#871: Love & Friendship in the Time of Xenophobia

Dear Captain,

I’m hooked on your advice as well as comments from the Awkward Army. Now, I need your help.

Let me set the scene. I’ve lived in Dubai, New York, Hong Kong and a lot of other cool places. I love anime (inner geek), talking shit with my friends (very cool, very diverse), and can’t cook if my life depended on it. Pretty average girl (or I like to think of myself as rocking cool!).

But that’s not how everyone sees me. You see, I’m also Muslim. I love my faith, and totally respect everyone else’s beliefs. The thing is, over the years, I’ve been feeling an increasingly hostile attitude. I understand why. Really bad things have been happening. And the media has increasingly painted all Muslims as extremists, that as if we somehow all share this messed up perversion of our ideology. The media doesn’t mention that the victims of most of these terrorist attacks are Muslims, and we hate these $@&#* more than anyone.

I feel like I’m in a position to represent that we’re not all like that – just by being me. When I make friends, they get to know me. That the majority of Muslims are like me. There’s over a billion Muslims.. You never hear about them because there’s nothing to say. So I’m in no way the exception.

I thought that was the cool way to do things. Just be yourself, and at least the circle of people I’m with will see that we’re not like the media reports. If people have questions about what I believe or about the religion, I answer and clarify the wildly inaccurate picture media reports.

In my life, there’s always been questions. But lately, the talk is getting… scarier. Some of the comments from people I know (not directed at me), are crazy racist, and just plain crazy. I’m no shrinking violet, but I feel like confronting people head on won’t change their minds because I come out as defensive (which is often equated to guilty). At the same time, sitting by passively while people say things I thought ended with WWII… not so good either. Sitting on the sidelines back then was sooo not the way to go. Plus in a twisted way, I feel like I have a responsibility to be some sort of spokesperson, since no one ever hears the Muslim perspective (extremists don’t represent our beliefs, terrorism is a crime against humanity, and we’re just normal people – doctors, teachers, geeks, if you cut me do I not bleed normal..)

Down to the question. The other day I was surprised to overhear a colleague of mine, let’s call him John, say all Muslims are terrorists and should be monitored (by overhear I mean sitting two desks down as he had a loud discussion with neighbouring desks.. WTF). John is not alone in his thoughts. John is a cool guy, who has also known me for a while. So I was really surprised that’s what he thinks of me (since I am ONE OF THEM).

What should I do the next time I hear a friend of mine say something along the lines of what Donald Trump has been spouting? My usual response, asking them if they think of me that way (the only Muslim they know), they say OMG OFCOURSE NOT! YOU’RE MY FRIEND! BUT YOU’RE NOT LIKE THEM, YOU’RE NICE!! Is there a script you can suggest?

Thanks Captain.

A cross between Mulan, Princess Jasmine, and Dragonball Z

Dear PrincessMuJasDragonZ,

I’ve been sitting on your letter for an embarrassingly long time because what “script” could I give you to “politely” win over people who want to police and erase your existence and who feel secure enough in those beliefs that they’ll talk about it casually at work in front of you? Sadly, our presidential candidate whose name rhymes with “dump” didn’t set all this hate in motion. My grampa was sending me missives about how we have to “round up all the Muslims and watch them” from the Rancid Old Man Internet 10+ years ago, and my impassioned rebuttals did nothing to stop it or change it. I am angry for you and sad for you and I don’t know what to tell you. The two strategies that come to my mind are 1) what you’re doing:

Wow, John, you know I am Muslim, right? Is that what you think about me?

And they say ofcoursenotyouremyfriendyourenotlikethemyourenice…

… and you say, “Well, of course I am nice, and my family are nice, and the 1 billion of us on the planet are also pretty nice, so, could you cool it with the anti-Muslim talk?”

ThatsnotwhatImeantareyoucallingmeracist…

There are terrible people with vested interests in making us hate each other. Can we try not to do their work for them? I value your friendship, but I can’t hang if you are going to advocate taking away my human rights and the rights of people like me.

And then you have to watch, in that moment and in all the ones to follow, to see if your friendship means anything to the person. Anything at all. Even if this person still thinks terrible, xenophobic things do they care enough about you to keep a lid on all of it around you, for form’s sake, if nothing else? Or will you now be subject to a torrent of ranting about “political correctness” and increased retaliation from them? Or, worse, find out they were speaking aloud on purpose in order to terrorize you?

Option 2) seems to be “document the crap out of these comments and see if your workplace rules and the laws about ‘hostile workplaces’ will offer you any protection.” That immediately makes John your lifetime enemy and possibly you lose your job or have to leave it and get branded “difficult” and have a hard time finding a new one. Sounds fun.

You can combine the two strategies, like, start with the personal appeal and see if it works, and then if it doesn’t work appeal to authority so that you can have safety where you work, but what if the people in authority are not on your side?

Hateful, violent people test the waters by making cruel “jokes” and other comments to see how others react. They think that everyone secretly thinks just like they do. Your coworkers and your supervisor should be helping you when “John” gets going. “John, really? This is what we’re talking about?” “Wow, that’s offensive, please stop.” “Shocked silence” on their part (if shock is what’s fueling their silence) isn’t the same as resistance. Maybe one thing you could do is to ask people who you know don’t share John’s views to do some of the speaking up and take the pressure off you.

Just know, if you fail, it wasn’t because you used the wrong script or because you aren’t cool and wonderful or human enough.

