How To Tell People They Sound Racist

July 21, 2008


You gotta use some strategery.

[download]

Posted by jsmooth995 at July 21, 2008 8:50 AM
Comments

great analogy about the pick pocket...

kinda of reminds me of the story the Buddha told. When someone fires an arrow into you, you don't try and find out who fired the arrow and what they are all about..you concentrate on getting the arrow out.

Its used to display a completely different point, but it reminded me of it.

Anyways. Good video.

Posted by: roosta at July 21, 2008 9:18 AM

Damn, man.... Hard-Hitting and On-Point, as usual.

I'm through... Jay Smooth is *THE* Hip-Hop Videoblogger! :D

I'll be the Heavy Metal Videoblogger.

Mad Props, as usual.

Posted by: bill c. at July 21, 2008 9:26 AM

Jay,

You're not speaking wrong, but it feels like you're speaking idealistically. You're too right about the conversation being spun to "But I'm NOT A RACIST / HOW DARE YOU."

Thing is they're ALWAYS going to come at it from that point of view, because being called a racist has become more taboo than actually being one. People get more upset about the possibility they might have been called racist than the fact that their actions are racist as hell. They'll harp and linger on all their deeds in the past and what clubs they belong to and who their friends are. They'll START any rebuttal to your first words with that. And in the end you end up talking to yourself or talking to the wind, because they've drawn a crowd to chant the "I AM NOT A RACIST" mantra to the point where any on lookers without reading/listening to the whole thing, think that's what it's all about. Then people start picking sides and - boom- it's all over.

I don't think it's that there are people who don't know how to start the conversation and stay on point (in general). I think it's that people know how the conversation's going to go anyway. So they start off wanting to get that point in first - just so they've said it. Or they start off focusing on actions and once that first sentence is gone, they never get another chance to bring it back. There's no known strategy to get the conversation back on track. Either you're lucky and you get a person who's willing to listen, or you're unlucky.

Posted by: Avalon's Willow at July 21, 2008 9:28 AM

Preach! This is mandatory watching for everyone to understand as you said to have a STRATEGY to approach the am I a racist conversation. As soon as anyone says to me, "I am not a racist," please don't say that even if you are not.

Prove that you are not a racist through your actions. When you declare this statement it proves to some people that you missed the point in teaching tolerance and that is to act in what you preach. Just DO!

Excellent video as always!

Posted by: TheJennTaFur at July 21, 2008 9:37 AM

Wise wise words

Posted by: Shey at July 21, 2008 10:27 AM

Yo Jay Smooth... you're so ambiguously raced man... are you a black light skin?

Posted by: the little hater at July 21, 2008 10:37 AM

Okay...so if I were to pursue the offender within the 'what you said/did was racist' conversation with the same acumen I would a pick pocket, what then? Wouldn't that just lead to the inevitable 'you are racist' conversation? If not that, then wouldn't the conversation's accusatory undertone result in the offender's exoneration on the grounds that 'he was raised (a certain way) to believe...'? Maybe, the conversation would flip in the offender's favor with either (take you favorite pick), "you're taking my words out of context", "you're being racist by always thinking I'm about to say something racist" or "you're being overly sensitive and you just want me to kiss your ass (reference:south park)". I don't know where I'm going with this.

Posted by: CSRealist at July 21, 2008 10:57 AM

You are right, but either is a tough conversation and since "undercover" racists spend their whole lives trying to be undercover, they have perfected the act of flipping the script in either scenario. I think many WPs (obviously not all) are so very sensitive about this issue that the mere insinuation that you might be thinking about considering the idea that they are racist just leads to a downward spiral of the conversation and the knee-jerk reactions that CSRealist cites at the end of his/her comment.


Posted by: rmf at July 21, 2008 2:56 PM

Well put!!!

Posted by: DJ M.O.S. at July 21, 2008 3:21 PM

Really the only approach to take if you want people to change. All the other approaches assume that they can't.

Posted by: cakefordinner at July 21, 2008 5:04 PM

I could have so used this "how-to" guide last week. Let's just say I hit that point at my job where all the white people thought I was cool enough to bring all their grievences (sp?) against black people to me and demanded that I bless them with eternal knowledge to understand it or change all the behavior of black people. Let's just say this re-affirms my hatred of being the only black person white people know.

Posted by: Stealthgator at July 21, 2008 6:33 PM

Are you talking 'bout something/someone specific?

Posted by: Swag Diesel at July 21, 2008 8:36 PM

Jay, that was very astute. Holding people accountable for their words and actions does seem to be the appropriate approach. The difficulty is for those that are holding the culprit to an accountability for said words or actions must maintain constant focus and verbal vigilance in order for it not to become about 'what they are'. So I agree. But I know from experience that you can't allow your anger or emotional feelings that may come out to derail 'what they did' to become 'what they are'. Difficult, but we all need to enhance our control and focus when these issues do arise. Preach on man. Keep doing what you do and saying it out loud. Love the videos.

Posted by: LaQuin at July 21, 2008 8:38 PM

This was excellent. Thanks for posting this. I'm gonna add this to my tabs.

