Silence in the face of cruelty or misinformation communicates that this kind of conversation is normal and acceptable. If you don’t call out a racist, sexist, or otherwise discriminatory comment, you are silently accepting it. The more silence, the more the speaker feels that this speech is acceptable. The more the speaker finds it acceptable, the bolder they become.
This is how civility slips from our communities.
Everyday Feminism wrote on how to confront racist comments. Their list of steps is:
- Just Say No
- Ask Them to Clarify
- Don’t Laugh
- Avoid Insults
- Call Out Hypocrisy
- Attack Their Assumptions
I agree entirely that when someone says something objectionable, one must object. However, I teach a less confrontational style to this task. Part of this is because I teach this alongside Active Bystander Intervention, which focuses on de-escalation. This list above can lead to escalation of hostility.
But most importantly, I believe — and social psychology backs me up — that people change their minds based on interactions with people they know and respect. Opinions are rarely changed based on what strangers say. They may hear a stranger, but will wait for people they know to back up those ideas. Therefore, you are a change-maker with people you know. What change do you stand for?
Given your position as change-maker, I think it is important to model respect in order to “walk the walk.” If you want to stop racism and sexism, and ableism, and all the –isms, then shaming someone who is racist or sexist or –ist throws oil on their hate-fire. And rightfully so, aren’t we all entitled to dignity and respect?
The approach I teach
My steps to disrupting these conversations overlap some with Everyday Feminism, but not entirely.
- Use “I messages” to state your objection. This is stating your personal response to the statement. “I am angry that you just imitated a disabled person.”
- Name the behavior, out loud. “You are yelling.”
- Set a boundary. “Please do not say _____ in front of me again.”
- Deflecting insult aimed at you. “I might be a snowflake, and I still don’t want you to ever say ___ in front of me again.”
- Change the subject. “We will not agree about this, so can we talk about something else for now.”
- Phrases to be agreeable while not agreeing. “We all want to be safe, but we have different ideas about how to do that.”
Racist, sexist, or otherwise discriminatory comments are not welcome. If that is your line, you can set it. This leaves room for future conversations. A strong confrontation can create shame and induce silence. It is in those silences that hatred festers.
I believe that it is better to leave the door open to those later, private, conversations. At that later time, something can be learned.