Tales from the Git Keeper: This is Racist but…

This series of posts are descriptions of my experiences working in tech that I hope will help you learn or at least help me commiserate with the world.

It was the first week on a new job and I was still learning the ropes. I was flooded with new information, new people, and new rules. By the time I got to the end of the week, I was getting to the end of my rope. Near the end of Friday, my manager asked me to log my hours. I have never had to log my hours. I overreacted and said I refused to do it. It was against my values. I was being paid a salary. Doesn’t the company value me?

I later apologized to my manager and began writing a script to automate logging my hours. However, that wasn’t the end of it because my overreaction was overheard. One of my more seasoned coworkers pulled me aside into a conference room and gave me a talking to. It went along the lines of this:

Coworker (CW): I overheard you talking to our manager about logging time sheets. I agree it’s a really dumb thing but you know they don’t even look at the numbers. Just log the time sheets and don’t cause trouble. I know it’s hard adjusting. If you keep your head down and just observe for a few months it will get better.

Me: Hold on, our CEO just said we’re investing in becoming a top tech company. Shouldn’t we be investing more in automating away these types of things?

CW: I know what you’re saying. This may sound a little racist but what do you expect from an organization run by a Jew?

Me: … I see?

Hold. The. Phone. WHAT?! What do you even do in that situation?

I chose not to immediately react because I really didn’t know this person or the company that well. The next week though, I did reach out to HR and describe this circumstance to them. They told me to talk to my manager:

Me: Hey Manager, I wanted to talk to you about a concerning interaction with a teammate?

Manager (MG): Alright.

Me: I was talking to him about how I felt we could be doing more to invest in the technical advancement of the company and then he said [quote from above].

MG: Woah… that can’t be right. You must have misunderstood him.

Me: No, I definitely didn’t misunderstand him. He introduced that with “this may sound a little racist”. He definitely knew what he was saying.

MG: Well, what do you want me to do about it?

That didn’t go as I thought it would. A manager that immediately calls you a liar and then passes the buck on to you? Needless to say, he lost a lot of my trust that day. It’s okay though, HR had my back and coached me on how to confront my coworker directly. So, the following week, I came up with some random excuse to talk to the coworker in private about what he had said:

Me: Hey CW, there was something I wanted to talk to you about that worried me a little. You said this thing a while ago and I know you meant it as a casual comment but it could easily be taken offensively in the workplace.

CW: What are you talking about?

Me: Well, it was [this date] and you made an anti-Semitic comment when we were talking about time sheets.

CW: Oh, now I remember. Wait… you’re not Jewish are you? You don’t look Jewish because if I thought you were I wouldn’t have said it.

Me: No, I’m not Jewish.

CW: Good, good…

Me: Anyway, I understood what you meant to convey but if you had said something like that in a group it wouldn’t have been very good.

CW: Ah, I see what you are saying. Thank you for letting me know. Honestly, in my home country these things aren’t considered offensive so it slipped my mind. You know, my mother calls black people n***** all the time.

Me: … of course we have our own cultural idiosyncrasies.

CW: I’m glad you told me and I hope you let me know if I do anything else like that.

Overall that went pretty well. He accepted responsibility and we built a strange racism watch relationship. On the other hand, I will never be his friend and didn’t want to interact with him any more than I had to. I reported back to HR on how this went. They were not happy that he was clearly aware and not only that, he even went on digging himself into his racist little hole.

The outcome: HR asked if I’d like to proceed with a formal investigation. I declined because I didn’t want to upset the team balance. HR asked if I’d be okay with an investigation after I left the company. I agreed to that. I don’t know what happened beyond that. It didn’t come up again.

What I learned:

  • If you stay calm and plan out your approach, you can get a non-confrontational outcome in a sensitive situation
  • Contacting both HR and your manager is a good call since your manager may not be on your side
  • Even if a company claims diversity and inclusions as their values, it might be a work in progress

Why the title: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_from_the_Cryptkeeper

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