Posted by: SquallCloud at July 21, 2008 9:38 PM

Oh that horrible "A" word! Who wants to be accountable? Or worse, who wants to have the integrity and courage to hold someone accountable for something like racism.
You're on point with the accountable approach - can't squirm out of that one, esp if there is physical evidence to support...but racist do learn very early to master the art of the squirm.
A case in point: A neighbor yelled to a brother driving too fast through our block..."you effing n" in front of our son and his son!! Mind you we had just the day before, complimented him and his wife for being our 'saving grace' on the block! They had been so friendly ! Yikes what an eye opener.

Hubbie had to go have that accountability chat and had him apologize to our son. Of course the conversation went several times to his black friends and how much he is not a racist, but Chris brought it back each time to WHAT HE SAID!!
Yes indeed accountability is what it has to be about. It's the only way to go past the fact of racism to the healing process. Only the truth can work.
Thanks for this video!

Posted by: Julette Millien at July 22, 2008 1:18 AM

Damn Jay, maybe your best yet. Talking about racism is such a touchy subject, you did it in an amazing way. Thanks for hitting us with truth yet again.

Posted by: Mike at July 22, 2008 8:34 AM

Superb.

Posted by: Bobbie at July 22, 2008 2:01 PM

This is fantastic, and I think it will be great for a discussion in my class. I feel like this is a step in the direction of focusing less on the individual (where we get into the whole identity thing, which is problematic because while people can be agents of racism or even identify as racist, racism itself resides in society) while at the same time holding people accountable, as you said, for the actions and their real effect on real people and real life.

However, it does strike me as though someone might just revert back to the "But I'm not a racist" rhetoric, at least at first. I wonder what George Lakoff would have to say about changing the racism conversation. I'll be thinking of that when I'm reading "The Political Mind". I was really happy, actually, to hear Lakoff address systematic racism on NPR.

Posted by: withoutscene at July 22, 2008 4:31 PM

Nice one Jay! Yeah you have to approach the discussion of racism carefully. You forgot to mention that when you focus on what they said not who they are you also elmininate the possibility of the "Race Card" rebutal which is a bogus argument to begin with but is often used.

Posted by: brownhornet at July 22, 2008 10:22 PM

As Batman said, "It is not who I am underneath, but what I do, that defines me." Wise words.

Posted by: Ryan at July 23, 2008 12:01 AM

Words are powerful tools that can be used for good or bad. Many people don't take the time to really consider how powerful words can be.

"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me!"

Remember that from elementary school? Remember how much BS it really is when you think about it?

I GUARANTEE the ALL of us still have some scar from k-12 that we carry around with us because unlike the scratch or cut you got, "word wounds" DO NOT heal as cleanly. Sometimes not at all.

JSmooth - those are wise word tools for MANY situations. People need to THINK.

I believe if people would just take 2 seconds to engage their "brain-mouth filter" before saying ANYTHING the world would be a much better place.

I'm glad someone mentioned your blog on Twitter. It's one I will be watching from now on.

Thank you and rock on.

Posted by: Lee Collins at July 23, 2008 2:11 PM

i'm sorry, but in a racist society where certain people are awarded white privilege, ALL white people are racist. its not about whatever your inner intentions are or if you're being PC or not, this is just the reality. of course its not the fault of any individual white folks, and of course they should try to examine how white supremacism has shaped their beliefs and relationships, and listen to people of color to support the struggle against white privilege, but until that has gone away they're still very much a part of that racism.

i dont like some white boy telling me how i should be having conversations about race, especially since you're convienently talking about it in a way that excuses you from being implicated as a racist.

Posted by: ava at July 23, 2008 4:39 PM

ava,
he's not arguing that whites are or are not racist, he's instead commenting on a strategic way to confront people when racism becomes apparent in their words or actions.

also, if you followed his work closer, you'd know that he does not identify as a "white boy".

Posted by: heather at July 23, 2008 6:33 PM

I love this..! So well put and easy to follow--whether you're a scholar or a 'tard.

Yay for Jay Smooth :-)

Posted by: The Professional at July 23, 2008 7:47 PM

In my classroom I have conversations with my kids all the time about accountable language and addressing what people say rather than what they are. You just gave me something to show on the first day of school. Holler.

Posted by: Derek at July 23, 2008 8:05 PM

i chased down my wallet today and got it back, it felt good

Posted by: colin at July 24, 2008 5:24 AM

I saw your face on The Colbert Report last night. How cool was that! You were on the video screen that Nas performed in front of. If I'm the hundredth person to tell you this today, oh well. :)

Posted by: Bianca Reagan at July 24, 2008 3:59 PM

"Until somebody just blames it all on Hip Hop"
HAHA, so true

Another great post Jay, droppin pearls of knowledge as usual.

Posted by: sauceBOSS at July 24, 2008 7:23 PM

I'm really glad to see something like this crop up on the internet; I feel its what the internet was meant for - spitting out knowledge. I've had to have this conversation before with someone, and its really hard - especially since it can really be jarring to hear. A tactic I employ is questioning where they got their information from, attempting to attack the source instead of the person - or to simply point out a flawed interpretation.

I agree with you though, its easier to attack the stated facts that the person themselves, because then its not a personal attack or anything - its digging for something further.

