I live in North America but in the particular area I live in there are more Asians than Caucasians. I sometimes hear things I find racist but am afraid to speak up fearing a negative response.

Just for one small example, in the work break room there's tv had and a cop show was on. I said "I wonder where this is?" and an Asian colleague said:

"Judging by the white trash and rednecks of the place, probably the Southern States."

Being white if I said that I would be (probably) fired. Being not white, it seems to be seen as okay. How can I criticise this inequality in a way that will not result in me being percieved as a racist or where other people get offended?

  • 1
    Can you be more specific about what you're asking? What's wrong with just saying "I don't appreciate x?"
    – sphennings
    Apr 13, 2018 at 10:41
  • 9
    it's not exactly clear what you want. Do you want to get your coworkers to stop talking like that? Do you want to persuade them to stop? Do you want consequences? Just lament about the state of things? You have two distinct and different questions in here (too broad), but one of them (what exactly to say) is strictly off topic here. Please clarify.
    – Magisch
    Apr 13, 2018 at 10:53
  • 8
    Comments are not for discussion. Unless a comment is suggesting improvements or requesting clarification don't post it.
    – sphennings
    Apr 13, 2018 at 14:51
  • 1
    If your issue is with your coworkers, try the Workplace Stack Exchange. Otherwise, you should make your question more specific, because there's no advice on "taking issue" with something that hasn't initially involved you.
    – Clay07g
    Apr 13, 2018 at 16:00

4 Answers 4


I would suggest just criticizing it directly, but without a trace of racism in your comment. Like this:

'Hmmm, that sounds a bit racist to me'.

This cannot be interpreted as racist, and I also don't see how any reasonable person can be offended by this. Not everybody is reasonable though. There are also people who believe that it is not possible to discriminate white people in a dominantly white country, so you could very well end up in a discussion on that topic. If you are not sure you can deal with such a discussion in a patient and respectful way, without saying anything that could possibly be interpreted as racist, it is better to just not talk about it. You don't want your colleagues to think that you are (or even may be) a racist.


I believe that there could be a problem here by using the term "racism" because "racism" has a very complicated and nuanced definition and varies widely in its application as a result.

Addressing a group of non-white people as a white person claiming that racism is evident in their speech implies that the level of discrimination they've displayed is indicative of a belief in systemic racist ideology. Racism does not affect white people because racism is a belief that supports continuing systemic violence against people of color. Racism does not harm white people at a systemic level. Racist ideology comes from white people because it was designed and created to keep races other than white people at a disadvantage in society. It is simply disingenuous to equate your Asian coworkers making assumptions about where white people live (well, mostly Appalachian people, which I will address shortly) to racism.

You may disagree with my definition of racism. They may disagree with my definition of racism. Others here may disagree with my definition of racism. The reason why I address it here is that I believe there are better ways to approach this situation described by the OP than using the term "racist."

All that aside, here's some scripts I would recommend.

This is discrimination. Addressing discrimination specifically and calling it by that name avoids any contentious topics about what it means to be racist.

In your case, I would try to say something along these lines:

"These assumptions about the kinds of people who live in the South is hurtful."

"I don't think it's fair to categorize the South based entirely on stereotypes."

"It bothers me that you've implied that poor white people are trash."

A further note:

In my discussion of racism, I mentioned Appalachian people. Appalachian people are the people who most refer to as "rednecks" and "white trash." These are generally poor people living along the Appalachian mountains (hence its name). These are people living in parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, or the entirety of West Virginia.

Most of the states mentioned above are among the poorest states in the country. Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama, and Kentucky are four of the last five states in terms of income. West Virginia's most common jobs include: roof bolting, mining, shuttle car operators, mine cutting and channeling machine operators, continuous mining machine operators, helpers / extraction workers, wellhead pumpers, etc. These are extremely physically demanding and also pay poorly. The people there are poor and face the effects of poor welfare legislation, safety regulation, and environmental pollution regulation.

This is information that isn't very well known; it's just assumed that "white trash" is just equivalent to poor people or "country people", but when people talk about the stereotypical "red neck", they're usually describing Appalachia. If you wanted to take the time to educate your Asian coworkers about how they've miscast the "South" as Appalachia and the problems that many people in that area face, that's also an option.


That's a no-win game: people--all people--don't like being judged, and sharing your "offendedness" is going to cause people to bristle. Period.

There is no secret code for condemning what someone just said and maintaining the relationship in the same state.

If someone says something so egregious that you feel like you have to speak up, by all means go for it: but your relationship will be forever altered, and you'll have to understand that going in.

You certainly have no obligation to participate in such conversations. In emotionally close relationships it can make sense to address the kind of discomfort you're speaking of, but mostly through the context of maintaining the relationship, not stigmatizing the other person's views. I will usually find a way to politely excuse myself and leave when these kinds of conversations become extended.

The world is filled with all kinds of people, and there are some that you're going to have to work with, or go to school with. You're not going to fix them.


Nobody likes to be accused of something that is widely perceived (and, in the case of racism, rightly so) as bad / immoral, which means that doing so will rarely achieve anything (positive). Furthermore, not every off-the-cuff remark has a racist or offensive intention, even if it can be (maybe even justifiably) construed as such, so outright saying "What you just said is racist!" will be problematic in most cases.


What I like to do instead is giving the person making the statement I take issue with a chance to clarify by innocently asking something along the lines of "What do you mean by that?" / "Why do you think that?" / "Are you serious with that statement (or just joking)?" etc.

Depending on their answer you can pose some follow-up questions, maybe point out casually that their statement is inaccurate (because of reasons x, y z). If it turns out that there really are racial prejudices at the root of what they just said, you can try something like "Based on what you just told me, you seem to have some rather strong prejudices against . May I ask where those come from?"

If they insist that those prejudices are not prejudices but facts, I personally would stop worrying too much about offending them as they wouldn't be the kind of person (colleague, in this context) I would want to spend more time with than absolutely necessary, but if I wanted to keep up some kind of diplomacy, I might ask "Isn't that by racism by definition?" and give them a last chance to opt out.


In this particular case (the usage of certain terms to label a group of people) I would go for a variant of the above and ask "Why do you call them that?" / "I don't like labelling an entire group of people with derogative terms. Don't you think a more neutral term would be more appropriate?" .

If they don't get it, you can also go for "I realize you might not mean what you said in a racist way, but to me at least it comes across as such." .

What these approaches have in common is that you are not just passing a judgment without any chance for appeal. Instead, by giving them a chance to explain themselves, you force them to take a clear (and consciously chosen) position. They also allow you to make it clear that you personally disapprove of any such behaviour, no matter the source.

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