welcome, and therefore she was on the brink of losing her job which would leave her unable to pay her bills, so I needed to learn a lesson and think of other people because she was experiencing these events since she was the only one who did the right thing. It was a long, awful screed that blamed me for everything going wrong for her at work. I responded saying that I was sorry to hear she was facing difficulties but her blame was misplaced and she should report the VP for retaliation. ”
    I’d have been tempted to respond “I’ve left the company. This is no longer my circus and these are no longer my clowns.”

  67. SnappinTerrapin*

    Alison, I appreciate your nuanced analysis. The overriding issue, of course, is the company’s need to ensure that its senior management displays sound professional judgment, consistent with protecting the company’s best interests. By that standard, the VP should be gone, regardless of anyone else’s reactions or feelings.

    LW has the right to her feelings and reactions, and no one has the right to second-guess her, much less to demand that she take on a fight while she is on the way to a better job.

    The deputy’s actions toward LW are pretty egregious. I don’t have the energy to climb on my soapbox about it, but, damn, her attitude toward LW is messed up.

    I think the deputy acted from mixed motives. People are like that. Her axe to grind about the VP might call her credibility into question, but she isn’t the only witness. The weight of the evidence is greatly against the VP, even if the deputy’s testimony is discounted.

    There is no excuse for the deputy’s attitude and comments toward LW. She should pursue her own retaliation claim, and leave LW in peace in her new job.

    And to return to the first principle, the company should have acted IN ITS OWN BEST INTEREST, regardless of anyone else’s feelings and opinions, and protected itself against a significant liability risk. The retaliation claim gives them another bite at that apple.

  68. Lady Blerd*

    You skipped over the part of my comment where I do say that the company had enough to punish the VP without OP being involved based on the deputy’s report. I didn’t say that LW got to decide that the VP not get punished.

    1. Lady Blerd*

      Addendum : I am saying is the LW gets to decide if she wants to file a complaint and go through the process. I do also think she can tell the company she doesn’t want consequences for the VP but that doesn’t mean the company has to follow thay wish if there is a credible report of the incident from a third party.

  69. New Senior Mgr*

    Im rolling my eyes at this guy, OP. Especially for a person at his level. He must actually think such sexist, racist comments like that is okay, understood, and tolerated. Your coworker was out of line, and I think you handled it well in the moment. As a woman of color, I’m always aware of being ‘of color’ whenever I’m in the workplace. One downside of that hyper-alertness is that I want to believe comments have nothing to do with my race. Just speaking for myself, I want to believe and not be seen as ‘making a big issue about race.’ And that’s not so great either, because in the process I’m probably letting offensive comments pass. Willing and convincing myself that ‘they didn’t mean that way.’ Anyway, I appreciate you sharing your story and I wish you all the best.

  70. Letter Writer*

    Thanks to everyone for the comments! I responded to a few persons and just want to make one final comment though it’s so late most people might not see but wanted to clear up a few things.

    Alison and several commenters are right that even though it was slow in coming, I did recognize the racist and sexist nature of the comment. I did initially think bribery but that was fairly quickly dispelled. I actually didn’t have a problem with the deputy reporting the VP. I hadn’t wanted to and honestly probably might not have, but at the end of the day, I didn’t mind that she did because I understood why she would have. And as a manager herself, she likely had a responsibility to report it. I also thought it was likely the VP would show his ass again in the not too distant future so I thought having it on record would be good so people would hopefully be on the lookout for other red flags and not tolerate them. My issue was with the deputy VP pushing and I gave some additional context in an earlier comment to explain why it bothered me so much but even that pushing in and of itself, at the time, didn’t really set me off as badly as her message did. I confess that the day I received it, it made me cry and ruined the next week for me, it was so upsetting. I took the time to calm down and let more than a day pass before responding because I try not to act from a place of anger/upset because I always regret when I do. I was tempted to pass the messages on to our former shared grandboss but the thought of getting involved with all of that again drained me beyond belief. I think people know who she is as a person and I just didn’t have it in me to take it on. I knew the organization wasn’t perfect but in my 2+ years there, I’d always felt respected for my contributions and I hated that the two of them screwed up the end of my time there. I was just pretty done but I wrote in because I think of it from time to time and have my doubts about my own role and reaction. Thanks to Alison again as usual for a nuanced, thoughtful response and thanks to the commenters for the respectful dialogue.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Yes, thank you for responding with more details in the comments! Sorry you went through all of that, and I hope your new job is better!

    1. ThatOtherClare*

      Waiting until you’d processed your initial reaction was a clever choice, in my opinion.

      If you want to be done with wasting your energy interacting with her, be done and move on, I say. If it never comes up again you’ve spared yourself the effort, and if it somehow does become important later you have the evidence of her messages to show the relevant people.

      You don’t need to become a landlady just because other people want you to let those who harm you live rent-free in your head. You want to drop ’em like a sack of spuds? Go for it! I’m cheering for you!

      Best of luck meeting lots of awesome people who are worth your time in your new workplace, Letter Writer :)

  71. Old Admin*

    When reading that the coworker was pressuring OP to be more outraged, I immediately thought that the OP was being weaponized against the new VP (who badly misstepped, don’t get me wrong).
    Coworker later blaming the OP for all her work troubles confirmed my suspicion.

  72. What the what*

    Kudos to the OP for being gracious and unflappable in this situation and for not getting sucked into the drama girl’s machinations, too.

    I can see it from both perspectives though. I use humor to offset my inherent shyness and to build rapport. (I’m socially awkward.). I could see myself doing the same as the VP but perhaps I would’ve said I like X Brand chocolates/truffles or X Brand coffee, etc. (And there IS a brand of chocolates I special order and just made a joke to my husband about it the other day! But seriously I’m still wondering why the Valentines catalog still hasn’t arrived in the mail…..)

    I’ve screwed up A LOT in my career and have said things in front of others that could/have been misconstrued or just plain said something hurtful. Ive always been thankful (and humbled) when I do make a misstep that someone is gracious to me and forgives me for saying something stupid, hurtful, insensitive, etc.

  73. Anony vas Normandy*

    Haven’t read all the comments, so someone else has probably noted this but:

    It also seems pretty racist that the Deputy went on a screed blaming a Black woman for the company’s failure and subsequent retaliation. Especially when she no longer works there and has absolutely no influence over how it’s being handled.

  74. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

    OP, I’m really sorry you had to deal with all of this. The remark was not only racist but also sexist and completely inappropriate for work. It absolutely deserved to be reported, whatever the motive, but then the deputy tried to make you responsible for her own problems! Bees all around.

  75. Pink Geek*

    I think I see why the deputy didn’t get the position.

    Also, it was a video call with someone in a different country. The comment was not about a bribe. Thank you Alison for your strong words to that affect.

Comments are closed.