How to Be Less of a Jerk – Part 2 – Admit Racism

June 9, 2020

How to Be Less of a Jerk – Part 2 – Admit Racism

Have You Been Called Racist? Don't React Like a Jerk - 2020 Update

Stop getting offended when someone calls you white, part of white supremacy, a recipient of white privilege, or even *gasp* racist. Instead, try this: hush up, listen and learn.

Content Note: racism, sexism, and sexual assault

[Content warning: Racism]

Just because someone doesn’t want to be racist doesn’t mean they aren’t. Contributing to white supremacy is racism. Supporting racists is racism. Excusing racism is racism. Not holding racists accountable is racism.

Racism is a system of oppression that permeates all levels of society and shows itself in invisible and in-your-face ways. But those things, those subtle acts or non-acts, are the stepping stones violence walks on. It isn’t always deliberate; it’s subtle, and that stealthy prejudice is where the blatant hate gets its strength. The seeds of covert racist denial are the fertilizer for outright discrimination, brutality, and hatred.

Sometimes racists are dressed in the white garb of the KKK, but they can also be dressed like your favorite aunt who volunteers at the soup kitchen. Racism is subconscious and deliberate. Racism does not exist only in Nazi rallies, hate crimes or racial slurs. It exists in thinking that maybe black people need to stop pulling the race card. Racism says that people protesting police brutality are “just complaining” and if they followed the law they wouldn’t get shot. Racism is trying to tell a person of color what racism is. Racism isn’t based on personal emotions (although they are tied up in it). Racism is an entire system and spectrum of inequality that disproportionately affects the lives of people of color. Racism is claiming to not see color. Racism is subtle and stark. Covert and overt. Quiet and loud.

A pervasive argument breaking out post-Election Day 2016 is that voting for Donald Trump does not mean someone supports racism. But elections are a place where we can see this spectrum of racism play out in real time.


President-Elect Trump’s campaign was powered by racist and xenophobic rhetoric. Hate groups such as the Klu Klux Klan have vocally endorsed Trump since the early days of his campaign. Trump, for his part, did little to distance himself from these blatantly racist terror groups. In January 2016, Trump retweeted a white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer with the username @WhiteGenocideTM. In February 2016, he retweeted another white supremacist. Days later, he retweeted yet another white supremacist.

When confronted about this and about the racist endorsements he had garnered, Trump did not outright distance himself from them. Additionally, official Trump campaigns and campaign staff across at least five states follow social media influencers that promote the fallacy of #WhiteGenocide.

Let’s go back in time and see other ways Trump has exposed himself as racist. For decades, Trump has spouted ignorant ideas about race in the United States. In 1973, the Department of Justice sued Trump for violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against black tenants.

In 1989, five black teenagers were falsely convicted of a brutal rape of a white woman. In response, Trump ran full-page ads in newspapers across New York City with the all-caps headline “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY.” In 2002, due to a confession and DNA evidence that matched another individual, the falsely convicted men were released and given large settlements. Trump’s opinion on the “Central Park Five” remained hateful when he continued to slander the innocent men by saying, “These young men do not exactly have the past of angels.” When asked again about his opinion on this in 2013, Trump tweeted, “Tell me, what were they doing in the Park, playing checkers?”

Trump’s racism is very much tied up in white supremacy. In 1993, Trump was at a Congressional committee hearing on the topic of gambling casinos ran by American Indian tribes, where he is recorded making overtly racist remarks implying there was organized crime in those casinos. He said he didn’t believe “an Indian chief is going to tell Joey Killer to get off his reservation” and, “if you look at some of the reservations you approved … I’ll tell you right now, they don’t look like Indians to me … Now, maybe we say politically correct or not politically correct, they don’t look like Indians to me, and they don’t look like Indians to Indians.”

