How to respond to bigoted remarks

Several years ago, I read Encountering Bigotry: Befriending Projecting Persons in Everyday Life, a book that is now out of print.

I came across my notes from the book, and thought they might be of interest:

People make bigoted remarks because they are dealing with more emotional turmoil than they can handle, and are looking for support. The remarks that they make are usually projections—they project onto other people the traits they cannot bear to see in themselves. By making bigoted remarks to you, they try to win you to their side of a supposed “us vs. them” dichotomy.

These invitations should be rejected, because the sense of solidarity that arises from them is debased and sterile; an empty shell of true friendship.

However, it is important not to reject the person as you reject the person’s invitation—what the other person needs most is to be treated as a peer, and to have his pain taken seriously. Every projection contains some truth, and your response should respect that.

Bad ways to respond to bigoted remarks include: confronting the person, denying the person’s stated experience, withdrawing from the person, confirming the projection, and reacting too quickly.

Instead, focus your response on the here-and-now rather than on abstractions about other people; talk to the person rather than about an out-group. Accept and support the person. Do not demand that the person change, but do address the person’s actions. Invite the person to tell the story behind his hatreds, and be willing to share similar stories (with different conclusions, of course!).

Finally, don’t pretend to be a better person than you are or a better person than the other person—doing so only feeds the other person’s anger and self-hatred.

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