An swpd reader's email includes the following questions:
Dear macon d,
I have seen on your blog a few posts or links about how to combat particular issues. As karinova says, it is easy for me to talk and learn, but it's meaningless if I don't do anything.
I've tried searching but with limited success at the moment. Do you happen to have a link to something like a guide to an effective way to deal with the racist jokes my friends often make? Within these jokes they seem to obtain a great deal of pleasure from using the word ni**er. Whilst I can find a lot of essays written about it's use, I have not found a statement which I can use that sums up why it should not be used. I currently say that the word encompasses all of the racial hatred and oppression suffered by millions and that it's use is an acceptance of this, but it seems to fall a little limply on their ears.
I more or less wrote back the following -- do you have other suggestions for effectively combating racist jokes? Do you even bother to combat them?
I admire your determination to do something against racism.
I don't think there's a panacea for racist jokes; various strategies work for some joke-tellers, but not for others. I like your method for combating jokes with the n-word, but I can see how it wouldn't work for some people.
I don't have a particular place to send you, but I can suggest methods that I've used with some success against racist jokers. Racist jokes have always bothered me, but I used to let them slide on by. Now I always make a point of saying something, since I recognize the role of such jokes in perpetuating damaging stereotypes. I've also come around to hating the kind of racist white solidarity that such joke tellers expect me join them in. It's like they suddenly think we're in some kind of club, taking potshots together at the other people we've excluded.
As Victoria wrote in a post here last year about racist emails she receives,
I've noticed in these situations that they expect me to give them the old wink and nod -- "I hear ya, buddy" -- tacitly indicating that we're a part of the same special whiteness clique.
So what to do?
Sometimes I simply say something abrupt and shocked, such as, "You know, that is simply disgusting," and then turn around and walk away. Depending on the situation, this method can lead people to really reflect on what they did, and to ask you about it later (though of course, it might not work that way with some people -- no method is going to work with everyone).
I've also tried asking about the joke later, which again lets the person know that I found the offense a serious one. I just ask them to explain the joke, as if I didn't get it. In the course of their doing that, what's wrong with the joke often becomes apparent.
I have also asked how they think a black person (or a Chinese person, or a Jewish person, etc.) would feel hearing such a joke. No matter what the response is, I lead the conversation toward forcing the person to say either that they do or do not consider black (etc.) people lesser than white people. If they really do think that, then I tell them that they're acting and thinking like retrograde racists, and that in the future, I'll be avoiding them.
That may be drastic, but then, I'm serious about racism. I have a better sense then I used to have of just how very damaging it still is for people of color, and I want as little part in inflicting that damage as possible. I also want to actively fight its presence in, and enactment by, other white people.
You said that your words "seem to fall a little limply" on the ears of others; what I guess I'm mostly saying is that what often works is to not be limp yourself -- to demonstrate actively a staunch moral and ethical disgust when faced with any form of racism, in whatever ways one can.
I hope this helps,
As I asked above, do you have other suggestions for this reader?
Do you even bother to combat racist jokes?
One other question -- I recently heard racist jokes described as "old fashioned." This (teenage white) person claimed they were dying out. Do you think that's true? Or do they seem about as commonplace as ever?