I am extremely confrontational. It’s something I take a great deal of pride in. I don’t view confrontation as a bad thing. I view it as a necessity to address issues and a way to create and maintain safe spaces for myself and those around me.
When we do not address inappropriate language (in whatever form it takes) we are expressing tacit agreement with it. Whether it’s a “joke” about rape, racism, transphobia, a casual comment with classist tones, etc. Our silence is agreement.
For those of us that are a part of the group being targeted in a discussion I do understand that these moments can make us freeze. I’ve been there. And we’ve all had 20/20 hindsight and had the perfect counter/comeback for a particular incident. And even then that doesn’t always make the next time any easier.
Checking people is tough stuff. Especially when it’s someone you love. But it needs to become habit. Particularly for allies part of privileged groups. Not laughing at a “joke” is just not good enough. Here’s a few tips I have used in the past with success:
- Pulling someone aside. It’s amazing the results you can get with someone when you speak to them alone and don’t confront them in front of a group. People become more defensive when their pride is involved and they think there is potential embarrassment.
- Separating who they are from what they said. Jay Smooth has already more than adequately laid this out. So yeah. What he said.
- Arm yourself with truth/facts. Some people are really good at talking about shit they have absolutely no knowledge of. Wordsmiths can make a non argument seem triumphant even with no facts. All one can do here is present hard data and not be concerned with the flash and fanfare of the other person’s speaking style.
- Drop It and Roll. I often like to make things short and sweet. Someone says something ignorant. I call them out succinctly (Anything from “That was sexist.” to “Does that really make sense to you?”). Then let it be with no further discussion. If they try to challenge me on it with the typical “some of my best friends…” etc arguments. I just go “OK” and move on. What that does is make them think twice before making certain statements around you again. Whether they are even fully cognizant of that are not. [Not every confrontation is designed to educate. Sometimes I just want to minimize my daily bullshit intake.]
- Do not own what’s not yours. At the end of the day people are going to believe what is most emotionally/psychically soothing to them. You can try all of these tactics or plenty I haven’t mentioned and it still won’t sink in because people are very attached to their ideas regardless of how ridiculous they may be. And that’s not on you. That doesn’t mean you’re not an adequate teacher (assuming you would want that role). It doesn’t mean you weren’t even handed, understandable and morally correct. The most important tip I could ever give for confrontation is to not take on other folks’ inability to learn or grow.