Speaking out and up

So you’re at a party and someone in the group you’re mingling with mentions that they went for a job interview. The job paid really badly, and the person says, “of course, they’re Jewish”.

Another day, you’re in Chinatown and you walk past a tourist pulling the corners of their eyes while having their photo taken in front of a pagoda-like building.

Then you’re driving along in a car with a friend who’s talking about visiting an apartment. Your friend says that the apartment was quite nice but that the family next door are Indian and they wouldn’t want to live there because the place would be bound to stink of curry all the time.

What do you do? Be honest.

12 thoughts on “Speaking out and up

  1. I hope I would have the courage to say something….Though I haven’t been in the vicinity of a racist comment recently (except a joke last night from my son, which I jumped all over of course). But at physical therapy not too long ago I overheard a man making homophobic comments and after the second one screwed up my courage to ask him to stop, which he did. First time I have taken on a stranger like that and it felt good (the opposite of how rotten I felt when I let the first one go).

  2. well, recently someone said something in front of me, and he just looked at the look on my face and said he was sorry, the other person, said, oh, you don’t like that word, and I said, no, it’s not right, it’s offensive, and nothing more was said, except that the person who made the remark said he was saying it for illustrative purposes, oh well.

    one time i was walking through central park and a vendor made a comment about chinese ruining his business, and i said, in a clear loud voice, that we don’t buy from people like that, i know he heard me, and we didn’t buy anything from him that day or any other day after that.

    sometimes i say stupid things, too, that can be a challenge, recognizing my own bias or thoughts.

    in large group setting of family and friends, that is the biggest challenge, if someone says something, especially someone not directly related, i think that can be more difficult than if it was a stranger. still i do make the effort, although i was asked recently not to get into a conversation about Palin, who I believe is a white supremacist.

  3. Ok, I’ll play.

    In picking and choosing my battles, my primary strategy is “Safety First.”

    Situations 1 and 3: I confront the statement. I’m dealing with reasonably “known quantities” if it’s a friend or I’m mingling with people at a party.

    Situation 2: I’m likely going walk away. I don’t have enough information about the people I’m dealing with to assess whether I’m putting myself in a potentially unsafe situation.

  4. 1. If the group was all white except for myself, I would feel very uncomfortable and assume that they probably think racist stuff about me as well. I would just remove myself from the situation, because whatever I say wouldn’t be taken seriously, anyway. If the person was white and the group was racially mixed, I would ask him/her to explain the stereotype, as I’m honestly unfamiliar with it. If the person was a POC and the group was racially mixed, I would look at them strangely, because they are otherizing a group of people who are generally considered more legitimate than they are, assuming that “Jews” generally refers to white Jews. I would probably also ask them to explain the stereotype.

    2. If the person was white, I’d stare at them and do nothing, because I rarely get to see blatant racism of that type in person. If the person was a non-East-or-Southeast-Asian POC, I might have racist thoughts that the person is uneducated or from a different country, unfortunately. (This is bad.) If the person was East Asian or Southeast Asian, I would assume that they are joking and that it is supposed to be irony? In any case, I’d just stare.

    3. If the person was white, then I’d assume they also think racist stuff about me, and avoid them thereafter. If the person was Indian, I’d be very confused and say nothing. If the person was a non-Indian POC, it depends on how close I am to them. If I am close to the person, I would go into “debate mode” about racism. If I am not that close, I’d give them a dirty look or “WTF?” look and say nothing.

  5. In the first and third scenarios, I’d probably play dumb and pretend not to understand why they think the person’s race/religion is relevant, and make them explain it to me in excruciating detail. I usually find that embarrasses people sufficiently to either get the point across, or at least deter them from making similar remarks where I can hear them, which isn’t perfect but at least contributes to creating a culture where racist remarks are unacceptable. In the second scenario, I admit I’d probably just walk away, because I’m more conflict-avoidant with strangers than with people I know.

  6. I honestly think I’d answer as follows:

    1. re: “of course, they’re Jewish”. I’d say, “what the heck is that supposed to mean?!” What does their being Jewish have to do with it?” And wait for them to explain their prejudiced logic.

