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Auchter's Art: Yes, you are racist. And other good conversation starters.

John Auchter
Michigan Radio

Telling the wife of your boss at a dinner party that she is a racist is not a career enhancing move. Turns out, people don't like to be called racist — even if they are.

Let me explain.

Many years ago my boss at the time generously hosted a holiday dinner for his three employees and their spouses. I was sitting next to his wife and in the course of conversation she mentioned growing up in Grand Rapids and her not-so-positive experience with school integration.

She had some lingering issues and asked me my assessment.

In a very academic (maybe even Aspergerian) way I told her, yes, I thought she was racist, but qualified it with my mini-thesis on what that means:

There are three degrees of racism.

First degree is a negative view of somebody else because of their race and openly acting on that negative view (think Archie Bunker).

Second degree is a patronizing view of somebody else because of their race (think of kindly people of previous generations, "I feel sorry for colored people.")

Third degree is simply letting a person's race affect how you treat that person, however small that effect may be.

I told her, like most Americans (including myself), she was probably a third-degree racist. Only the very young and the exceptionally pure are not racist.

Still, it didn't go over well. Also, I had a hard time hiding the fact that I really didn't care for the mutton that was served, so that didn't help.

If you are ever faced with a similar situation, my advice would be to avoid rolling out a mini-thesis. And if you can't deflect the issue altogether, have a discussion instead of forcing a "teaching moment," which is what I tried to do with this week's cartoon.

How'd I do? (If you feel compelled to call me an idiot, please qualify with what degree.)

John Auchter is an editorial cartoonist. Views expressed in his cartoons are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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