Posted by: Peter at July 24, 2008 7:30 PM

Why can't you run for president? You make so much sense. Well...I guess that's why you can't run for president because you make too much sense. (No offense to Obama lol)

Posted by: Jiovanni at July 24, 2008 8:16 PM

Awesome. Your videos are so fantastic, I had to send this one on - to my partner but also to a friend who I thought would appreciate your style. But upon further consideration I will be interested to hear what she has to say... I remember her saying once that shouldn't I consider that perhaps intelligence, as an average, is distributed on different scales with different races much as muscle mass and other genetic inheritances? I was shocked and still don't really know what to make of that.

I'm a New Zealander, white as colour-wise, brought up in a white trash suburb going to a school made up of poor whities, poor islanders and lots of Somalian immigrants. I'm 1/4 Maori, my grandmother was extremely dark-skinned and was called nigger at school. My Maori boyfriend at primary school (yup, I was 9 lol) got beaten up by white supremacist teenagers on the way to school. I don't look, sound or exactly relate as being Maori but it's part of me so I don't know where that figures in my friend's train of thought - she commented that as I was intelligent why would I be too close-minded to consider it? Fucking weird. She's a generous and kind person who cares about discrimination of all kinds so I just don't know what to make of that insight into her thought processes.

I could have so used this "how-to" guide last week. Let's just say I hit that point at my job where all the white people thought I was cool enough to bring all their grievences (sp?) against black people to me and demanded that I bless them with eternal knowledge to understand it or change all the behavior of black people. Let's just say this re-affirms my hatred of being the only black person white people know.

Posted by: Stealthgator at July 21, 2008 6:33 PM

Oh, my god, I can't believe people do that. It strikes me that the institutionalised racism in NZ is quite different to in America (assuming you're American). We've got plenty of backwards attitudes, but I just can't imagine many NZers being that thick - and rude. Jesus

Posted by: Dana at July 24, 2008 9:19 PM

@ Ava

You are right.

You are sorry.

Posted by: Joseph at July 24, 2008 10:55 PM

SO TRUE! Love the way you distinguished between "what you said/did" and "what you are". Very helpful to know and use.

Mark :-)

Posted by: Mark in DE at July 25, 2008 1:01 PM

first, you made some great points about the 'what you did vs who you are' styles of debate. however, I think you failed to realize the underlying racism that exists within the argument that you are making. what i mean is this: your only example of what types of words/jokes might be construed as racist involved watermelon, hip hop music and going back to africa. while these types of anti-black stereotypes to exist, racism can also be perpetrated against all people groups. putting a scowl on your face and speaking in a pseudo-proper high and mighty english accent is an obvious white stereotype and using words like judo flip to describe the public relations spin doctoring that occurs in the political/entertainment community could be offensive to many asians. I, for one, am tired of seeing the race debate carried out in such a way as to imply that the only racism that exists is whitey hatin' on black people. racism is everywhere and it goes in every direction...Jesse Jackson has made some of the most shockingly racist remarks during his lifetime--and he's always accusing white people...and some black people (barack) of being racist!! it makes me sick.

Posted by: j at July 25, 2008 1:41 PM

Great post, great logic, great analogy (using the wallet thief example).

AO
http://www.PardonMyFresh.com

Posted by: AO at July 25, 2008 2:57 PM

OMG I just had the wrong kind of conversation you described with my BF about what he was saying about arabs, will have to try again with the good convo! This is perfect, thank you!

Posted by: KAT at July 25, 2008 4:13 PM

The problem with what is presented is that we can have a whole nation of "nice-speaking" people who are rabidly racist in their thoughts. The only way to eliminate racism is to get to the level of beliefs, because it is peoples' racist beliefs that lead to racist actions. Actions are easy to change, beliefs are hard. The other issue is that we can change people to no longer be racist, but the institutionalized racial privilege in this country will support the perpetuation of institutionalized racism. I can be as non-racist as possible in my words and actions, but still live in and passively accept intstitutionaled inequity. So, until society as a whole changes, how can racism be eliminated?

Posted by: white man at July 25, 2008 5:03 PM

he isn't saying this is a cure all for racism, but rather a way to deal with it in a civil way. Racism is deep seeded in the psyche but what is wrong with a step I'm the right direction, even if there may or may not has been racist comments said in the clip (even as examples)? The point is your not going to cure the problem of race with one video. Maybe the problem started with categorizing our fellow man in classes of race so long ago. I'm going to finish up before this turns into a pointless rant.

Posted by: brenden at July 27, 2008 5:12 AM

Where you at Jay? Did you peep the news thats not on FOX?--NBC went in on them!!

Posted by: Mr. Rogers at July 28, 2008 9:01 PM

great video...
To address the question raised by white man above:

To me to have less or no racist actions and yet still have racist thoughts is better than to have racist actions _and_ thoughts. But I'm a middle aged white fellow, so I may be all wrong on this.

Posted by: gkirk at August 2, 2008 2:22 PM

How ironic, I was just having this talk with someone about a mutual "friend??" This post just gave me some insight on what I need to do. Thanks for this post.

Posted by: FreshNerd at August 2, 2008 3:52 PM

You made it on alternet.org
Excellent job.

Keep doing your thing.

Posted by: ibrother at August 2, 2008 5:59 PM

Found your website on alternet. You sir, are an inspiration to us all. Subscribed.

Posted by: James Weatherundergound at August 3, 2008 9:23 PM

Great post. You change or influence people's behaviors, so put the focus there. This is classroom discipline 101 for teachers. Focus on the behaviors or the kid shuts down completely.

