How to respond to a racist joke

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Figuring out how to react when a co-worker makes a racist joke can be extremely difficult. If you don’t call the person out on her racism, you seem to be condoning the behavior. But if you do say something, you risk alienating him and sabotaging your working relationship.

The best response to a racist joke should accomplish 3 things:

1) Communicate that you find this behavior unacceptable.
2) Demonstrate that the joke is racist.
3) Inflict as little damage as possible to your working relationship with the joker.

Before I explain the response I would recommend, let’s look at some of the other possible reactions available to you and why they are not ideal.

You don’t laugh.

Withholding your laughter is a way to avoid personally colluding in this kind of racist behavior without damaging your relationship with the joker. However, by staying silent, you do not necessarily make it clear that you find this kind of humor unacceptable and that the joke is racist.

You walk away.

People who tell racist jokes assume that you will agree with and appreciate this kind of humor. By walking away, you communicate that their behavior is unacceptable. However, the act of walking away does nothing to demonstrate the racism inherent in the joke, and the gesture is likely to anger the joker.

You say that you find the joke offensive because it is racist.

This is the most straight-forward to respond to a racist joke. With this reaction, you convey that the joke is unacceptable to you and that it is racist. However, by criticizing your co-worker in front of others in such a blunt manner, you are likely to damage your working relationship and put her on the defensive. She will likely fire back by making it seem as if you are the one with the problem. She will say that “it’s just a joke,” that you need to “loosen up,” and that you’re “just too sensitive.”

I’ve established why the above responses are not particularly effective. So how should you react if your co-worker tells a racist joke in front of you?

The best strategy is to play dumb.

Put on a bewildered expression, act as if you don’t understand the joke, and ask your co-worker to explain it to you. He will not be able to explain why the joke is funny without evoking a racist stereotype. You can then question the veracity of this stereotype, thus pointing out the racism of the joke, without being confrontational and without humiliating your co-worker.

Here’s how it would play out.

***

Co-worker: Did you hear that Angelina Jolie adopted another kid, this time from Vietnam?

You: Oh really?

Co-worker: Yeah. The poor kid probably doesn’t even know he’s Asian yet. He certainly doesn’t know he’s going to be a horrible driver. Or that he’s going to be amazing at doing nails. He has no idea! [Laughs heartily.]

You: [Look perplexed.] Sorry, I don’t get it.

Co-worker: What do you mean?

You: I guess I’m missing something. Why is that funny?

Co-worker: [Looks embarrassed.] Um, well you know how people say that Asians are bad drivers. And a lot of people who work at nail salons are Asian.

You: But those are just stereotypes, aren’t they?

Co-worker: Well, all stereotypes have some truth to them.

You: So you actually believe that all Asians are bad drivers and are good at doing nails?

Co-worker: No, no, it’s just… Never mind.

***

Racist jokes rely on an unspoken, shared knowledge of racist stereotypes. Without the stereotypes, there is no humor.

When you play dumb and ask someone to explain the joke, you are able to draw the racist stereotype out into the open, address it directly, and demonstrate how absurd and offensive it is. But because you are feigning ignorance, you can accomplish all of this without alienating your co-worker and putting your working relationship in jeopardy.

(By the way, the joke I used in this scenario is an actual joke told recently on The Letterman Show by a comedian named Chelsea Handler. Of course, nobody on the show bothered to point out how racist it was.)

Trackbacks & Pings

  1. What To Do When Someone Tells a Racist Joke » KnowHR Blog on 01 Aug 2007 at 3:01 am

    […] Van Kerckhove at Race in the Workplace wrote a powerful post called “How to respond to a racist joke at work.” Please go over and read it. I think her “play dumb” strategy is just inspired. […]

  2. links for 2007-08-01 at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture on 01 Aug 2007 at 5:21 am

    […] How to respond to a racist joke - Race in the Workplace “The best response to a racist joke should accomplish 3 things: 1) Communicate that you find this behavior unacceptable. 2) Demonstrate that the joke is racist. 3) Inflict as little damage as possible to your working relationship with the joker.” (tags: workplace racism) […]

