document updated 12 years ago, on Apr 9, 2011
Some believe that if you say or do something that a listener perceives as racist, that it's okay as long as the speaker didn't intend the words to be racist. This is wrong.
(the same applies to sexism, ableism, etc)
Some sources to confirm that intent doesn't matter:
Some specific examples:
- Every time Mary walks to the copier, Peter says something inappropriate to Mary. Peter isn't trying to cause problems, he's just trying to attract Mary's interest. Nonetheless, Mary is so bothered by Peter's statements that she sometimes avoids using the copier because it means walking past Peter's desk. Peter didn't intend to prevent Mary from doing her job, but that is the outcome nonetheless.
- A sheltered teenager uses the N word when speaking with a black person. The teenager doesn't know the history of racism, and doesn't know what the word really means. Nevertheless, the black person is offended.