What To Do When Someone Makes A Racist Remark?

Categories: Advice

I was recently at a gathering in the boroughs when I commented to someone I'd just met that I felt Obama would probably win the election.

"Yeah," she replied, "because all the boogies are gonna come out and vote."

I was so stunned I couldn't even summon the moxie to tell her off.

I simply pretended I didn't hear, made some unrelated remark, then tried to avoid her the rest of the day.

More recently, someone I know sent out a mass email congratulating Obama for winning and saying "Four more years of ham hocks, collard greens, fried chicken, and dandelions in the White House."

Again, I didn't respond--but I'm surely blocking them from ever spewing junk like that at me again.

Can you believe this type of stuff is not only still out there, but that people feel emboldened enough to toss it out in public?

And am I handling this kind of situation right by responding with a sort of silent refusal?

Or would you go into righteous screams and rip them a new one?

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I just reply (in person and via email) Oh my god I had no idea you were a racist. They're usually shocked because it's never the response they expect.

nostradavid like.author.displayName 1 Like

A fun retort to in-person racism: "What a racist thing to say."

Watch their reaction and enjoy. It's a teachable moment they can learn from.


The right wing has an enormous anonymous email hate machine. Old people especially forward this stuff to each other continuously. Old folks think anything they read in an email must be true. I tried for awhile to respond to stuff like that by proving each item was false, to teach her not to believe anonymous emails. She'd send me three more the next day. I told her I didn't know who she hated worse: Muslims or Mexicans. She's gone now, bless her. She had always taught me respect and tolerance when I was growing up. I think conservative views form in good people when hardening of the arteries begins. 

monsieurpatric like.author.displayName 1 Like

Vocalized racism should be challenged every time.  It does not matter if it costs socially.  The holding up of a metaphorical mirror to the operant bigot is the best way to force a learning experience.  Saying nothing is an endorsement.


I am an academic and artist.  I try to make it clear in my conversations that I enjoy america because of it's diversity. nyc is great because of cultural diversity.  We are so lucky to have a president who is so elegant and smart who represents diversity.   I love teaching in nyc because it is a melting pot.  my family and friends embrace diversity.  many have intermarried with others of different races, cultures and religion.  we like it.  my daughter favors her latino father but looks like me.  I laugh and say.  She looks just like me.  She has married a very anglican man and her daughter looks like him.  I laugh and say, she looks just like her latina mom.  Bias is stupid.


I am very white so it is usually easy for me to be social in white circles except when there is bias. I will say if you are uncomfortable with diversity, you will not be good at my house.  I will speak about arts which reflect diversity.  I love to travel and talk about what is interesting about other cultures.

madmaninbedlam like.author.displayName 1 Like

I had a friend send a mass email that contained a racist joke and replied to her (and everyone else) that I preferred not receiving racist jokes. She removed me from her mass email list.


Confronting strangers is trickier. I think most of us would be stunned to hear someone make a racist remark in a social or professional setting. As much as I'd like to think I'd have the balls to put that person in their place, I would have some concern about making a scene and spoiling an otherwise enjoyable event. I guess changing the subject or walking away is the best way to handle it.

sebr57 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Thanks anonTWO. I especially like your comment on the term PC. I just used it in a comment and as I wrote I thought to myself "Is this even appropriate." I don't like it but I don't know what else to use sometimes.  I'm unsure if the second half f your second comment is meant for the latter part of mine. Certainly those who did not vote for him just because his black are a minority. I don't know anyone who voted for him based on his skin color, you're right--either for his first term or his second.

anonTWO like.author.displayName 1 Like

Politically Correct is a term that should be abolished.

No, you can't generalize an entire group of people.

This has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with you being a knuckle dragging closet klansmen.



There were more people who DID NOT vote for Obama "just because he is black" than there were people who voted FOR Obama "just because he is black",


think about that for a minute before responding.

anonTWO like.author.displayName 1 Like


when you think about it racists and racism is almost too stupid to get angry about.

I said, almost.

the hamhock comment?

too stupid, totally irrational.


obama is a multi racial dude, but he was raised by his white mom.... In Hawaii!

It's unlikely that O grew up eating traditional southern black soul food.

racists twist things inside out and try to make everything about a group of people sordid.


and what is wrong about eating and enjoying fried chicken, and collard greens?

It's good stuff.  But leave the hamhocks and chitlens alone, folks!


yes, O got the black vote but the fact is O would have never won a single term in office if white, asian and latin voters did not vote for him.

Black Americans vote the  Democratic ticket regardless of the candidates ethnicity.

Al Gore sure ain't black and he got the black vote back in 00


Um. Wow. I laughed when I read it because I find it so unbelievable. Stunned and awed. First, I'm sorry if I misunderstand Savannah's comment, but those comments to Michael were not edgy nor were they assholic. They were racist. Period. It isn't edgy to be racist, only an asshole would mistake one for the other. And, I understand bliss's point (that's my middle name btw, Bliss), but I disagree. Also, I adore you Michael, but in my opinion silence on something so blatantly racist and so ignorant is dangerous. Martin Luther King, Jr. said himself: "History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people." That quote is--sadly--as relevant now as it was then though perhaps in a different context. Levi, if you've studied history at all I don't think you would say "they are just words." Words are very powerful. Our greatest leaders have made great changes with words alone. There are a thousand ways to say you dislike the president without referring in any way to racial stereotypes, using slurs, and mentioning his race at all in fact. My bet is, what you dislike about him has nothing to do with those things anyway.... And if it does, then .... Well then, I'll keep my comments on you to myself.


I don't know, to be honest this is just has to be translated to humor and not been taken so seriously, of course as any comedy they refer to the most generalizations of each culture and it is funny as its mostly true, why try to be so politically correct when that is what people do not understand and you are actually being racist on walking around the issues, Sandra Bernhard and many of the more bitchy comedians understand this and so do most of the western world. Look at England, comedies such as Little Britain, Catherine Tate show all do jokes similar to the - Four more years of ham hocks, collard greens, fried chicken, and dandelions in the White House." What we need to do is grow up and allow people to know they are just words and yes generalizations are funny, and with generalizations we can break down the language defense that has been created here in USA which still divides communities! 


blissbaby like.author.displayName 1 Like

Everyone thinks they'd start screaming, but when push comes to shove, most people do what you did, which is fine. it makes a statement.

SavannahMontgomery like.author.displayName 1 Like

People constantly confuse "edgy" with "asshole"...thinking you're a member of the club.