  3. How do Serious People Deal With Racism with Movies Like This? « Going Like Sixty on 01 Aug 2007 at 11:31 am

    […] serious people are addressing racism and stereotypes in the workplace how do they deal with movies like Norbit and others that reinforce […]

  4. links for 2007-08-06 | Musings of a Chicagoan on 06 Aug 2007 at 12:23 am

    […] “”Racist jokes rely on an unspoken, shared knowledge of racist stereotypes. Without the … ” … out into the open, address it directly, and demonstrate how absurd and offensive it is. But because you are feigning ignorance, you can accomplish all of this without alienating your co-worker and putting your working relationship in jeopardy.” (tags: useful reference interesting food4thought cool) […]

  5. Racism at work, and why it doesn’t work to just say no » Brazen Careerist by Penelope Trunk on 13 Aug 2007 at 11:07 am

    […] Van Kerckhove conducts diversity training for businesses, and she wrote a great post about the best response to a racist joke. You’ll be surprised by the advice. I was. It’s a great post because it teaches us how […]

  6. InsureBlog on 13 Aug 2007 at 3:15 pm

    Carny Time!…

    Since we’re on the subject of sensitivity, I found this post on how to respond to racist humor to be quite timely. Carmen Van Kerckhove blogs at Race in the Workplace, and has some helpful tips….

  7. Racist Jokes - How Do You Respond? on 13 Aug 2007 at 9:17 pm

    […] Van Kerckhove at Race in the Workplace provides some great advice on how to handle this touchy situation tactfully with impact. The best […]

  8. Blog carnival time! at Race in the Workplace - how race and racism influence our working lives on 15 Aug 2007 at 8:44 am

    […] Thanks to Spooky Action and Compensation Force for including my post on how to respond to a racist joke! […]

  9. Does your silence mean consent? « ProcrastinatioNation on 19 Aug 2007 at 7:06 am

    […] Carmen Van Kerckhove says that the best way to put a racist joke would be to act dumb. Pretend that you don’t understand what’s so funny about the joke. Afterall, jokes thrive on baseless stereotypes, and if you pretend that the stereotype doesn’t exist, then the joke falls apart on itself. Put on a bewildered expression, act as if you don’t understand the joke, and ask your co-worker to explain it to you. He will not be able to explain why the joke is funny without evoking a racist stereotype. You can then question the veracity of this stereotype, thus pointing out the racism of the joke, without being confrontational and without humiliating your co-worker. […]

  10. New post on Race in the Workplace on racial discrimination at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture on 20 Aug 2007 at 9:30 am

    […] last post on how to respond to a racist joke was picked up Lifehacker and dugg over 500 times. We’ll see what happens with this one. […]

  11. I'm now a contributor to SHRM's Diversity Q&A at Race in the Workplace - how diversity, multiculturalism, race and racism influence our working lives on 27 Aug 2007 at 9:18 am

    […] What’s the best way to respond to a racist joke? […]

  12. Carmen joins SHRM's Diversity Q&A web site at New Demographic - an anti-racism training company on 27 Aug 2007 at 9:20 am

    […] the best way to respond to a racist joke?That was the topic I tackled in a blog post earlier this month on Race in the […]

  13. Here it is: Carnival of Human Resources #21 at Race in the Workplace - how diversity, race and racism influence our working lives on 28 Nov 2007 at 9:46 am

    […] How to respond to a racist joke Why you shouldn’t be colorblind Diversity training doesn’t work. Here’s why. If diversity training doesn’t work, why do companies do it? What to do if you’re experiencing racial discrimination at work […]

Comments

  1. Lloyd Webber wrote:

    This is the best advce I’ve heard yet on how to handle such situations. Most often I’ve just either stared stonily ahead like I didn’t hear, or walked away. This sounds a lot more useful. Thanks CVK

  2. Penelope Trunk wrote:

    I love this post, Carmen. I love your advice. And I love the email you sent to get me to come here — the perfect teaser.

