Recently, the Washington Post published an article by Rebecca Hains called “Dear fellow white people: Here’s what to do when you’re called racist.” Hains is a professor of media and communication at Salem State University, where she also serves as a faculty fellow for diversity, power dynamics and social justice.
Neither the article nor the statement of Hains’s credentials is a parody.
Hains prescribed five steps her “fellow white people” should take if accused of racism. They are:
1. Recognize that what matters most is what happened just now. In other words, nothing about your life history matters, even if that history demonstrates that you’re not a racist.
2. Remember the broader context. The broader context is “unconscious racism.”
3. Stay calm and ask for clarification. “Would you be willing to help me understand where I went wrong?” is the kind of clarification Hains recommends seeking.
4. Really listen to the answer(s) you receive. “You’re not on trial,” Hains says. But at institutions like the one Hains works for, you probably soon will be.
5. Express gratitude — then get to work. Again, this is not a parody.
Abe Greenwald distills Hains’s five steps into one:
If you are accused of racism, it is because you are a racist. Case closed. Apologize at once and cease being so hateful.
Greenwald has an alternative one-step solution:
If the charge is false, fight back until it is retracted.
This was a successful response to an accusation of racism hurled in the pages of the Washington Post, the same rag that published Hains’s article. Greenwald notes that only days after Hains’s article appeared, the same section of the Post ran an article by Marissa Brostoff insinuating without evidence that conservative author J.D. Vance was a racist. Brostoff implied that when Vance expressed concern for declining American birthrates, he was actually upset about white America’s inability to produce white babies at replacement levels.
The push back was immediate. It resulted in the Post removing the smear and running a correction.
Greenwald’s approach is the right one for those who are falsely accused of racism in cases where something is at stake. Where nothing is at stake, the best one-step approach is to tell the accuser to f*ck off.