How Can You Respond To A Racist Friend?

The BBC News Magazine examines a difficult social question: how can you sensibly respond to a friend who makes a racist comment? While the article was inspired by a UK-centric media scandal, the issue it raises is one that has relevance across the globe. One possible tactic the article doesn’t examine is using an anonymous webapp like previously mentioned NiceCritic or Whisper Bot to call out your friend on their behaviour, but that’s still an imperfect solution in many contexts. Got a better way to handle this social minefield? Share it in the comments.


  • I think the reason it’s such a difficult question is because it can be made manifest in so many different forms, some which a larger number might find appropriate, right through to some which almost no one may find appropriate.

    For example, I’ve got an Irish background and if I make a joke about an Irishman in a bar, people tend not to find it offensive. I mean, these kind of things can still go far, but obviously in this scenario, the intent is to amuse and not to offend.

    Someone who makes a more outlandish claim, like denying the holocaust, is difficult to deal with appropriately. I think the best thing you can do though, is just be critical the way you always would. Don’t make it a personal affront, stick to the subject at hand and deliver it nicely.

    Secondly, if you’re really looking to help break down a friend’s racist (or sexist or homophobic) tendencies, the best thing you can do is help them meet people who are of the group they are prejudiced against, but do not share stereotypical attributes with the class they’re prejudiced against. Obviously walking up to a person of any ethnic background and saying “hey I want my friend not to be racist, can he meet you?” might not be suitable. You’ll probably have to be discrete about this. Note that it also does take a while for people to get over these kind of things, when we see people outside behave outside our stereotypical image of them, we’ve often got a confirmatory bias, which acts as a bit of a buffer to us really noticing that these people don’t live up to our artificial standards.

    I think the other good thing we can all do is remember, it’s often just words. If it’s actions – we’ve got a problem, but if it’s words, they’re only really an indicator of deeper problems and that simply getting someone to use a more politically correct term often does nothing to help fix their more deeply ingrained racist tendencies.

  • I recently created an email responder to reply to emails with racist content. See below;

    This is an automatically generated email.

    Your previous email was considered racist and offensive. It was also void of creativity, intelligence and humour. You should really be ashamed of yourself.

    Your email has been auto-forwarded to the Australian Federal Police, who have added you to their ‘hate-crimes register’.

    Perhaps you should consider doing some work and refrain from being an ignorant douche-bag.

    Auto-Racist Email Responder

  • Umm, I usually come to lifehacker to read some interesting tech tips and get some new ideas related to technology. If I want social engineering I can just read The Age in Melbourne.

  • I’m fairly open with my friends, and they know i don’t dance around subjects that are considered serious, especially if i get offended. If i ever heard one of them say something racist, i would most probably respond with “that was a bit racist, don’t you think?” quite matter-of-factly.

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