I have had to deal with feeling oppressed and hated many times before – largely because I am engaged to a woman (not just any woman, arguably the most wonderful woman on this earth.) I am supposed to be understanding of other people’s opinions. However, when you have people telling you that your way of life, and basically your existence is wrong, it’s kind of difficult to be objective and not have any emotions invested in the conversation; so what does one do in this situation?
1. Recognize the hate speech & oppressive language
Let’s begin by defining what hate speech is; Hate speech is speech that offends, threatens, or insults individuals or groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.
Below are some examples of hate speech:
• Racist or xenophobic cartoons
• Anti-Semitic symbols
• Ethnic slurs or other derogatory labels
• Burning a cross in the yard of an ethnic minority
• Politically incorrect jokes that target the disabled or the aged
• Sexist statements
• Anti-gay protest signs and chants
Oppressive language is any word that uses an identity or an identifier of belonging to a certain group (class, race, sexuality, ability, gender, etc) as a negative or undesirable quality.
• “Asians are bad drivers.”
• “You are very ambitious for a girl.”
• “That’s stupid. That is so gay.”
• “You gave this to me, don’t be an Indian giver.”
• “I don’t want to do that assignment! It is retarded.”
• “I love you man, no homo.”
2. Recognize the origin
Do the comments you find offensive come from a place of genuine ignorance? Now – I don’t mean bigotry parading around as ignorance, I mean honest lack of knowledge or information.
When I was a freshman at community college I wrote a paper on the harms of LGBTQ conversion therapy after watching the movie “But I’m A Cheerleader” starring Natasha Lyonne and Clea DuVall. We had to do peer reviews and discuss these papers with others in the class. I never disclosed to anyone in the class that I was a lesbian because quite frankly, it was none of their damn business. Until one day a woman who was about 20 years my senior and extremely religious and conservative with whom I was acquainted with through several of my classes read my paper and started saying that conversion therapy was such a great thing and so on in direct contrast to my paper. Eventually the conversation warped into how homosexuality is a sin and the Bible states that all homosexuals are evil etc. Well – I allowed her to finish her Bible backed rant, after fighting the urge to Alan Rickman my table,
I simply asked her, “Do you think that I am a good person?”
Her response was, “Yes, of course I do.”
Then I asked, “Would you consider me a decent human being?”
Her response was again, “Yes.”
Then I asked, “If I were to tell you I were a lesbian, would that change any of those things about me? Would I still be a good person in my heart?”
By the end of the conversation the woman was in tears – she had never [knowingly] met a gay person before. She was basing her opinions of a whole group of people on imaginary generalizations from a 2,000 year old book.
Let’s look at an example of oppressive language and go through the steps of how to successfully interrupt the oppressive language:
Ask clarifying questions
Example language: “You’re Middle Eastern? Really? It’s so good to know there are actually decent Middle Eastern people out there.”
“What do you mean by that?” or “Can you repeat that?” Often makes the person think twice about their choice of language.
Speak from personal experience
Example language: “I don’t want to do that assignment! It is retarded.”
Saying something in response to this such as, “My friend’s kid has Down Syndrome. Do you think you could find another word to describe something that you don’t like? “
Use statistics or facts
Example language: “That makes me want to kill myself!”
“Killing one’s self is nothing to be nonchalant about. 30,000 people die from suicide each year leaving millions affected by the experience. Mental illness is a serious issue.”
Use humor when applicable
Example language: “Asians are bad drivers.”
“Oh you think Asians are bad drivers? I saw your attempt at parallel parking yesterday and it was nothing to shake a stick at.”
Make positive or validating comments when interrupting
Example language: “Why can’t we just forget about slavery? It’s been so long, people need to get over it.”
A response along the lines of, “Hey, you’re really intelligent and open to new ideas, which is why I feel comfortable talking to you about this …” will go a long way in starting the conversation.
Use “I statements” and don’t accuse or attack
Continuing from the previous example;
“… I feel that we can’t forget about slavery because it was essential to the foundation of our nation, furthermore, there are still racially motivated inequalities that plague our country which we cannot afford to ignore.”
This gives you ownership over your feelings and doesn’t come across as accusatory or demeaning.
Give an invitation to dialogue
Example language: “Oh, they’ll get in anywhere you want. They got [high SAT score] and there’re black!”
Request that this individual expand on that thought – “do you think you could explain what you mean by that?” Things will probably get a little bit awkward.
It is exceeding difficult to be non-judgmental, particularly when the comments are about a group you identify with personally. Remind the person that you’re not attacking them and it’s not personal, and this is an ongoing process for you as well.
Things to remember
1. Interrupt yourself
Catch yourself if you find yourself using oppressive language out of habit.
2. Interrupt others, but do it kindly.
Always think well of others. Remember to practice compassion, and interrupt in the way that you feel most comfortable/prepared, when you feel able.
3. Share and keep the discussion going
Spread the word about privilege, language, and compassion. We have to all do our best to make the world a better place for all who live here.
4. Let the hate flow through you
Not like what Darth Sidious meant when he said “let the hate flow through you” – I mean let it leave you. Do not hold on to it and let it bring you down. Use it to turn the tables (not like Alan Rickman) and introduce new inclusive ideas to someone who was previously not knowledgeable of these ideas.