-and now a brief interlude about historical/current events-

In 1998 I went to Ukraine on a work trip and one of my colleagues took me to an underground gay club there. Private sexual behavior between adults was technically legal in Ukraine after 1991, but any public expression could be classified as “pornographic” and LGBTQ-people in Ukraine were (and are) subject to extreme monitoring and violence by law enforcement and by hate-groups. Queer folks also face(d) employment discrimination, threats of blackmail, the fear of being outed & disowned by family, and as a result many choose to hide their orientation in public. That’s where the clubs came in – no fixed address, renting out halls here and there, this week’s or month’s location spread by word-of-mouth. The one I went to was in an old Soviet “Peoples’ Palace” covered in Socialist Realist murals of burly farm and factory workers sexily riding tractors (perfection, tbh). Each man came to the club with a woman as a date. Once inside, the women grabbed drinks and sat together out of the way at a cluster of tables – playing cards, talking among themselves, sometimes even knitting or doing embroidery while the men danced. If the police or local brownshirt assholes (or both) showed up, a certain folk song would play as a signal, at which time we women were to grab either our dates or the nearest man and immediately start dancing (“Look officer, it’s just our boring folkdance club!”) like lives depended on it. Because maybe they did.

In the meantime, the men danced, packing weeks or months of living into a few moments on the dance floor, dancing like their lives depended on having this space to be free and beautiful and sexual and human. (Because maybe they did).

Letter Writer, your story and the memory of beautiful humans dancing with each other under the shadow of violence are part of the same story. Homophobic slaughter of Latinx club patrons this weekend in Orlando and knee-jerk Islamophobia about the perpetrator are two awful tastes that are bringing all the worst people together. The question for me today isn’t how you can speak up better for your own humanity because you’re already doing that the best you can and you already deserve safety and freedom from hate. The question for me is: How do we who are not the immediate targets of hate because of our identity [create a shield of defensive folk dancers][summon Dumbledore’s Army][push back this tide of normalized bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia]?

Some of it (but not all of it) is about voting and writing and calling elected representatives and pulling the levers of government however we can. Some of it is about protesting – brave people literally putting their bodies and lives on the line for themselves and others in the name of justice and safety. A LOT of it is about organizing. Maybe it’s about running for office ourselves (though don’t read the comments if you follow that link and you like cogent discussion).

Some of it is about speaking up to the people we know when we see something wrong. “Wow, John, really? You think that’s an appropriate work conversation? I’m surprised at you.” “Dad, that opinion is really scary – you can’t be serious.” Take away the fig leaf that “everybody” agrees with these ideas.

Some of it about making art. (And love is love is love is love is love is love is LOVE). And knowing history. And correcting facts – “Refugees are FLEEING terrorism, not causing it.” “Transgender people using bathrooms are not a threat to others, seriously, stop, that is not the point of these bills.” “LET PEOPLE PEE AND POOP IN PEACE, OMG.”

What else is it? How do we protect each other from hate? How do we make it so that everyone is free to dance?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

242 comments
  1. Sheelzebub said:

    LW, it is not your job to do the emotional work of guiding and nicely schooling people. I understand the impulse and the instinct–I have it myself. A combination of survival vs. dignity.

    With friends outside of work, definitely use the Captain’s script if you feel comfortable and it’s safe to do so. Also listen carefully for mutual friends making excuses for the offender: “So-and-so is really nice underneath it all/doesn’t really mean it/is an equal opportunity asshole.” (That last part is almost never true, and even if it is, racism isn’t equal opportunity. POC and Muslims get a far bigger slice of racism lobbed their way, so there’s no need to add to it. It’s bullshit.)

    Any friends who make excuses–well, look. I’m not going to tell you who to be friends with, and I know we all have to make our own terrible bargains. Every friend group has people who say this and it might feel like you won’t ever meet people who will shut it down. But if it gets tiring, it is okay to distance yourself. It is okay to be safe. Your safety and your dignity matter. If you decide it’s worth it, you can say, “So-and-so may be nice, but what they are saying is not nice. A lot of hateful bigots are saying that, and they are pushing for me and mine to be driven out of the country and treated like criminals because of that attitude.” Or “S/He may be an ‘equal opportunity asshole’ but racism isn’t an equal opportunity phenomenon. You aren’t being told that you’re a terrorist, you’re not under physical threat by random racist assholes, and you don’t have a Presidential candidate calling for your expulsion. Enough.”

    At work, it’s trickier, but I’d suggest a combination of the “Wow, did you mean me” script and documenting. If you say something to him, you can establish early on that you did put him on notice that it was not acceptable to you.

    I am sorry you are going through this. I’m not surprised, but I’m sorry and saddened and disgusted on your behalf.

    • Queen of scarves said:

      Thanks Sheelzebub for that counter argument about equal opportunity assholery. I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it as well but I will be deploying it in future!

      LW , like the captain said, you are already doing a lot and you deserve to be safe.

  2. SM said:

    It’s so hard to fight these kind of hateful ideas because they’re so often based on willful ignorance. I grew up in a school with a sizable Indian population for American standards, and it was crazy to me the “little” abuses I saw my friends suffer after 9/11 – and the only defense teen me ever came up with in the moment was “you know they’re not even muslim, right?” Which is and terrible argument – even if they were Muslim, so what? How could they go from “that kid behind me in math who usually has an extra pencil?” to object of random irrational hate? And is it possible to fight irrational hate with reason?
    I don’t have answers, only deep sympathies. You’re both special and normal at the same time, LW, and the more people see just how normal you can are despite the “scary” things that make you special, we can only hope they come to see how normal every person slightly different from them really is.

  3. Sheelzebub said:

    Also–this is to the bystanders here, the friends, etc. SHUT IT DOWN. I mean it. Call them out. Don’t let it slide. “What the fuck did you just say?” works quite well. As does “You know I have Muslim friends, right?” (Change for whatever marginalized group the person is dragging.) “You sound like Donald Trump, a dude the Klan loves. Rethink that nonsense.”

