15

I work in California for a small company. I am a brown male. At one of the Annual year end party, I took my wife and my newborn girl to the party. I was introducing my newborn girl to everyone. One of the person (white male) around the table commented "Thank God, she doesn't look like you", and people around the table including my team member and owner of the company smirked or smiled looking at each other. I don't know if I should perceive this either a mean or a racist (on my color) remark. Perhaps he didn't mean it the way I am thinking. But it was pretty unsettling and upset me, I couldn't focus for the rest of the party.

The reason why this upsets me to so much lies in my past experiences. I have had to face the same remarks pretty much whole life (countless number of times) from a lot of different people including my friends and extended family. The same scene - people making remarks (direct/indirect) on my color, and people (even my closest friends) around smirking, smiling or laughing. It's like the people who are smiling or laughing are in agreement with this remark/joke, but they themselves wouldn't dare to make the same remark kind of thing. So when this person made the remark, I have had flashed of the past.

I am not a confrontational person, my anxiety levels go up when confronting a person. Am I overthinking about this remark? Should I just let this slide or report this to HR in email? If I report this to HR, I fear of the consequences such as having to deal with the mess, losing job and several other things.

Thank you.

Update - From the responses below, I gather that this is a cultural joke. I am from a different culture and continent, it's a highly offensive joke in our culture mostly directed at the skin color of the person, therefore we tend to be highly sensitive about it. Thanks for all the responses.

5
  • 2
    Do you any facial hair or other features that would be unusual or unexpected for a girl?
    – mustaccio
    Dec 17, 2022 at 16:39
  • 2
    Upvoted because it's good to know how a very common joke for us in the US may be taken by those from different backgrounds.
    – user83977
    Dec 19, 2022 at 17:08
  • 2
    A friendly joke perceived as racism is a terrible take.
    – solarflare
    Dec 20, 2022 at 3:05
  • 2
    @solarflare it's not a "take," it's how OP interpreted it in real time. The listener's interpretation is as important as the actual intent of any given communication, seeing as it's the net result.
    – Andy
    Jan 3, 2023 at 17:46
  • @Andy correcting an invalid misinterpretation is more important than the perception itself hence my comment.
    – solarflare
    Jan 23, 2023 at 22:27

10 Answers 10

63

When I read the comment, I did not take it as mean or racist. I took it as someone who felt comfortable enough to tell you that your daughter is beautiful while poking fun at you.

2
  • 2
    I concur. as a gay man ! have had comments that might be thought of homophobic. Take it as humour unless it get more serious
    – Ed Heal
    Dec 17, 2022 at 0:29
  • 9
    Indeed. Perhaps there's insult in the joke, as in the joke is "You're ugly, your daughter is pretty". Not exactly nice. Not exactly racist though. Dec 17, 2022 at 12:58
42

"Thank God, she doesn't look like you"

Where I'm from, this is a pretty common joke to aim at new fathers, especially fathers of daughters. This sounds like a regional/cultural issue: they thought you'd be familiar with the joke.

It's a dumb gender thing, not a racial thing, and it's not meant to be sincere commentary on your appearance.

4
  • 24
    A common response is "Yes, I'm glad she inherited her mother's good looks!"
    – jwh20
    Dec 17, 2022 at 12:41
  • 21
    Exactly. I'm white, from a white family in a mostly white area. We say this about every newborn to the father, never to the mother. This has nothing to do with race. It's sexist at most, not racial.
    – Mast
    Dec 17, 2022 at 13:17
  • @Mast - It’s not even sexist. It’s implying the opposite, the father is “ugly” or similar description, and the daughter isn’t.
    – Donald
    Dec 19, 2022 at 18:22
  • 6
    @Donald You can be sexist against men... Dec 21, 2022 at 1:45
28

No, this is not Racist. Every Dad has had this remark directed at them or some variation of it.

Source: Am Dad, have recieved this comment multiple times and given it multiple times. I'm as white as the driven snow and so are my friends.

