Rarely do you see issues of racism addressed by mainstream media advice columnists. And when you do, the advice usually falls within the mainstream viewpoint. Which is to say that it’s off the mark.
But here’s Miss Manners’ response to a letter-writer who weakly laughed at a racist guest’s joke, for fear of making the guest feel “awkward”:
You are probably under the impression that etiquette forbids ever making a guest feel awkward.
Well, close. Almost never. But you have just run into an exception. People who tell racist jokes should be given the opportunity to realize the impact on civilized people — and, if possible, to redeem themselves by saying that they themselves (not their best friends) belong to the racial group that was the target of the joke.
Stony face is, in fact, the basic correct response. There is a less harsh version, however, for relatives and others with whom you may have reason to continue dealing. That is to look puzzled:
“I don’t get it. Oh, it’s supposed to show that they’re stupid? Well, I know lots of stupid people, but it seems to me that they’re from every sort of background. Smart people, too, for that matter …” and so on. You will soon reach a point where the joke teller cannot stand it any longer, and will be the one to break in with, “Yes, well tell me about your vacation.”
My friend’s typical response is the following: “Wow, did you really mean to say that out loud?!”
But I wonder what it would be like if you did make the person feel awkward. Would that be such a crime? People typically don’t tell racist jokes around me (and with good reason), but they often do say racist things. And lately my general response has been to question them about their deep-seated beliefs.
I think part of the problem is that people think that confrontation about racism always has to be confrontational. I think that we can do it in a civilized way. Although sometimes I like the confrontational response as well. What about you?