Idiocracy, idiocy, racism and responding

I wish I had this comic in my pocket last summer. I spent some weeks at the University of Washington CS department working with Steve Tanimoto. (I mention Steve because he was an amazing host.)

I didn’t know many people in Seattle and so when a student at UW invited me to go hiking along with her husband and cousins, I was happy to make some new friends and take in some of the area’s extreme natural beauty. The hike was fun and everyone was pleasant. After we went to their favorite Taiwanese restaurant. They were all Taiwanese so we got the no-English menu with the scary dishes, which made me happy.

I was happy eating with my new friends until one said she didn’t like California. That’s where I grew up so I asked why. She asked if I had seen Idiocracy. “No, but my parents liked it and I like Mike Judge, especially King of the Hill.” “It’s so funny.” Something to the effect of how, because stupid people have more babies, eventually everyone will be stupid. I asked what that had to do with California. She explained that CA is filling up “Joses”. I hoped this was merely dark humor and pushed back. She persisted, though a year later I don’t remember many more details except that my attempts to disabuse her only made everyone uncomfortable. As their guest, I decided to drop it, but I couldn’t stop hearing the TMBG song, Your Racist Friend, echoing in my head.

What’s the best course of action there? Racism is not just offensive but dangerous. I didn’t want to react harshly because I didn’t want her to conveniently retract what she was saying. Better that racism be discussed openly so it can be examined and rationally disassembled. Right?

Later in the meal I offered her more water from the pitcher and she mentioned that she wouldn’t drink tap, only bottled water. Even water filters wouldn’t do. I explained that most bottled water is simply filtered in a factory but that made no dent. I figured at that point I was better off not trying.

UPDATE: Here’s some good advice. When you do respond, never claim the person is racist. That’s an argument you can’t win and they can dismiss. Explain how the thing they said was racist. That’s external to them. Jay Smooth says it smoother of course:

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