Celebrities using poor word choices smothered recent news. At the same time, a friend posted on social media her concern about how we respond among ourselves when another makes a disparaging comment about a mutual friend who may be somewhat different. Her comment received a long response list. The gentle hearts that most of us were given at birth instinctively knows the difference between kindness and cruelty. As we grow, influential people by their examples and use of language can turn an impressionable soul’s kind-heart to one engorged with negativity and intolerance. This is not a politically right or left issue. I’ve watched both sides delve deep into intolerance, belittlement, and yes, hate.
And now that it is fashionable to toss polite words out the window in an effort to showcase a distain for “political correctness” (which I believe is a misnomer phrase that has helped further muddy the waters of language), pointed fingers fly like lost flocks of birds into the coal-fired pit of polluted thinking.
Let me be clear that I am not any less guilty as the next person who speaks before mindfulness is applied. And this gives me a proper platform to address these very issues.
What does separate me from the indentured servant to anti-political correctness speech, is that I follow the concept of one race — the human race. And within that race all possibilities exists. Like the veins of rivers across the planet that eventually meet at the ocean, so it is with this single race that meets at the sea of humanity. Tributaries shape a river. Life experience shapes a human. Some rivers are fed mud, pollutants, and toxins. Some humans are fed the same. These are preventable scenarios, and with that I’ll share a few ways that we can grow in mindfulness about our language from a pamphlet “Responding to Everyday Bigotry.” NOW WAIT! If you classify yourself as a conservative and assume that this is some liberal junk, just give this read a chance. CONVERSELY, if you classify yourself as a liberal and that you don’t need to read further, just give this read a chance.
Speak Up. Sometimes people can be persistently manipulative when it comes to bigoted behavior, continuing “jokes” and comments simply to spark a reaction from others.
Describe what is happening. Define the offense. You can say, “While some people might laugh along with you I don’t. I’ve asked you not to tell them but you keep doing this anyway. I love you and I know you love me. I wonder why you choose to keep hurting me with your comments and jokes?”
State your values and set limits.
Ask for a response.”I don’t want this rift to get worse and I want us to have a good relationship. What shall we do?”
Put it in writing. Send a note, a letter, or an email avoiding any accusatory tone and name calling. Focus on the need to heal and improve relationships.
Children soak up stereotypes and bigotry from media, from family members, at school, and on the playground. As a parent concerned about your child’s cultural sensitivities consider the following:
Focus on empathy. When a child says or does something that reflects biases or embraces stereotypes, point it out: “What makes that joke funny?” Guide the conversation towards empathy and respect.
Expand your horizons. Look critically at how your child defines normal. Create opportunities for children to spend time with and learn about people who are different from themselves.
Prepare for the predictable. Halloween is a magnet for stereotypes. Seek costumes that don’t embrace stereotypes and have fun on a holiday without turning it into an exercise in bigotry and bias.
Be a role model.
Among Friends & Colleagues
Friends are our comfort zones, where we lay down our guards and can simply be ourselves. Casual conversation is a mainstay of these relationships. But when bias is interjected into everyday moments with friends, relationships can feel markedly uncomfortable. How then can you reconnect?
Approach friends as allies. When our friend makes a harmful comment or poses an offensive question remember that you’re friends with this person for a reason; something special brought you two together drawing on that bond, explain how the comment offended you.
Respond with silence. When a friend poses a question that feels hurtful, let protracted silence do the work for you, say nothing and wait for the speaker to respond with an open ended question like “What’s Up?” Then describe the comments from your point of view.
Talk about differences. When we have friendships across culture groups it’s natural to focus on what we have in common rather than our differences. Yet our differences matter. Strive to open up the conversation: ” We’ve been friends for years and I value our relationship very much. One thing we never really talked about is my experience with racism. I’d like to do that now.”
There is more to add to this first attempt to help us better communicate; online communication, at work, at school, in-group, in public, retail racism, and a stranger’s remarks. I’ll address these in another post. I will also break down each one of the posts and share them on The Daily Prism.
Meanwhile, consider these six steps to speaking up against everyday bigotry:
Be Ready. Dr. Marsha Houston the former chair of the Communication Studies Department at the University of Alabama suggests “Summon your courage, whatever it takes to get that courage, where ever that source of courage is for you.”
You can ask, “Why did you say that?” or “How did you develop that belief?”
Identify the behavior. Sometimes pointing out the behavior in a candid way helps someone hear what they’re really saying. For example,”Peter, you’re classifying an entire religious group in a derogatory way. Is that what I hear you saying?”
Appeal to the principles. Call your friends, or your relatives, or coworkers to their higher principles: “Ann, I’ve always thought of you as a fair-minded person, so it shocks me when I hear you say something that sounds so bigoted.”
Set limits. There are times when we have no other choice but just simply say,”Don’t tell racist jokes in my presence anymore.”
Find an ally/Be an ally. When frustrated in your own campaign against every day bigotry, seek out like-minded people and ask them to support you in whatever way they can.
Be vigilant. Change happens slowly. People make small steps, typically not large ones. Stay prepared, and keep speaking up. Don’t risk silence.
The program coordinator at the American Psychological Association said, “There is a sense of personal disappointment in having not said something when you felt you should have…. If you don’t speak up, you’re surrendering part of yourself. You’re letting bigotry win.”