13 Things Not to Do When You’re Called the “R” Word; And two things you should

Yes, thirteen things. I know that seems like a lot. Usually these types of pieces stick to a nice, neat number like 3, 5, or 10, but 13 is the number of things not to do that I counted in a single response written by a white woman whom I called the “R” word (R = racist), and it’s only 13 because I combined some of them!

I am an educator of color in Seattle whose job is anti-racist work within the school district. Seattle is very white – nearly 70%. It’s also one of the most liberal cities in the US, and these liberal, white Seattleites hate being called racist, but the thing is – a lot of them are. The reason they hate it so much is because of this idea that a racist is a bad person. Robin DiAngelo calls it the “good/bad binary.”

There’s been a phrase created in the past couple of years by a white Seattle educator to describe the type of racism that exists in Seattle: Passive Progressive. A Passive Progressive is a white person who espouses progressive ideals, especially racial justice, but only to the degree it earns them points for being progressive enough to be a Seattlelite. A Black professor I work with put it best, “White people love to put ‘Black Lives Matter’ yard signs on the lawns of the neighborhoods they’re gentrifying.”

I’ve been calling out a white woman, who considers herself an “education advocate,” as a racist very publicly on my social media. We’ll call this woman Becky. I decided to do this intentional calling out when I became witness to how Becky’s Passive Progressive racism was derailing a curriculum adoption process that was widely supported by families and science educators of color. I wanted people to know that most of the opposition was coming from a racist. Becky writes for and moderates a kind of “watch dog” community forum where she “reports” on various school district goings on. I could give you a “All the Ways Becky is Racist” list that would be so much longer than this post, but just know she thought a joke about fried chicken in a discussion about racism on her forum was “much needed levity.” But Becky is one of those people who believes she is inherently not racist because she is progressive. She wrote a public response to my call outs that I am using to generate this list. The quotes below come directly from her response.

It’s important to note that Becky self identifies as white. It’s also important to note that I use the definition, “prejudice + power = racism,” which means people of color can’t be racist because we’ve never held systemic power, so this list of “things not to do” only applies to white folks!

Ready? Here we go!


Number 1: Don’t expect the person of color who called you a racist to meet you on your terms.

In her response to me calling her a racist, Becky writes:

“When you are dealing with zealots who believe they are the ones who speak with purity about all things race, ethnicity, and the intersection of those for all of us, there’s nothing you can say that will satisfy them if you can’t pass their purity means testing.  You will always be shouted down.”

We’ll get to the “zealot” and “shouted down” parts later, but here I want you to note how Becky expects me to listen to and understand her definitions of the intersections of race and ethnicity and have a discussion with her instead of “shouting” her down. I never yelled. In fact, I’ve never talked to Becky in person. I’ve only ever called her a racist on social media.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 2: Don’t try to prove the person of color who called you a racist is, in fact, a racist themselves.

I’m a PhD student and I post some of my papers on my blog because my doctorate of philosophy is in education, and I write an education blog, so it’s relevant. In one paper I was writing about how to create an anti-racist data culture. Becky didn’t like my ideas and thought they were reverse racist and she, a white woman, knows better who should do the job:

“Below is what she wrote at her blog about Dr. [Xxxx Xxxxxxxx], head of Research and Evaluation, who admittedly is a white male, but also someone who I have found to be smart and well-qualified.

An additional factor to consider is that the research and evaluation team in Seattle Public Schools consists primarily of white people, with the director being a white male (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.b). When the goals of the district, including the Strategic Plan, specifically call out racial disparities, it would make sense that the data culture be led by a person who identifies with impacted groups. A racial equity literate (Gorski, 2015) person of color would be better suited to set the parameters and purpose of data collected than a white male who cannot fully understand the needs of students of color.

Emphasis added by Becky.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 3: Don’t denigrate and belittle the person of color who called you a racist.

“Castro-Gill seemingly flails around, ‘Look at me! Why aren’t you looking at me?’ about her work. And that points to a sad, pathetic person.”

My work speaks for itself. I don’t need people to look at me, but if they did, they’d see I’m a successful, professional, grown-ass 44-year-old woman of color with three children, one grandchild, three college degrees under my belt and a fourth on the way. I’ve lived through drug dependency, teenage pregnancy, domestic violence, divorce, homelessness, and being widowed. I want people to look at Becky and how she thinks I’m “unsophisticated” and “pathetic.” That tells you more about Becky than me.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 4: Don’t contact the person of color’s employer to try to have them fired.

