Jay Smooth, American video blogger of illdoctrine.com, did a video in 2008 on how to talk about race. He updated that in 2011 in a TEDx talk at Hampshire College.
His main points of advice:
1. Do not call someone a racist – as true as it might be, you will never win that conversation. Because it deals with motive and intentions, which are largely a matter of guesswork on your part, instead of words and actions, which are not. Racists know this and derail conversations about their words and actions into those about their inner state, which they know you can never win. Calling them racist is letting them off easy.
2. The What You Did conversation – make it about what they did and said and keep it on that. When a thief takes your money you run after him not to tell him he is a thief but to get your money back! The What You Did tactic is not some magic cure for race discourse – it only works 10% of the time. But 10% is way better than the 0% you get with the What You Are conversation. If nothing else, everyone will clearly know where you stand.
3. Race by design is not supposed to make sense – race was made up to defend the indefensible. By design it is meant to screw up your thinking, so accept that you and others will make mistakes.
4. The dental hygiene model of racism – most Americans think racism is like tonsils: you either have it or you do not. Either-or. And once you are not racist you no longer have to work at it or be on your guard. But Americans are constantly being hit with racist messages every day and unless you keep fighting against it, it will make you more and more racist over time. So racism is more like dental hygiene, something you have to work at every day:
We don’t assume that I’m a clean person therefore I don’t need to brush my teeth. And when someone suggests to us that we’ve got something stuck in our teeth, we don’t say “Wh-what do you mean? I have something stuck in my teeth? I’m a clean person! Why would you–”
Being a good person is not a state of being but a practice. We are not good in spite of our imperfections: we are good because of how we deal with those imperfections.
I know that this is no easy task, and race may be the most difficult sphere in which to apply this concept, but I think it’s where it could also reap the most rewards. And I hope that bit by bit, if we consider that and are mindful of it, we can shift away from taking it as an indictment of our goodness and move towards taking it as a gesture of respect and an act of kindness when someone tells us that we’ve got something racist stuck in our teeth.