JAY SMOOTH: Race. The final frontier.
No matter what channel you watch, no matter what feed you aggregate, it seems like everybody, everywhere is talking about race right now. When everybody, everywhere is talking about race, that means sooner or later you’re going to have to tell somebody that they said something that sounded racist.
You need to be ready and have a plan in place for how to approach the inevitable “that sounded racist” conversation. I’m going to tell you how to do that.
The most important thing that you’ve got to do is remember the difference between the “what they did” conversation, and the “what they are” conversation. Those are two totally different conversations and you need to make sure that you pick the right one.
The “what they did” conversation focuses strictly on the person’s words and actions and explaining why what they did and what they said was unacceptable. This is also known as the “that thing you said was racist” conversation. That’s the conversation that you want to have.
The “what they are” conversation, on the other hand, takes things one step further and uses what they did and what they said to draw conclusions about what kind of person they are. This is also the “I think you are a racist” conversation.
This is the conversation you don’t want to have because that conversation takes us away from the facts of what they did and the speculation about their motives and intentions. Those are things you can only guess at, you can’t ever prove. That makes it way too easy for them to derail your whole argument.
That is the part that’s crucial to understand. When you say “I think he’s a racist,” that’s not a bad move because you might be wrong. That’s a bad move because you might be right. Because if that dude really is racist, you want to make sure you hold them accountable and don’t let them off easy.
Even though, intuitively, it feels like the hardest way to hit them is just to run up on them and say “I think your ass is racist,” when you handle it that way, you’re actually letting them off easy because you’re setting up a conversation that’s way too simple for him to derail and duck out of.
Just think about how this plays out every time a politician or a celebrity gets caught out there. It always starts out as a “what they did” conversation, but as soon as the celebrity and their defenders get on camera, they start doing judo flips and switching it into a “what they are” conversation.
“I have known this person for years, and I know for a fact that they are not a racist. How dare you claim to know what’s inside their soul just because they made one little joke about watermelon, tap dancing, and going back to Africa?”
Then you try and explain that we don’t need to see inside their soul to know that they shouldn’t have said all that about the watermelon. You try to focus on the facts of the situation, but by then it’s too late because the “what they are” conversation is a rhetorical Bermuda Triangle where everything drowns in a sea of empty posturing until somebody just blames it all on hip hop and we forget the whole thing ever happened.
Don’t let this happen to you.
When somebody picks my pocket, I’m not going to be chasing them down so I can figure out whether he feels like he’s a thief deep down in his heart. I’m going to be chasing him down so I can get my wallet back. I don’t care what he is, but I need to hold him accountable for what he did.
That’s how we need to approach these conversations about race. Treat them like they took your wallet and focus on the part that matters, holding each person accountable for the impact of their words and actions.
I don’t care what you are. I care about what you did.