8
  • 10
    Is driven snow whiter than walking snow? Asking for a friend :)
    – Kilisi
    Dec 17, 2022 at 10:10
  • 10
    @DanubianSailor: In North American culture at least, it's somewhat normal for friends (especially male) to playfully insult each other in ways they intend to be funny. It's important that both parties realize it's a joke. Gregory Currie's answer describes the same "taking the piss" culture in Australia, and I think it's also a thing in Britain. Dec 17, 2022 at 18:00
  • 11
    @DanubianSailor and in NZ - basically most of the Anglosphere this is seen as a good natured remark or variations on it: "it's clear she got her looks from the Mother", "How is it possible that something that's half you is so adorable?" etc. Giving the new dad a little ribbing whilst saying their baby looks cute. Dec 17, 2022 at 18:27
  • 4
    @user20925 - this is an old English phrase, Driven in this case is as per fectin, it means driven by the Wind, not driven on. Basically - I'm pasty white of the north European stock - blonde hair and blue eyes. Dec 17, 2022 at 22:36
  • 9
    @TheDemonLord - in the UK, among guys who know each other well, the ruder, the funnier. I have heard 'Well, here's proof you - or someone - managed to get it up at least once', and 'That face reminds of the new milkman in your area'. Dec 18, 2022 at 13:42
17

I'm sort of reiterating what the other answers have said, but I want to elaborate a bit.

And I'll answer from an Australian perspective, which may not be exactly useful to you, but maybe it explains an alternative cultural perspective that you may find useful.

This is sort of typical "taking the piss". The implication is that the child has gotten its (good) looks from its mother. Usually expressed something like: "Lucky she got her looks from her mother!" Meant as a joke, and as a half compliment. Or a backhanded-insult if you will. It's not really common in "The Australian culture" to give compliments, so they are usually disguised as a joke or insult.

Now speaking more generally:

Not sure if your wife is light-skinned. I'm going to infer she is, given you think this may be a racist comment. (Presumably, if she shared your skin colour, you would not think it's racist).

It's very likely that the coworker made this clichéed joke, without thinking about this aspect. Having said that, they may understand how it could be perceived as racist, maybe others realise this too. But of course, once the words are said, it's a bit awkward to retract them and apologise. I think the hope is you'll accept the words for how you hope they were intended, as a joke/compliment.

2
  • 2
    This makes more sense now. Thank you for the insight, I wasn't sure how to perceive it. Yeah, I am from a different culture. In our culture, it is an offensive insult, mostly directed at the color of the person and put him down. Hence, it is highly sensitive.
    – Neo
    Dec 17, 2022 at 5:01
  • 8
    Same thing in some parts of Europe, and people mainly get the hint/joke. I used to answer that to people who were saying (about my son): "how cute!" -> glad he looks like his mother, uh?! :)
    – OldPadawan
    Dec 17, 2022 at 5:43
8

Yes this type of joke which I have heard almost identically myself, where race is not a factor, is actually ment as a compliment to the beauty of the lady. Delivery tone is important though, and the cringe-smirk-looks from colleagues seems to imply the delivery was failed somewhat.

The normal expectation is an agreement from the man such as Thank god or it's so true ha ha. Sometimes people give direct praise of the lady at this point as well, but that is more rare, because that needs to be delivered smoothly.

It is also common for the husband to use the same joke on himself to emphasize the beauty of his lady to others, down playing his own looks and elevate his ladies looks to angelic status; no way the baby beauty could come from himself.

No worries my friend, this seems innocent.

8
  • 4
    It might not be the delivery. The joke is so commonly made that it's almost expected, and therefore it's not very funny any more.
    – Wastrel
    Dec 17, 2022 at 14:56
  • 3
    The cringe-smirk looks could easily be everyone realizing the accidental(?) racist overtones.
    – fectin
    Dec 17, 2022 at 18:25
  • 1
    @fectin Considering that more people are overly sensitive than not at being even accidentally looking racist, I could see that. For example, at a conference we were once offered so much fruit at every meal. I called it "monkey food", which a friend thought was racist?! I wasn't even sure how to unpack that one. But in this instance, if we had a clearly mixed race couple and the baby starkly looks like one and not the other, yeah, it makes sense.
    – user134121
    Dec 17, 2022 at 19:17
  • 1
    @Chris Exactly. My point was that their reactions aren't any real clue to the speaker's intent.
    – fectin
    Dec 17, 2022 at 22:36
  • 1
    @Chris fectin is not making any statement regarding the intentions of the statement. He is merely pointing out potential perceptions of people. Dec 18, 2022 at 8:37
5

As numerous others have pointed out, this is a common joke for men to make to any new father. It's intended to be friendly, good-natured ribbing, not a real insult. I won't repeat any of that.

But let me add ...

