There are many important conversations about race and racism to be had. One killer of helpful conversations is using manipulative tactics not based on logic or truth. One such tactic some use in race conversations is to say that denying that you are racist proves that you are racist.
Grek Koukl and Amy Hall share a helpful approach to this question on the #STRask podcast. Here’s a snippet of their answer**:
The difficulty with this kind of challenge is that it is offered on the heels of an accusation. Someone is being accused by an SJW (social justice warrior) that they’re racist. Keep in mind that a white person is racist on this view by definition. Period. All someone has to do is look at your skin color and, on this view, they know you’re a racist.
This is no different than in the 50s and in the 60s, which I (Greg) remember, when someone said, “That guy is black, don’t hire him; black guys are lazy.” Or “Blacks are stupid.” Or “He’s Jewish, he’s going to steal from you, Jews are avaricious.” Notice the prejudice that is expressed there: a person who is prejudiced is a person who prejudges based on a quality of a person that is inconsequential to the judgment being made. It’s based on bigotry that “Blacks are lazy” or “Jews are avaricious.”
When someone is addressed with this challenge, it stops them in their tracks. This is a rhetorical flourish that catches them by surprise and they don’t know what to say. It turns out to be a ridiculously ham-handed rhetorical manipulation.
When you face rhetorical challenges like this that sound really effective like “you’re not in favor of racial equality” or “silence is violence”, what you have to do is think about how to respond in a way that exposes the foolishness. You could simply start out with, “That is the stupidest thing I have heard in my whole life.” And it would be accurate because it is stupid, but that would not be a charitable response, and it might just be inflammatory to the other person.
I suggest you come under the radar in your response and catch them by surprise by employing the “Taking the Roof Off” tactic, where you apply their way of reasoning back to them.
Here is my first counter, which may be my best one: “I am so glad you said that. Why? Because statements like that prove that you’re wrong. Why? It’s so obvious, can’t you see it? And if you can’t see it, that’s more evidence you’re really wrong.” All I’m doing is saying the same stupid thing back to them that they said to us.
Another approach that assumes the person is moderately reasonable (which is probably not the case) is to respond by saying, “You’re saying I’m a racist. [Ask] ‘What is a racist? I’m trying to figure out what I am guilty of here? Define it. Why would you think that thing is a flaw in my personal character—how did you come to that conclusion?'”
Other helpful questions:
“How does denying I’m racist prove I’m a racist?”
What they may say is, “All racists deny that they are racists.” We can respond, “So do non-racists.” And you can ask them if they are racists.
You can listen to their full answer here:
** What I share is a rough and abbreviated transcript. For exact quotations, listen to the audio.
Believers increasingly need to be ready for pre-evangelism work that dismantles barriers to the gospel (see also 2 Cor. 10:5). Charitably exposing foolish thinking like Koukl and Hall recommend can be a helpful doorway to a gospel conversation. For more insight on discussing your Christian convictions with those who disagree, I recommend Koukl’s excellent book Tactics.