    Thanks for taking on such a tough topic in such a smart way.

    Penelope

  3. Ariah Fine wrote:

    This is great! I really like your example as well.

    My friend Jamie used a similar tactic when addressing people using the words: “Gay” and “Retarded”
    If someone said something was ‘gay’ he would say, “You mean gay like my aunt?” (He really did have a homosexual aunt).
    And for “retarded” he would say, “Retarded like my cousin?” (Which he had a mentally challenged cousin).
    It always caught people dead in their tracks.

  4. April wrote:

    Nice one Carmen.

  5. Britt Bravo wrote:

    Brilliant as always, Carmen.

  6. Frank Roche wrote:

    This is just brilliant advice. I cited this today…best I’ve ever seen. Really great site you have here…and this post really made me think..and smile.

  7. Carrie wrote:

    This is awesome advice.

  8. Mike wrote:

    What advice do you give on how to deal with humorless people in the workplace? As a Cuban-Sicilian American I have heard every stereotypical joke in the book pertaining to those races (think rafts and the mob). Quite frankly, they are funny. I’m not offended because I am neither a raftbuilder or in the mob. Instead of teaching people to be offended at everything, teach them to be confident in who they are.

  9. Sullie wrote:

    Great advice, Carmen! I’ll practice it at my next staff meeting, where these jokes always tend to be told.

    Ariah - Jamie’s replies are great! I’m having issues with “gay” and “retarded” being tossed around as adjectives at work, and I never thought of responding that way. Thanks for the tip!

  10. Jacob wrote:

    Lame. That would just make you look like an idiot. If you don’t like a joke, just ignore it.

  11. Robert wrote:

    Great advice! I know a friend who got in trouble for laughing at a racist joke and not doing anything else. You have to be real careful nowdays.

  12. Daniel wrote:

    Oh yes! I especially enjoy playing dumb when people are telling ridiculous jokes like the one used in the story. It is interesting watching somebody try to explain why using racial stereotypes in a joke is funny. I have yet to hear one, good, convincing explanation. This is an excellent passive\agressive tactic.

  13. ScottG wrote:

    I had a co-worker tell an offensive “joke” concerning me, my wife and a government elected official. I was so livid that I couldn’t say anything at the time. The next time I saw her I sat her down and told her that I was very offended and such jokes have to stop.

    She then got cold and said “be careful for what you wish for.” She the would make comments that she “couldn’t joke anymore because she may OFFEND someone.”

    I e-mailed my supervisor and within 2 hours he e-mailed back and said he talked to her and she was very sorry (yet to her her apology) and in the next paragraph on the e-mail he was pulling ME off the site!

    Now my life at work is a on going living hell.

  14. Glen wrote:

    The joke above was a stereotypical joke, not a racist one. I am Italian and I find the stereotypical I-ROC Camero and wop jokes pretty funny. The jokes that are offending to me are the hardcore racists jokes (I’m sure you have heard one from time to time). Either Way, I am conscious about how other people react to humor and pick and choose the people that I tell jokes too. I think that if you are of the joke telling kind you should do it with respect to your more sensitive co-workers, although It would be nice if everyone was confident enough to be able to handle a simple joke.

  15. kdl wrote:

    I’m multiracial, and the greater percentage of people I come into contact with don’t know it — they can’t ‘put their finger on’ WHAT I am, so they go with the assumption that I am white.

    Because of this, I get to hear a great deal of racist humor, and your advice will help me parse these situations to my advantage in the future.

    Last time I was hit by one of these ha ha’s, it was a black joke from a white Lesbian (!) who was so flummoxed when I told her that I was black (and so aware of crossing the PC line), she bought me drinks for the rest of the night to make up for it. Believe me, I ordered half a dozen of the most expensive martini’s the bar had!

  16. Daniel Perez Schwarz wrote:

    I think my problem is that I never hear racist jokes at the workplace because people hold back from making racist jokes around someone ‘of color’ like myself.

  17. Brent wrote:

    Trouble is, even if you are not offended, you can not afford to be viewed as condoning racist jokes in the workplace.

