How to respond when someone makes a racist comment
How do we handle people who say and do racist things? First, we must not stay silent. Keeping quiet makes us complicit in the racism and guarantees the racist status quo will remain that way.
Once you decide to start using your voice, the number one rule is to do so calmly, adopting a manner and tone that’s as non-confrontational as possible. In a Psychology Today article titled ‘6 Ways to Win Any Argument’, Profesor Susan Krauss Whitbourne offered at least three tips one also could apply when confronting racism:
1. Get your facts straight. A strong argument is a solid one.
2. Don’t lose control of your emotions.
3. Even if the other person’s words and/or actions seem reprehensible, try to be as empathetic as possible. “Stepping into the mental set of those you argue with allows you to figure out what’s influencing them,” Whitbourne explained. Once you can figure that out, you can help to effect real change.
Someone tells a racist joke
We’ve all been there – whether it’s at a party, during downtime at work, or just hanging out with family and friends. Someone tells a joke with a punch line that pokes fun at a minority group. Everybody laughs, some uncomfortably. What is an innocent bystander supposed to do? If you laugh along, you’re no longer just an innocent bystander. You become an accessory to the racist humour by encouraging it.
Silence without so much as a chuckle may make you less complicit, but desperate times call for more pointed measures. If it’s not a one-on-one situation, don’t confront the joker in front of everyone, which might come across as aggressive and also possibly make them defensive. Instead, take them aside and explain why the joke is offensive, and don’t let them plead comedy privilege. “If we continue accepting the just joking defence, where everything can be laughed off as a joke, then words themselves no longer matter,” Laura Tropp wrote for Inside Higher Ed in 2017. There’s a definite difference between something like this and a good joke.
Someone says something racist about another person
“If you can’t say anything nice about anybody, come sit by me,” Olympia Dukakis’ character, Clairee Belcher, said in the 1989 film Steel Magnolias. A chatty gossip can be a lot of fun at dinner parties, but what if your chatty pal starts delivering a long monologue about her ethnic neighbours and throws in a few racist stereotypes without pausing for breath? A good move would be to change the subject quickly, but that doesn’t mean you should let it go. Just table that discussion for a better time. Sue Yorston, who manages Relationships Australia Victoria, told Amnesty International in 2019 that your objection will likely have greater sway if you resist the urge to scold them in front of a group, and to instead make your case later. “You could say something like, ‘What you said before has been sitting with me and I want to talk to you about it’,” she advised. “Often we make stereotypical racist-based comments from ignorance, so it’s an opportunity to educate and say, ‘Hang on a minute, that hasn’t been my experience’.”