    I have no patience for the go-along-to-get-along mindset. I’ve already gotten into several knock-down, drag outs with relatives and friends since the Paris bombings. I lost friends over that but I don’t fucking care-if you spout that shit, I do not want to be your friend. I get keeping quiet when it’s you/your group someone is dragging, because it can be a safety issue, and people can get freaking tired. But when your friend or your relative is being a racist fuck, call them out. Do not allow them a comfortable environment to operate in. People push boundaries to see what they can get away with, and they’ll keep taking ground and escalating. Don’t give them one fucking inch. It is not okay, not even a little. Think of it: someone starts talking trash about whatever marginalized group you are part of. No one calls them on it and/or they dismiss it or excuse it. How isolated would you feel? How fucking demoralizing would it be? I’m telling you from personal experience (THANK YOU MISOGYNY AND RAPE CULTURE) it sucks.

    Let’s do better.

    • JenniferP said:

      Hear, hear.

    • Risha (@rishabree) said:

      And it will work some of the time so it’s worth doing, but people trying this script need to be prepared for the unfortunate truth that there’s a percentage of people who just won’t care.

      On the phone yesterday, my mom made some comments about Trump, and I said something along the lines of, “Wow Mom, really? He’s a fascist.” And her actual reply was, “Like Stalin? Well, maybe, but it’s not like he’s Hitler or anything.” Which shows: 1. an astounding failure to grasp Russian history by someone who is actually pretty intelligent, and 2 that as a lower middle class, elderly white woman, she couldn’t care less if she lives in a fascist state as long as she, personally, feels safe.

      (For the record, the conversation petered out after that, because what could I possibly say in response?)

      • alter_ego said:

        Oh man, if your defense of character is “at least he’s not Hitler” then you you are not speaking very highly of that person, regardless of how much you may think you are.

        • JenniferP said:

          “Like Stalin?”

          Okay, like Stalin, who ordered the killing of 20,000,000 of his country’s people. Sure. Ok.

        • goddessoftransitory said:

          Seriously. If you really can’t set the bar higher then “at least not Hitler!” it’s time to rethink your standards.

        • Light37 said:

          Seriously. That’s like saying, “This car has no engine, the seats are torn out and the front tires are missing, but it’s got two working tires so it’s a great deal!”

      • Martha said:

        A similar conversation with my mum last year, although not about Trump but about Syrian refugees. I said, basically, “Wow, really? And would you be saying that if it were 1939 and the regime they were trying to escape from was Nazi Germany?” And her actual reply was, “Well. Well, yes, actually!” And then the conversation tried really hard to die, because, like you, what could I possibly say in response, but instead of letting it die she screamed at me for disrespecting her views, thinking myself too intelligent, and “don’t take it so personally, it’s only politics”.

        So, yes. If you use this script, sometimes you will find out that someone you love is actually a complete stranger. I’m not saying you shouldn’t (I don’t regret calling her out on it), I’m saying that you have to decide for yourself whether that’s worth it.

        • alter_ego said:

          I’m actually pretty sure that we, as a country, were pretty against taking in refugees from Nazi Germany at the time. Not that it was okay, then or now, but I think because of the haze of history, and the fact that we fought in the war, people don’t really realize how shitty we were about it at the time. Not that it’s okay, but it wasn’t an unpopular opinion, then or now, for a lot of the same reasons then as now (I think mostly fear that bringing refugees here would lead the Germans to attacking us, rather than sticking to Europe)

          But I’m pretty fucking terrible at History, so I’m totally willing to be corrected here.

          • MuddieMae said:

            No, you’re pretty much correct. Just because we were horrified by the concentration camps doesn’t mean we were a big fan of Jews in general before or after that. Jewish people were subject to very small immigration quotas, which were not relaxed in the face of progroms and persecution elsewhere.

            In general, the farther we get from the past the more it gets flattened and mythologized to suit whatever our current situation is. We like to tell ourselves everyone loved & respected MLK (they didn’t), yesteryear’s immigrants started learning English and eating steaks the second they got off the boat (nope), and earlier refugees were welcomed with open arms (not a chance). It’s uncomfortable to realize that the past enemies of progress look a lot like us and our loved ones – people who think of themselves largely as good people.

          • Duly Concerned said:

            You’re generally correct as this strictly amateur historian understands it.

            The US government’s excuse to refuse fleeing Jewish refugees was that if a given refugee had left family members behind (as was almost always the case), the Nazis would use that family member as a hostage to coerce spying and/or sabotage. There was also suspicion that the Nazis might infiltrate spies into the US by disguising them as Jews fleeing Germany (sound familiar?). So a US visa for one person required a deposit of $1200 in addition to proof of having booked transportation to the US and affidavits promising financial support of the refugee from US citizens and all this had to happen for the entire family at the same time. That was a lot of money in those days (for instance, it could buy a new car) and transportation was not cheap, so very few people were able to obtain visas.

            That was why one Otto Frank, his wife Edith and their two daughters Margot and Anne were refused visas to enter the US, despite being friends with Nathan Straus Jr (son of the co-owner of Macy’s and a government official), who was a personal friend of Eleanor Roosevelt. Nathan Straus offered to pay the visa deposit, the employers of Edith Frank’s brothers made the pledges of financial support and Mr Straus made a personal appeal to Mrs Roosevelt as well as using other government contacts. All to no avail.

          • Angel said:

            Yeah, one of my friends wrote a story in which a character disparages the way high school teaches history by spouting little-known facts about well-known people. One memorable line was “Hitler offered to let a bunch of Jewish kids leave the country before he started exterminating them, but none of the other countries would take them”. I’ve never forgotten that, and it’s been on my mind a lot lately.

        • Guava said:

          UGH, Martha. I’ve had similar conversations with my mother, which ended the same way. The crowning irony is that I come from a family of immigrants.

