When the World is 24/7 Offensive, How Do We Chose our Battles?
The ubiquitous they say “No man is an island,” but people can certainly act like they are, making prejudicial statements that deny the lived experiences and perspectives of others. Verbal manifestations of sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism, ableism, etc. we encounter as we go about our day come from a startling array of people and in varying degrees of offensiveness.
Do we engage each stupid comment? We have to, right? Words inform actions; even the tiniest of verbal micro-aggression stems from a pernicious social injustice. But can we summon the energy and spare the time to explain privilege to half of the world, half the time?
Or, there's the other option: do we let things roll off our backs? Confronting the ugly underbelly of the world on the regular only to have it dismiss us can poison our subsequent moods, conversations, and interactions. But what about that other famous phrase: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
I continually struggle with these questions, as we all do. Ultimately, you do what feels safe and right in your heart. But the most effective way to fight the good fight for change is with the friends and family you are close to.
For starters, these people love you and respect your opinion—and if they care about you, and you care about something, they're more likely to listen. Plus, let's get strategic here: You know the conversational angles that work for them. If they’ve said something that is offensive to you, you’re more likely to have a dialogue where ideas are exchanged, rather than a battle where you end up frustrated and they end up defensive or smug.
It took me until junior year of college to encounter the concept of third wave feminism. I had always been an uncritical viewer of Sex and the City, and one day, I got into a conversation with my roommate Janet about why the episode where Carry and crew get high is like, totes the best in the world! Janet told me that was her least favorite episode, because the white women tromp into a dive bar, drink cheap beer, and co-opt the bachelorette party of a group of black women into their own fun, novel adventure. “But, what about universal sisterhood!?” I cried. “At the end of the night, the SatC gang leaves that bar and never goes back. But that’s some women’s weekly spot, and they still made the experience totally about them!” she countered. “What’s universal about that?”
That debate with Janet changed my worldview for the better, and I was always thankful she took the time to talk her Carry qualms out with me. I was even more thankful three years later when my college ex admitted he only understood third wave feminism via hanging out with me.
If you’ve spoken to a loved one and made no headway, don’t be dismayed. My dad once told me something along the lines of “The thing about giving advice to teenagers is, even if they don’t follow it, they are still listening and contemplating, and they might try it next time.” Hopefully your friend or relative is incorporating what you’ve said, so that someday it’ll click, and they’ll be forever glad you chose that battle.