I want to plan ahead for what I will say the next time I hear a racist, sexist, ageist, or homophobic remark.
There have been times I’ve felt stunned into silence or just not brave enough, not thoughtful enough, not well-prepared enough, to stand up for kindness.
It is now clear to me that if I don’t speak up, I am signaling that this is OK. In remaining silent, I am giving the person permission to do it again. If we want a real change it will take billions of moments of standing up and of change.
Research by Dr. Alexander Czopp, the director of the Center for Cross-Cultural Research at Western Washington University, shows that “addressing offensive behavior in the right way in the moment can change it in the future.” That feels so hopeful to me.
Dr. Czopp’s research shows that direct statements, such as “That’s racist,” result in much more defensive reactions. He says that most people have an inaccurate view of what these terms mean. He explains, many think of white supremacists, the KKK, and cross-burning — anything that implies that we’re on the same continuum as those things is denied. Law Professor and workplace discrimination expert, Joan Williams explains, it can feel righteous to call people out, but people’s defensiveness can be deafening when they hear that they’re being sexist, racist, or otherwise offensive. When people feel defensive, they are unlikely to hear you or be willing to change their minds.
Back to the action plan. In addition to not being prejudiced and not making offensive remarks, I am committed to speaking up when others are polluting the air with racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, or other cruelty.
Here’s a draft of a “Not Silent” plan and I need and welcome your improvements. The approach was informed by an article on, “How to respond to an offensive comment” that Amy Gallo wrote for the Harvard Business Journal.
With this “Not Silent Plan” when I hear a racist, ageist, sexist, homophobic remark…
I will always acknowledge the comment and explain my reaction to it
I will tell the person how their comment made me feel. I’ll say, “I know it wasn’t your intent, but that didn’t sit right with me” or I will say, “I’m confused by what you said.” If possible, I will talk to the person one-on-one, but it may be that I need to respond in a group.
I will ask a question
I will follow my initial statement with a question like “What did you mean by that comment?” or “What information are you basing that on?” I will be compassionate and respectful. I will say, “tell me more about that thinking.” By engaging the person in a discussion, I can explore their biases and try to clear up any possible misunderstandings.
I will share information
If the person doesn’t understand how their comment was offensive, I will try to offer an observation or more information. It’s important I do this in a way that isn’t passive-aggressive. The more genuine I can be in sharing information and not trapping the person in their biased comment, the more likely they are to hear me - and change.
I have been the recipient of sexist remarks and actions. I have never however, felt the pain of being denigrated for my race, my age, or who I love. I have never had to fear for my life as a result of who I am. I have never had a door of opportunity shut in my face because of my skin color, time on earth, or who I love. I have a lot to learn about how this privilege has biased my perspective. I am hopeful that listening, persistent awareness and effort, willingness to change, thoughtful voting, and living with humility and love will be a start.