Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How to Respond to a Racist Joke by Carmen Van Kerckhove

If you haven't read anything by blogger, Carmen Van Kerckhove, you are missing out. She is the co-founder and president of New Demographic, an anti-racism training company. She hosts the podcast Addicted to Race and blogs at Racialicious, Anti-Racist Parent, and Race in the Workplace.

Her recent post on Race in the Workplace, "How to Respond to a Racist Joke," is brilliant. I know whenever I'm in the presence of someone who says something racist, I freeze up and don't know what to do. Just like you practice emergency plans for things like fires and earthquakes, here is a response you can practice so you're ready the next time someone says something racist. Carmen's advice is:

"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.


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."

You can read the rest of her post here.


  1. Anonymous6:01 AM

    Hey Britt,

    Thanks so much for the shout-out! :) I didn't make it to BlogHer this year - did you?

  2. I did go this year and it was fantastic. Met some great, do-good bloghers and really enjoyed the panels about politics, in particular.


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