    “I don’t get it” is a great response to racist jokes.

  18. Going Like Sixty wrote:

    This is what supervisors are for. Tell your supervisor that you were uncomfortable and ask them to address the situation and please let you know how it turned out.

    If a few days pass, ask again. If a week goes by, jot yourself a note and if the workplace shows more racism, the problem is deeper than just your co-worker.

  19. bcpj wrote:

    A passive approach is weak. In any situation where someone makes an offensive statement we need to step up and make it clear that the joke is offensive and you don’t want to hear them again. There’s a 4 step approach I’ve taught:
    1. Say “When you …..”
    2. “I feel……”
    3. “I want…..”
    4.” If the behavior continues…..”

    Fore example; I had an uncle that everytime he came for dinner would tell a racist joke. Everyone pretty much ignored him and the behavior continued. Using the 4 steps he was told:

    “When you tell racist jokes (step 1, describe the behavior), I become very uncomfortable (step 2, how I feel), I want you to stop telling this type of joke (step 3, what I want) when your here or (step 4) I will no longer invite you to dinner.”

    Of course he went off telling me that I was being too sensitive, who was I to get on my high-horse, etc…. but he did stop telling those type of jokes. We all felt better about his visits. Later I did thank him for changing his behavior, told him I felt much more comfortable, and continued to invite him to dinner.

    This process means that you have to be ready to stick to your position though. Don’t state consequences if you’re not ready to back them up.

  20. Withheld wrote:

    I think a lot depends on the intent behind the joke. I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses (I know, not a race, but the butt of many many jokes). The vast majority of jokes that I hear about us are genuinely funny and do not bother me in the least. It’s only when the jokes become mean-spirited that I take issue. But most jokes about us are some twist on our door-to-door preaching - a behavior that we are so well known for that it is now part of people’s social consciousness.

  21. Mike wrote:

    Great point Glen. Stereotypes are funny in and of themselves. However, the belief that all people of ‘x’ denomination must be guilty of such stereotypes is racism. There is very little of that in this country. Unfortunately, true racism is so insidious, even the small moments where it surfaces does much violence to our society.

  22. Veronica wrote:

    My usual approach to dealing with racist jokes is to smile benignly and say “that’s racist(/sexist/ageist/whatever).” I know, it’s kind of passive in that I’m not accusing the teller of *being* racist, just saying something racist, but it also eliminates my discomfort at having heard a racist joke, and returns that discomfort back to the teller for having told it. Kind of short and sweet.

  23. Chris wrote:

    I like the last tip the best; I’ve found that the best way to ‘reprimand’ people for telling these types of jokes to make them explain the joke to you. Not only, like all jokes, does it make the joke cease to be funny, but it also makes the racist joke teller realize what a git they are :)

  24. Beau Tatterton wrote:

    I laugh if it’s a good one.

  25. Rob Schmidt wrote:

    I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a racist joke in real life. But let’s say I did. I imagine my response would be “Ha ha” (inflected sarcastically). Or “Did you really mean to say that?” Or “Most (blanks) aren’t really (blank), you know.” In other words, a gentle reproof that lets the person know you disagree without setting up a big confrontation and potentially ruining your relationship.

  26. ExpatJane wrote:

    Definitely a good way to take the wind out of the sails on that.

    I like it. I tend not to hear too many racist jokes around me. Lucky for me, I’m in a work situation where I tend to be very far away from co-workers.

  27. Angel H. wrote:

    Wow.

    After reading some of these comments, I’m feeling especially grateful for this blog and the work that you do, Carmen. Unfortunately, some people just don’t seem to get it:

    STEREOTYPES ARE RACIST. Period.

    Stereotypes are formed when people are too lazy or ignorant to try and get to know a person, so they take stupid exaggerations that they’ve heard on TV or elsewhere and use them to prejudge. And guess what? They’re wrong!

    Carmen’s method is actually the best method I’ve seen for dealing with racist jokes, especially if you’re a POC. As a Black woman, if I say the wrong thing, I could be labeled as “humorless” (nice one, Mike), “oversensitive”, or worse, “uppity”.

