I cannot believe this still has to be said, but too many well-meaning people (let's just call it like it is, too many well-meaning mostly-white people) keep doing and saying accidentally racist things and it's just exhausting.
I've said this a thousand times: it's okay to be ignorant. Ignorance, as a state of being, does not make one a bad person. However, if one's ignorance is pointed out to one, and one persists in one's ignorant behavior, (and/or if one has an inkling that perhaps one might be ignorant on a particular subject, or that one might be about to behave in an ignorant manner, but one takes no action to circumvent said ignorant behavior) that's a problem.
So, homepeople, I present to you a quick and dirty bandage (you're welcome for the phrase "quick and dirty bandage" being in your head now) to avoid being an accidental racist.
Do The Black Test!
Before you say something, do something, share something, comment about something, or in any way note, comment on, or point out race, say this to yourself: "If it were a black person or black people or black culture I were pointing to, would it be okay to [insert a black equivalent for what you want to do/say]?" If the answer is "no," simply don't do that thing.
Example 1: Johnny has some social clout and he wants to write in a public forum of some sort about a TV show that is about Mexicans. He wants to interject Spanish words periodically in his writing. Hey Johnny, do The Black Test!
Would it be okay if Johnny, when discussing a TV show about black people, were to periodically and intentionally exchange "axe" for "ask" or, taking it even a step further, interject words in an African language – say Zulu for the sake of argument – into his writing?
No. That'd be racist. So Johnny should not do the same when discussing a show about Mexicans. Good catch, Johnny!
Example 2: Brittani will be hosting an event for a high-end art exhibition of Indian-American art, which will be attended by well-dressed fancy people, and she needs to have the party catered. Brittani's idea is to have, instead of typical fancy hors d'oeuvres and canapés, a local Indian buffet cater the event. Hey Brittani, guess what? You should do The Black Test!
Would it be okay for Brittani to have a local fried chicken place cater an exhibition of black American artwork? No. That'd be racist. Nicely caught, Brittani! You remembered that brown people don't want to spill food on their fancy clothes either! I'm proud of you.
Example 3: Kevin is recording a speech about an upcoming cultural fair that will include a night specifically dedicated to celebrating Greek history. That night will include gourmet Gyros made by a world-renowned Greek chef with several Michelin Stars under her belt, which I, for one, am extremely excited about. Unfortunately, Kevin isn't sure how to pronounce the word "Gyro," but the guy in the recording booth says to just take a stab at it and keep moving. Hey Kevin, what do you think you should do?
"Um......... The Black Test?"
Good job, Kevin! Would it be okay for Kevin, when recording a speech about a black culture event, and when confronted with pronouncing the host's name (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to blindly plow forward and say: "Cheh-WEEtle Edge-YO-fur"? Nope. Sure wouldn't. That'd be, say it with me now, racist! Way to use The Black Test, Kevin!
As Americans, we've got, let's face it, a shit history when it comes to racism. Our country was built on it. Our current president is a tweeting embodiment of it. It's been here all along and it's, unfortunately, not going anywhere. However, we've got a slightly better grasp on when we're being racist about black matters than just about any other matter that may come our way (South American, Asian, Native American, etc). So, it's like they say in writing school, use what you know. If you can draw a parallel between a racial predicament in which you find yourself, and a similar predicament that has to do with black American culture, you may just find your way around your potential accidental racism by using The Black Test.
That said, The Black Test isn't foolproof. So what, then, is the best strategy to avoid being an accidental racist? Here's a handy instructional guide broken down into steps:
Step 1: Ask someone of the ethnicity in question A. if they are able and willing to answer a question of a racially sensitive nature, then, if they reply in the affirmative, B. what they would do in your situation (i.e. what type of catering to order, how to pronounce a word or words, whether or not it would be offensive to sprinkle linguistic translations into a piece of text, etc).
Step 2: Take their advice.
And that's it, homies! That's the whole process!
Again, ignorance, by itself, is not a crime. But ignorantly plowing ahead with your well-meaning but likely ill-informed actions or words will, in all likelihood, make you yet another accidental racist. So! Don't be an accidental racist. K, Becky? K? Thanks.