In this TED talk, Jay Smooth addresses how to communicate racist comments that come up in conversations.
He begins with an anecdote about how people often ask him “What are you?” and he proceeds to joke that he’s not a philosopher in any way but that he is a light skinned African American male that is essentially a mix of various races.
He then proceeds to discuss a video that he posted on YouTube and how he attempted to provide suggestions to people who were faced, in a conversation, with a racist comment. He told people to focus on the racist comment, not on the fact that the person who said the fact could suddenly be racist. He further explains that when he points out that a racist comment, the person who said it immediately assumes that he is accusing them of being racist and they immediately deny that label. Thus, he stresses the importance on focusing on the comment, not the person. However, he received mixed reviews from this video with some people saying that his strategies worked and some saying that his strategies didn’t work at all.
He then discusses how race is a socially constructed system that was created to essentially exploit people and so it requires a lot of effort to combat this deeply ingrained system in society. He then likens racism and prejudice to tonsils. He says that people often think that they are either racist or not and that there is essentially no ‘gray area’. Furthermore, he says that we have to actively address our imperfections and see ourselves as trying to be ‘clean’ people in that we work daily to maintain our cleanliness/awareness of our racist comments and attitudes.
Despite the barriers that have been broken, he emphasizes the fact that we all need to work together to breakthrough these issues through conversation and create strategies to keep moving forward.
The message that Jay Smooth gives in his video, specifically his metaphor about maintaining awareness and not automatically assuming that one is either racist or not at all is helpful. I realize now that instead of trying to think of myself as a perfect person that has no racist attitudes or prejudice is destructive to myself and others because I am human and I have imperfections, but that does not make me a bad person. I also think that the metaphor of social awareness being likened to cleanliness is understandable and effective because it is important to keep oneself aware and consistently working towards self-improvement, which will in turn, help improve society as a whole.