You know the words you say when talking about dealing with people who disagree with you? That you can still have a relationship with those people who post racist, bigoted, intolerant statuses, because you want to be open and facilitate and participate in constructive conversations? You know what I’m talking about.
Well, today I found out that a man I’ve known most of my life, who is well known in a small, rural, Virginia community, posted something blatantly racist on a live broadcast of former President Obama speaking while in Africa (at the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, no less). The way I found out was that a black friend of mine posted a screenshot of it in an (understandable) outrage. In my shock I did the only thing I could think of: I apologized to her for his words.
I looked up the individual’s Facebook page and saw that he’d posted a live apology for his statement. He blamed it on his political stance, reiterating repeatedly that he was in no way, shape, or form racist, and that he has many friends who are people of color and of different nationalities—because we all know that means you aren’t racist, after you’ve said something very racist.
Here’s the question that this situation provoked: how should I plan to interact with this man in the future? And even more than that, how should I plan to interact with people I care about more deeply who say or do something racist?
Closing myself off is not an option, because if I do that there is no chance for meaningful conversations and possible change. If I let it slide and remain close, then I am choosing silence and allowing myself to become part of something I abhor. Addressing it every.single.time runs the risk of the argument being tuned out, and thus “casting my pearls before swine.”
Typically, I try to point out when things are inappropriate—whether about race or anything else. Usually, I’m ignored or laughed at (one time I was temporarily blocked…by a family member…and then left unfriended because the person never communicated they didn’t want me to keep commenting). Sometimes there is a lot of feedback, and on the rare occasion, it’s actually a constructive conversation. The BEST interactions, though, are the ones that occur over time and in person—like in the office. Those people who get to see you juggle a million things, struggle with crappy bosses and absurd deadlines and workloads…they pause to consider what you say during that much needed coffee break. And a year later? You find out some of your soap-box-speeches made an impact.
So yes, in person is ALWAYS better. And that’s what I’m really getting at—how do you choose to interact with people who not only disagree with you but who are morally wrong in their belief? And deny it? So far, the conversation is working with people with whom I have a relationship, but the people who are only acquaintances? It brings out a whole different reaction.
I could always write a letter…to the editor. (I really like writing letters when I don’t like something. I’ve written to Miss America Organization, NBC, authors who didn’t answer the questions they created in their book, op-eds, letters to the editor…if nothing else, it feels good to get it out!)
What are your thoughts on these issues?