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He Is Confused As Co-Worker Complained About Him To HR For Commenting On Ethnic Food. Says, ‘I Just Wanted To Warn Her How Racists Can Harass Her For Smelly Food”. Asks If He Is Wrong.

Even though the intentions are pure, your rude behavior can hurt others. Everyone has a different perspective. In the office, you must be mindful of what you say.

A user asked the forum, “Am I a jerk for looking out for my new coworker by telling her that her food might be upsetting to others?”. Read the complete story to know who is wrong here.



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The Original Poster (OP) (32m) is potentially in trouble at work, but he doesn’t really think he deserves it.

His coworker, “Anna” (23-ish f, Asian), is new at their office, and she brings her own lunch on days they don’t have a food truck. On Thursday (yesterday), she brought in a homemade stir fry and used their shared microwave in the break room to heat it.


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He was in the room when she took it out of the microwave, and it smelled heavenly. He asked her about the recipe, and she told him it was just a bunch of ingredients and spices thrown together so as not to waste any veggies that might go bad soon.


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When he told her how good it smelled, he also mentioned that some other people at the office might think it would be too smelly or ethnic (as in, racist people tend to look down on “ethnic” things).


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He has read that kind of story here about microaggressions regarding people of color and the food they bring in, and he wanted to warn her that she might not want to bring it in anymore so it doesn’t happen to her. He emphasized that it smelled good to him personally, though.


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He guessed a couple of the other coworkers in the room overheard their conversation because after Anna left the room, some of them sort of quietly told him how it was inappropriate for him to have said that.


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He told them that it’s true that ethnic food gets ridiculed for smelling too strong and that he disagreed with that sentiment, but he also thought she would face less harassment if she didn’t bring in that food anymore.


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One of his other coworkers then said that he was the only one harassing her and made insinuations that her food is problematic, plus the fact that she hasn’t even been bringing in her own food that often since she just started last week, so there couldn’t have been an opportunity to have had this hypothetical harassment happen to her.

He just wanted people, even the jerks, at the office to make her feel welcome.


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He left work that day not thinking anything of it until the following morning when he heard from a different coworker that Anna talked to their HR department about the conversation and how she was “hurt.”


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He was a bit frustrated as to why she didn’t talk to him about it first since it was just a misunderstanding and he was looking out for her. He did notice that today, she was trying to dodge him, which is unusual and a bit heartbreaking.


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He says he just wants to work things out.

He wanted to be a friend to her and help her out since this was one of her first jobs out of undergraduate, but this has been blown out of proportion. Now, her coworkers think he is racist, but he really tries his best to be an ally.


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He agrees that what he said was really stupid. He added he remembered entering the workforce as a young man shadowing jerks, and he didn’t know how to express how badly he was treated since he thought it was normal to be treated a certain way or overhear certain things.

He just thought she was a sweet girl who didn’t deserve to see the nasty side of corporate life so quickly, but he guessed he ended up being like the guys who made his earlier career so god-awful.

Anyway, he wants to apologize to her in the most HR-friendly way this Tuesday. Hopefully, she doesn’t quit, but he also doesn’t want to be the one that gets fired.


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“Your coworker is a grown woman who’s been Asian her entire life. Do you genuinely think she’s unaware that racism exists? All you did was put her on edge around coworkers who may not even be racist! Congratulations, you’re the one who created the microaggression.”


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Anna is Asian, and she brought stir fry, a dish that is so Westernized it has its own English name (as opposed to sushi or pad thai), so you felt the need to let her know that potential racists might target her food based on race. Would you have done the same for a white person eating a stir fry at work?

  • Ana is Asian, and you treated her differently because of her race. That’s racism.
  • You were on the lookout for her, protecting her against a situation that didn’t arise. Ever heard of the “White Saviour Complex”?
  • Instead of thinking, “If the racists arise, I will tell them off,” you thought, “She should erase herself, so the racists get no ammunition.” That’s not how you help people from minority groups. You don’t ask them to code-switch so the sensitivities of the bigoted can be protected.
  • What the hell is “ethnic”? “Not white”?
  • Why do you say that she was “hurt” with quotation marks? Who are you to decide that her feelings are not valid?

If someone approached you to tell you, “Other people might maybe think [you’re a potential mass shooter]/[you can’t dance]/[the spiciest condiment you can handle is mayo]/[you will start to mansplain everything], but they’re being racist, I for one think you’re swell! :D” Unprompted, wouldn’t you feel at least a little bit annoyed with their unneeded intervention?

Go apologize.

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