We’ve all been there.
Maybe you’re at a party, or spending time with family members you haven’t seen in a while. It could be an overheard conversation on the bus, a chat at the work water-cooler, or even an excruciatingly awkward street chit-chat. Maybe you’re listening to the radio, or reading the news online. If it were a cartoon, the sun would be shining. In the forest, a diverse set of woodland creatures would break into spontaneous song and dance about how people are all the same underneath their differences, and that we should all just get along. Life is good.
The bigot strikes. Someone says something that makes you raise your eyebrows. It could be a joke, a sweeping generalisation, or a comment dripping with hate. You think: did they really just say that? Did I misunderstand? Or if it is a serial offender, maybe you think: not again. If it were a cartoon, the diverse set of woodland creatures would then teach the swamp-dweller the error of their ways, and there would be a happy ending involving loud singing and strong yet expressive arm motions.
Real life, though, is more complicated. Most of us would do anything to avoid an awkward situation. We’re conditioned not to rock the boat. We’re scared that if we rock the boat too much, the only person that will fall out is us.
What, then, to do? How can we call out bigots without turning things terribly awkward and falling into the sea?
First step: search inside your soul
Step one is to ask yourself: are you going to let this slide?
Are you going to listen to Uncle Bob’s “PC gone mad” soliloquy without once interrupting him, only to complain to your cousins about it once Unlce Bob has retreated back to his swamp? Am you going to pretend that it was just a joke? Do you tell yourself that if you’d lived in France during World War Two of course you would have joined the Resistance, yet let casual bigotry slide because you don’t want to have an awkward conversation during a dinner party? Will you replay an imagined conversation dripping with cutting-yet-witty remarks that will show the bigot the error of their swamp-dwelling ways over in your head, only to say nothing the next time you are in the exact same situation in some sort of letting-bigotry-slide Groundhog Day?
Whatever your reasons, perhaps you decide to stay silent. That’s your call. Some people like staying in the boat without rocking it. It could be one of fancy schmancy luxury liners with a bar and a sun lounge and models for crew. It could be a very comfortable boat indeed. Risking being hurtled into the sea doesn’t suit everyone, after all.
Or, are going to say something? If so, read on …
Second step: identify the type of bigot you are dealing with
Bigots come in all shapes and sizes. Kinda like varieties of fruit, but more offensive. I’ve tried to narrow the bigot-species down into four categories, though, to make things easier.
Bigot #1: The ‘I’m Not Racist But’ Bigot
This is the bigot that doesn’t know that they are one because they are friends with someone of an ethnic minority and consider themselves a good person. They’re not racist, but.
But what? Maybe they just ‘have a sense of humour’, or are ‘telling it like it is’. Maybe they hanker for a time long past when PC hadn’t run rampant AKA a time when you didn’t have to care about someone else’s feelings. Maybe they are just exercising their right to free speech, without recognising that when we complain about their troglodyte leanings, we are doing the same. Maybe they are just a bit stupid and have the self-awareness of that pig I saw online that thinks it’s a sheep. Maybe they are an Undercover Asshole.
How to call out the I’m Not Racist But bigot?
There is always the option of tackling their views head on, calling them a racist old fart and cracking jokes about how the 1950s called and want its views back. That might work. If you want a more subtle way of landing some humdingers, though, this is what I recommend:
1.The Socratic method
This can work well with the the I’m Not Racist But bigot – not tackling them head-on, but asking questions while wearing an oh-so-innocent expression. You could ask – please tell me more about this dodgy article you read online about [insert offensive topic]. Who peer reviewed it? Where did you learn that?
Then, after hearing them answer, you pounce. With a smile. Saying something along the lines of “That’s interesting, because I had always understood that BOOM! INSERT CONTRADICTORY MISSIVE!”
Maybe the I’m Not Racist But bigot is so caught up in their own narrative about being a good sort they will never reform their bigoted ways, but there is always the chance that your questions will weave the perfect spider web for them to tangle themselves up in. And then, no-one can accuse you of making things weird, as the bigot has done it to themselves. You: one, bigot: zero!
2. Calm contradiction.
This is especially effective if you have an arsenal of facts at your disposal. Maybe if we all sacrificed our Netflix subscriptions for memorising factiods we would have at the tip of our fingertips all of the information we need to show bigots that the post-truth era does not apply to us?