          • Angel said:

            One of my co-workers came into work dejected one day. “My dad is voting for Trump. I can’t believe my dad is voting for Trump. He keeps saying all these things about immigrants and I just keep wanting to yell, ‘DAD, WE’RE IMMIGRANTS!!'”

            Yeah. Said coworker’s parents immigrated from China and he speaks both perfect Chinese and perfect English. He is aghast.

        • rhythla said:

          I’ve said multiple times that if I wasn’t related to my family, there’s no way I’d ever talk to them because they really are complete strangers.

          As I’ve gotten older and learned more, I started tolerated their BS less – and calling them out on it. I cannot count how many screaming arguments over their racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic comments we have had because I just could not sit idly by any longer. I may not have changed their minds, but they know that I won’t listen to their BS (thank you CA scripts!) – and they know I will permanently cut them off if they push anymore. I don’t regret it one bit. (And I sincerely don’t care if they are /faaaamily/.)

        • Ros said:

          “Don’t take it so personally, it’s only politics”

          But.. But the thing is that politics is a process in which you directly impact people’s LIVES. It’s not a fucking TV show to watch for your entertainment, where blood and guts and death and misery and starvation and horror is a THEME. What that person is saying is that their right to have an opionion about politics as an abstraction is more important to them than ACTUAL PEOPLE.

          And that’s horrific.

          • Sadly, I see this a lot. I’ve got friends who are the world’s kindest people in person. They’ve let complete strangers live in their house for upwards of *two years*, because they’d otherwise face homelessness and my friends wouldn’t do that to them while they had space to give. They’re awesome, one on one.

            But they’re hard core conservative extremists, and they either couldn’t or wouldn’t seem to grasp that the choices they made at the voting both were directly responsible for making a huge number of other people homeless, who didn’t have anyone to protect them personally. They don’t see the disconnect. Like opposing marriage equality while also blithely calling me up to get the full names of the members they didn’t know of my five-person poly cluster, so they could invite them to their wedding. Because they were inviting *me* to the wedding, and inviting the spouses of other guests is what you do, it’s basic etiquette, and nobody needed to tell them that or explain that all four of these people were really my spouses. Even though we wouldn’t have complained if they hadn’t been asked (I was the only one we could afford to send anyhow, since I was her maid of honor), they had no hesitation; it was simply the right thing to do.

            I’m proud of them for being able to grasp that part despite the conservative Christian background; what I don’t get is how they can understand it in that context and totally miss that they’re doing the same thing but far worse in negating — or trying to negate, since thankfully they lost that battle, at least about same-sex families if not yet about poly ones — state recognition of people’s marriages, so that they don’t have the protection of the law when they need it. It’s the same issue at heart: they would never disrespect or mistreat someone personally, but they just don’t see the ways in which they harm people with their votes and with their job (she works for Fox News)… many of the same people and in the same ways they’ll take principled stands and put themselves at considerable personal discomfort to help out of the same problems their political choices got these people INTO.

            I’ve long since ceased arguing the matter with them, because it was made clear to me that I was straining a friendship I valued and hurting someone I cared about, to no useful purpose since I wasn’t going to be able to change their minds no matter what. And even there, part of the reason I COULD make a choice to let it go was that my friend is still better than many out there in that she’s NOT racist, and she’s nothing but genuinely kind to the people around her, no matter whom or how far out of her usual sphere those people may be. So I wasn’t put in a position of needing to stand up to my best friend for things they were saying about people like this LW; she never would have said anything like that anyway. Her husband sometimes does, and I call him out on it every time; neither of them seem to hold that against me, though neither does he refrain from doing it again next time.

            So the place I ended up drawing my line in the sand was that I’d refuse to be silent in the face of spoken bigotry because that hurts people right there in front of me, and I can do something about it by speaking up. But I don’t argue how they vote anymore, because it’s not my right to pressure anyone out of voting their conscience even if I think their conscience badly needs a tuneup, given that I’ve already said that enough for them to know very well what I think. I don’t *think* I can do more, but it drives me crazy that they don’t see the connections.

            I am relieved to hear that Trump is a bridge too far even for my hard core Republican best friend; she’s planning to hold her nose and vote for Clinton this year. So maybe there’s some hope.

          • scarferia said:

            “your politics is killing us. literally.”

            I have no more words than that. I fear the same. Every single attack it gets worse and worse and still, the white west (which I am a part of too) still likes to be the fucking center of everything.. “Why do they hate us” Maybe because you are murdering us..Maybe we dont hate you but the assholes who also murder us.. Its between pest and cholera but cholera here tries to paint itself as lactobacillus and then acts pissed when after a few million deaths over the years(1) nobody believes it anymore. And still with all the dead from jihadists and all the dead from Us drone bombings(due process is only for white rich people.. did you know that the US categorized every dead human that fell though a drone as combatant? So of course they will always hit the right ones.) the hate wont ever hit the ones at fault. It will hit the visible

            and well Trump talks like nazis. Just swap mexicans with “bolsheviks” and muslims with jews.. There is one thing that is obviously different:

            He doesnt advocate for exterminating all muslims.. Beause, yeah, nobody but the staunchest racist will do that openly.. But he uses the same rhetoric on enemies…
            Its like,you can hear his sadism. he loves violence and he loves to be a bully. He loves it to be able to feel attacked so he has a thin flimsy excuse to start attacking people and revels in it.

            although I think he is more like Mussolini. He is no fanatic to a cause he is just massive power-hungry opportunist who will do everything to stay on power, even collude with literal nazis.

            its.. like.. I feel you, sister, brother.. Its hard to not get dead inside for every new day..

