General Question

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

How far does one allow bigotry to go?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (25804 points ) January 1st, 2013

Being gay, I have learned to nip bigotry in the bud as soon as I recognize it. There are times I do so publicly and vociferously and times when I am quieter.

What is the proper response to bigotry?

Is it best to always make a public response to it, or are there times when it’s better to react in a more reserved manner?

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28 Answers

cookieman's avatar

It depends on the situation.

When I worked at a farm and fifteen guys (farm hands, yard guys, truck drivers) would sit around on break and talk about fags, dykes, or tease the guy from Jamaica to his face – I quickly started eating alone in my office. Even the owners spoke this way. It was clearly part of the culture. I wasn’t in a position to change anybody’s behavior.

In one-on-one situations, I usually mention it immediately to someone. Sometimes with humor (elderly relatives), other times more directly.

zenvelo's avatar

The proper response? Speak up as best one can. It takes some tact, but speaking up is more important than tact.

wundayatta's avatar

I’d love to know what my choices are. How far can I let it go? What are the boundaries here? What are my options for cutting it off? I really don’t understand quite what you’re looking for here. Are you asking about how much you can tolerate before you have to say something? Are you asking about how self-protective you are? How many risks you are willing to take?

I have a friend who seems pretty homophobic, and misogynistic. He is not a person I would normally be friends with. I’ve not said much to him, though, because I wasn’t sure it was worth the battle. But over the years, it has become clear that he is pretty much an equal opportunity insulter. More recently, he has claimed to be supportive of gays and any other group that is discriminated against, even as he makes these homophobic comments.

You know what? I believe him. But it took years to get to know him and to come to understand where he’s coming from and why he makes these comments. If I’d taken him on from the beginning, I don’t think it would have helped and it would have made our relationship pretty tedious.

What he said bothered me, but I chose not to take it on, and that was the right call in that case. Generally, I do not find myself around prejudiced people. So I don’t often have to deal with this kind of thing. Really, almost never.

marinelife's avatar

Public and loud.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I don’t let it begin. Trust me.

hearkat's avatar

As a heterosexual white woman, being female and obese are the only things I personally get discriminated for. Only once did I overhear a couple teenage boys comment about my weight as I walked past them in the mall, and I didn’t think of a clever retort until much after the fact (“I may be fat, but I’m walking faster than you lazy-asses!”)

I am not around people who openly discriminate or verbally express bigotry very often. I might encounter an elderly patient once in a while who makes a comment indicative of intolerance, but that is not the time or place for me to get on a soapbox, unfortunately. The context is more about politics and health care in that scenario anyway. Here in NJ, the population is fairly progressive and outwardly accepting, so I don’t personally come face-to-face with bigotry.

When my son was a teen, he would comment about stuff being “gay” like all his friends did. He knows that his grandfather was a homosexual, and he knows that one of my best friends is homosexual, we were friendly with a lesbian couple that lived a couple colors down when he was younger—he’s not homophobic or intolerant. He also uses the “N-word” very casually, as part of the hip-hop culture he grew up with. His step-dad was black (we were not married, but he was in our lives from when my son was 8–15, so he has always referred to him as his step-father), and many of his friends have been black or other ethnicities. Any time I’d comment about his use of these words, he’d reply, “It’s not a big deal, Mom.”

I guess the looks we’d get when I was dating a young, tall, slender, black man was the closest I got to dealing with bigotry. Most of the looks came from black women, though. Since no one said anything to our faces, I just chose to ignore it. I guess taking the high road and teaching by example is the best way under those circumstances, so people have no reason to say anything, and hopefully through repeated exposure they will get used to the fact that there are a wide variety of people and lifestyles in the world, and as long as no one is wronging you with their behavior, you have no right or reason to wrong them.

However, homosexuality is so different, because sexual preference isn’t physically obvious as gender, ethnicity, and physical differences are. I wonder how someone would react if they made some homophobic comment, and someone in the room said, “Thank you for sharing your bigoted tendencies with us. As a homosexual, it is not always easy to tell whom I can depend on, so it is helpful to know this about you.” (or perhaps someone else could come up with a more eloquent, but still civil yet demeaning retort) I imagine this must be especially awkward for someone when the bigoted person is a colleague or client, and I think it would be helpful to discuss diplomatic ways to handle the scenario.

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – I know that you are very outspoken here on Fluther. Can you provide examples of how you’ve dealt with bigotry face-to-face? Or are you saying that by being very open about your lifestyle and opinions that you nip it in the bud?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@hearkat I am just as outspoken outside of Fluther. I stand up for myself or my friends or strangers anywhere I see a problem, anywhere there are sexist or homophobic or racist remarks. I am not friends with people exhibiting any of these characteristics or if they’re unwilling to change. I teach my children to see the world differently, to treat people equally, to speak openly and plainly against others’ oppressive ideas. Children already know anyway, they have to learn hatred and discomfort with others, you know? It’s the parents that teach them so. I speak out in any situation, really, unless there is a danger in doing so. It’s taken my many years to get here.

