Should a Dinner Guest Call Out Racist Jokes?

Race Manners: You're within your rights to humiliate friends for their bigoted humor, but there's a better way.

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However, making a judgment call on how to address comments of the bestiality or banana variety isn’t really tough, and I doubt you’re actually hearing anything that extreme. (The way you wrote the questions makes it hard to imagine that you surround yourself with people who traffic in outright hate and washed-up racist imagery.)

Instead, I bet the jokes popular among your friends are more like these, which the Atlantic used as examples in a recent piece suggesting a racism taxonomy:

Casual Racist. … The tone of condescension — this form of racist is most associated with the caricatures of rich people — usually indicates that being racist is a good idea to protect oneself. A stand-out specimen is Arrested Development’s Lucille Bluth, who in one episode says to a Spanish-speaking mover, “And that goes into storage right? Not into your apartment.” Or like when then-Vice President George H.W. Bush referred to his Mexican-American grandchildren [as] “the little brown ones” …

Hipster Racist. … Hipster Racist knows racism is wrong, but thinks that if it’s wrapped up in enough layers of irony it can be turned into a cool inside joke. Last year, for example, when people noticed Girls had no real characters who weren’t white, Girls writer Lesley Arfin tweeted about the well-received Gabourey Sidibe movie, “What really bothered me most about Precious was that there was no representation of ME” …

Here, again, you’d be well within your rights to clear your throat, clink your glass and, as you put it, “educate” everyone at the table that the speaker is “furthering the problem we have with race.”

However, I’m not sure if you should. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t think the offender’s comfort is more important than the point you need to make. But if your goal is actually to get a friend to stop perpetuating racism, versus just getting him or her to stop including you on the Evites, then humiliation might not be the best strategy. (You know how adults love to be publicly corrected: not at all.)

Try this instead: Take your friend aside before you leave and have a chat. “Something like, ‘I’m still thinking about what you said, and I have to tell you, it really bothered me because … ‘ You can do it without throwing bombs at them,” says Bates.

Or take the time to gather your thoughts and find the exact words to communicate what you need to say. The next day, when no one has had one too many glasses of wine, and no one is put on the spot, call or send an email (“Hey, so your joke about Mexicans and robbery really bothered me because the stereotype behind it — that black and brown men are criminals — actually causes real harm to people I care about … “).

If he or she is still defiant or dismissive after you’ve expressed your view intelligently, kindly and privately, you have bigger concerns than being impolite. You actually need new friends.

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Previously in Race Manners: No, Neither Asians Nor Blacks All Look Alike

The Root’s staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life — and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter. 

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