You are right that if you’re applying for a job, a line of questioning about your racial background is a flashing red no-no. I spoke to Philip Gordon, an employment attorney, and he said you are running into some amazingly ignorant interviewers if they are pressing you on this. But he also agrees that as a practical matter you are in a delicate situation since you’d rather get the job than lecture people on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He said it’s often a good idea to gracefully deflect such questions, illegal though they may be. You could smile and say, “My personal background is too complicated to get into. Let me tell you instead about the project I supervised with my last employer.” If you keep getting asked, “What are you?” (Wow!), feel free to respond, “I’m sorry, I’m just not comfortable getting into that.” If you get the job, all’s well. But if you don’t, and you feel awkwardness over this question might have contributed to not being hired, I think a letter to a supervisor could be worth writing. You don’t have to sound litigious, just concerned. Say you were surprised that so much of your interview was taken up with questions about your racial background that you didn’t get an opportunity to talk about your professional accomplishments. This might well prompt you to be given another, fairer, look.
A few weeks ago, my neighbor's son, “Ollie,” and my daughter, both 5 years old, were playing in our enclosed backyard where we have a small herb garden. While I was doing laundry my daughter came in and solemnly told me that Ollie had deliberately peed on the basil. Ollie stayed for dinner, and I took the abused basil, rinsed it, and set some aside for Ollie only. At dinner I told everyone that we're having "spaghetti and meatballs with herbs from the garden." Ollie looked extremely uncomfortable and didn't want to eat his meal. I think dinner made a big impression on him. However, when I told my mother this story she was horrified and thinks I should explain everything to his parents and Ollie as well. I have considered telling Ollie, but I don't want to get his parents involved. What do you think?
—The Mean Mommy?
You sure yanked little Ollie’s little chain. It could be that Ollie didn’t like your cooking and has no interest in eating herbs no matter what they’re dressed with. It’s also possible you scared the piss out of him. But I agree with your mother that there’s no need to play mind games with a kindergartener. Once your daughter told you, you should have gone to Ollie and told him not to relieve himself in the garden, but to let you know if he needed help getting to the bathroom. Since the fateful meal has already been digested and excreted by all, offer no more explanations to anyone and just let this go.
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