            (1 nah, centuries. But like..almost nobody in america remembers Pinochet and the 300.000 desapparecidos, or the indonesian coup, or the assasination of Irans democratically elected leader for oil &resinstation of the shah or all the weapons going to people who were supposed to fight the udssr (they were called mudjahedeen) and suprise after that started to attack its own people. Saddam, now the sauds or all the other shit they did because they could and need to feel like world police and not like an egoistical bully that still needs tocolonalize others to support its fucked up economy..)

      • Solestria said:

        And even when it doesn’t work, it shows solidarity with the group who’s being targeted. And you can bet that if I were in the group, that would absolutely be worth something to me.

        • Absolutely. It’s a signal to anyone who can hear that you’re not ok with hatred and bigotry. Even if it doesn’t work with that one person, it will definitely make an impression on anyone else who’s listening, even if and sometimes especially if they don’t say anything. At least now they know that if something comes up, there’s at least one person who will listen to them.

        • Sheelzebub said:

          This.

        • Original LW said:

          Yes. This would make a world of difference to me too. Thank you.

        • Lizzie said:

          Yes. Minds may not change, but if nothing else–if NOTHING ELSE–we need to stop the creep of bigotry becoming normalized as bigots start to think, “Hey, other people are saying the things I’m thinking, so they must be okay!” THEY ARE NOT OKAY.

      • What a poor grasp of history! Stalin was a Communist; the Communists and Fascists hated each other. Fascists used people’s fear of communism to take over; in Hungary after WWII the Communists used “We’re better than the fascist pigs” for PR. However, at the end of the day, they are both extremist ideologies that show utter contempt for human rights and mandate bigotry.

    • Abso-fucking-lutely. I would be very surprised indeed to find out that I have zero Islamophobic acquaintances, but I definitely have zero acquaintances who spout Islamophobic bullshit in front of me. If it seems like a conversation might be headed in that direction, I mention how worried I get for my hijabi cousins (I’ve got almost 10) whenever anti-Muslim sentiment is on the rise, because a woman with her hair covered is such an easy target, and how I hope someone would speak up for them or come to their defense if need be. Sometimes that leads to an awkward subject change, sometimes it leads to me doing a little Islam 101 education, and very rarely it gets nasty and I get cold and vicious. I can put up with people insulting or disrespecting me, but don’t you fucking dare come after my loved ones.

      • Brava! I try, but I’m not doing quite as well as you are. I have exactly one acquaintance still willing to spout Islamophobic bullshit in front of me… and he must have a very thick skin because I let him have it with both barrels every single time. (He is unfortunately my best friend’s husband, so he can’t simply be dumped — at least not by me.)

        • I hear you — substitute “homophobic” for “Islamophobic” and you’ve got my stepfather. I’ve been working on a new script, which I’m sharing with the provisos that it hasn’t been field-tested yet and that it contains some ablist language because I’m mirroring his speech patterns:

          Stepfather: blah blah blah homophobic garbage blah

          Me: *wait for a pause, make eye contact* “[Name], why do you do this? You’re not a stupid person, so you have to know by now that I don’t agree with you and I’m never going to. I’m also not going to forget that you think [x]. All you accomplish by bringing it up is to make me think less of you. If that’s what you want, then go ahead, but I’m not going to listen anymore.”

          Stepfather: blah blah entitled to my opinion blah free speech blah

          Me: “Yes, you are, and I’m just as entitled to mine, and have just as much right to voice it. I’m not going to argue with you about this anymore.”

          Him: *persists*

          Me: *turn away, begin talking to someone else about something different, eventually leave the room if necessary*

          And I’ve also been working on a follow-up script for any future iterations:

          Him: homophobic garbage
          Me, in my driest, most sarcastic, and weariest tone: “Yes, [Name], I haven’t forgotten that you think gay people are icky.” *very obviously start a completely different conversation with someone else*

          • When Islamophobic bigot appeals to free speech and entitled to his opinion my inclination would be “So am I — and that opinion is what you’re saying is BS! Plus Muslims have human rights as well.”

  4. misspiggy said:

    For the workplace side of things, I’d recommend being open with trusted friends at work about what is happening and the effects it has. When a black colleague told me about behaviours from our boss that she saw as racist, I was initially all, ‘oh, I think he’s probably just an equal opportunity asshole’. But after that I was primed to notice how he treated her, and when he started trying to get me onside with his nasty bullying attitude, I was able to shut it down firmly. If I hadn’t had my eyes opened to it, I would have been unprepared in the moment and would have been too surprised to say anything.

    • Mary said:

      Apologies if this is really patronising or obvious, but have you ever had a conversation with your friend where you said, “hey, when you first mentioned racism, I kind of blew you off, but thanks so much for saying it because I started looking and now I totally get what you were saying”? Because your initial response is really common but also really demoralising, and it is SO AFFIRMING to have that person cone back and say, “hey, sorry, I get it now”. Not to make a huge deal of it, but just a really quick acknowledgment.

      • Hannah said:

        I second what Mary said here (as a general rule, not just at misspiggy, who may have already done so). I have an ex who I’m still friends with who I talked a lot with about gender stuff when we were together, and he was usually of the “well, it could be something else, so you can’t really call it sexism, and anyway life is hard, so you just have to tough it out like a BRO” camp.
        Recently we were talking about how he’d just hired a woman as his direct report, and he noticed that she might get left out of certain discussions because he and three other men, two of whom are upper management at his company, sometimes go golfing together on Friday afternoons (the most absurdly stereotypical “old boy’s club” scenario). He said he probably never would have noticed that before he and I dated, and that he was going to make sure to fill her in on anything work-related that they talked about, and make sure to promote any good work she did to the management and champion her in case of promotion opportunities and whatnot. As much as I’m still incredibly frustrated about the culture that enables this crap, it was really heartening to hear that these conversations (many of which were uncomfortable and saddening for me) actually made some sort of impact.

