Revising an industry manual that has racist content

For obvious reasons I must be vague about details but the story goes like this:

In the late 90s and early 2000s a well respected estimator in our industry published a job costing manual. I met the guy and attended his classes, and have some of his media, and I’m a big fan. Most of his teachings IMO are very valuable to the industry. Sadly he passed away a few years ago.

This winter an industry organization committee was commissioned, with his estates blessing, and I volunteered as a guest reviewer of the manual since I have read it several times.

One of the chapters, without the author explicitly naming ethnicity, clearly stereotypes Asians, how they allegedly speak, and how they allegedly do business. Asians do make a larger part of our industry as business owners and the chapter portrays them as untrustworthy individuals with “broken English” who take advantage of such to screw over contractors. Even more shocking, it calls upon contractors to charge them 10% extra to cover their costs that may be incurred while dealing with this ethnic group.

We have a meeting coming up with our first review, and I think its my responsibility to point this out, diplomatically, to the committee, even as a guest reviewer. My ideal suggestion is we can re-write the content of that chapter, with the authors estates permission, to remove the racist content and the suggestion anyone should be boycotted or charged an agreed upon upcharge, both of which violate this industry organizations by-laws anyway regardless of background.

Option 2: delete the entire chapter.

Option 3: keep the chapter, but add a disclaimer warning the reader that there is potentially offensive content and the organization neither endorses the racism or the boycott/pricing recommendations. Personally I think option 3 is the worst, and am tied on 1 v 2, though the more I think about it, the chapter really is not needed to begin with so maybe deleting it is the best choice.

Now there’s more to the story:

My industry is (documented) overwhelmingly pro-Trump, and while I would hope the committee would be welcome to my suggestions, they might not be so welcome. At the very worst, I plan to appeal to the trade organizations image and what it will look like to put out a revised edition of this book with such language intact.

Second, the trade organization is thinking of putting the remaining inventory of books on sale at cost, since they have to pay the estate at a royalty for each one. My suggestion is they put all them in a dumpster, and just pay the Estate the royalties due, and write it off, rather than be associated with this offensive chapter.

I should add the organizations logo is on the cover of the manual, which equates to an endorsement of the content.

Finally, I don’t know how the Estate would react. I would think a check for the trashed books and ongoing royalties would even out hard feelings unless there is a relative involved. This part I cant control, and if the racist comments remain Ill just publicly recuse my involvement.

One more side issue: the author refers to contractors as “he” or “him”. Again, this was 21 years ago. There are a handful of female business owners in my industry, would “he/she” or would “they” be appropriate in 2021?

I suggest you try the editing approach first. If that doesn’t work, then other measures may be suitable, but the editing would be the best first stab at the problem.

Both sides have the potential to be aggrieved and it has the potential to get ugly fast. Do you have a lawyer friend that could give you advice?

“(who take advantage of such to screw over contractors. Even more shocking, it calls upon contractors to charge them 10% extra to cover their costs that may be incurred while dealing with this ethnic group.”)

This could be a civil matter. Statute of limitations? Sue the estate?

I wouldn’t just use image. Recommending charging Asians more is enough to get people in the industry in legal trouble, and they’ll definitely want to go after the company that recommended it.

That recommendation is a complete no-go. You do not want to recommend breaking discrimination law. That’s obvious to me even though I don’t have any experience with negotiations like this.

Having said that last part, I do wonder if the fact he recommends it means he’s likely done that, and the estate thus won’t want that to become public. So it at least seems to me like it would be leverage to get the estate to approve of changes, removing all traces of any racism that could cause suspicion.

I’d probably be more likely to push this issue than the other one, though I agree that, in 2021, they might get under fire for using “he,” even if they argue it’s the gender-neutral version. Again, I know little about negotiation, but I’d tread really softly on this one, given the bigger issue.

The best approach - since you’re dealing with Trumpers - is to present it as a matter of legality and monetary fines. Do not make it a political issue (i.e., “this is so insensitive and anti-PC.”) If you present it as politics, you’ll shut their ears and they won’t listen.

How about finding another manual or have a new one started? The quoted portion above is unredeemable. It’s absolutely racist and that to the core.

