Among Friends and Neighbors
Some people said they're more forgiving of bigotry among friends than they are among family or the general public, allowing remarks to pass without response. "Lisa's just that way," they say. "She'll never change." That becomes an excuse for not speaking up. Do you allow such attitudes to keep you from speaking up?
Others indicated that what gets said within in-groups — people of the same race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religion — often is more bigoted or biased than what they say or hear in the broader community. Do you allow bigotry to go unfettered in such groups? What message does that send? And how does it relate to your values?
A white man plans to marry a South American woman; his friends make incorrect assumptions about her race, religion and family background. "The question we never stop getting is, 'Do Carrie's parents mind?' When we question the question, we are told that 'Indian families' like their daughters to marry their 'own kind.' How can we respond?"
A Chicago woman who is adopted, still grieving the death of her mother, is told, "Oh, so that wasn't your real mother who died?" The woman writes, "I was so hurt by this I didn't know what to say."
A Chinese American woman often finds herself asked by friends, "What do Chinese people think about that?"
Approach friends as allies.
When a friend makes a hurtful comment or poses an offensive question, it's easy to shut down, put up walls or disengage. Remember that you're friends with this person for a reason; something special brought you together. Drawing on that bond, explain how the comment offended you.
Respond with silence.
When a friend poses a question that feels hurtful, let protracted silence do the work for you. Say nothing and wait for the speaker to respond with an open-ended question: "What's up?" Then describe the comment from your point of view.
Talk about differences.
When we have friendships across group lines, it's natural to focus on what we have in common, rather than our differences. Yet our differences matter. Strive to open up the conversation: "We've been friends for years, and I value our friendship very much. One thing we've never really talked about is my experiences with racism. I'd like to do that now."
A friend stays overnight with a married couple. All three had been part of a beer-drinking crowd in college but when offered a beer that evening, the guest politely declines.
In the morning, the husband offers the guest a cup of coffee. Again, the guest declines. Attempting humor, the husband asks, "What are you, Mormon or something?"
The guest explains that, yes, he has married since college, to a Mormon woman, and has converted.
The wife describes it this way: "Ever the nice guy, [the guest] handled it with grace and wit, letting [my husband] off gently."
Before houseguests arrive, ask if they have any special dietary restrictions or other needs. Also, share any household traditions or practices you have that may affect them.
When we miss or ignore social cues and clues, we can stumble into awkward moments. Pay attention to subtleties of communication, a hesitancy from a guest before beginning a meal might indicate a need for a moment of silent prayer, for example.
Focus on behavior, not beliefs.
If you feel the need to ask questions, center it on behavior rather than beliefs. "John, you used to drink in college. Have you stopped?" This may open, rather than close, a conversation.
Accept information at face value.
If someone declines one thing, offer another without judgment or inference. "Would you like a soft drink instead?" Or, "We also have milk or juice; would that work?" Be gracious. Aim to please, not judge.
If you do stumble, don't let someone else's graciousness take you off the hook. Make amends as quickly and sincerely as possible: "What an insensitive thing for me to say. I'm sorry."