If Someone Accuses You of Being Racist

Being white today means living in a steep learning curve. It is often disorienting and uncomfortable – a bit like an eye exam. But it’s such a good thing. The optometrist says, “Tell me which is clearer. Let me know when you see the dot. Can you see a number – what is it?” We are learning to see what we have been blind to – until now.

And, if we do it right, people will trust that they can bring these truths to us and live to do it again the next day. They can count on a measured and caring response.

I’ve often talked about the power of scripts in our lives – those standard responses to situations we all face as we navigate through our worlds. These short phrases are ready to use. Sneeze? Gesundheit. I accidentally stepped on your toe? I am so sorry. Because these phrases are memorized and practiced does not mean they aren’t honest. Instead they help us express those basic and universal human responses. Of course we feel bad if we step on someone’s toe. Those words expedite that expression. And they don’t divert from the situation at hand.  

So here’s my wish. I know there is a great need for lots of deep soul searching and conversations. And that will take time. But in the meantime, I would like to propose some script ideas specific to those interactions where someone is naming a behavior as hurtful or potentially racist.

THE “I” MESSAGE But, first, a reminder of one of the most basic communication skills – the “I” message. The “I” message is a way to own our own feelings without assigning blame or assuming intentions. Instead of “You made me so angry,” you would say, “When you did ( ), I felt angry.” Instead of “You’re such a bully,” you would say, “When you did this, I felt bullied.” “When you do ( ), I feel ( ).” Do you see the magic that happens there? The “I” message isn’t about intentions – or about me as a person, it scales the tension down to a fact.

ALWAYS ASSUME GOOD INTENTIONS. Let’s accept that we are all doing the best we can. We have different levels of self confidence, or faith, or exposure to racism and other biases. We are all – on this day – trying. 

Mark Twain, “A habit cannot be tossed out the window; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time.”


RECOMMENDED SCRIPT: The scene – a coworker has just interrupted what you were saying with, “That phrase sounds so racist.”

  1. THINK on the inside- “When I said ( ), she felt ( ).” It’s a sign of trust that she is sharing this with me.
  2. Thank you for letting me know. 
  3. That clearly was not my intention.
  4. I apologize.
  5. I won’t do it again.”

These response ideas aren’t complicated and don’t require a 2-week workshop. As simple as they are, I suggest that you practice when the heat isn’t on. This is not a good time for ad libbing; it’s way too important for that. These can ultimately be among the most important things you ever say as you accept responsibility for your role in this world and commit to better days.

Here are a few related posts.

About White Jesus

The Roots of Culture Change

Is Naming a “Karen” stereotyping?


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  1. Virginia Hilton says:

    Your Recommended Script is so right on, Susan. If we all could practice it on a regular basis the world would be a diffeent place. Thank you for this!

    1. SusanAdam says:

      Thanks so much. If we could only make these things easy.