What do you do when you challenge someone’s bigotry, and they choose to double down?
In my studies, the responsibility of cultural learning has come to the forefront of my mind. Living in America means living in white supremacist, patriarchal, etc etc. culture. A lot of what we learn is learned subconsciously, and each of us respond to this subconscious learning differently. For myself, dominant culture didn’t make sense. I’ve always bristled at it. Political education gave me the vocabulary to explain why. It simply boils down to dehumanization. I don’t dig on it, I’m not for it, and I have made it my active fight.
I tend to not like to go into detail about the things I do on the anti-racist side. I’ve learned to just shut up and do the work the best I can, and my best is good enough. Part of why I don’t talk about it is because I feel like I’m not doing enough. Yet on the other side, there is plenty that I do do, and it’s quite frowned upon to speak on it, especially as a white woman. I am actively conscientious of what I put out on social media, and I am also actively conscientious about who I speak with about it. Luckily I have the perfect person to speak to about it, and so I really don’t feel as squirrelly anymore.
Without getting too deep into the details, I’ll summarize my current existential crisis: my absolute specialty.
Here are a few creeds I hold close to my heart:
1. When it comes to how I view other people: do whatever the fuck you want as long as you’re not hurting yourself, people, animals, or the environment.*
2. I want to move through life lessening suffering.
3. I will always call out bigotry.
Because of the book I read recently, I also want to chose to live by what bell hooks calls a “love ethic.” I feel it highly necessary to give the definition of love hooks uses throughout her book:
Love: The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. ~M Scott Peck
Love’s ingredients: care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust — as well as honest and open communication. ~bell hooks
Which now leads to my current dilemma:
I recently called out someone’s bigotry. It’s been an interesting journey to experience this person through watching videos of their a stream-of-consciousness emotional vomiting. I see them once a week, for perhaps a few minutes and up to thirty minutes at a time. After I initially called out the bigotry in a way that was both regretful and, I feel, absolutely necessary for THIS PERSON, the encounters have been mildly awkward.
I’ve seen enough instances of bigotry being called out and people becoming defensive and doubling down. This is not news to me. This is quite the normal path we all choose to take the first time we’re called out on our shit. In our desperate need to feel humanized again, we allow anger to take over, because isn’t that what we’re supposed to feel when our personhood is challenged? That’s what we’ve been taught, subconsciously, through cultural values and norms.
I feel like I’ve been patient waiting for this person to come around. In some ways they have (though they probably doesn’t know it yet, but I’ve heard them curse capitalism when they didn’t have the words for it before), and in many ways they are struggling on what to do, so they do what is most comfortable to them — be extra bigot-y.
It has come to a point where I have decided that the effort on my part is wasted.
My struggle is that I am not sure what I will do when it comes time to let this person know that I am not going to converse with them anymore. This person likes to ask why, and I’m sure they will. Looking at my creeds and looking at the definition of love, should I not lean into my values when I speak to this person? Which is to say, will I say it nicely, or will I once again call out his bigotry and make him feel like shit?
Part of me, a large part of me, thinks that if someone can’t respect the first creed, then they should receive the same disrespect. But how are we to lead people to love if not by being loving? Is being direct showing love? Remember the definition above — I ain’t talking about romantic love. I’m talking about the kind of love you show a person who is very lost and needs help getting back on track.
Who am I to say what the track is? Well, again, creed 1 is the track. And I feel like it isn’t that hard to do. Well, it takes a lot of learning and unlearning to be able to stop hurting people. I suppose what isn’t hard, for me, is the desire to do it. The actual doing is the hard part. Knowing that this person doesn’t want to, or doesn’t see the value of, following creed #1, what do I owe this person in return?
If I want to believe that all people have the potential for spiritual growth — and that is, to me, learning how to treat other people as the human beings they are (spiritual growth is much more than that but this is a good basis to start with) — then I must consider how to best treat a person who is riding stormy waters. Do they want to get out? I thought this person did. Is it my responsibility to get them out? I guess not. But I tried anyway. It didn’t work. The hopeful side of me wants me to add “yet” to the previous sentence.
It hasn’t worked… yet.
But I’m done trying.
I’ll continue pondering on this until I see this person again because even though this entry gave me some clarity, I’m still unsure of what kind of person I want to be.
*(Property doesn’t count as environment.)