Yes, Becky really did this; not once, but thrice. Oh, Becky. Becky took a comment from her forum and sent it to my superiors claiming it was from me. The comment clearly did not come from me and was against everything I stand for as an educator. Here’s what Becky had to say about sending the comment to my bosses:

“My spidey sense (and common sense) tells me it was her.  She denies it was her and has threatened to sue me for saying so.  Yes, I should have been more circumspect and said something like, ‘It sounds like her’.”

Emphasis from Becky.

Here, Becky admits to knowing she wasn’t positive it was me, and she admits she reported it as if she was positive. If she wasn’t a racist, she would understand how challenging it is to be a woman of color working inside a racist institution doing racial justice work and not add fuel to the fire. But, I digress.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 5: Don’t engage in respectability politics AND Don’t tone police.

Dictionary.com defines “respectability politics” as “the set of beliefs holding that conformity to socially acceptable or mainstream standards of appearance and behavior will protect a member of a marginalized or minority group from prejudices and systemic injustices.”

Dictionary.com defines “tone policing” as “a conversational tactic that dismisses the ideas being communicated when they are perceived to be delivered in an angry, frustrated, sad, fearful, or otherwise emotionally charged manner.”

Becky says:

“She’s so righteous about her positions, she believes she’s entitled to run amok anywhere she pleases.  I’m not sure that’s the mark of someone who listens.”

Run amok? Besides Donald Trump and his crew, I’ve literally only ever called out this woman publicly as a racist.

Oh, then there’s the whole “zealot” thing:

“And please take note; this won’t be just me.  Racial equity is going to be used as a club in this district and the zealots are going to happily wield it.”

“I find it hard to believe this kind of attitude and willingness to go after people viciously and with glee is really going to move the needle on ethnic studies in this district.”

Emphasis by Becky, again.

Here we see Becky dictating how racial justice advocates should properly conduct business. We aren’t supposed to be angry or hold steadfastly to our ideals. We should meet white people where they are. See #1 above.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 6: Don’t use dog whistles.

Becky is a sly one using two examples of what not to do in one statement:

“Racial equity is going to be used as a club in this district and the zealots are going to happily wield it.”

This is both respectability politics and dog whistling. Dictionary.com defines “dog whistling” as “a political strategy, statement, slogan, etc., that conveys a controversial, secondary message understood only by those who support the message.” Becky’s warning white folks that Black and Brown folks are gonna be coming for them. Zealots = angry Black and Brown folks!

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 7: Don’t speak for people of color you think would vouch for you AND Don’t tokenize people of color as proof you’re not a racist.

Here we get two in one, again! Becky says:

“I know that [Xxxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx], head of [XXXX], has spoken up for me and even to Ms. Castro-Gill, who seems mightily annoyed that [Xxxxx Xxxxxx] just doesn’t seem to get it.

I know [Xxxxx Xxxxx], who is the head of [XXX], and is a colleague friend would not agree that I’m a racist.  (And boy, would I love to see Castro-Gill take her on; [Xxxxx] does not suffer fools gladly.)”

Even if these people agree that Becky isn’t a racist, speaking for them is racist, not to mention the fact that many people of color have internalized oppression and engage in whiteness themselves. I’m not saying these particular people do either, but using people who do is tokenizing. Think: Ben Carson.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 8: Don’t use white people’s opinions of you to prove you’re not a racist.

Becky spoke for three people who she thinks would vouch for her not being a racist. Two were in the above example of what not to do. The third is a white person.

“I know Dr. [Xxxxx Xxxxxxx], a lifelong educator and support of lifting up students of color in our district, would not agree.”

White people don’t get to decide what is and who is racist. Hard stop.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 9: Don’t use your volunteer experience in impoverished communities as evidence that you’re not a racist AND Don’t use your volunteer experience in communities of color as evidence that you’re not a racist.

I’m combining these two because they are similar and I am making a distinction between them because here we can see Becky conflating poverty with race:

“This librarian has seen me come into her Title One elementary school, week in, week out, month in, month out, year in, year out…for three straight years.”

In the above quote Becky is referring to a librarian who agrees with me that Becky is a racist. Becky is dumbfounded the librarian would agree that she’s a racist when the librarian is witness to her volunteer work with Title 1 (low income) kids. Not all Black and Brown people are poor! And using this as evidence you’re not racist IS racist.

Becky goes on to say:

“If I’m a racist, it’s odd how I’m working mighty hard for kids of color.  Putting in time and money and sweat into helping kids of color in public education, that’s how I hide my racism.”

Think: “voluntourism,” the phenomenon in which white people go to far off countries full of Brown and Black people to bring culture and knowledge into spaces otherwise devoid of such. This type of thinking is deficit minded. We’ve already seen how she conflates poverty and race. This is just further evidence she should be nowhere near kids of color.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 10: Don’t use proximity to people of color or where you grew up as evidence you’re not a racist.