Related: Being Less of a Jerk 101: A Crash Course on What to Do When You’re Called Out on -Isms

He was vocally against the building of a Muslim community center in Manhattan in 2009. He insisted that nothing of the sort should be permitted within five blocks of Ground Zero. He even attempted to buy out the project. His stereotyping seems to know no bounds. When he spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition in December 2015, Trump made multiple remarks about the room being full of negotiators. The stereotype of Jews being tight with money has long been a damaging hallmark of anti-Semitism.

Fast-forward to the most recent decade, and Trump’s racist commentary has continued to pile up. In November 2014, he tweeted, “Sadly, because president Obama has done such a poor job as president, you won’t see another black president for generations!”


Repeatedly on the campaign trail, he said things such as:

African American communities are being decimated by crime.” (September 26, 2016, Presidential debate)

“African Americans and Hispanics are living in hell. You walk down the street and you get shot.” (September 26, 2016, Presidential debate)

“[We see] race riots on our streets on a monthly basis. Somebody said don’t call them race riots, but that’s what they are. They’re race riots.” (October 3, 2016, rally in Colorado)

“African American youth … [have] never done more poorly. There’s no spirit … killings on an hourly basis.” (June 23, 2016, Maryland GOP annual dinner)

Maybe you cast your ballot for Trump because you preferred what he said about gun rights or his stance on abortion. However, this says that those things are more important to you than challenging racism. Your vote declared that outspoken racism is not a deal-breaker. Maybe you barely paid attention to the racism of his campaign, or maybe you barely paid attention to the campaign at all. Whether intended or not, voting for Trump gave a green light to those who agree with the hateful rhetoric that carried his campaign. It gave a pass to racism and bigotry.

It also let Trump know that his base of supporters won’t hold him accountable for white supremacy.  Trump has appointed Stephen Bannon to serve as chief strategist and senior counselor. Bannon is an outspoken white nationalist and major player in alt-right media propaganda.


Upholding and strengthening white privilege is racist. Someone can be kind and giving and have a plethora of diverse friends and family whom they love earnestly and still harbor subconscious racism. Even if they are aware of it, if they do nothing to counteract the systems of white privilege and supremacy they benefit from, that’s racism. There are racist implications even the most woke white person can’t escape.

I am a card-carrying benefactor of white privilege. One of those privileges is being able to play nice and look away from the damage, because the damage of racism isn’t happening to me. But ignoring it and denying the severity of racism’s impact only buys time for the roots to dig deeper.


That doesn’t make white people bad people or inherently evil, and it doesn’t mean that white people must wallow in guilt for the sins of racist history. What it does mean is that with privilege ought to come responsibility: the responsibility to be honest about what happened in the past and what is happening in the present. The responsibility to go dig up the roots of racism, because white people have easier access to the fields where it has grown.

It is uncomfortable and — to be quite honest — painful to have to admit you have been racist. It is not easy to look into the glaring light and see the ways in which you’ve been a hypocrite. But that’s the only way we grow. (Spoiler alert: we’re all full of contradictions and hypocrisy, admit it to yourself before someone points it out and you’re way ahead of the pack). I speak of myself, too. I am part of this. We all are.

It’s important to challenge denial. We can work on enacting change only once we give the problem a name and become willing to accept that name even when it makes us uncomfortable. Placating people is what makes us all comfortable in our internalized prejudices.

Once we acknowledge the threads of racism that crisscross the fabric of our society, once all of us concede to bear witness to the deep current of prejudice running under all of us, only then can we start to dismantle the structure of oppression that gave rise to this divide.

Continue reading article on Wear Your Voice Mag





Stop getting offended when someone calls you white, part of white supremacy, a recipient of white privilege, or even *gasp* you get called racist. Instead, try this: shut up, listen and learn. Welcome to the crash course that is here to teach you how to be less of a jerk when you’re called racist.

I wrote this article first in September of 2016. It feels like now is a good time to update this to reflect what’s happened in the last four years and the current climate of the Black Lives Matter movement. As you’re reading this, keep in mind that racism is traumatizing, that white supremacy is a source of relentless inescapable trauma.