That was a quote from the OP’s original post and the TOPIC UNDER DISCUSSION.

I can’t imagine @Monty was intentionally attributing that quote from the manual to you (the quoting mechanism on the board just makes it looks like that)

I’m not sure what all this sh1313 stuff means as I do not support the racist aspects of the original work in question.

It seems like the BEST course of action is to anonymously recommend the entire manual be rewritten. But then to me there’s the chance the Estate could then sue the organization for that. The entire thing is unfortunate because like I said the original author basically has good accounting ideas but one aspect was prejudiced by racist ideas that were still accepted in the 90s and I hate to say it but still I. 2021.

For my career, it might be best to step aside and say nothing. But morally, I think something needs to be strongly said. And for this industry organization, they would be best to fix it as well.

What else is in the problem chapter? If the whole subject of that chapter is just the topic of how you can’t trust Asians and should purposely overcharge them, then delete the chapter. If there is some useful technical content, laced with racism, rewrite it (and review the rest of the manual carefully to make sure there isn’t some other stuff in there that is problematic).

I don’t really think the ‘leave in place and preface’ is worth considering - the real options are delete, rewrite, or don’t publish

Yeah, I think that your best approach here is “If we leave this in the manual, and word ever gets out (which it will), then we’re going to get the pants sued off of us”. Heck, the fact that the manual ever existed is a risk for your company, because any plaintiff who learned that the manual existed but was edited is going to assume (and argue in court) that the old, racist policy still persists via word of mouth. You might need to add a new section to the manual explicitly forbidding all forms of racism.

If it’s 20 years old, I would recommend finding someone to write a new one from scratch. For any trade, one of the first things a user is going to look at is the year it was originally printed, and if they are like me they will give an all together new manual preference over a revised one.

Either the material is true and legal, or it’s not. If it’s true and legal, then calling it 'potentially offensive" is just calling out your personal political and moral opinions, which lots of people are bound to find offensive.

If it’s not true, it’s got to be removed. If it’s not legal, maybe it can be re-written: there is only a broad grey line between racism and cultural sensitivity.

You could leak it to the press – if this is a big local industry, then that might apply some serious pressure to force the change, and you won’t have to do anything at all.

Agreed. I would bet that a lawyer would not only insist on removing the offending material, but also add a disclaimer-like paragraph “Omnicorp does not tolerate discrimination of contractors on the basis of race, gender, political affiliation, …”

Tell them Q wants it changed.

Ideally, someone who knows how business is actually conducted in wherever it is in Asia you are doing business.

I get that. I also get that the OP said that he removed identifying stuff from the manual under discussion. It struck me that the part I quoted was what the OP was referring to in the manual under discussion. That part is unredeemable and I certainly was not accusing the OP of making those asinine racist comments.

Got it?

Stuccosuperstar2020 replied,


“I’m not sure what all this sh1313 stuff means as I do not support the racist aspects of the original work in question.” END QUOTE

I partially quoted your original post. I wanted to show exactly the racist parts of your post. I posted that because that was the problem which I was addressing from a legal point. My answer was 2 replies in 2 seperate posts.

1st reply:
I addressed the racist quoted part of your post and I replied:

“Both sides have the potential to be aggrieved and it has the potential to get ugly fast.”

I partially copied the text from your orginal post. The reason I copied the racist part of it was because my reply to this:
" ( who take advantage of such to screw over contractors. Even more shocking, it calls upon contractors to charge them 10% extra to cover their costs that may be incurred while dealing with this ethnic group." ) END QUOTE

Also another reason **I partially quoted your original post was because of e length of the post!

This was my answer, suggestion, to your dilemma.

You wrote,
“would or be appropriate in 2021?” END QUOTE

Never mind. Someone removed my reply. I assume it was a Mod?

@stuccosuperstar2020 I answered,
“Do you have a friend that’s a lawyer? I believe it could be a civil case?? That could be a problem for the estate and your company.” END QUOTE

^^My reply was erased ^^

@Monty Is this clearer?

Stuccosuperstar2020 is the author asking for advice I quoted a partial part of her post because the original post was so long! 2nd reason was that part of the post was what I was answering.

Any questions?
Regards, Stephanie