  28. marie wrote:

    I think acting dumb is by far the best strategy to highlight the racism/sexism/etc. of the person telling the joke. If someone tried to do the “I feel/when you/because” strategy on me for some reason, I would probably go pretty far out of my way to antagonize that person in the future. It’s so patronizing.

  29. Jim Swindle wrote:

    I detest racism. Having said that, I’m doubt that all stereotype-based humor is evil. Some of my ancestors were from the British Isles. Should I take offense if someone comments about all of the famous British chefs, and pauses as if trying to think of one? Or should I laugh and say that maybe I’d be a famous chef if I could find someone willing to eat what I cook? Some of my ancestors were German. Should I be offended if someone comments about over-meticulous Germans, or should I laugh and point out my ancestry and that even though not all Germans are over-meticulous, I have been known to count the raisins that I put into my oatmeal? I now live in Texas. Should I be offended if someone asks me whether my oil well is in my back yard or my front yard? I think it’s better to laugh.

    However, if the pattern or the tone of the joking is demeaning, it should not be tolerated. If anyone is repeatedly joking about the same group of people (and it’s not his/her own group), that’s probably a tip-off that the person is prejudiced against that group.

  30. The Career Encourage wrote:

    Great advice. I like that you say that people have to go beyond not laughing and/or just walking away - they actually need to respond to the person telling the joke. You’ve offered a wise, professional, and kind way to make the point that the joke is offensive. There is no value to be had in embarassing or lambasting the joke teller - that makes it too hard for them to have the “aha” moment that leads to real change. Of course if the jokes continue after a few polite warnings - a more in-the-face approach is probably warrented.

  31. Carol wrote:

    I too find some racial jokes funny. My whole family is mixed with several races, including my children who are part Native American, part Black, and part White. However, jokes about sex usually are disturbing to me. And I have used the dumb, I don’t get it, technique with those. Not always on purpose, sometimes I just don’t get it. The jokester usually says never mind.
    The problem with racial jokes is that it promotes the stereotype which promotes the prejudice. Even if the joke is funny.
    I am also one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and think those jokes are usually funny, too.

  32. Jay Wigley wrote:

    I grew up in post-Segregation Mississippi, raised by tolerant parents and aware from an early age that racism was hate and nothing else. So, I was interested to get advice on how to confront racism in the form of humor.

    I’m a little disappointed. I think pretending ignorance is nothing short of being inauthentic, which is completely counter-productive. We must encourage each other to be authentic and honest in all things–even when confronting racism or other offensive behavior. Pretending can be avoided easily here–just skip the “I don’t get it” and move directly to the “So you really believe that all YYYY’s are ?” and proceed with confronting the ignorance without having to pretend that you aren’t offended, just clueless.

  33. Quovadis wrote:

    Great tips on this post. I think it could be applied not just to racism, but sexism, ageism etc. Some of the jokes I’ve heard though are just so blatantly “ist” I’m not sure I could pull off the whole ignorance approach. Worth trying though.

  34. paulab wrote:

    I found the tips interesting and possibly useful, but I think it is important to remember that racism in the workplace — even when taking the form of a “joke,” is always inappropriate and possibly illegal. Workplace behavior is and should be held to a higher standard than private conduct.

  35. Anonymous wrote:

    I’m with paulab.

    I sometimes think ethnicity should be right up there with religion and politics on the list of things not discussed in polite company.

    I find making reference to someone’s ethnicity so entirely unnecessary in the workplace that I’d support businesses discouraging it, or disallowing it altogether.

  36. AE wrote:

    While an intriguing post I’m not sure if it’s much use to me as a Black female. Most people do not tell racist jokes around me and I don’t come across too many white folks with any real critical consciousness (go gadget “liberal” Vermont). If people do comment about things that are racially problematic (and are white) it’s generally to avoid being perceived as racist and not necessarily because they believe those things to be racially problematic.