I want you to be aware that racism is traumatizing. This is a public health issue, this is a mental health issue, one that has been ongoing for generations and generations.


Dark skinned man wearing a face mask
Photo by Tai’s Captures on Unsplash

It is June of 2020:

We are facing a viral pandemic, the size of which the people alive today have never experienced. Coronavirus is the virus which causes COVID-19 and COVID-19 is taking lives. And we don’t really understand the virus or how to treat it or what long term effects it may have on the body.

We are nearing the end of Trump’s first and possibly (hopefully, yes I am biased and I am not a fan in the least) only term as president of the United States.

We are facing global recession, the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression.

We are seeing protests nationwide and globally in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Sparked by the video of a cop murdering George Floyd, a Black man who repeatedly said he could not breathe while Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck and three other officers did nothing to intervene, and even aided in compressing George Floyd’s body as he and onlookers cried that he couldn’t breathe.

We’re seeing riots mixed in with the protests, some are part of the protests, others are started by agitators and even police themselves.

We’re seeing some looting, again also mixed in with rioting and protests and some are just opportunists taking what they want because they can. Some are cops who are destroying medic stations. Trump has threatened to deploy troops against the wishes of individual states to provide “law and order.”

Meanwhile, police are showing up to peaceful protests in riot gear with equipment originally produced for the military.

We’re seeing cops assault, arrest, and kill protestors.

We’ve seen videos of police macing peaceful protestors, and even a little girl.

We’ve seen a video of police shoving an elderly man to the ground, and as he lay bleeding from his head, they did not stop to render immediate aid. And as those two police are suspended for what they did, 57 cops quit their jobs in solidarity with the suspended cops.

What we’re seeing is that property is more important than people. We saw a slow response to COVID-19, but witnessed an incredibly quick mobilization of resources to use force against protestors.

Likely, as numbers of cases rise, it’s going to be blamed on the protests, but the root cause is not the protests, it’s the unmitigated uncontrolled reopening of states that will cause the first spike. Protest related virus spread is sped up by police tactics of using violent force against protestors.

Why? Because property is more important than life, in the system we live within.

Now that we know where we are today, let’s explore what happens when someone calls you or something you said or did racist.


Cartoon of White Privilege vs Black Experience, white man with gun telling cop to reopen the economy vs cop having shot a black man
Political cartoon by Benjamin Syngstad, @slyngstad_cartoons (2020)




White people get really touchy when called out for racism. Some of us get angry and oh-so-offended.

Some white people will respond by providing a list of their qualifications that “proves” their lack of racism. Common phrases include: “I have lots of [insert non-white ethnicity here] friends.” “I love Beyoncé.” “I am aware of those issues and I am not racist.” “I donated time and money to #BlackLivesMatter.” “I voted for Obama.” “I can’t believe you would call me racist.” “This issue isn’t about race.” “There someone goes playing the race card.” “I didn’t mean it like that.”

Impact is different than intent. When someone is calling you out on a prejudicial and problematic comment, it’s because your impact is harmful — no matter what you intended. When it comes to racism, sexism, ableism or any other kind of problematic discourse or behavior, stop reacting defensively when accused of an “ism.”

White people often derail conversations about racism and anti-Blackness by trying to relate via their own non-privileges. Or worse, they try to shut down the conversation by claiming they are more or just as oppressed as Black people. They center their valid but NOT THE ISSUE AT HAND experience as a white person who is a religious minority, queer, first generation, disabled, poor, not a cis-man, survivor of abuse. Or by espousing their ethnic heritage as if that absolves them of being part of a white supremacist system when they may be Irish (and Irish people were indentured servants) or their great great great grandma was rumored to be Indigenous.

Some will try to flip the script entirely and cry that it’s reverse racism against whites to call white people racist. These public cries of woe turn the attention to their own feelings, invoke a falsehood about the existence of “reverse-racism.” This centers white people, white stories, white tears, and diverts attention from where it should be.


