“When people come out and say I’m a sex or drug addict and lay it out there, people tend to gravitate toward them for owning up,” she says. “It can start a turnaround.”

Bennett, the black journalist, once wrote in an essay entitled, “I Don’t Know What to Do with Good White People,” in which she quoted her mother saying something that some black people only admit privately: It’s easier for them to deal with an avowed racist than someone who denies it.

“‘It was a lot simpler in the rural South,’ my mother tells me. ‘White people let you know right away where you stood,'” Bennett wrote.

A little more racial honesty could heal, not just hurt, she says.

“If we could think of interpersonal racism as something that people do — rather than something that they are — it would actually be a lot easier to correct,” she says. “You could challenge someone’s racist speech, for example, without condemning them as a person but in hopes of encouraging them to think more carefully about their language and its implications.”