• Sat, 29, Aug, 2020 - 5:00:AM

Just ten things to say in response to a bigot

We’ve all been there. Your lungs quit working for half a second, your eyebrows shoot up your forehead. When you live in a greenie, social justice-y, potentially too-online bubble, a truly bigoted comment can knock you for six. You’re hanging around with a seemingly normal bunch of humans when “[insert degrading name for a group of people] are like that” clunks out of somebody’s mouth.

Perhaps no one else says anything.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean they all agree with the statement. It may just mean they don’t have the guts to speak up. I know what that’s all about, there’ve been plenty of times when I’ve not had the guts to speak up.

But I am trying. Here are ten ways to respond to those awkward moments.

I’m sorry, what did you say?

The great thing about this one is that it puts the onus back on the perpetrator. Rather than coming out with the accusatory hey! that’s not right! and putting yourself in the spotlight, you’ve kept the spotlight on the bigot. Watch them squirm with their I just meant or it’s just a joke or (best of all, if you’re lucky) actually, you’re right. I shouldn’t say that.

Follow-ups along this vein include:

Can you explain to me how that’s funny?   

What do you mean, exactly?

I don’t understand that way of thinking.

I didn’t realize you thought that way.

Or you can always just say Really? Just be sure to express your utter confusion.

Then there are those people who delight in offense-causing. On the surface level, I’m one of those people. I love George Carlin, and I’ve been known to refer to certain high-powered politicians as unprintable words. The thing is, a lot of the offense-causers you’ll run into don’t understand the difference between punching up and punching down. Carlin himself explains the difference in this video here (which might be a handy link to send to the young edgelords in your family).

When it comes to offensive statements, I prefer to swap out the O word for the three H’s instead.

Hurtful, harmful, and hateful.

I use the first most frequently:

Whoa, that’s quite a hurtful thing to say.

No matter how edgy someone purports to be, the idea of hurting someone is actually quite confronting.

Whoa, that’s a really harmful statement works in much the same way. Usually, people wanting to make offensive jokes aren’t actively trying to harm a certain community. They’re just trying to be edgy. Bringing up the harm statements like this can cause offers the bigot a chance to re-think.

And finally, there’s: Wow, did you mean to say something so hateful?

Bringing hate into the equation is perhaps the most confronting. Forming it as a surprised question can give the person a chance to change tack.

All of these statements, as you may have noticed, give the bigot a bit of wriggle room. Naturally, different contexts call for different responses, but I find this type of response works best. Outright statements of That’s sexist! or I take offense at that! tend to lead to nothing more than a double down. They put the onus on your feelings, and place you front and centre.

Depending on your patience, I find it best to, in fact, feign innocence: Careful there, you wouldn’t want people to think you’re a racist. 

The thing is, you may not be able to change everyone’s point of view with these responses. But it might get through to some of the others who are listening. Best of all, you may give someone else the confidence to chime in with: Yeah, that’s a really weird thing to say.


  • Culture /
  • Bigots /
  • Offense /
  • Racism /
  • Sexism /
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