I wasn't there to hear any of the remarks before or after the comment or the exact words used. Nothing in your account indicates that it's anything about race. Indeed if your wife is also brown, then it wouldn't even make sense as a racial remark. (If your wife is white, then okay, maybe.)

So let's consider the possibilities:

  1. It was intended as friendly, good-natured, one of the boys ribbing. In that case, showing offense just ruins what was intended to be a good time for everyone, including you. They're trying to treat you as a friend and instead you get nasty about it.

  2. It was intended as a personal insult: You are ugly. Nothing to do with your color, you're just ugly. You could legitimately act offended and protest. But what do you gain by this? You just show yourself as being thin-skinned and easy to provoke. The best way to respond to insults is usually to laugh at them. If someone says your ugly or stupid or whatever, just laugh and make light of it. If they're trying to upset you, this will ruin it for them.

  3. It was intended to be a racist remark. In this case my response is the same as #2: Yes, you could act all offended and get mad, but what do you gain by this? If they're trying to be hurtful, you just give them the satisfaction of knowing they succeeded.

I'm white and I married a black woman. At one point my sister told us that one of my brothers used the N-word to a black friend of hers on several occasions. My wife calmly replied, "I've heard the word before." And that was the end of it. (To this day she's never met that brother of mine so the issue never came up.)

1

It's pretty common in my area to disparage a father's looks when compared to his baby, especially a daughter. In other words, he could have said, "Oh, what a cute baby girl. She could have been ugly, like you." And the sentiment would have been the same. It's complimenting your baby while ribbing you. I have serious doubts your brown skin was a consideration, unless there's more to the story.

Regardless, you're obviously sensitive to this, so if you value a friendship with this coworker, let them know your past experiences and that this instance triggered hurtful feelings and memories. A kind and typical person won't fault you for having genuine feelings, and will try to be more personally considerate to you in the future. If you bring this up, you should recognize to them that he was very very likely just ribbing you in a typical way, not being racist in any way, and that you don't hold it against them. Maybe you don't want to do this, since it requires you to be vulnerable in the conversation. If you can just let it go, maybe that's preferable for you.

All this said, we don't actually have a workplace problem. This is an interpersonal problem. I don't think involving your boss or HR will help either of you come to a better understanding.

1

It can be very difficult coming from a different culture, with good but not perfect understanding of the language, to know what is a friendly joke and what is not. For your reaction, you should do what is safer: Assume it is a friendly joke. Act like it is a friendly joke. It's the perfect reaction if it was indeed meant in a friendly way. And if it was meant in a racist way, the b******d doing it doesn't get any satisfaction from it, that is also what you want.

On the other hand, if you treat it as a racist incident, the worst case is that it wasn't meant that way at all, and it can only offend someone badly and give you a bad reputation.

1

I'm not so sure this is a cultural problem, otherwise we'd see many more cases like this reported. The comments you related here are common in the USA and many Western countries - the smiles you see shared are of shared pleasure, not of malicious intent.

You obviously like and respect your colleagues enough to bring your wife and child into the office to meet everyone, so it's very unlikely that they'd suddenly change their opinion of you and start insulting you to your face.

I get that similar comments may be construed as insulting in some contexts, but you need to separate your own bias from how these colleagues act toward you in normal everyday working.

Speak with your wife about this. Did she feel insulted and racially abused by anyone?

You appear on the face of it to be leaping to reach a negative conclusion to some situations where abuse and insults were clearly not intended. This bias may well be damaging your personal relationships with your fellow Californians.

If possible, speak with local people from your culture (sorry, I have no idea were your culture originates) and ask them about these situations - is everyone there living a life of constantly feeling racially abused?

0

They shouldn't have made that joke, given your background.

You aren't expected to know all the cultural nuisances while working in a different culture.

Somebody should have mention to you what the joke mean there at party. This, however, requires someone to pay attention to how you are reacting.

A joke don't remain a joke when someone start taking it seriously. At this point the joke maker should apologize.

You are not an actor so it should be pretty obvious that you are not taking it as a joke. You said you remain upset for the rest of the party. Nobody (other than your wife) noticed. Its not excusable.

None of this can possibly be covered in "Its a common joke" excusing the joke maker and the laughers.

1
  • The people in the workplace also can’t be expected to know everything that sounds offensive to him. And they are offended by him behaving in an offended way; so he would act in the same inexcusable way.
    – gnasher729
    Jan 5, 2023 at 6:49

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .