I'm muslim, brown, middle eastern, and no my name isn't actually Joe as my username suggests.

My manager makes interesting comments. He normally intends these comments as something humourous but sometimes he is serious too. Neither is comfortable. Some examples I remember below:

  1. about my friend "Was he a terrorist?". This is the latest one and it really got me thinking.
  2. nearly every day at lunch "Are you fasting today?". Muslims fast for the month of Ramadan and sometimes outside, but we don't fast everyday and we're probably not fasting while we are eating lunch.
  3. about a certain family members career "Are they a doctor?"
  4. To me "Do you like bacon?" or some variation where I'm eating pork. Muslims generally don't eat pork and he asks this quite frequently.
  5. paraphrasing here "middle eastern countries are backwards and oppressive".

I'm afraid if I complain it'll reflect in my performance review as my manager is the one who alone does it. I'm the only brown and Muslim person at my work, so it'll be obvious I reported it.

I'm also contemplating simply leaving. My last manager was a racist too, but only on occasion (like a couple times a year, she'd make a comment). Here, I'm faced with this nearly every day and while I didn't mind it too much at first, it's gotten to the point where I'm not comfortable anymore.

Any practical suggestions would be helpful.

UPDATE (the next day):

Today he asked me while I was eating my Lasagna....'Is it middle-eastern Lasagna?'. It's a good example of the subtly racist comments that he makes. By itself, I wouldn't think much of it, but with everything else he says...blekh!

I'm thinking I might talk to hr about being entirely remote soon that way I don't have to worry about his comments or any retaliation.

UPDATE (5 minutes after previous update)

He asked about me eating pork again and I told him it wasn't funny. And a few seconds later he made a comment about women in Afghanistan not having rights. btw I'm not from Afghanistan. I thought these would be good examples of what I was trying to communicate yesterday.

  • 2
    Is he a generally decent guy in other ways, or is he a jerk all around? In other words, if you had a decent approach, would he be someone you could talk to? Jun 18, 2019 at 23:29
  • 5
    Where are you located? How big is the company? Jun 19, 2019 at 1:46
  • 5
    Low key racism may sometimes be countered by agreeing to all accusations in an exaggerated way. For instance, "Are you fasting", responding "Yeah, of course" when you are actually blatantly eating. It may not work if he is really trying to push the buttons, but sometimes demonstrating you do not really care can work to make the needling less effective. Between not doing anything, and leaving, or going to HR (or something else drastic, e.g. legal, since you do not have HR) there is a wide spectrum of options. Jun 19, 2019 at 9:54
  • 6
    @CaptainEmacs While I love a bit of banter, engaging further may simply escalate the situation or worse yet give the impression "low key racism" is okay to do in the workplace. This should be a last option.
    – lucasgcb
    Jun 19, 2019 at 12:14
  • 2
    What does your workplace harassment policy indicate you should do? I’ve just completed the annual training for my work, and the policy had very specific recommendations for such situations. It emphasizes that it is not the employee’s responsibility to gather evidence.
    – ColleenV
    Jun 20, 2019 at 10:42

6 Answers 6


Leaving your organization is always an option, but leaving causes you an unfair amount of hardship and stress. Your situation can be resolved inside a reasonably healthy organization of any size.

Things you could do (before leaving, which you could treat as a last resort):

1. Discuss your observations with a trusted peer - ask him/her if they have observed the same behaviors and to look for them in the future.

2. Recruit some backup. Ask a few trusted colleagues to be attentive to insensitive comments by your manager and to intervene when they hear them. They have a less threatening perspective when they confront your manager about the behavior.

3. Discuss your experience with another leader or manager in the organization. Another leader can help you understand your options to address your manager’s behavior and is likely to have a more mature and constructive perspective than frontline members of the HR team.

4. Confront your manager. Regardless of whether you believe your manager will respond well or poorly, direct feedback is likely to have a positive effect. It’s rare that an individual intentionally harms or harasses another at work — your manager is likely unaware of the impact of what he/she perceives as friendly jokes.

5. Keep track of the behavior and the effect on you. If you ever create an official complaint (e.g., with HR), having specific, verifiable examples will be helpful to the team that looks in to the issue.

6. Talk to HR. Have an informal conversation with a senior member of the HR team. They will be able to help you initiate internal processes, but may also be obligated to document your conversation.

7. Apply to roles on other teams. If there are open roles on other teams, apply to them.

8. Explicitly ask for a new role to create distance from your current manager. This likely comes as part of one of the discussions above. There are always needs on other teams, and the organization could quickly assign you a new role away from your current manager.

I’m sorry that you’re having this experience with your manager. I hope it improves, or that you are able to find an opportunity in a friendly and fair environment.

  • Thanks for the advice. Really appreciate the work you put in here. I have done 1-4 in the day after you posted this. The support from one of the other managers was nice, but he agrees that complaining right now might not be the best option as the company is so small. It's a thin wire we're standing on. The tough bit about number 5 is I don't want other team members to get the idea that I'm bad for the company. tbh leaving/getting let go now would be really bad on my resume as my last job was only 5 months long. I'm now at 8 mo with this company. How ro go about it? or just skip to 6?
    – Joe B
    Jun 20, 2019 at 15:10
  • 7 and 8 aren't really an option as the company is sooo small, I'll still be working with the exact same people which are very nice people btw. Albeit a bit ignorant in this regard.
    – Joe B
    Jun 20, 2019 at 15:11

You absolutely have to get this situation under control or else anyone else who is so inclined may think they have permission to act the same way.

I had issues with a colleague who made highly questionable remarks. At first I figured he was just being “funny” and I should let it slide. Then I decided that reacting would provoke a stronger response. Then things were so bad I was in shock. Finally I engaged HR and things were just horrific.

What I learned from this, and other situations like it I’ve seen since, is this just has to be stopped.

The first thing you need to do is make sure he understands that his comments aren’t funny or welcome. Some people are so socially inept that they think offensive jokes are “funny” or a way to “bond”. Take that back — the first thing is to document several instances and any witnesses. But hopefully you understand my point — communicate that you don’t appreciate the remarks, but also suggest that perhaps he thinks his remarks are “just kidding around”. I’ve worked in male-dominated fields my entire life and some men just think misogynistic remarks are somehow “okay” and a way to “bond”. They aren’t, and it isn’t. You have to figure out if he’s really a “band person” or just socially awkward / inept.

Once you figure that out, and you will pretty quickly, your course of action will be pretty clear - get him to stop, or leave. One of the guys I work with is just ... clueless. He’s a great engineer, but he’s not worked with enough women to understand what is and isn’t appropriate. And we’re both too damned old for him to change.

  • I think you hit it right on the head with the idea about it being 'a way to bond'. He's just trying to be friends, but needless to say it's not working. I kinda just do my work and move on with my day. How would you go about getting witnesses? rather how would you phrase your asking of them to be witnesses on your behalf?
    – Joe B
    Jun 20, 2019 at 15:15
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    I've had the best luck with people who are already shocked by what's being said. It depends on the situation, but "This is really bothering me and I'm thinking about going to (HR / higher manager / whoever). Would you mind talking to them if they ask?" Jun 20, 2019 at 21:17

If you are afraid of complaining to your boss or HR due to the consequences it might have on your job, how in the world is it better to just leave? The very reason you were afraid of complaining is due to the effects it may have on your job - and what's a worse effect than, you know, not having it?

Then you might as well complain to your boss or HR and then prepare to leave. If the complaint works and your manager apologizes, great. If it doesn't, you leave. As long as you behave professionally and amicably throughout the procedure (never, ever make it personal between you and him, just state the facts in a neutral manner) then it won't really affect your future career.

The only real exception to all this is if you believe your next employer will want a recommendation of some sort from your current manager. In that case, you'd find yourself in a difficult situation. But this is highly unlikely, and you don't have to bring it up yourself.

  • Every employer I've had has wanted a reference from someone I reported to at my previous places of employment.
    – Player One
    Jun 18, 2019 at 23:57
  • 3
    As a rule of thumb, I would first try to line up another offer or interview before attempting to complain or leave. That way OP will not find themselves unemployed.
    – DarkCygnus
    Jun 19, 2019 at 0:18
  • It is not unusual to have a racist manager in a company that has no intent of allowing racism at all. There are companies where the manager would be in trouble over his or her behaviour, without any problems for the employee.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 19, 2019 at 6:05
  • To be fair if the manager is prejudiced like this chances are they will provide very poor reference regardless, so I'd just take that for granted.
    – lucasgcb
    Jun 19, 2019 at 10:30

If this is something that is deeply troubling to you (and it sounds like it is), then make a formal complaint to HR and be prepared for the consequences, whether that means a poor performance review or that means having to leave your job.

It's unfortunate that you have to deal with this, and it's unfortunate that in the short term you may be the only one who is affected by the fallout from your complaint, if you choose to lodge a complaint. My hope is that in the long run your actions will make this better for the people who come after you.

I generally don't like it when people offer their sympathies, regrets, condolences, and apologies to people on the internet because it rings hollow to me, but in this case I genuinely am sorry that you have to deal with this. I wish the world saw all people the same regardless of race, color, creed, religion, etc., etc. Unfortunately that's not the world we live in... yet. One day maybe we'll get there.


It is entirely possible that your manager simply isn't aware what he is saying is offensive to you. With the following questions, I don't see it as explicitly racist

  • nearly every day at lunch "Are you fasting today?". Muslims fast for the month of Ramadan and sometimes outside, but we don't fast everyday and we're probably not fasting while we are eating lunch.

  • about a certain family members career "Are they a doctor?"

  • To me "Do you like bacon?" or some variation where I'm eating pork. Muslims generally don't eat pork and he asks this quite frequently.

For the above three, I would recommend asking your manager what he is trying to say, or why he is asking. It may be possible that these are just honest or innocent questions due to a lack of understanding or some false assumptions he has. For example, if they ask "Are they a doctor?" you can reply "Why do you ask?" as a general probe into their reasoning.

The below two I would be concerned about. Unless you are on extremely friendly terms I would recommend bringing this up with another Manager or HR, so that they can help you resolve the issue.

  • about my friend "Was he a terrorist?". This is the latest one and it really got me thinking.
  • paraphrasing here "middle eastern countries are backwards and oppressive".

Sometimes, telling a Manager that you are uncomfortable with certain jokes or behaviors is enough to stop the issue from occurring simply because your Manager may not know that they make you uncomfortable. Of course, it never hurts to have a back up plan.


You haven’t made clear what the position of this manager is. Either he is the company owner, or he is someone who has to answer to HR or his boss or both. You also didn’t say which country, so I assume UK.

In the first case, you tell him his behaviour is unacceptable. (If I heard a manager making these comments to you, that’s what I would tell them). Tell him that he is creating a hostile work environment - that will tell him that what he is doing is serious. And then you tell him that if he wants to get rid of you, you know an employment lawyer who will get him for constructive dismissal. You can find a new job easily, and you will find an employment lawyer who will make him pay.

In the second case, you talk to HR, or you talk to his boss. HR won’t find this funny at all, and many bosses will find it very unfunny.

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