        Now, mind you, he didn’t say that they were going to limit the boy’s-club golfing trips, so certainly not an out-and-out victory, but progress, I suppose. Mostly it’s good to know I’m not just screaming into the void.

        • Angel said:

          I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be non-work-friends with your coworkers, or to go golfing with them. Just, maybe you agree not to discuss work at these golf trips. Both because ew, why would you do that, and so people who do not golf are not left out of discussions. Golf is golf time. Work is work time. Do not mix!

          • Hannah said:

            Hey, I am totally with you on that one! I am a big proponent of non-work time! I’m a grad student and often want to bite people when they want to talk about my thesis during the beering hour. But I don’t, because I am a well-trained grad student.
            I think the bigger worry is just that, even if you’re not talking work, there’s value in being the one that the execs, higher-ups, managers, whatever, know and like. And sometimes I think work stuff just comes up, and it’s hard to totally prevent that if you are with a bunch of work people (and are all sort of workaholics, ahem). But yeah, if we could just leave work at work, please, I think life would be much nicer.

          • “Agree not to talk about work at these golf trips”
            Being interested in different countries and having read and flipped through books on various norms, talking about work away from work or personal stuff away from work is taboo in Germany, something that’s culture shock for both Germans and Americans. (Being introverted, I wouldn’t mind if the German practice was introduced into USA!)

    • Personally I hate the “oh, he’s that way to everyone” excuse”. Because while that may seem fairer, it doesn’t change the fact that some people are more affected by/less able to defend themselves against shitty behavior. The boss may yell at everyone, but if the female employees go to HR about it, they’re less likely to be taken seriously.

      • goddessoftransitory said:

        And doesn’t that make that person worse, not better? How does hating every single group make you more sympathetic???

    • thetigerhasspoken said:

      But . . . even if he was an equal opportunity asshole (we’ll just pretend that archetype actually exists for a moment), what we’re saying is: this guy is exempt from the rules of society. He is permitted to treat people poorly. Which means he is permitted to treat you poorly and your feelings/needs/safety/etc. are irrelevant.

      And that’s not even getting into the even murkier waters of how these EOA are disproportionately white, cis, men and the people they are victimizing are disproportionately, not. I think we need to eliminating from our vocabulary entirely, a phrase that only serves to minimize the asshole’s behavior, invalidate the victim’s experience, and teach all bystanders that bullying is acceptable.

  5. LW,
    It sucks. I send support.

    As someone who had to confront two of my bosses about a “joke” involving the assault of my person this morning, I understand a small bit of this daily struggle of yours. These bosses of mine quite possibly had never been told they went to far before. I’m annoyed that it became my job to say that there is a line and they crossed it. I’m annoyed that just because it’s highly unlikely that what they suggested could happen one of them thought I should suck it up. For me, speaking up means I don’t have to let it gnaw on my insides and maybe someone else won’t have to.

    Good luck and a calm head.

    • Shade 'O Pale said:

      I am so sorry you had to endure that.

      “People joke about their truths” is an axiom that never fails me.

  6. Hosta said:

    One thing I would suggest for people who overhear this bullpucky in the work place: in addition to making it uncomfortable and awkward and horrible for the racist prick, document what you heard and when. Then pass on to the target of the bad behavior that you’ve got documents, and their back. The choice on what to do with that information should remain theirs, but I feel that the more people who support them in what they do/don’t do, the better.

    LW, I’m sorry you have to deal with this crap. The correct response to hearing that someone has extremists in their religion is, “Oh, man, that’s horrible, are you going to be okay?”, not the sort of awful poop you’ve had flung your way. Being infested with extremists is like having a sewer line collapse, or a house overrun with a confusing and alarming variety of snakes. It’s not a moral failing, and I’m sorry assholes are acting like it is.

    • Random Tangent Alert
      “a house overrun with a confusing and alarming variety of snakes”

      Having just come come to read CA from a snake-owners’ forum, this phrase is giving me the giggles.

      End Tangent. 😊

      • Me too, lonotter! A house full of munificent noodlehood sounds wonderful to me.

    • Amphelise said:

      Hosta, may I quote your last two sentences elsewhere? They are perfect!

      • Hosta said:

        You are welcome to it!

    • Hannah said:

      I agree with this comment, and just wanted to add on, just as a reminder, that almost every religion has extremists. Buddhism, the religion many people like to think of as above-all-that, has extremists. I only mention that to shut down the response of “well, my house doesn’t have snakes, so your house must be made of rat-flavored drywall, so you must actually be a snake sympathizer, since you are willing to live in your rat-flavored house.” I’m pretty sure the good Captain would shut that response down quick, but felt it was worth noting.

      • Hosta said:

        Yes, this so much. I started to compose a list of the more awful splinter groups of my major local religion, but that’s not actually helpful, and made me feel incredibly gross. Every major religion has horrible extremists – and maybe every minor religion, too, and we just don’t hear as much about them because they are smaller?

        And yeah, that’s why I picked snakes. Snakes just happen, man.

        • solecism said:

          On planes, even. Not that I ever bothered to go watch that movie.

        • Hannah said:

          I totally got where you were coming from. Snakes gonna snake. Just wanted to signal boost that snakes gonna snake *everywhere.*

          Yeah, I think it probably happens in minor religions too, just an a minor scale. (No pun intended, but I’m leaving it in, so, pun kinda intended?) And, as we can see from the US’s current hideous election, it happens in belief systems that we don’t classify as religions too.

        • Yep — in Myanmar Roingo Muslims face persecution from Buddhist extremists; Hindu extremists in India target Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs; Christian extremists in USA bomb abortion clinics and in Uganda pushed through a notoriously anti-gay law(with support from USA! )
          On the other hand, people from all religions promote tolerance.