    2. re: racist tourists in Chinatown. I’d probably roll my eyes in disgust and mutter a comment. But I probably would not go up to them to speak to them, even though I suspect that’s the right thing to do.

    3. re: Indian neighbors smelling of curry. I’d probably say something like “Well, that’s quite an assumption you’re making there based on your glimpse of a family who looks Indian. Besides, curry smells good fool.”

    I’m pretty comfortable calling friends on things they say, but I think I have more difficulty with strangers (depending on the situation). I’ve had some uncomfortable exchanges with friends over comments they’ve made, but I can’t call myself an anti-racist if I don’t confront the people in my life at the very least. There have been times when I didn’t speak up, and I am ashamed of myself for not doing so.

  7. I think you definitely have the opportunity to make more impact when you are in close proximity to someone (as opposed to passing a total stranger on the street). Of course, you are also opening yourself up to attack.

    I think the question is, “how badly is that attack likely to hurt you?”, and by “badly”, I mean the impact it will have on you over a long period of time as opposed to a moment’s or even a couple of hours’ discomfort.

    Not speaking up will likely have a longer-lasting effect on you, unless your personal safety is in danger, as psychobabbler points out.

    No. 1 actually happened to me, but in a slightly different context where I was close (in the emotional sense) to the person. I said, “what you said is not right”. That has come to be my opening gambit. It puts the emphasis on what was said rather than on the the person who said it, and I have had quite a lot of success with it. A similar situation to no. 3 also happened to me, and I used the same line. In both cases, the person was embarrassed and said they shouldn’t have said that. I believe they gave it more thought afterwards.

    With no. 2, I’m afraid that I can no longer let such things go. I have been known to approach people with little regard for my own saftey and say, “you should be ashamed of yourself.” In this particular case, if accompanied, I might say loudly to my companion, “will you look at those people – what exactly do they think they’re doing”. Or else just stop and stare with mouth visibly wide open and a WTF look on my face.

  8. Safety concerns aside, responses would be…

    1) Suppose I were Jewish – would you have said that in my presence?

    2) I’d probably stare and shake my head. Despicable.

    3) That’s pretty silly. You can’t be serious, can you?

  9. 1) If I’m mingling, I assume I don’t know the person well, so I’d probably interrupt with, “Excuse me, I think I missed something – what do you mean by the Jewish comment?” After watching them flounder, trying to explain themselves, I’d say their comment is offensive and inaccurate. Then leave that group.

    2) Given the safety issue mentioned above, if I was alone, I’d probably just stop and stare, give them a disgusted look, shake my head, and keep going. If I was with a friend, I might say to my friend, “Wow, that is some serious racism there” or something, depending on my perception of safety.

    I guess there is probably a better way to handle that one, but you said be honest, and if I just came across that … these are strangers, and apparently idiotic ones at that, I’m probably not going to change their mind by confronting them. Well … thinking about it though, if there were kids around, watching these guys, I think I’d be more likely to confront it, but again it would depend on my perception of safety.

    3) This is a friend, so I’d definitely address it. I’d probably ask, “Are you serious? That seriously bothers me — that’s a rude and racist thing to say.” Then I’d ask them what they’re basing their comment on, and hopefully be able to have a conversation about it.

  10. well, no straight answer here, since it’s a hypothetical situation… from past experience, i have alternatively:
    – cursed myself in my mind for associating with such ‘friends’, then reminding myself that most of us are indeed shaped by a racist vision, then promising myself not to deal with such people again, and so on, and so forth (the worst is with family though, you can do away with friends, but not with family…).
    – said something along the lines ‘this is racist, it’s a generalization’, ‘what exactly means that X is indian, or chinese, or anything for that matter?’ and braced myself for the ensuing fight or silence.
    – didn’t do anything, then went home and felt frustrated, angry and guilty for being yet again supportive of a system of oppression through my silence.

    and yet, some other times, i might have not noticed cause i’m not living outside racism

  11. I sometimes do the same thing Liz Williams mentioned–I ask people to explain in a very polite and curious manner. This presumes I don’t know the person very well. I am glad to say that I don’t have any friends who would utter #3–I tend to de-friend people pretty quickly for racial asshattery.

    In the case of #2, I have a disturbing tendency to say “WTF!” (the actual words) a lot.

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