Black child stands next to water fountain labeled "Colored"
Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

White people are taught that racism is obvious. While there are many knots to untangle in this rat’s nest of oppression, one pervasive thread is how stereotypes play into our understanding of what a racist looks like. It’s dressed up in the bleached garb of KKK members. It’s tattooed with a Nazi swastika. It’s an angry middle-aged white man hurling slurs at a stranger. It’s a great grandmother at Thanksgiving who warns you against dating a Mexican. To be called racist is framed as this horrible vile thing that you have to defend yourself against.

White people are fed a narrative that legal equality has all but eradicated racism. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” There are few quotes as misappropriated by white people as this one. White people believe that racism is only the hatred of another person for the color of their skin. Thus, many believe being “colorblind” is the best way to avoid racism.


All of these misconceptions are the result of stereotypes. Stereotypes of what racism is, what oppression is and even what groups of people someone can be racist against. But anyone can be prejudiced or discriminate against anyone for any reason. A black person can be prejudiced against white people, but that is not racism. Racism is “prejudice plus power.” “Reverse racism” does not exist, because society was built through, and is maintained by, institutional inequality against people of color. Prejudice is one part of racism, but racism functions at every level of society and acts on countless fronts to reinforce systematic subjugation while protecting white people.

This is about a generational legacy of white supremacy continually traumatizing people of color, continually killing and looting Black and Indigenous people. This has been happening for hundreds of years in the context of North America, against anyone who could not assimilate and become white. Racism is severe and long lasting and never ending trauma inflicted on people for not being white. And not just generationally, but in everyday life. There are many ways in which white supremacy shows itself, both overt (obvious) and covert (less obvious, sometimes subtle).

It can be very uncomfortable to be called out for racism, but it is nothing compared to the oppression perpetuated by that racist thought/behavior/word. I am a white woman and I know it can be painful and excruciatingly embarrassing to be called racist. I don’t want to be racist, but I am. Racists are a product of a society built on oppression, but they are not victims.

The following graphic is one depiction containing examples of overt and covert white supremacy.


Diagram triangle of covert and overt white supremacy
Original Image: Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (2005) “Building a Multi-Ethnic, Inclusive & Antiracist Organization-Tools for Liberation Packet for Anti-Racist Activists, Allies, & Critical Thinkers”.
Adapted by: Ellen Tuzzolo (2016)

This next infographic is similar to the previous one, but it has additional categories for expanding the understanding of the structural nature of racism and white supremacy:

Diagram triangle of overt, coded, and covert white supremacy and capitalism
This diagram about white supremacy was found in an article for Twin Cities Daily Planet (2017).

You don’t need to understand every example listed, but often we bristle at the ones we don’t understand or that we disagree with, then we throw out the whole conversation. Like getting annoyed by the calling out of Hollywood or country music as agents of covert white supremacy. Don’t go all pufferfish just because you don’t understand it, instead let’s see what a better response would be.


Stop getting angry, offended, or personally hurt (ie; but what about ME?) when called racist. Instead, hold your tongue, listen and try to figure out why you’re being called out. Do not call on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) to personally educate you or provide you with their emotional energy and labor to educate you about what you did. Be mindful. Be mindful of what you are asking of others. There are plenty of resources out there, do your own research.

If you want to find resources but really struggle with executive function tasks such as organizing your thoughts to conduct effective research, there are ways you can still find information: ask a non-BIPOC person who you know is anti-racist if they know of resources, ask a BIPOC only if they have explicitly offered to provide resources, ask in a public forum generally for suggestions on materials to help you learn, and it is ok to say, “I am unable to independently find the information I know is already out there, if anyone is willing and able to point me in the right direction, that would be appreciated.” And add that you have a learning disability, or executive functioning challenges, or whatever, if you feel comfortable. Be ready to have people tell you that you should just google it, don’t take it personally. Most people may be able to “just google it”, it’s ok if you can’t.