Judi's avatar

I think that when someone is an obvious idiot, someone I don’t care about, and my words would fall on deaf ears I have learned in my old age to just roll my eyes and avoid the person. Unless they are offending someone within earshot, then I let them have it.
I spent a lot of time in my life standing up to these idiots and learned that most of them are to dense to get it anyway.
Sometimes people really are unaware that they are being bigoted and would like to know how their words are percieved. I might pull a friend over privately and ask if they realize what they said and how it was taken.
@Simone, It has taken me many years to learn to shut up every once in a while. I guess it’s good for people to be stretched outside their comfort zone. I now choose my battles and every once in a while do it with tact, although anyone who knows me will tell you that tact was never my strong suit.

hearkat's avatar

@cookieman, @zenvelo, @Simone_De_Beauvoir and @Judi – Could you please provide examples or suggestions of things one might say when a bigoted comment is made?

I am a socially awkward person, especially in confrontational situations – even just dealing with poor customer service – I get all flustered and start hollering and swearing and even crying out of frustration with myself as much as the situation. As such, I avoid verbal confrontations as much as possible.

If people who have stood up to others could please give some examples and suggestions based on experience I would appreciate it, and I think the OP might also. It could benefit anyone who might read this thread.

poisonedantidote's avatar

Usually, I will let them continue saying what they are saying. I may even act like I kind of agree, or am curios with questions like “oh yea, how does that work then” or “really?” and what not.

Once I am sure they have put their foot in it so deeply that they can’t just take their foot back out with a “what I meant to say was” or other statement, then I call them out on it.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@hearkat I have a lot of examples in my head. Can you give me a for instance? I want to explain something that would be relevant for your life.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@hearkat When I am confronted with homophobic remarks, I look the person directly in the eye and state that I am gay and find what they said offensive. I have done this within a group setting, and I have waited until the person was alone and approached them.

I understand the desire to avoid confrontations. I lived my life that way for about 40 years. I came out of the closet late in life at the age of 35, but I was not comfortable announcing it in public until I was around 40.

Now, to avoid most homophobic encounters, I present myself as gay and hide nothing. Other people know they will get a response from me should they wish to be offensive.

CWOTUS's avatar

There’s not enough time in the world, and I certainly don’t have the breath to try to correct or instruct everyone I come in contact with who seems to be or may be disrespectful or “hateful” (whatever that means when it comes to reading what is in someone else’s mind) toward a person or group for the various reasons that we all encounter.

So I try to ignore that. You have to pick your battles, or your whole life is a battle, and it’ll probably end sooner than it should. That’s not highly effective.

I do try – and these are battles that I do pick – to ensure that we make hiring and promotion decisions based upon “performance only”. It helps that we work in a global company and already have a wide range of engineering, construction and finance professionals (and many others), from both genders, who-knows-what sexual preferences, all kinds of races and ethnicities, and we seem to get along okay.

I try to promote “getting along okay”, rather than upbraiding troglodytes. What’s the return on educating troglodytes, I wonder? Not that I have anything against troglodytes. They are certainly deserving of our respect and due consideration, I’m sure.

It also helps, with my employer, that it’s a French / Swiss managed company, and because we do hire “everyone” from “everywhere”, we can make jokes about nearly any ethnicity (as long as we’re not exclusively focused on any one in particular).

hearkat's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – Well, for me personally, I guess I’d be most likely to hear an ignorant remark being made by my son or one of his crew, so I’d want a way to explain that even though they don’t intend the use of the N-word or saying that something is “gay” instead of silly or whatever, that using the words at all can still offend others.

In general, I was asking in case I am meeting friends of friends for the first time, or something, and someone makes a bigoted comment – even if it’s against a group that I am not a part of – what could be said that wouldn’t ruin the whole evening? Or what if someone is at work and they meet a superior who makes a comment… is there any way to address that, or is that an example where one just lets it slide to save their job?

augustlan's avatar

It depends on who is showing me their bigotry. If an elderly relative uses a derogatory term in my presence, I’ll express my disapproval with humor. Something like, “Grandma! I can’t believe you said that!”

If I’m alone with a stranger and it might be dangerous to engage them, I say nothing at all and try to get the hell away from them as soon as possible.

In most other situations, I address it immediately…sometimes using a light touch, sometimes much more forcefully, again depending on who I’m interacting with and what the circumstances are.

One of the ways to respond that usually gets people to really think about what they’re saying publicly is to personally identify with the group being maligned. I can’t tell you the number of times people have been very casually anti-Semitic around me, not realizing that my (now ex-) husband is Jewish and my kids are half-Jewish. I’d say, “You know, my husband is Jewish.” They’d usually stumble all over themselves trying to apologize. Similarly, I might say, “How do you know I’m not married to a black guy?” or “How do you know I’m not gay?”

With young people, I go into mom/teacher mode and explain exactly why what they are saying is offensive and how it hurts people.