    I recall one instance at my so-call progressive AIDS Service Organization (cause duh, if you’re Gay it’s like being Black! You’re not racist.) a rather ignorant coworker (who was studying to be a therapist) made some joke about all the cat meat in Asian food and everyone (except me) laughed. I didn’t and I said very sharply

  37. AE wrote:

    I didn’t and I said very sharply “I’m sorry what did you say?”

    The laughing immediately stopped and everyone looked pained as the ignorant coworker repeated her stupid comment.

    Afterwards I approached my supervisor and told him the joke was inappropriate and offensive. I was not surprised that he agreed with me behind closed doors yet never resolved the problem.

    The person was never spoken to or written up for the behavior and last I heard is still working their with all racist notions (after the cat meat joke, it only got worse. Black people were “ghetto” and always poor, even though I was raised upper middle class Huxtable and am highly educationed).

    I realize now I should’ve kept my mouth shut, but I’m glad I didn’t.

    Most people it seems are too cowardly to stick their necks out unless there are assurances it’ll be “worth it”.

    There is nothing funny about racist jokes.

    Also, I’m sorry but comparing JW jokes to racist jokes is kind of corny.

  38. Anonymous wrote:

    In my experience, racist/sexist jokes in the workplace have been a type of “litmus test” for inclusion and advancement. If someone has not handled the joke well, they are esentially excluded from further comraderie, information, inside information and even career-critical projects.

    I usually “pass” this test by listening, if I find it funny I laugh, then I bluntly tell the person who said it/forwarded the joke (sometimes they appear in my email box as well) that yes, it was pretty darn funny, and you can joke about sexism/racism with me anytime, but I also make a short oppositional statement, direct & with a smile on my face, that counter-acts whatever joke they’ve sent/forwarded. Usually my response is funnier/more inciteful than the joke. Works like a charm. This elicits more respect than not addressing it head on in my experiences. If you can dish it out, better be able to take it.

    Example, I received a joke in my inbox essentially explaining how “wives were money grubbers” and “husbands knew how to keep them out of their pockets.” So I wrote back how hilarious that is, but hoped it also worked on the husbands in the crowd whose wives were better at making/managing money, and if it doesn’t work on the hubbys , send me something that would, and they knew who they were in the “email crowd” so don’t hold back. Divide and conquer.

    Incredibly daring, but it works for me, and keeps working for me. This method has prevented me from being a passive participator and makes them laugh more than the original joke, and the ones who don’t find it funny place themselves in the vulnerable position of looking like I’ve hit a nerve. My philosophy is I play the game, and I play it better.

  39. Atlcharm wrote:

    SORRY THERE WERE SOME GRAMMATICAL ERRORS IN MY PREVIOUS MESSAGE. THIS IS THE SAME MESSAGE REPORSTED BUT CHECKED FOR ACCURACY.

    I know this may be fairly obvious to some, one way or the other, but for me it is not. I am an African-American woman working in an industry which primarily consists of White Males…You guessed it, the insurance industry. I always find myself in situations where I am the only black person, but it really doesn’t bother me although I am definitely aware of it. However, I view myself as cultured and able to get along with all groups. I’ve never experienced racism in the workplace or at least it hasn’t been direct enough for me to recognize it as such. Anyhow an incident happened tonight while myself, coworkers and a boss were out to dinner with a client. I am not sure if I should be bothered about this comment or not. I am a little bothered but not sure if I am overreacting. Basically one of my coworkers, whom I’ve never met because she works out of a different office, had to leave dinner a little early to catch a flight back. Instead of driving her to the airport we had her take the metro which is easier. The passengers on the metro are primarily african-american. Well a few minutes into the train ride, the coworker sent a text to my boss and it said “I feel like a lonely vanilla chip in a chocolate chip cookie.” My boss read the text out loud at the table without realizing what it meant. Of course, the rest of us at the table got it within a few seconds. The lady probably meant nothing by this comment and I think back to times where I was the only black person in a gathering and I thought to myself “my I am the only black person.” So is it hypocritical of me to read racism into her comment or could this simply be passed off as a woman who found herself in a situation she is not used to being in. However, for her to make that comment probably shows that she was uncomfortable. What are your thoughts? I was so embarrassed when that text was read out loud. Had our clients not been at the table, I would have said something.