Even if you aren’t angry at being called racist and instead feel deep shame, centering your shame is a selfish act. To center yourself, as a person benefiting from white supremacy, is adding to the problem by diverting energy and attention away from the issues at hand. Do not allow your white sensitivities to take up space. Be part of the solution, and if you can’t be part of the solution, be quiet and learn how to be part of the solution.

It isn’t enough to be “not a racist.” We must be anti-racist, which is an active process. White supremacy means that white folks do not have to think about race all the time. We can just turn it off. The news about the protests getting to be too much? Step away from the computer for a day and you can forget about it for a day. Black people do not have that privilege.

I’ll expand on this idea of accepting the reality of white supremacy and coming to terms with ignorance in another updated post.


Two women looking at each other
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels


Charlie shares a news story on her private Facebook page about Roosh V promoting the idea of legal rape (rape of women). She shares it because she is outraged by the message, the sexism, the promotion of violence, and all that such a thing entails. Several people comment, the conversation is primarily women who are talking about their experiences with sexual assault and harassment. They are speaking about their fury with male privilege and misogyny.

A white straight cis male named Jack comments, “I just looked this douchebag up and *surprise surprise* he’s Iranian!”

Charlie responds, “You have derailed the conversation with an inaccurate and, quite frankly, racist comment.”

Jack snaps back, “I’m the least racist person you know. How many African Americans and Hispanics do you work with and have in your home every day? Look up Roosh V’s blog for your edification.”

Charlie responds, “I am so outrageously offended. Don’t talk down to me.”

Jack, no less angry than before, writes, “FYI , you’re offended? You called me a racist for fuck sake!!! Who do you think you are to judge me? The point is my family’s closest friends not ‘collected nonwhites’ happen to be African American. Typical. Read his blog then pop off.”


Jack is displaying multiple “isms” in this exchange. He is inserting himself into a discussion without acknowledging his privilege as a cis man, he makes it about his own anger, as if he is the dude who would save all the women because the guy is such a douche. He deflects the conversation from that of rape culture by making a racist comment. A culture of which Jack is a part of, whether he wants to be or not. Jack is mansplaining. Jack is taking focus away from the actual problem.


Charlie later discusses this exchange with a friend, Skylar. Charlie is white and Skylar is a Black woman. Skylar is upset by the content of Jack’s comments and tells Charlie, “I can relate, the way he talked over you happens to me all the time with white people.”


A. Tell Skylar that the sexism part isn’t the same thing as racism.

B. Get upset and tell Skylar that was a mean thing to say because Charlie is white and not like that.

C. Remind Skylar that not everything is an excuse to pull the race card.

D. None of the above.

If you chose D, you are correct.

Do not silence Skylar. If Charlie reacted by silencing Skylar, she would be doing the same thing that Jack did. Charlie would be whitesplaining. A better response would be to listen to Skylar and not get defensive.


It’s not ideal to be constantly unintentionally problematic. However, if you are — you can and should learn from it. Listen to the people who are willing to point it out, take a moment so you can respond later rather than react defensively right now. You have to unlearn a lot of racist cultural norms and replace those with anti-racist actions and practice.

We may have to admit offensiveness, ignorance and privilege over and over again. What you may consider a misstep with good intentions could be very damaging. You need to know when that happens. We all do. If you didn’t mean to be racist, then you should want to learn about how your well-intentioned behavior is problematic so your actions can match your intentions.

I’m stubborn and sensitive. Admitting I was in the wrong is not a painless thing, but those pains are necessary growing pains. My white sensitivities are proof of a system that has protected white sensibilities for centuries. I like to think I glean a wee bit of knowledge each time I have a growing pain, and that I’m hopefully accumulating enough mistakes and corrections to allow me to be less harmful and more helpful.

Racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, none of that is mutually exclusive. Privileges are layered.

Kristance Harlow

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