Unfortunately, though, most of us prefer to spend our leisure time in more interesting ways. That’s when we can rely on anecdote, that distant cousin of empirical research that only gets invited to the party when it becomes apparent that actual facts aren’t going to turn up. The only problem with anecdote is that you’re not the only person whose aunt knew someone who did the exact thing that proves your point. Then you get stuck in an anecdote-loop-vortex, where everyone knows someone who did something and so on and so forth and so it goes until a third party intervenes and tells you both to shut up.
Failing the above, a simple ‘I don’t think that’s true’ might work, or a condescending smile and the words ‘I’m sure you didn’t mean that to sound so rude’.
Of course, this might not work at all. But, even so, hopefully it will make them think twice about sprouting their crap next time around.
Bigot #2: The Hypocritical Bigot
The hypocritical bigot is the social justice crusader who is so myopic in their crusade, they don’t realise that they are bigoted in other areas. This is also the type of bigot that disappoints me the most. The racist feminist. The ethnic minority who makes fun of other ethnic minorities. The person who sees social justice as a competition for resources and airtime, and resents when it’s not their cause at the top of the pile. You get the picture. We don’t all care about the same things and ticking more EEO boxes doesn’t mean you’re not prejudiced.
How to call out the Hypocritical Bigot?
Like the I’m Not Racist But Bigot, the Socratic method and calm contradiction can work.
So can the words: dude, you’re a hypocrite. Or if you want to be more diplomatic: oh, it’s interesting you say that as someone so concerned with the [insert area of interest]? Does that not seem contradictory to you?
Failing that, a reminder: in a perfect world, minority groups shouldn’t be fighting for pieces of the pie. Let’s just work together for a bigger pie, y’all.
Bigot #3: The Blatant Bigot
You know the type. The bigot that doesn’t give a shit that they are a racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic xenophobe. The person who takes shaving their head a little far, idealises the Ole South and may even have a Swastika tattoo. In fact, the word ‘bigot’ is to mellow for some of these sorts.
Or, it’s the person that uses a public platform to spew out their messages of discrimination and inequality without actually caring what anyone thinks. The Blatant Bigot is shameless and unapologetic. They surround themselves with people who either agree or a too polite to speak up, and dismiss everyone else as The PC Brigade or some such.
How to call out the blatant bigot?
I’ve been lucky enough never to actually meet a bigot of the scarier variety, so can’t advise what is best to do. Probably just call the police.
As for the other type, the best way is to hit it head on. Tell them that it is not OK. Write letters. Complain. Use public platforms yourself. This is harder to do and takes much more bravery, though. You may need a hard hat. Or, swimming lessons for if you find yourself in a sea of trolls. This cannot be underestimated, and quite awful if it happens to you.
Bigot #4: The Online Bigot
The other bigot is the sort that hides behind a computer screen, safe in the knowledge that no-one will ever find out that XenaIsMyHo69 is actually Robert from the finance team.
How to call out the online bigot?
In many ways this is the easiest sub-species of bigot to deal with, because they are a total stranger to you. Plus, you are typing a response, so can be articulate and generally awesome in your slap-down. You can link to other crevices of the internet to support your argument and down-like their comments, all in the knowledge that you will never bump into them in the supermarket. And even if you did, you might swap pleasantries about the cost of avocados as one would with a stranger, rather than arguing about whether or not they are a moron.
Like with the Blatant Bigot, the downside of this is possibly being trolled by other people of their ilk.
Or, a fate I have suffered many a time in all my forum-loitering, slipping into that restless and uncomfortable mental space of obsessively waiting for a response. The checking! The waiting! The checking again! The anger when they do respond! The joy when someone agrees with you! The bittersweet moment when you realise that the argument is over, so you can move on to something else! ‘Tis a hard head space to be in, indeed.
Third step: execute awesomeness
Based on the above advice it’s now time to execute awesomeness and put the bigot in their place.
Or maybe they won’t listen and you will still end up in the sea after rocking the boat.
But, at least you tried, right? And how else can we effect change?
The boat might be a comfortable place to be, but nothing will ever be different if everyone is too busy lounging by the on board pool to change anything.