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Tuesday How To: Not Sound Like a Massive Hypocrite When Pointing Out A Racist/Sexist Incident

December 4, 2012

A Guide For People Of Color/Women and Everyone Else Who Faces Prejudice.

Remember the “If You See Something, Say Something,” campaign from the Department of Homeland Security? It was meant to alert people about suspicious packages and odd behavior. But it works for other things too, like racism and sexism and other isms, for instance.

When you see something that is offensive or problematic in terms of some ism, and if you see an example of some ism and you don’t think it’s offensive or problematic then you need to seek out some help and enlightenment because you’re wrong, you need to say something.

First arm yourself with facts. They are easy to find. A not small number of them can be found in this blog. Then watch these.




I know it can be a difficult thing to do for people who are not me. That’s not bragging, I’m just not very nice. I have no problem making people uncomfortable for the greater good. I know the battle  that we fight every day is wearying but worry not. I am here to help.

Here’s how to go about speaking out:

  • Remain rational.
    • Mindless anger works against the larger point. It is all too easy to dismiss someone who is angry as unreasonable. Please understand, I’m not saying don’t get angry. I’m saying keep rational within that anger. In short, mindful anger is totally acceptable.
  • Use the phrase “what you said/did was racist.”
    • Do not hide the point you are trying to make. Do not soften the language. Just make your point.
  • Do not use the phrase “you are a racist.
    • You cannot support that position. Short of them labeling themselves a racist or showing up in a sheet, you will be unable to prove it is true.  But the fact that the statement or action is racist can be proved.
  • Whatever issue you are trying to draw attention to? Do not mimic that issue.
    • In other words, if your complaint is coded racist language like thug or ghetto do not respond with equally racist coded language like trailer park or white trash. If they have used directly racist language do not respond with directly racist language. Both are equally wrong, neither are acceptable.
  • Do not make or accept personal attacks
    • It does not matter what the person to whom you are speaking looks, speaks acts or spells like. It does not matter what friends they have or what groups they are a part of. You are having a conversation about a specific incident or statement, nothing else.
  • Do not accept derailing.
    • Derailing is the attempt to drag the conversation away from the action or statement to something else that may or may not have anything to do with the action or statement.
    • Examples of derailing include:
      • I was kidding.
      • You misunderstood.
      • Why are you so angry?
      • You are overreacting.
      • You are trying to make this about race.
      • I didn’t say black/Asian/Native American etc. people.
      • Freedom of speech.
      • You are in the minority.
      • You are playing the race card.
      • I am not a racist.
      • You are racist for pointing out that I did something racist.
    • (I’m going to cover the specifics of these next blog. )
  • Have an end result in mind.
    • Just complaining is not constructive. If you require an apology then say that and if you get one then either pivot the conversation to a larger issue for which you can offer a solution or thank the person for the apology and move on.
  • Learn the Three Questions (Daniel V. Davis ™)
    • How do you know that?
      • Requires someone to provide some proof of what they say.
    • What do you mean?
      • Requires someone to clarify their statements.
    • So what? How is that relevant?
      • Requires someone to justify their use of said statements.
  • Manners
    • Use them. There is nothing to lose by being polite and everything to gain. Further, the more polite, even formal you can be the less weight criticisms of you will carry.

Everyone screws up sometimes. As Jay Smooth says, race in America is kind of  “a dance partner that’s designed to trip us up.” I screw up.

Here’s a good example. In all of my ranting about The Walking Dead and race and the one negro per gender per show rule and the mix of Jungle Woman/Angry Black Woman/Magical Negro that is Michonne and the rampant sexism I totally missed the white washing of the Governor. I’ve read this comic. I love this comic. In the comic the Governor is pretty clearly drawn as a Hispanic man. In the show he is played by a Caucasian actor. This is the first time I’ve mentioned it and that’s only happening because someone mentioned it to me. Had it not been pointed out, I would never have seen it.

Bad on me, because this matters too and I didn’t even think about it.  When you slip up, there’s a great list from Ampersand  at Alas! A Blog that might help.

The most very basic point of the list is this. SHUT UP AND LISTEN. Because you’re probably about to learn something that you didn’t know so you can avoid mistakes in the future. It’s a gift that you should be grateful for. It will, if you use it correctly  help you to avoid getting some ism in your teeth.




6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 4, 2012 1:13 PM

    “In the comic the Governor is pretty clearly drawn as a Hispanic man. In the show he is played by a Caucasian actor.”

    Okay, this is the only one I have trouble with. I don’t mean I have trouble with the concept, I get that if a character is established as an ethnicity or gender or whatever – something specific about his/her character – that should be respected, generally speaking.

    What I get upset over is when the reverse situation comes up: a comic book character who was traditionally depicted as white – who is further based on a Norse god who was white – is cast in the movie as black, but people who got upset with that casting were themselves labeled as racist, even if the only reason they were upset was because they felt the movie didn’t stay true to the original character.

