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How do I confront my friends when they make racist, sexist or homophobic remarks?
–Friend of “That Guy”; Globally
Honestly, just reading this question made me nervous.
In my articles, I avoid using words like racist, sexist and homophobic, because I don’t have the nerve to write about racist/sexist/homophobic-related topics. I’m not evolved or secure enough to withstand the potential backlash that comes with writing about such a sensitive subject.
My hat’s off to those who do, though. They’re a lot stronger than I am. And the Good Men Project has a bunch of them.
Offensive rhetoric seems to be at an all-time high, both in volume and volatility. At least in my lifetime. It’s nearly impossible to avoid. Everyone’s got an opinion, and everyone’s now got a way to express it.
The optimist in me wants to believe that, come Nov. 9, the country’s collective temperature will revert back to the mean. But the realist in me isn’t convinced. No matter what happens in the voting booth, chances are this divisive talk will only get ratcheted up going forward.
Given that, it’s important to develop healthy, respectful ways to combat it, especially within your social circle.
And truthfully, confronting someone about this issue isn’t all that different from confronting someone about anything else that’s bothering you. The rules of engagement remain the same…
Do it One on One
I know it doesn’t always go down this way, but for whatever reason, I imagine these remarks being made in a group. I imagine a group of guys sitting around, cracking tasteless jokes and making inappropriate comments, as the inflatable pool is being filled with beer for stair diving.
Some guys join in; others sit quietly and uncomfortably, waiting for the conversation to turn.
If you’re feeling bold, you can stop your friends in the moment, right when they say something that offends you. There’s power in catching somebody in the act.
But doing so is dicey, as you run the risk of creating a contentious, chaotic scene. Nobody appreciates being called out, and your friends won’t appreciate it happening in front of everybody else.
Which is why it’s best to confront these people individually. The phone or face to face works, and so does email if that’s more your style. When you do it in private, you get to express how you feel, and your friend gets to hear you out without distraction—and without getting sucked up into a mob mentality.
While thwarting racist/sexist/homophobic speak is essential, insinuating that someone is (acting) racist/sexist/homophobic is a serious charge, and one that should be extended with care.
These are not nameless, sign-wielding supporters at a political rally; these are your friends. So treat them as such.
Do it Respectfully
Another advantage of doing this one on one is it gives you a chance to cool off, to take some time and clear your mind. Few things get the blood boiling like racist/sexist/homophobic rhetoric. It taps into that visceral instinct that makes you want to lash back — meaning the heat of the moment is often not the best time to address it, at least with your friends.
This is not a fight-fire-with-fire situation. No matter how vile your friends’ words are, counterpunching with vitriol won’t produce the results you want. Doing so will more likely devolve into an insult-laden confrontation, where you talk at and past each other. This helps nobody while hurting your relationships.
While resorting to slights, name-calling and slick one-liners is tempting, it’s a lot like eating that second Krispy Kreme — it’s great in the moment, but you’ll regret it in the morning.
Do it From Your Perspective
Your focus needs to be on explaining how this type of rhetoric is affecting you, not on attacking your friends. And the best way to do that is through the use of I-centric statements. Consider:
“I get mad listening to these racist/sexist/homophobic remarks.”
That might sound corny, like it’s straight off a Psych 101 handout, but compare it with this alternative.
“Your racist/sexist/homophobic remarks make me mad.”
Which option stands a better chance of inspiring a productive conversation?
The second you introduce the word “you” (or one of its variants) into your statement is the second your friends shift from listening to you to protecting themselves. It puts them on the defensive, into full self-preservation mode. They’re not going to hear what else you’re saying, and they’re not going to care. Everything that’s subsequently said will register to them as an attack. And that’s the ballgame.
Instead, tell them how you feel. Tell them why their remarks bother you, why their remarks are so offensive and why you don’t want to hear them anymore.
If they’re a good friend to you, they’ll listen and adjust their behavior. Granted, their adjustment could simply be no longer making those comments in your presence, but that’ll be up to you to decide if that’s enough.
Of course, if they hear you out and still blow you off, they’re probably not people you want to be friends with anyway.
What do you think? What advice would you give this reader? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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