Above is a good video called “How to tell people they sound racist” by Jay Smooth. You can see his thread about it here:
I like it because it makes an important distinction between dealing with what someone said and dealing with their internal motivations. The lesson of the video is that it’s far easier to say “That thing you said about the watermelon was racist” than it is to say “You have the heart and soul of a racist”. Hearts and souls are hard to measure. Words are a little bit easier.
This post is sort of in that same spirit of choosing how to fight for equality by choosing tactics that are easier to win and avoiding tactics that get you bogged down into a quagmire with no exit strategy other than to shut down the thread.
The quagmire comes when you say “It sounds to me like you’re saying” (or some variation) and then insert the most extreme discrimitory thing that you can imagine, something so evil that it would make Darth Vader pause, before he’d remind himself of how his poor mother was a slave and murdered by sand people, and then choke hold someone.
“It sounds to me” is really nothing more than a round about, back door approach, to saying “I think you’re a racist” but trying to soften it and dilute it by saying “it sounds that way to me”. What you’re saying is just an indirect way of saying “It is my opinion that you are a racist”. And as Jay Smooth points out in his video, saying “you’re a racist” is a whole lot more likely to derail than dealing with specificaly what the person actually said.
Focus on what they said, not on what you think they said or what you want to interpret them as having said. And for pete’s sake, don’t invent quotes attributed to the person if they didn’t actually say it. Focus on their actual words.
Part of what is behind “it seems to me that you’re saying (insert horrible evil)” is an assumption of bad faith, that the person’s words or actions must have behind them the worst possible intentions of anyone who ever said those same words or did those same actions.
But, for example, not every cop who arrests a black man is racist. So, you cannot take one phrase/action and assume the worst intent of anyone who has ever said/done that.
I’m not saying you have to assume good faith either. You don’t have to poly-anna their intentions. It’s best to avoid intentions altogether. But definitely don’t take their words or actions and find the worst possible intention behind them and then try to weasel a round about accusation about their intents by couching it in “It seems to me that you’re saying (evil)”, when all you’re really doing is saying “It is my personal opinion that you’re a racist”.
“It seems to me that you’re a racist” is just one level of indirection above what Jay Smooth’s admonition to avoid saying “you’re a racist”.
“Racists do this. You’re doing this. You must be a racist. Wait, Jay Smooth told me not to say that. It sounds to me like you’re saying you want to be a racist. Yeah, yeah, that’s the ticket.”
I would suggest not making any assumptions about intent at all. Don’t assume good faith. Don’t assume bad faith. Instead of “It seems to me that you’re saying (evil)”, what you might consider doing is saying something along the lines of this:
“Racists have used this phrase, or done this action, as a way to commit camouflaged racism. They want to continue to be racists, so they find indirect ways of doing and saying racist things. The thing you just said/did is one of those things they do/say as camoflaged racism. When you do/say this thing, whether you intend it to be racist or not, it will end up hurting some people because racists say/do that exact same thing to hurt people.”
This is a bit of a mouthful, but it’s a hell of a lot shorter than a flamewar.
Another way some people try to defend assuming bad faith is by asserting “The meaning of your communication is the response you get.” Or some variation thereof. How it gets applied in a totally derailed flamewar is this: “Your communication hurt me, you must have meant to hurt me.”
But that’s taking things all the way back to intent again. And focusing the conversation on intent is the quagmire that Jay Smooth warns about. “You *are* a racist.” “You *meant* to hurt me.” These are comments about the person’s soul. And they’ll derail it in a heartbeat.
The part that is true about that whole “the meaning of your communication is the response you get” concept is how you felt about the communication.
And for pete’s sake, don’t start saying “It *feels* like you’re saying (evil)”. Speaking truthfully about your feelings would mean saying something like “that hurt” or “that makes me sad” and so on. Talking about feelings doesn’t mean “I felt like you meant to hurt me” is now an acceptable way to indirectly make accusations of intent. No. You know the truth about *your* feelings, you know your soul, you know your heart. Report it. But keep the report to your heart, your soul, your feelings. Don’t say “now that we’re talking about feelings, let me say what I feel your intentions were.”
If you’re in a conversation and someone says/does something that lands as racists or sexists or whatever, it’s going to hurt. And if you want to hold the person accountable for what they said or did, then let them know the effects of their words and actions. Their intent becomes irrelevant.
“That hurt. Racists use those words/actions to hurt people. Regardless of what your intentions were, when you use those words/actions, you will end up hurting people who have had to deal with racism.”
Give it a try.