“That growing up – right on the border with Mexico – in a small, rural town that was majority Mexican, that means nothing. My Mexican-American friends from high school would laugh right in their faces to learn that anyone would think I’m a racist.”

In this prime specimen, Becky uses where she grew up, proximity to people of color, AND speaking for people of color she thinks would vouch for her. It’s like she was reading DiAngelo’s White Fragility as a guide for how to be a racist!

In another statement about her volunteer work she says:

“I’m in a diverse classroom and my teacher is black.”

Never once in her defense does Becky talk about what she learns from the people of color she’s in proximity to. She only uses them as props and shields. This is a form of tokenizing and, guess what Becky? It’s racist.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 11: Don’t use blood quantum to prove you can’t be a racist.

It’s important to know that Becky identifies as a white woman. She has never claimed to be a woman of color, but whenever Becky is called a racist, she resurrects her abuela as a shield:

“I’m a quarter but apparently, my quarter doesn’t count.  My abuela would be spinning in her grave if she heard that one.”

Ok, but then Becky admits that she doesn’t identify as a woman of color:

“That I don’t identify as Mexican-American does NOT mean that it is not part of who I am and that I am not proud of it.”

What’s most racist about this is the racist history of blood quantum ideology and, again, she’s not telling us what she learned from her abuela or how that impacted her identity development, just that she has one and that makes her ¼ Mexican – oh, and she’s proud of it while she doesn’t claim it.

Also, you don’t get to identify as, live as, and benefit from being white and then call up your abuela when you do racist shit.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 12: Don’t be a “non-racist.”

Becky frequently allows comments on her forum that are blatantly racist. One commenter blamed an educator of color for white students engaging in racist vandalism, including writing the words “KKK” and “white power” outside their classrom, because the educator of color was teaching ethnic studies and the white kids were just “sophomorically rebelling” (Becky agreed with the commenter, btw).

Becky claims she leaves these racist comments up for reasons:

“And when I read a comment that is racist or completely bizarre, I do sometimes let it stand. You know why? Because sometimes it’s better to say nothing and let that person’s shameful words speak for themselves. Because sometimes my readers are much better at letting someone know how very wrong they are than I am.”

Ok, Becky… Here, it’s important to note she frequently deletes comments she doesn’t like. Often in the comments section you’ll find the notice, “Comment removed by moderator,” but the racist ones? Naw.. those can fly. Becky, you’re either anti-racist, non-racist, or racist, and many people believe if you’re not the first, you’re the last. An anti-racist person would call that shit out. There’s no such thing as neutrality when systems of oppression exist.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 13: Don’t be a self-proclaimed ally.

“I’m a natural ally and yet because I don’t pass their litmus test, then I’m out.”

That’s right, Becky! You don’t get to decide. We do.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.


Listen and reflect. You were probably thinking, “I get it… ‘listen and reflect’,” but it’s been my experience that white people don’t like to hear that’s the answer to how to respond to the anger and pain of people of color. Notice I’m not saying, “Take Tracy’s word as gospel.” If I were the only person calling Becky a racist, Becky may not be a racist, but a lot of people of color – and white people – call Becky a racist. Instead of listening and reflecting, Becky deletes their comments when they call her out and she deflects, using racist tactics to “prove” she’s not a racist.

I hope Becky’s racist Beckfoolery can be used for good and this piece will help people identify how they are being racist when responding to being called a racist. Don’t be like Becky; instead, listen and reflect.

Published by

Tracy Castro-Gill

Seattle Public Schools Ethnic Studies Program Manager| 2019 PSESD Regional Teacher of the Year| Teaching Tolerance Advisory Board Member| PhD Student

9 thoughts on “13 Things Not to Do When You’re Called the “R” Word; And two things you should”

  1. Help! Both standard dictionaries and on-line dictionaries give broad definitions of ‘racism’ and ‘racist’. Could you note (possibly on your homepage) your definitions so we can more accurately understand and reflect on your writing?

    Also, I was struck by your repeated use of the phrase “Listen and reflect”. That seems a good beginning but isn’t that what white nationalists did and came to the conclusion nations need to be separated by skin color? What if this Becky person has listened and reflected but come to different conclusions than you as well as different conclusions than white nationalists? Would you reflect here on that possibility? For example, as a teacher, not an indoctrinator, you’ve certainly reflected on the fact even broadly educated scholars have different, possibly antagonistic points of view yet try to work harmoniously within the field. Brought to the level of everyday life as teachers are required to do, how should individuals with differing points of view be allowed to keep their views but not act on them within society? Listen and reflect doesn’t seem to be enough to overcome differences in individual intelligence and emotional development.