    So I get irritated when the double standard arrives of “if a character is white, he or she is a blank slate and any other ethnicity can be cast instead, but if a character isn’t white, not only are you racist if you cast a white actor, you’re doubly racist if you cast an even slightly different skin-toned actor.”

    What’s funny is I didn’t even blink at Heimdal’s character in the movie Thor. I thought he was epically awesome in that role and can’t imagine anyone else pulling it off like he did. It wasn’t until I was reading stuff about it online later that I realized there was even an issue with his casting. What irritated me was the flamboyant French a la Three Musketeers character.

    I realize that the comics already departed from Norse mythology, but again, no one cared that North myths, gods, religious beliefs, etc were bastardized. That was someone’s culture and beliefs being switched about there (Thor and Loki were *not* brothers, adopted or otherwise! Loki was blood brothers with Odin. Geesh.) If this had been done to Indian gods and myths I would imagine there would have been a firestorm of backlash for it.

    I’m torn between saying the best actor for the job should get the job (Heimdal!) while still realizing that there can be issues in casting because of race, if you are saying it’s okay to cast a non-white actor for a white character, how can you say it’s white-washing and racist to do the reverse sometimes?

    It reminds me of the gal who had done an otherwise awesome job of explaining why you should be mindful in your choice of Halloween costumes, stating that if it belongs to someone else’s culture, don’t do it. She then proceeded to dress up as a religious figure from – you guessed it – someone else’s culture. Only, it was “white” culture, so that made it okay, because it didn’t matter then. And she argued vehemently that it didn’t matter, except every reason she gave why her costume was okay (well, it’s myth, not like a *real* person, and they’re just stories, they didn’t really happen – and so yeah maybe people used to believe them but… where was she going with this argument again??) was exactly the opposite of what she had just been preaching. It came down to: because she wanted to wear that costume, even though she would have found two dozen reasons why a white girl wearing a Ganesha costume would have been racist and appropriating.

    Which was really sad, because it was really a *gorgeous* costume she’d come up with. It just clashed 100% with what her message had just been. Which makes me wonder whether her message was all that right to being with!

    It’s this kind of hypocrisy that makes people want to ignore everything that really matters because they see this kind of thing that screams double standard and *that’s* something everyone hates.

    I mean, there are some double standards that promote equality (Black History Month, Gay Pride events, etc) because doing so doesn’t encroach on anyone else. But when a double standard says “we can steal your stuff but don’t you dare touch ours” that’s just as bad as when it was done the other way around.

    • December 4, 2012 2:43 PM

      My first thought upon seeing that character was “Not a huge number of PoC in the milky white Norse mythology I know. Tokenism, thanks but no thanks.” I haven’t seen the movie, because I know myself well enough to know that watching Norse myths destroyed by comic book thinking has a very good chance of making me shriek at the movie screen. Thor and Loki brothers? NO! Wrong! Bad writer! No biscuit!

      But the thing is, these two situations aren’t equivalent.

      When you’re a part of the majority group which has the power, losing a tiny bit of visibility is not going to cause harm. It may be annoying but members of that majority group can look to almost every other character in this movie and almost every other movie and most other forms of entertainment and see their own faces. There is no question of their value.

      For PoC that is not the case. We start out with a visibility deficit and every character removed from visibility harms us because it shows that we have less value.

      It would be hypocrisy if and only if the two groups in question started out at the same level; if there were an equal number of minority characters or at least a number proportionally equivalent to society. That is not the case. Instead, PoC are largely invisible in mainstream television and when they aren’t they are pretty much guaranteed to be gross stereotypes. What you see as hypocrisy is, in reality, the cry of people who are already regularly marginalized protesting yet more marginalization by a group that never has to worry about that same problem.

      • December 4, 2012 3:40 PM

        Y’know, the movie is worth it if only for the way Tom Hiddleston portrays Loki. It isn’t even slightly true to mythology (they made Laufey his *father* – she was his mother for godsake! … heh pun), but it was an amazing portrayal and testament to his acting ability. *swoon*

        I agree that there is a chronic under representation of colored characters in comics and film and TV, etc. Hell *I* get bored seeing nothing but white people in one show I watch (and was promptly jumped on with “Why is the white chick the only one who’s complaining about not enough colored characters?”) I’m not saying there isn’t ample justification to expect more.

        But here’s what gets me: (I realize this wasn’t you who said this so you may take a different stance entirely, but) I read once that a person who wanted (in this case) write a book with a colored character basically wasn’t allowed to just *make the character colored* because they’d have totally different views and experiences and no one can know what that’s like, etc…

        And if this person was right, then how can a colored person be overlaid on a white character without those exact same arguments being applied? Different experiences, different motivations, etc.