And just think about the law, too. People are allowed to think whatever they want. They can be the most noxious, virulent racists in the privacy of their own homes... but when they speak and act they are to be held accountable. You can't control what someone thinks... but you can seek to control behaviors. That's what the law does, and it's why your post is so on point.

Posted by: Brandon at August 8, 2008 2:03 PM

Really good video. Unfortunately, I need to use some of these tactics to confront someone about something crazy that they said over the past weekend. Keep up the fantastic work.

Posted by: Cass at August 12, 2008 11:15 AM

Coming over, belatedly, from Angry Black Woman-- this is wonderful. Thanks for recording it!

Posted by: Rachel at August 12, 2008 2:28 PM

hey man - i agree with this, but it's hard. people get really defensive and don't want to acknowledge the ways in which we all have racist assumptions culturally instilled in us through childhood, the media, institutions, etc. so, talking with a so-called liberal would probably be the hardest, as many liberals are just conservatives in disguise and don't understand things like institutional racism.

on the other hand, this past weekend i was in chicago for a ballgame and some douchebag was making overtly racist statements right behind me in a crowded L line. i had no idea what to do. i turned around and gave an annoyed look to his wife or whoever she was, but i'm small, so i couldn't turn around and intimidate him like i wish i could. not that that would be the best course of action. i should have had a pamphlet or something.

Posted by: mike at August 13, 2008 1:18 AM

Very enlightening, thank you. I came across your blog while doing some research on racism.

Posted by: Stephanie at August 17, 2008 11:21 PM

YO! I like the way you think man. All facts and very logical.

Posted by: Mil 300 at August 18, 2008 3:53 AM

Wow, that video was brilliant.

Posted by: Abagond at August 18, 2008 10:22 PM

Good points, but for me I am also interested in why people say what they do because it's just so baffling to me, and I like to understand things. I wonder what motivates someone to think like that.

I included this video in my post on the subject.
http://laconicreply.wordpress.com/2008/08/19/what-do-you-do-about-obvious-racism/

Posted by: Eric Hacke at August 19, 2008 8:50 AM

I was wonder if a person have told something on someone and is different then what that they have put in there diary. Can that be used as evidence in a case by law.

Posted by: Teen at August 19, 2008 6:31 PM

HAHA! "Treat them like they stole your wallet" ... fantastic!

Posted by: Jimbalaya at September 5, 2008 6:25 PM

Excellent videos. I like this one in particular and "Less Talk, More Plumbing". Insightful. Thoughtful. You might want to consider a teaching career if you've got the time and energy.

You're stuff makes me want to rethink hip-hop (or at least not dismiss it out of hand). Can you recommend a good "Hip-hop for Dummies" resource?

Posted by: tim at September 6, 2008 1:44 AM

Jay, I was surprised to have an opportunity to use this last weekend. Usually, I would just say nothing and think dark thoughts. Hard to hold family accountable, but I did get to create an uncomfortable situation without making anyone feel like I thought they were dispiccable. That's a first for me.

Posted by: JasonB at September 8, 2008 2:15 AM

Wasn't sure if I should post this to the "open call for ideas" thread instead, but this seems more related: how do you get people to take your experience of racism "seriously"? I have friends/colleagues that dismiss my experiences in comparison to their own and have it devolve into the "oppression olympics"-- who's been more victimized by the system, which can be infuriating, because pain is pain, man. Yours may be greater, but that doesn't invalidate mine. It's not a matter of gaining sympathy or validation, really, but understanding?

God, hope that makes sense.

Posted by: heyhey at September 12, 2008 7:32 PM

Sadly so many people just stay brainwashed about the way they see themselves or others.... if I was told I was stupid all my life it doesnt mean that I am stupid. If all my life I was told I am superior than others that doesnt make it true. You are on the right trak!! I luv this stuff. REALLY GOOD!

Posted by: Bill at September 23, 2008 2:01 AM

Excellent. Just excellent. OK?

Posted by: Daphne at October 12, 2008 2:07 PM

I'm using my real name because I'm going to say something I truly mean.

Dude! You are one sexy man. And articulate, smart, talented, and witty. Bookmarked ya. Going to put ya on my blog, going to pass your little place around so others can take a peek. Open some minds and freak some out that thought they'd never hear anything hinting at hip-hop coming from me.

The economics vids are spot on. Been hanging out at The Agonist for a good long time, some good writing on economics there if you're so inclined or interested. Exactly about Paul Krugman.

Posted by: Karman at October 13, 2008 12:59 AM

Sometimes people say things at work like hey i am working with two black ladies today!and i feel like i was just separated from all the other workers on the floor because of my skin tone and i get ugly and beat myself up as i don't know what to say as that organization it is widely accepted to call someone of color black but i don't think it should be excepted to call any one out regardlessy6 of color and separate them from any other worker.I guess what I am saying is what can a person retort back i a positive way so that they don't act like the ignorant person who said it without coming out and looking to sensitive?

