Thursday, August 29, 2013

10 Quick Things White Folk Can Say to Each Other to Make a Difference

So the observance of the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's I have a dream speech is already yesterday's news.  But before we leave the memory too far behind, I have a suggestion to the speaking-impaired among us.  I refer not to some physical malady, but to the emotional, spiritual or psychological impairment many of we humans suffer when confronted with the inappropriate behavior of another.

What follow are 10 short sentences of what can be said when you hear someone say something racially inappropriate.  Commit them to memory.  Practice them in a mirror.  And when you hear them (and you know you will), speak up!  The world can no longer afford the luxury of your silence.  It never could.

So stand up and be counted.  It may be scary.  It will definitely be uncomfortable.  But it's well past time when it's socially acceptable to simply sit in silence when another is misbehaving.  Social accountability is one of the most effective ways of bringing about change.  So practice these simple sentences and start holding the misbehaving among us socially accountable:

1.     Stop it.  Or, if you prefer the more polite version, Please stop it.

2.     I do not want to listen to this.  (accompanied by your actual walking away if the behavior does not stop).

3.     I do not appreciate that. 

4.     That's not funny.

5.     That's not okay.

6.     That's rude.

7.     I don't feel that way.

8.     That's disrespectful.

9.     You did not just say that!

10.     We don't use that language in this house. . . at this table. . . in my presence. . . 

If you really can't seem to come up with your own, use these.  They're short and to the point.  They seldom invite a big discussion, which is probably what you're wanting to avoid if this makes you uncomfortable.  But it does make it clear that (1) you are not in agreement; (2) you will not be co-opted into giving silent permission for the bad behavior; and (3) where you stand is made clear without much of a fuss.

And from those small steps, great things can happen.  Who knows, maybe when Cousin Sam gets it that Aunt Celia is losing respect for him because of his language and attitudes, he might actually begin to think about changing those words and attitudes.

It's a place to start.


  1. In 1964 my husband thought it funny when he told a friend, "Our son is the only 6-year-old in Midland, Texas who has a slingshot and not a n*****shooter!" It was not funny then.. and racism was not allowed in our home or conversations. My three children are all very tolerant and non-racist. They are raising my grandchildren to be the same. It is definitely "a place to start".

    Thanks, Beth, for this timely reminder.


    1. Marilyn, Thank you for sharing this important reminder - it's kind of schmaltzy to today's ears, perhaps, but I've always loved the song "Let There Be Peace on Earth" for the line - "and let it begin with me." Thanking God for a family teaching their children in the ways they should go. Hugs, Beth