  7. Cora said:

    I have a suggestion that I can’t decide if it’s just a Band-Aid or if could lead to valuable discussion, but it falls into “Might Help, Couldn’t Hurt”, I think: yesterday evening Comedy Central re-ran one Gabriel Iglesias’ specials, Aloha Fluffy”; in it, he talks about performing in the Middle East, including meeting all kinds of regular Muslims like you. He describes meeting a Saudi Arabian fan who is all “Go back and tell them, Fluffy! Go back and tell everybody in America that we’re nice! We’re not terrorists!” Could you have a viewing party, maybe? Could you talk to a professor and have it shown in class?

    • B. said:

      I don’t know if the LW is a student, but I do have a recommendation: there’s a great graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi called “Persepolis” which was also made into a film (trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PXHeKuBzPY). It’s the story of her life, of how she grew up in 1970’s Iran, migrated to Europe, experienced discrimination and alienation, came back to her motherland and left again.
      I love it because it shows her experience growing up and living as a Muslim woman and how she dealt with religion, war, politics, migration, love and family. I think it would be a great work to show to people who need to question their preconceptions and work on their empathy.

        • Original LW said:

          Looks really cool! I’ll definitely check it out. Thanks.

          • B. said:

            You’re very welcome 🙂

      • Emma said:

        I also really like “The Other Hand” by Chris Cleave. It’s a regular novel about a refugee from a fictional north African country which suffers the kind of civil conflict and overspill of violence that countries like Somalia endure, and her journey to Europe and the abuses she experiences in the asylum system.

        It’s a very well written book and it really humanised the experience of being a refugee for me. I had previously taken the sensible step of assuming that refugees deserved the utmost support and compassion anyway, even if I didn’t have the emotional understanding of what it is to be a refugee, but I know that a lot of people really won’t develop that compassion until they themselves have had a deeply emotional reaction to an individual’s story; and reading this book is a lot less exploitative than asking actual refugees to recount traumatic events for the education of emotionally stunted westerners.

      • @B- Correct me if I’m remembering wrongly, but was Marjane Satrapi ever a Muslim? I’ve reread her story several times (it’s one of my favourite graphic novels) and from what I remember it’s a story about a woman who’s country was overtaken by an extreme Muslim regime when she was a young girl, and her experience dealing with that. A lot of her story from when she was young is to do with things like being forced to cover her hair by said regime. It is a fantastic read, and this is not anti-Muslim literature as such, but I would caution the LW that if you don’t feel like reading about extremist Muslims right now, do not read this. (I’ve only seen the film once but it follows the book closely so similar warnings.)

        • Also, just reread that this would be a recommendation for others who don’t understand that Muslims are not all extremists…my recommendation for that is even less so, for the above reasons.

          • B. said:

            Well, I remember that in book 1 she wanted to become a prophet for Islam and in book 3-4 she talked to an university priest about praying in her mother tongue vs. praying in Arabic, so yeah, I’d say that she was Muslim at those points.
            I’d recommend it for the “not all Muslims are extremists” camp because it shows lots of characters (lots of them Muslim) who disagree with extremism, fight against it, and/or are murdered by it. To me, it removes the handy excuse of everyone living in a Muslim country being supportive of extremism, and it shows that the first (and, often, most) people who suffered from extremist’s terrorism were other Muslims.
            Of course, every text has infinite possible interpretations, and the same book can speak very differently to different people.

          • @B- I’ve now been able to check the book, and it does actually mention another religion very early on, during the part where she’s talking about becoming a prophet: Zoroastrianism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoroaster That wiki does mention some crossover between Islam and Zoroastrianism, due to the history of Iran/Persia, but I think it is very nuanced, and while I’ll leave it up to LW whether they think they would enjoy Persepolis (depending on how burned out they are on content involving radical Islam- don’t get me wrong generally I would highly recommend it but this is a letter by someone who is clearly dealing with a lot of this stuff), I just can’t recommend it as a 101. For example, a big sticking point with a lot of people who really think all Muslims are extremists is ‘women surely can’t ever CHOOSE to wear a veil!’ And a big subject matter in this book is women and girls being forced to wear the veil. I don’t remember a single female character who wore it for her own reasons. I think sticking to the positives is best for people who think of Islam in nothing but negative ways. Something like this extract from Faeneemae’s hijab story- http://www.scoop.it/t/hijab-no/p/4016751264/2014/02/28/my-hijab-story Sadly I can’t find the whole thing (it tells in more detail how she came to her decision to wear hijab), her website doesn’t seem to exist any more.

            Sidenote: I actually haven’t read books 3 and 4 and didn’t actually know they existed. What are their titles? I don’t want to miss out on reading more Marjane Satrapi. 🙂

          • Cactus said:

            Mossyone–Persepolis was split into 4 parts during its original French publication, and may still be published in a 4-book format in Europe, I’m not sure. In the US, books 1 and 2 were collected into a single volume, as were books 3 and 4. (And then later on when the film came out there was a one-volume edition released combining everything).

            Also, yes, Satrapi is Muslim, just not necessarily practicing. Her interviews offer an interesting and nuanced view on Islam and how it is viewed in Europe.

      • I can second this recommendation in re: Persepolis. It is a superb graphic novel. Kudos and gold stars.

        • Knayt said:

          It’s an incredible graphic novel, and the points about it depicting lots of moderate muslims who actively resist extremism is absolutely true. It has a lot of nuance to it. For the people who go in with a bunch of bigoted nonsense though, what they’re probably going to take out of it is something more along the lines of “See these extremists here, that’s what they’re all like”. Carefully cultivated ignorance is hard to punch through, particularly when it’s the defensive line people put around their own bigotry.