Posted by: Annette at October 24, 2008 4:47 PM

i have a problem with what this guy preaches for the fact that many people see racism in actions that aren't racist and will view that innocent person as being accountable.i for example intentionally moved from a predominantly black area to a predominantly white area of town to escape the crime attached to the predominantly minority areas. i don't hate blacks 'nor do i think less of them than i do whites or any other race.There are alot of people that would view my intent for moving from where i've moved and into my current area as being motivated by racism and it wouldn't matter what i said or how i explained it.
also,i hang with people of my own race only. my friends are the same way.we grew up with people of our color and we feel comfortable with that. again,i don't dislike 'nor have any disfavor with blacks or any other race.

but again some people would condsider a white person that only hangs with white people and moves into a white area to escape the crime associtaed with the densley populated black areas a racist. the focus is demographics and crime and a comfort zone regarding who i hang with..not racism.

but like i said ,alot of people would say otherwise.this is why i disagree with what this man says.he's actually not taking into consideration that alot of people mistake what's said or done as racism,and many times they're accusing someone mistakenly.
i understand what he's trying to say,but if everyone holds everybody they hear or see making a racist gesture (verbally or otherwise)alot of people would be unnecessarily explaining themselves all the time. all too many people have their own opinions as what is racism and what is not.if someone says that he/she doesn't date hispanics ,..is that person accountable to make give an explanation as to why not even though it's not a racist comment?? alot of people (unfortunately)see preference as discrimination,equating to prejudice or racism.

Posted by: djteel at November 19, 2008 8:57 AM

guy above. That preference you speak of, that comfort of a white man over a black, brown red or whatever it is, is tied to racism. You say you are more comfortable with a white guy than a black guy, what if they have the same personality traits and socio-economic status? where does your comfort lie? You make no sense, and basically all you seem to do is try to justify your racism by saying you prefer a color, seeing that color as comfort zone in and of itself can be and is the basis of your racism. For your information, black part of town doesn't always mean bad part of town. I am half white half middle eastern, I lived in a predominantly black neighborhood half my life and predominantly white for the other half...crime is everywhere, and is done by every color. Get a grip on yourself, see yourself for what you are...racist.

Posted by: Rebecca at November 20, 2008 10:32 PM

Race is funny. Neither black nor white wants to hear about the issues that face them as far as this topic is concerned. White people don’t want to hear that their ancestors brought Africans to this country and that our country’s economy is built on the backs of these slaves. Moreover whites don’t want to accept the fact that, maybe worse than slavery, all of the years since the Emancipation Proclamation have been a joke and that all of the racism that still exists comes out of the fear that a black person may be better than you.

Blacks don’t want to hear that slavery was a world wide epidemic and was a way of life. Slaves were traded within Africa, but the Europeans and the Arabs really made an art out of the slave trade partly based on the fact that they built societies which allowed them the freedom to travel far and wide and race made the idea of enslaving someone easier. Yes, Arabs also. Even though a lot of people try to make the point that the Arab slave trade was somehow more humane, it wasn’t really and still isn’t. And this isn’t to excuse any of it. I totally believe in Palestine’s right to exist. I also know how black soldiers have been treated in Iraq. It is also interesting that President (elect) Obama picked the child of a Zionist to be his Chief of Staff.

Blacks and whites don’t want to hear about white guilt. Yes, it exists. For me growing up in a lower socio-economic black neighborhood I couldn’t stand watching rich white liberals take pity on poor people and especially poor blacks. This whole, “yes I want to help, but I don’t want to live there” sort of mentality. Being a white person from the neighborhood made me sort of a novelty at the time.

Growing up in my neighborhood I went on to become a teacher in a few places including Harlem. A student asked me one day if I felt weird teaching them when I knew of everything that happened in the past. I told her I didn’t and then asked if they would rather have me, a teacher that believes in their ability and thinks they are as strong as any student in the country, or a teacher that pity them because they are poor and obviously they can’t do anything on their own.

I love Obama because he is ready to challenge everyone, he is change. Jesse Jackson wants to castrate him as to many other blacks and whites depending on what he says. A pull your self up by the bootstraps mentality does need to take hold for lower socio-economic communities as does an understanding of privilege. Everyone needs to start having this conversation and feel comfortable feeling uncomfortable. A great interview between Kam Williams and Shelby Steele; and, I know, Shelby Steele is a “conservative” because of the way he feels.

Posted by: BS at November 21, 2008 12:31 AM

Yeah, that interview link (quick on the enter key on my last post). Two people comfortable with differences, yet still understanding. http://www.blackstarnews.com/?c=135&a=4280


Posted by: BS at November 21, 2008 1:05 AM

this was so good
thanks

Posted by: Alison at December 10, 2008 2:37 PM

On your strategy of "holding people accountable for what they did"; you are assuming that you are in a position of judgment on that person for what they are doing in which you disagree. They on the other hand have just as much right to disagree and judge you for your action of seeking accountability against them. Your advice at that point becomes ineffective. The conversation will most assuredly be reduced to the "what you are" conversation for it is inevitable. Nice try though.

Posted by: PTom at December 19, 2008 6:14 PM

PTom: You are misunderstanding my video..

The conversation I'm suggesting does not at all assume a position of power for either side nor cast anyone as the ultimate "judge." It is presented simply as the best way to allow a fair hearing for BOTH sides, on equal terms.

It assumes as a given that the "accused" has an equal right to respond, and explain why they disagree with the accuser's assessment (by addressing it directly instead of dodging it). And it assumes that avoiding the "what they are trap" is the best way for BOTH sides to represent their view and have a fair/honest/constructive airing of their disagreement.