Judi's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake, if I were you I would probably just say, “You do know I’m gay, right?”
If that doesn’t shame them into silence nothing will.
If its toward someone else I would say, “you know you’re being an ass hole, right?”

hearkat's avatar

@augustlan – I am not a teacher, so I have difficulty explaining to my son why things that are “no big deal” to him – like the language he chooses – he just tunes me out. He’s 21 now, so it’s even harder to get the subtle messages across. I’m open to suggestions.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@hearkat In the case of your son, you can tell him in private (away from the group since people perform bigotry as part of social cohesion) that it’s not something you appreciate hearing. Explain that language matters, that you know he’s a kind person and don’t want him to sound like an idiot (or use some other word). It’s never too late to start with our children, I think. At a party, what are you going to do, standing up or against these things really can ruin a party, because you’re not performing an appropriate social script and ruining the play that’s the party. You can either face this discomfort or avoid those people. Yes, I know those aren’t the greatest choices because, in most cases, you can’t or don’t want to do either – since many of these can be your family. When you get brave, you will state calmly and openly to someone, ‘You saying this makes me uncomfortable. I know you can’t possibly think these things about whole groups of people and I really don’t find it funny.’ Will they think of you as ‘uppity’? Yea, people do that just about anything you say against the grain. It doesn’t even matter to them if you did say it calmly – when they retell this story later (and they will since literally someone saying something against the grain of the party will not become the most exciting thing to talk about for the next however long, so pathetic), they will make you sound hysterical and put words in your mouth. It’s disturbing, really.

augustlan's avatar

@hearkat I’m not a teacher either, I just meant I try to teach them about different points of view from their own. Your son is older than the ages I was thinking of, but what I’ve done with my own kids (when they were younger) is to explain that, for instance, using words like “gay” or “retarded” to mean “lame/dumb/bad” is offensive in the same way that using the word “girl” to mean “lame/dumb/bad” would be offensive to girls, and to anyone who cares about girls. That I know they don’t mean to be offensive, and are ‘only joking’, but that it hurts real people and that they need to be cognizant of that fact. That I know it’s very commonplace, but that doesn’t make it right. That it needs to change and it can start with us. It’s been fairly effective.

With your son’s age, I’d do what @Simone_De_Beauvoir suggests. Talk to him about it alone, let him know how much it bothers you to hear him talking that way and why. You may not change him, but at least he will know you don’t want to hear it from him. After that, I’d shoot him a look (if in company) or remind him that you don’t want to hear it (if alone) every time it happens in front of you.

hearkat's avatar

@augustlan – yeah, I figured that was what you meant, and there was a time we had those talks; but the ‘social cohesion’ (thanks for the phrase @Simone_De_Beauvoir) of male adolescence is strong, unfortunately. I honestly haven’t heard him use those words lately, but that may simply babe cause I’m not around him as much. I just was thinking that I do want to address it should I hear it in the future.

I’m used to not being well-liked, so if I earn the disapproval of some assholes, I don’t mind – I just wouldn’t want to ruin everybody’s evening if something were to come up at a party.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@hearkat You wouldn’t ruin the evening of people with half a brain, really. Thoughtful people, you know? Those are the ones you want around you anyway.

burntbonez's avatar

I will usually tell people when I am uncomfortable with the way they are talking or how they are talking about others. I don’t necessarily yell or scream or get in anyone’s face. That’s not my way. But I do make it clear they are doing or saying things that are wrong and unacceptable.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Loud and proud. I am straight and white but one thing I am not and that’s a bigot. I have stood up to my own family, including my husband, about SSM and gay rights, some of my friends and would any time I felt it necessary.

The funny thing is now my husband works with one of our gay friends who owns his own business and he has asked questions and is no longer a homophobe. Most people around here seem to be afraid that if they condone homosexuals that it means they are gay or like it or something, it’s really ignorant.

A friend of mine and I just argued the other day because he has a lesbian couple that he is close to but he’s Republican, Conservative and doesn’t believe in SSM or gay rights. We go round after round about it constantly, but due to his religious leanings he can’t bear to admit I’m right, which is really sad to me.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

I’m a big fan of eye contact and a long, steely gaze. If someone makes a bigoted remark to me, I’ll usually just stare wordlessly at the person. Silence can speak volumes! My message comes through very clearly, and the individual’s embarrassment and discomfort become palpable. Backtracking…apologizing…stuttering and stammering…I’ve seen it all.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
HolographicUniverse's avatar

Reservation is key to any potential conflict. By making a public stand it serves nothing but to waste time and effort, those who hold personal prejudices are not going to change because a stranger, or worse a homosexual stranger (in this case), took offense and spoke out.. If anything it will drive their bigotry further.

You have to understand these people will exist and many lack proper decency to remain discreet in their ideals, it does us no justice to make a spectacle because we are offended unless it is.a direct attack on your character.
We live in a world of diversity, such is a part of our human condition

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I have to say, @HolographicUniverse, I understand these people exist all too well, and they turn my stomach. Discreet bigotry is even more reprehensible. It’s insidious.

I’m afraid I’m on the side of calling bigots out. I will add that I find times when people are unaware what they are saying or doing is bigoted, and I will take them aside and explain how it may be perceived as such. Every time this has happened, I’ve been met with understanding so far.

hearkat's avatar

@HolographicUniverse said: “We live in a world of diversity, such is part of the human condition”
That’s the point we’re trying to make to the bigots, eh?

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