    Thoughts?

  40. Sue wrote:

    Thank you, Carmen.

    I was referred to this post when I asked on my blog for some help dealing with racist commentary in the workplace in this post of mine.

    But first, thank you for this blog. I plan to read it from “cover to cover” having just returned to the workplace after a three year parenting-related hiatus.

    My workplace is very diverse, and in our orientation it is made quite clear that racist banter is not tolerated. Turns out that doesn’t mean jack-sh*t to my coworkers. I hear openly racist comments almost daily, but not so many jokes.

    I would love it if you would offer suggestions to seriously racist comments that are not so much jokes, as statements of “fact”, often stereotype-ridden.

    I did not go into specifics the aforementioned post, but basically, my coworker was saying she left her position at another store because she got tired of dealing with [whisper] black [/whisper] customers who did things like complain about having to carry things on the bus and kept money in their brazierres. Worse was dealing with [whisper] black [/whisper] co-workers who were lazy.

    Funnily, in a dark ironic kind of way, I have learned as a parent that when my (transracially adopted) children hear a racist comment, the simplest approach is a semi-direct one. I go to the parent and say “Your child apparently said such and such to my child” and the parent is appalled and scolds the child, all the while telling me they never taught their child to say/think such a thing and that their child was just saying what she thought to be true, as she would about the color dress or type of shoes my child might be wearing. It was all so innocent! Except that it did a number on my child’s self esteem like a comment about a dress or shoes never would.

    Having learned this to be a predictable pattern with very little use of teachable moments for the other child, the only reason I go through the motions is because I want my kids to know I am in their corner and that what was said to them was wrong. An apology is always nice too, but not always forthcoming.

    However, I have no idea how to deal with it on a peer-peer basis without having the negative fall-out you mentioned at the beginning of this post. I would really like to find a pleasant but direct way of not being peoples’ racist dumping ground. I feel I am betraying my children when I allow it to happen.

  41. Sue wrote:

    24 hours later: Never mind! I figured it out, myself. Racist jokes and comments are so closely related that the same strategies work really well. I used your suggestions today, in my own way. It went great! It totally put the onus back on the person making the comment and yet, kept things from becoming too antagonistic to be able to work together. Here is the post regarding my efforts to “get it right”. Thanks again for such a simple, practical solution.

  42. Hao wrote:

    If I sense the sole purpose of any racist joke my co-workers make is to insult me, I just try to think fast and retaliate with an offensive joke that can connect to his/her joke. If they already dislike me deep inside their hearts, it doesn’t make sense to be afraid of damaging our relationships since they’re damaged from the beginning. If the retaliation is done properly, everyone could still pretend to be friends just like we did before.

    I’ll just use your example: (I’m Chinese)

    Co-worker: Did you hear that Angelina Jolie adopted another kid, this time from Vietnam?

    Me: Yeah.

    Co-worker: The poor kid probably doesn’t even know he’s Asian yet. He certainly doesn’t know he’s going to be a horrible driver. Or that he’s going to be amazing at doing nails. He has no idea! [Laughs heartily.]

    Me: [laughs hard] I know! Actually I’m amazing at doing nails too and your wife couldn’t get enough of it ever since she met me.

  43. Anthony L Hardmon wrote:

    I’m an a Black man working with white supervisers.He make a comment (let’s see if we can nigger rig it) refer to one of the machine that had broke down to get it to work again.And this was said in my present,I let him knew that was a racsit comment he said.

  44. Ana Pires wrote:

    Thank you!

    I don’t even work yet, but I’m guessing this will work on family get togethers too. I certainly don’t want to damage my relationship with the said family members because, well, they’re family. But I don’t want to condone the type of behavior either, as I never do on any other occasions. So again, thank you. I’m sure the playing dumb thing will work :)

  45. Anonymous wrote:

    lol

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