I know both from experience, and from many replies since I made this video, that it's fully possible for such a conversation to happen. It won't happen every time or even most of the time, but it's not at all impossible. And it's always worth striving for. (even when you fail, because to whatever extent it is a public discourse, maintaining a focus on the issues at hand makes the convo more useful for those observing, even when you come no closer to a common understanding with your antagonist)

Posted by: Jay Smooth at December 22, 2008 12:46 AM

Happened to come across this video online. Not bad, but I take issue with the notion that racism is the "final frontier". Not even close. There are a lot of social problems and prejudices in our society that are 100 times worse than racism these days. Just sayin'. Thanks for the vid anyway.

Posted by: NMSC at February 27, 2009 7:32 PM

@NMSC

"There are a lot of social problems and prejudices in our society that are 100 times worse than racism these days."

This is true; but for every social problem and prejudice that exists, it seems that once you mix in racism, it gets infinitely worse. Poor? Poor and a minority, then it's all messed up. Female? Female and a minority, and a big mess.

Probably that's how it's the final frontier. Finding a way to remove racism so we can concentrate on fixing these other '100-times-worse' issues. And if we can step up and say, "Hey, that is racist," then someone will climb off their privileged soapbox and think about it.

Posted by: lutchien at March 10, 2009 9:35 PM

That's really good advice, not just when dealing with racism, but when dealing with any kind of unacceptable behaviour. You can kind of ease it too by using the "sh!t sandwich" approach - tell 'em something you like about them, give 'em the "BUT what you just said sounded racist, because x, y & z - did you maybe mean it differently?" & have the "What you did..." conversation - and then if you get a good response, give 'em the third part of the sandwich, which is another bit of bigging them up - so they come away having learned something (not to make the watermelon jokes etc) but also feeling like they can get on with you & you're not enemies because you pulled them up over it.

Posted by: Matt Moran at March 15, 2009 1:19 PM

Wonderful - simple, clear, pithy, elegant, and most of all: extremely useful. You've made clear one of the basic tenets of communication & confrontation - stick to the facts, Jack - and applied it to dealing with racist statements. Such conversations have a better chance of succeeding- i.e., actually reaching the person - when they are confined as closely as possible to "what happened" as opposed to "here's what I claim I know about why it happened." Thank you - I'll be passing this on.

“Remember, when the judgment’s weak, the prejudice is strong.” - Kane O’Hara, Midas. Act i. Sc. 4.

"The most violent element in society is ignorance." - Emma Goldman

"I imagine that the reason that people cling to their hate so stubbornly is because they are afraid that if they let go of the hate, they will have to deal with pain." - James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

Posted by: QuoterGal at March 15, 2009 3:12 PM

@Rebecca: May I suggest you re-read your post and watch the video again?

Posted by: Charlie at March 15, 2009 4:59 PM

i think wat u said wss absolutely rite,people should be judge on wat dey do as a person nn how dey act not whoo dey are rr their culture rr enthcity.aisha frm gleman's clazz

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okay ... wat'd he just say ?

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Posted by: Philadelphia SEO at February 5, 2010 6:51 AM

I think this guy has good reasoning and good ways to confront someone about being racist. I also believe that people are too worried about being racist. Unless someone is purposely insulting you by criticizing your race, i don't think it is a big deal.

Posted by: Joe at February 8, 2010 12:36 AM

I like your argument, people should be confronted because of their actions not who they are. Like you said it is easier to confront someone about a statement they made than telling them they are racists.

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THANK you.

Posted by: ttp at March 30, 2010 8:42 PM

Here's a transcript of the video for those who prefer text:

Race, the final frontier, no matter what channel you watch, no matter what feed you aggregate, it seems like everybody everywhere is talking about race right now. And when everybody everywhere is talking about race, that means sooner or later you're gonna have to tell somebody that they said something that sounded racist. So you need to be ready and have a plan in place for how to approach the inevitable "that sounded racist" conversation, and I'm going to tell you how to do that.

The most important thing that you've got to do is to remember the difference between the "what they did" convesation and the "what they are" conversation.

Those are two totally different converations and you need to make sure you pick the right one. The "what they did" conversation focuses strictly on the person's words and actions and explaining why what they did and what they said was unacceptable. This is also known as the "that thing you said was racist" conversation, and that's the conversation you want to have.

The "what they are" conversation on the other hand takes things one step further and uses what they did and what they said to draw conclusions about what kind of person they are. This is also known as the "I think you are a racist" conversation. This is the conversation you don't want to have, because that conversation takes us away from the facts of what they did and into speculation about their motives and intentions, and those are things you can only guess at, and can't ever prove, and that makes it too easy for them to derail your whole argument. And that is the part that is crucial to understand.

When you say "I think he is a racist" that's not a bad move because you might be wrong, that's a bad move because you might be rigth. Because if that dude is really a racist, you want to make sure you hold him accountable and don't let him off easy. And even thoughintuitively it feels like the hardest way to hit him is just run up on him and say I think his ass is racist, when you handle it that way, you're actually letting him off easy. Because you're setting up a conversation that is way too simple for him to derail and duck out of.