        Is it fair on one hand to say you can’t possibly write a colored character if you’re white, then get upset because there aren’t enough colored characters represented in entertainment?

        There seems to be so many contradictions in what is right or wrong or why or when and who is or isn’t allowed… and then one group says one thing and another says another and both insist they’re right and someone is *gonna* get pissed no matter what.

        I realize I have strayed from your post, not trying to set up a strawman as I realize this was not any argument you stated. I’m just trying to state things I’ve run into and how frustrating it is when no matter what ya do sometimes, you’re going to be wrong. (I’m sure you know how that feels, too.)

        I wasn’t saying that there shouldn’t be more colored actors in film, tv, and the like, just that it seems wrong to say any “established-as-white” character can be made colored, especially if the actor really just nails the performance (but then you say Tokenism – really there is no winning here, is there?), but the reverse is always wrong, no matter the abilities of the actor.

        • December 4, 2012 8:02 PM

          First, colored /= People of Color or PoC. I realize the difference is small but it’s important. One is an archaic term that some people consider insulting. The other is a blanket term used to describe people who are not Caucasian.

          Second, you’re talking about RaceFail ’09 , right? Assuming that you are “Is it fair on one hand to say you can’t possibly write a colored character if you’re white, then get upset because there aren’t enough colored characters represented in entertainment?” is a misleading question because that wasn’t what was said. I’m not going to re-litigate the entire thing. The links are there for a reason. Let me just agree with Avalon Willow .

          It’s about my personal confusion that an author so highly spoken of by people I respect, would write about a magical, negro who gets bridled by a white woman after trying to kill or eat another white woman and, to my horror, becoming some sort of beast of burden/big buck protector; my horror at watching the humiliation of yet another black man so that a white woman can be empowered in front of her peers.

          It’s not that White writers can’t write about PoC. It’s that they don’t. Instead, they consistently equate writing them well with colrblind racism and/or racist tropes. In the case of RaceFail ’09 it’s that a Caucasian writer who is epically bad at writing PoC tried to educate other writers on how to do so. It was also that she allowed blatant racism from her friends and defenders in her comments and hit on pretty much all of the things on the derailing list that I mentioned and that I’ll be talking about in more depth tomorrow.

          Bear had a hell of a lot of racism in her teeth and got particularly whiny when her privilege was pointed out. The thing is, entertainment is one of the worst venues for pointing out privilege because people can hide behind, “it’s just a story/TV show/movie/comic book.” That’s a ridiculous statement and should be pointed out as such, but it’s common.

          Here’s another point of view on privilege and fantasy from the incomparable deepad. A writer basically has three choices. They can admit that they can’t write voices from cultures they’re not a part of well and not do it. They can write PoC as white people with a tan and deal with the criticism they get from that or they can write whatever they write and then get several people who they know to be PoC to read their work for racefail. They’ll still deal with criticism no matter what, but at least they can honestly reply “Look, you only get one of these complaints. Either I don’t write PoC or I do it in a way that will be horrible and insulting or I do my best to include PoC in my world and get as many criticisms of my attempts as possible in order to better them.”

          For me, before I discovered that I suck at writing fiction (which I do, oh so much), I had trouble writing cis gender straight men. I just can’t find their voices because I am not a man and have never been a man and also I suck at fiction. Mostly the problem was me and my suck but still, I couldn’t find the voice so I didn’t write men.

          In terms of The Walking Dead, I would have been happier if they had just not had PoC. Not happy but happier, because then I wouldn’t have had to deal with the one in-one out rule for black men and the huge fail forever that is Michonne. The racism and sexism is frequent and egregious on that show. What would be ideal would be to get some black and female writers who know that they are doing and are able to present characters that are not huge stereotypes. Rule number one of writing is write what you know. Even in fantasy, which is largely just metaphor write what you know. If you don’t know PoC then don’t write them and tell the truth about why. People will respect you for it.

          As for

          it seems wrong to say any “established-as-white” character can be made colored, especially if the actor really just nails the performance (but then you say Tokenism – really there is no winning here, is there?), but the reverse is always wrong, no matter the abilities of the actor.

          I addressed this previously. I’ve addressed it in previous posts too. They aren’t equivalent situations.

      • December 4, 2012 9:27 PM

        “First, colored /= People of Color or PoC.”

        Oh… I’m sorry.

        “Second, you’re talking about RaceFail ’09 , right?”

        No, never heard of that. This was some page on tumblr. I’m sorry, I honestly don’t remember which one to link to it, but it was the opinion being given that white people had no right to write a POC character because they couldn’t possibly know what it was like to be one.

        I agree that there is a shortage of people putting out truly diverse creations (in whatever form), but I write them all the time, so it’s frustrating to feel like I’m being told there aren’t enough POC in books but how dare I write one!

