Calling friends out on their oppressive views
It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends – Albus Dumbledore
Facing oppression is already a difficult experience when it comes from society at large, but when it comes from your closest friends it can be an even more painful experience. Calling out friends on their discriminatory views and language requires a great deal more nerve than if they were to be strangers. There’s a delicate balance in every relationship that can be upset quite easily when core beliefs are challenged. Issues such as gender, race, size and sexuality are particularly emotional, so confrontation can be explosive.
The initial debate is whether or not to call friends out at all. Do you dare disturb the universe? The conflict is between speaking out against what you see as very hurtful actions and words, and maintaining what might be a very long-term, valuable friendship. Unfortunately at times these options are mutually exclusive.
Think about to what degree your friend’s views are offensive. A single off-colour joke that is a little out of character may not require a dramatic confrontation, but if their negative quips about ‘queer folk‘ become a regular feature in their conversation, or if they frequently make statements that are belittling and hateful, telling them clearly how you feel is a good idea. When it reaches a point at which you don’t want to be around a person anymore because their language or views are so deeply hurtful, it’s a problem.
Think about how your friend will respond. If you feel they are open to intellectual conversation and will take the criticism on board, or that they will at least logically explain to you their reasons for feeling such a way, go right ahead. It becomes problematic when your friend is more stubborn. The stubborn are not always so open to criticism.
If you’re in the former situation, perhaps bring it up when your friend next makes such a quip. Calmly explain to them how what they said is offensive and ask them to consider this in future they may not have realised they were being at all discriminatory. It’s a good idea to be sure of your views so you can defend your point of view should they question you about it. If offensive comments surface again in conversation, remind them of what you said. Hopefully they are open-minded.
If you are in the latter situation, things will be more difficult. More vehement argumentation will be required of you, so definitely read up on your subject so as to not crumble in the face of opposition. Once again, explain to them how they are being offensive. If they trivialise what you say, an appeal to your own personal experience could strengthen your argument. By telling them how hurt you feel, hopefully they will come to see how unreasonable they are being as you’re making it more real and immediate for them.
If your friend persists in their hurtful views, perhaps consider that they are not a positive presence in your life. A friend that refuses to eradicate views that make you feel small and less than you deserve to is maybe not a person worthy of sharing your time with. It’s difficult to be close to someone who does not respect you in very fundamental ways.
At the same time, sometimes politics need to be set aside. Calling out nitty-gritty instances of language oppression can become difficult for friends who may begin to feel the burden of censoring themselves whenever you converse. Sometimes saving relationships takes priority over everything else.
Nevertheless, I encourage you to summon up the courage to speak to those who say things that trigger self-hatred and feelings of inadequacy. Friendships that bring these feelings can ultimately be poisonous and mar your personal quest for empowerment and self-love. Discrimination is never OK. Letting oppression slip by unacknowledged allows dangerous ideas to manifest.
Albus Dumbledore knows where it’s at.
Having a friend who holds oppressive views (they may be a closet racist) is not a comfortable position to be in. Even if you’re both cats.