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    1. Thanks for the questions. I don’t think there is a definitive definition of racism or racist. Authors and scholars like Michele Alexander and Ibram X. Kendi do fantastic work of explaining how racism morphs under societal pressures and racists adapt to social mores, policies, and laws. This is why it’s important for those of us who are racial equity literate (see the work of Gorski and Swalwell) to call it out whenever we recognize it.

      I don’t claim that listening and reflecting are the answer or the desired end point of responding to anything – not just racism. I think it’s a first step and a step that should be repeated often. Becky will very clearly come to different conclusions than me, but this piece wasn’t written for white nationalists. It’s written for Passive Progressives who may be easier to reach by seeing concrete examples.

      I believe that if we can reach those who are reachable, they will create a shift in the societal pressures and social mores. We don’t need to reach everyone, we just need to reach critical mass. I understand there will always be Beckys and Brads, and there will always be overt white supremacists, and having more of us than them is the goal. Listening and reflecting are valuable tools in reaching those who are currently complacent or lack the ability to identify injustices. What happens after that is an entirely new series of blog posts. This is the first step.

      I want to call out your statement, “…as a teacher, not an indoctrinator…” All teaching is indoctrinating. The question is what values are we using to indoctrinate. Listening and reflecting are skills I value more than having students “know” what I “know.” I’m ok with indoctrinating them with those skills.

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  2. That word ‘indoctrination’ is fraught with negative connotations such as Bing’s first on-line dictionary definition today, ( I. e., “teach (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically”). In a very narrow technical sense, indoctrination is a form of teaching. But it is neither the only form of teaching nor the one we aspire to in K-12 education where the intent is to socialize students into awareness of society, then use general subjects as a medium to study and practice learning skills individuals can use in whatever way and to whatever degree they choose in adult life, Listening and reflecting will hopefully be part of the K-12 study process but are inadequate parts of the teaching process needed in K-12. Rather, a listening and reflecting style of teaching (indoctrination if you will) is appropriate to university lecturers for students who’ve proven their ability to study and learn independently, as well as shown (by application to college) interest in learning more broadly and deeply than could be provided during the K-12 years.

    I’ll concede that many people working for years as “teachers” are unskilled in, even ignorant of, what constitutes minimal skills, knowledge and temperament for a K-12 teacher. It usually means they were hired based on personality or politics of the moment by administrators who are likewise unskilled or ignorant of or disdainful of actual teachers. And these hires, well-intentioned or just self-serving bodies looking for government work, interfere with learning. Related to your area, I’d go so far as to say they exacerbate the problem of racism largely because K-12 students are often blinded by personality and confused to the point of frustration when teachers they like are modelling or espousing opposing views. But that’s another discussion.

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    1. I think “socializing students into an awareness of society” is fraught with negative connotations. We have “socialized” students into a racist society for centuries. At some point we have to stand on a side and lead young people in a certain direction. As I stated in this piece, there is no such thing as neutrality when systems of oppression exist. Some call that indoctrination, some call it justice. It’s all about perspective. If a racist, like Becky, wants to accuse me of indoctrination, I’m fine with that.

      I think to some extent you’re using the white-normed definition of listening and reflecting. In many non-white cultures, listening and reflecting are some of the more important skills a person can have. They are signs of wisdom and maturity. It is my experience that part of the disconnect for our most disadvantaged and oppressed learners is that we have not taught them to listen for understanding, but instead we are teaching them to listen for regurgitation. Part of listening for understanding is reflection. I disagree that these skills are best suited for higher education lecture models. In my 6th classroom I specifically taught listening and reflecting skills and almost never lectured. These aren’t skills we’re born with. Assuming that children are incapable of these important skills before college is deficit minded. What exacerbates racism in schools is that we don’t trust young people with complex tasks like listening and reflecting, especially students of color. As a colleague of mine says, “We have a belief gap, not an achievement gap.”

      All of this is off topic to this post because this post is aimed at adults, but I responded because I’m appalled at some of your comments. My 6th graders “proved” their ability to study and learn independently daily and almost all of them were students of color who were dismissed by other teachers with the same line of thinking you outline in your comment whom are becoming the outliers. I’m impressed with many of the younger teachers entering the field, especially teachers of color.

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  3. Someone tried to post a comment to say that using the word “racist” is racist and that we are all human beings. This is why I moderate comments. I am not about “multiple perspectives” that include false statements. Racism is real and calling attention to it is not racist. A doctor that diagnosis a patient with cancer is not the cause of the patient’s cancer.

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