Just think about how this plays out every time a politician or celebrity gets caught out there. It always starts out as a "what they did" conversation. But as soon as the celebrity and their defenders get on camera, they start doing judo flips and switching it into a "what they are" conversation. "I have known this person for years and I know for a fact that they are not a racist. How dare you claim to know what's inside their soul just because they made one little joke about watermelon, tap dancing, and going back to africa."

And then you try to explain that we don't need to see inside their soul to know they shouldn't have said all that about the watermelon. And you try to focus on the facts of the situation, but by then it's too late because the "what they are" conversation is a rhetorical bermuda triangle where everything drowns in a sea of empty posturing until someone just blames it all on hip-hop and we forget the whole thing ever happened. Don't let this happen to you.

When somebody picks my pocket, I'm not gonna be chasing him down so I can figure out whether he feels like he's a thief deep down in his heart. I'm gonna be chasing him down so I can get my wallet back. I don't care what he is, but I need to hold him accountable for what he did. And that's how we need to approach these conversations about race. Treat them like they took your wallet and focus on the part that matters, holding each person accountable for the impact of their words and actions. I don't care what you are. I care about what you did.

Posted by: Greg at April 24, 2010 3:15 PM

I think one issue with saying "that sounded racist" is that "sounded" can sometimes get a very loose interpretation. I just saw a thread where someone said something completely without any discriminatory words and someone on the thread completely misquoted them and then said something to the effect of 'it sounds to me like you want to discriminate and not get called on it'.

It was an assumption of bad faith.

But I don't think you can take someone's words or behaviour, find the worst possible interpretation behind those words/behaviour, and call it valid.

For example, not every cop who arrests a black man is racist.

And if you see a cop arrest a black man, and assume the cop must be racist, then that's an assumption of bad faith. Yes, some cops are racist. Yes, the issue of racial profiling is a real issue. But it's still incorrect to take one cop arresting a particular black person and assume it must be racially motivated. That would require determining intent. And intent is a quagmire.

Say someone someone describes Obama as "articulate and bright and clean". You could assume bad faith and say that racists use inarticulate and dirty to describe blacks, therefore this guy must be a racist of some kind. But Jay said not to go into intent, just talk about how it "sounds", so you try to use that advice, and you come out and say "it sounds to me like you're a flaming racist".

Don't take the "that sounds racist" and use it as a smoke screen to try and make accusations about the person's intent. It's just as bad and just as much a quagmire.

Posted by: Greg at April 25, 2010 4:40 PM

Thanks so much for this video. I tried to talk to a friend about this tonight and did a really lousy job.

I have tried to find suggestions on how to handle touchy situations like this, but there isn't a lot of info available specifically about how to have the conversation with someone. I live in the South and, at times, it can be merely a case of ignorance, rather than bad intent.

If it should come up again, the idea of keeping it about what they did/said (only) will really help me. I learned something from your short clip. Thanks again.

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"What if I said there was this RACE problem and this RACE problem would be solved only if hundreds of millions of non-blacks were brought into EVERY black country and ONLY into black countries?"


"How long would it take anyone to realize I'm not talking about a RACE problem. I am talking about the final solution to the BLACK problem?"


"And how long would it take any sane black man to notice this and what kind of psycho black man wouldn't object to this?"


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define the true meaning of racism.if i go to an online forum and i as a white person, question members for info of a predominantly white city that i can relocate to,with the explanation that i feel comfortbale living around people like me..i'd be called a racist/but if a poster claiming to be black inquired of the members, of a town where he could locate to,that is predominantly black,explaining that he and his wife want to live around people like themselves for comfortability's sake,he'd be seen as normal and he wouldn't be called a racist//so what's the legitimacy of my being called a racist and not him.also,the programs like "cops"..a common statement on the show comes from te officer's own mouths,that since they're patrolling a section 8 area,expect anything,then clarifying the comment to mean,violence,drug use,thuggry,robbery,etc..they're actually saying "expect severity"//these areas are always dominated by hispanics and blacks and yep,there's a;ways severity.these cops are being racist??hardly--but of course there really are people who will spout how racist the show "cops" is.well,facts aren't racist and i've read all about how the program is put together.theres no agenda or intentional slanting going on/.but tbis describes racism America perfectly these days.to display verbally or via media,the facts and truth about certain areas of life,is not acceptable by certain groups because "exposure" to certain truths can be painful so people are to avoid talking abouit those things and if they do,then only say so much..up to a point.don't cross the line,even if it's the truth.it makes that group of people look bad//it's like this guy fixing me up with a black girl last weekend.i'm white and he didn't bother asking me if i date black girls or if i'm even attracted to them.he just tells me that he mentioned to her me and her getting together//she said yeah great!!i explained to him that i date within my race..he immediately called me a racist and then began souting off a weird ,rant on how we are the wold and something about diversity/i then explained to him that i don't date who i date based on diversity,that i date them based on who i'm going to be comfortable with and that it's called preference./i told him that if he wants to date girls based on diversity and out of interest in other people's culture that's fine.but if i want to date for those reasons i'll join a culture club and spend time in france and italy,tasting different foods and understanding picasso and enjoying the european culture for a few months .but this not the reason i date..i date someone i'm comfortable with right off the bat.i'm not used to dating outside my race so why start now.diversity? i think not.and contrary to what the media wants everyone to believe,interracial dating and relationships are NOT as common as what one might think.in the minority actually.studies show that overwhelmingly, most people date within their own race.but..as always somebody will continue to confuse preference and verbal and written and studied established facts with racism.after all this is america.people now have the freedom to do so and get away with it.