        See, I *am* a writer, that’s why that particular comment had really gotten to me because it was so freakin catch 22.

        ““Look, you only get one of these complaints…”

        This made me giggle. 🙂

        “Rule number one of writing is write what you know”

        Yeah, sorry, I really don’t follow this one at all. My rule number is break all the writing rules anyone ever made… but only if you know you’re doing it.

        What’s the point in only writing what you know? It’s much more fun to explore what you don’t. Well, for me. So I write characters running away from forced marriages though I’ve never been threatened with one, or someone having a massive nic. fit though I’ve never smoked, or a gay couple even though I’m neither gay nor a man. Because they’re all still people, and people aren’t too terribly different when you get right down to it.

        Seems like it would be *more* wrong to assume a black person or gay person or a male or a smoker or whatever is so very different from me as to be entirely beyond my ability to empathize with or envision in any other terms than “incomprehensible to me”. I don’t see how writing a person from a different ethnic background would automatically default to insulting or ‘racefail’ without someone furiously reviewing it.

        Now if ethnicity comes up in a story where there needs to be some reference to culture or language or religion or something, then yes I can see that it’s important to study or inquire into that culture but that applies to any culture you aren’t familiar with, regardless of the “color” of their skin. I’d be just as lost trying to write about Slavic culture as I would be trying to set a story in Kenya. I’d be just as clueless into proper Catholic practices as I would be Hindu.

        Seems to me the real problem would be in trying to find some ‘reason’ to make a character not white. I’ve wrote a story where one of the characters was Chinese. Not because it entered into the story in any way, there were no cultural references, (she was American anyway) it wasn’t really a plot point or particularly relevant, she just was. Wouldn’t it be worse to not include a POC unless it carried some relevance? Like everyone is white unless there’s a reason for them not to be?

        “In terms of The Walking Dead, I would have been happier if they had just not had PoC.”

        Yeah, I get why that would feel less irritating in the end. 😦


        By the way, I just want to really, truly thank you for having this conversation with me.

        • December 5, 2012 2:31 AM

          By the way, I just want to really, truly thank you for having this conversation with me.

          Absolutely my pleasure. I LIKE these conversations. It help people learn and it helps me become a better writer. We’re both benefiting here.

          “First, colored /= People of Color or PoC.”

          Oh… I’m sorry.

          Apology accepted. Like I said originally, people make mistakes. It happens.

          I agree that there is a shortage of people putting out truly diverse creations (in whatever form), but I write them all the time, so it’s frustrating to feel like I’m being told there aren’t enough POC in books but how dare I write one!

          If you can write them well, and by well I mean without falling into tropes or succumbing to colorblind racism then you are, frankly more skilled than most writers. I’ve never said that you can’t write them. I’ve never read your fiction so I don’t know. But I can tell you that most writers can’t do it well and the writers of The Walking Dead are epically bad at it. Elizabeth Bear? Also, really super epically bad at it. Even in her “apology” she failed at understanding what she did wrong and basically just said she didn’t want the conversation to continue.

          What’s the point in only writing what you know? It’s much more fun to explore what you don’t. Well, for me.

          And that’s fine. But there might be negative consequences if you don’t do it well. If someone or a group of someones finds a problem with what you write, they probably won’t have an issue pointing out where you went wrong. As a Caucasian, writing PoC can be rewarding but that reward comes with risk.

          Because they’re all still people, and people aren’t too terribly different when you get right down to it.

          But we have vastly experiences and ways of dealing with the world. For example, for my girlfriend, police are your friends. They are there to help you. So the first time we got stopped because she made some sort of illegal turn, she stopped the car and reached for the glove box to get her information. I quietly FREAKED OUT and jammed my knees again the glove box while ordering her through my teeth to sit quietly with her hands on the damn wheel and wait for the cop to tell her it was OK for her to move or speak. I just reacted. I wasn’t thinking. Her actions terrified me. She was baffled by my reaction. Every PoC I tell this story to gasps in horror when I get to the “and reached for the glove box,” part.

          I come from a family of cops. I grew up with cops. I love and respect cops but I know that I am likely to get killed for reaching while black if I don’t follow the “sit quietly and wait” rule.

          For a non-Caucasian writer that’s a tough needle to thread. Either they don’t even thing about that kind of reaction because, like my girlfriend, it never enters their mind or they think about it but the hit it way too hard and make it a MESSAGE about the evils of society or how great their white character is because they don’t treat PoC like that. It’s hard for someone who doesn’t see or live it to write something like that. Caucasians can sympathize but not empathize with that kind of situation because, while there may be other factors that hinder them, they don’t deal with the constant danger of getting killed for doing something while black.

          That’s what’s missing in The Walking Dead and what’s missing in most fiction wherein there are PoC. T-Dog was ignored unless he was being troped. That happens a lot and I assume that the authors don’t even know they’re doing it.

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