Posted by: Dennis Teel at February 27, 2012 8:32 AM

define the true meaning of racism.if i go to an online forum and i as a white person, question members for info of a predominantly white city that i can relocate to,with the explanation that i feel comfortbale living around people like me..i'd be called a racist/but if a poster claiming to be black inquired of the members, of a town where he could locate to,that is predominantly black,explaining that he and his wife want to live around people like themselves for comfortability's sake,he'd be seen as normal and he wouldn't be called a racist//so what's the legitimacy of my being called a racist and not him.also,the programs like "cops"..a common statement on the show comes from te officer's own mouths,that since they're patrolling a section 8 area,expect anything,then clarifying the comment to mean,violence,drug use,thuggry,robbery,etc..they're actually saying "expect severity"//these areas are always dominated by hispanics and blacks and yep,there's a;ways severity.these cops are being racist??hardly--but of course there really are people who will spout how racist the show "cops" is.well,facts aren't racist and i've read all about how the program is put together.theres no agenda or intentional slanting going on/.but tbis describes racism America perfectly these days.to display verbally or via media,the facts and truth about certain areas of life,is not acceptable by certain groups because "exposure" to certain truths can be painful so people are to avoid talking abouit those things and if they do,then only say so much..up to a point.don't cross the line,even if it's the truth.it makes that group of people look bad//it's like this guy fixing me up with a black girl last weekend.i'm white and he didn't bother asking me if i date black girls or if i'm even attracted to them.he just tells me that he mentioned to her me and her getting together//she said yeah great!!i explained to him that i date within my race..he immediately called me a racist and then began souting off a weird ,rant on how we are the wold and something about diversity/i then explained to him that i don't date who i date based on diversity,that i date them based on who i'm going to be comfortable with and that it's called preference./i told him that if he wants to date girls based on diversity and out of interest in other people's culture that's fine.but if i want to date for those reasons i'll join a culture club and spend time in france and italy,tasting different foods and understanding picasso and enjoying the european culture for a few months .but this not the reason i date..i date someone i'm comfortable with right off the bat.i'm not used to dating outside my race so why start now.diversity? i think not.and contrary to what the media wants everyone to believe,interracial dating and relationships are NOT as common as what one might think.in the minority actually.studies show that overwhelmingly, most people date within their own race.but..as always somebody will continue to confuse preference and verbal and written and studied established facts with racism.after all this is america.people now have the freedom to do so and get away with it.

Posted by: Dennis Teel at February 27, 2012 8:32 AM

Most of you posters are truly not understanding of what the word racist means.a dating preference isn't necessarily racist.many blacks date within their race just as asians and many hispanics.to say someone is racist because of a preference is idiotic.you people need to understand the true definition of the word./

i have to wonder also,about the education and IQ level of many of you.
to misconstrue the definition of racism ,to make it your own definition,is absolutely arrogant.understand the difference between preference and racism and that's a start.most of you seem to be typical of the 'anti-white' movement that has become so common among both blacks and whites.this movement condemns ANY preferences wherein color or race or culture is considered.u call it racism.it's a fact for example that most asians here in this country date asians.you'd call this decision or preference,racist simply because by sticking to asians they're discounting any other race.this is is not a real definition of racism.people that only date blondes , means they discount dating bruntettes,redheads or anyone not blonde.it's called preference.it doesn't mean they hate people of other hair colors,it just means that's who they're interested in.who in the hell dates people based on diversity!! not me and not most people.

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This is, clearly, a great post and a potent strategy for people who want try their best to confront social issues of *all* different types with open eyes. It's interesting to me, though, that most of this thread stayed within the confines of race relations ! As a person who has been slowly growing into a confident adult who actively identifies as a feminist, I find myself encountering similar scenarios with feminist issues, men's ideas about women, and the very difficult task of having a conversation about hurtful sexist *actions* versus accusations about being a sexist person. The recent Daniel Tosh controversy is a great example. How is this guy ever going to learn anything about how harsh and violent his words were, if we keep accusing him of being a sexist jerk? Was the heckler being rude? yes. Should she have walked out of the comedy club instead of heckling? probably. Are all rape jokes wrong? nope, they can be pretty funny actually. Should Tosh have made fun of her in response to her heckling? absolutely. Does any of this diminish the impact of his ACTIONS? Nope. His actions of responding the way he did were violent and put other people's lives in serious danger. Anywho, I have gone on a rant now -- but the point I am trying to get at is to also add to the video's point one extra thing.

When a person in your life acknowledges that their action could be viewed as racist or sexist or whatever, make sure you in return acknowledge their acknowledgement so as to establish mutual respect. Even if you have slight discomfort with the honesty/validity of their acknowledgement, even if something seems amiss and you did not get the full apology you wanted, make sure you respect the person who made the racist/sexist action. No one wants to be categorized as racist, no one wants to be categorized as sexist -- these days our society views these traits as vile and inexcusable. When Tosh apologizes, we need to take him seriously and thank him for his apology. Now we move forward and all be accountable as equals.

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