    • thathat said:

      Heck, you can even just go full allegorical and kids’ movie with the recent Zootopia. It even straight up has the exchange LW talked about: One character making a comment about a certain group, her friend who belongs to that group asking if that means she sees him as a threat, and her responding with, “Oh, no, you’re not like THEM!”

      It’s a frustratingly relevant movie.

      • Alice_Fraggle said:

        I just thought of Zootopia myself. “All foxes are jerks!” “I’ve known plenty of bunnies that are jerks!” And the part you mentioned too. That movie is FULL of explanations of racism – touching the sheep’s wool; calling the bunny cute (bunnies can call other bunnies cute, but other mammals can’t call bunnies cute – sound familiar?). Zootopia is a movie that everyone should see’ maybe it would help some bigots see bigotry!

    • Shade 'O Pale said:

      The book that I loved was Tara Bahrampour’s “To See and See Again” published in 2000. She describes being a young Muslim and living in Iran then America, after the fall of the Shah. Then taking a trip back to Iran as a singlw woman. I loved her attention to the shapes and smells in the cities of her homes and her relationships with her families in both countries.

  8. Mary said:

    LW, you are amazing for wanting to do this work. But three things to remember:

    1. It is WORK. And it’s the worst kind of work: hard, and stressful, and often badly compensated. Sometimes you’ll get a good response from people, and it’ll be so, so affirming that you spoke up and made a difference. But more often, you’ll get grief and defensiveness and it is awful and exhausting. Never underestimate how much energy it will take out of you, and never beat yourself up for feeling tired and bruised and vulnerable. You are amazing. ❤

    2. You don't HAVE to. Islamaphobic arseholes do not create an obligation on you. You are always allowed to choose the quiet option, whether that's putting on your headphones and choosing not to listen or snarking to a friend on IM. This comes under the Captain Awkward heading of "put on your own gas mask first": your responsibility to other Muslims does not outweigh your responsibility to protect yourself. ❤

    3. You need support for this. If there are good white, not-Muslim friends who can support tou at work without being dicks, enlist them. Tell them what you hear, and tell them whether you want them to challenge those kind of remarks themselves or whether you just want to know they've got your back. If you just want to exchange bitter and sarcastic emails about the dickheads in your office, that's ok too. (Me and 3 friends – 2x white queers. 1x black queer, 1x straight Muslim woman used to do this. Obviously, don't do it on work email if you could get into trouble.)

    Also, it's a really, really good idea to have other Muslims you can talk to about this. White friends will do our best, but I know when I'm trying to support my Muslim friend there are dynamics and nuances I'm going to miss, so I hope she's going to talk to other POC and Muslim friends who get the stuff I'm missing.

    Also, much love. You're amazing. You don't have to do it all.

    • White non-Muslim friends will do our best”. Let’s please remember: Muslims ∩ Whites.

      • Mary said:

        Ah yeah, thank you, good catch! I was careful about that in other places but slipped there, because I was thinking about my relationship with a specific friend who is also a POC.

  9. I've Been There said:

    No advice, but solidarity. I’m a trans Arab who grew up in the US South. Sometimes I was friends with racist assholes because I needed friends, and there were no non-asshole people around to be friends with.

    Recently I went to HR after my manager told me to choose between getting a sex change and keeping my job– in a state where that is illegal, in a company which very publicly talks about how pro-queer it is– and HR branded me as a trouble-maker. So I’m afraid I cannot recommend getting HR involved.

    One survival strategy I came up with, back when I lived in the south– given that I faced discrimination pretty much anywhere I worked– was to make one friend at every job who I could have lunch with. So I had a way to let off steam/ get treated like a normal person for an hour a day. Unfortunately that person was not always willing to defend me from bigots– in at least one case my friend sided with the bigots on one particularly awful day– so it didn’t make the situation not suck but it did make it possible for me to continue to survive.

    Ultimately I moved. I moved to the Bay area, where anti-Arab and anti-trans bigotry are less common and less acceptable. It sucks that there a limited number of places in the world where I will not face daily discrimination, and it sucks that the few that exist are super expensive. But it’s the world I live in so I have made the decision to face the high cost of living and the accompanying stresses so that I can avoid the greater stress that living in more bigoted places involved. Although even after making that move, I still had my manager explicitly threaten to fire me for being trans and HR sided with her. So moving doesn’t fix things, but it can make them better…

    Sometimes I hear white people talk about how moving doesn’t make a difference, that your problems will always follow you, and I think nope. Just nope.

    Much love to you.

    • Moving can make all the difference in the world. I had someone pull that line on me when I had just moved from TN to CA, a single lesbian mom with two small boys. Back in 1986, the Bay Area still had plenty of homophobes (we actually had to leave a preschool because of harassment) but it was NOTHING to what my kids would have faced in TN. “Geographical cures” won’t do a thing for addiction or mental illness but when the problem is someone else’s bigotry the right geography will do the job.

    • B. said:

      I’m so sorry about your job, that sucks 😦

    • anon said:

      Lambda Legal and the ACLU are two examples of pro bono legal organizations that often take on cases like yours. If you’re interested in learning about your legal rights against this employer (even though you’ve left), you might try reaching out to either or both.

      I’m sorry this happened to you.

      • neverjaunty said:

        This. I’ve Been There, only you get to decide how much you want and need to push back, but: in the US, employee-side lawyers work on a contingency-fee basis, meaning you don’t pay out of pocket. You can go talk to one for free to see if you have a case and how much legal effort you are willing to go to; at a minimum, you will know what your rights are and how to push back.

    • Redgirl said:

      No advice, just wanted to chime in and let you know I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through this. I offer you and the LW a virtual fistbump of solidarity and I’d totally be your lunch buddy if I were anywhere nearby.

  10. lunarg said:

    I think we are at the point where those of us with privilege are morally obligated to respond to bigotry when we hear it–even when we just overhear it. Even if the response is just, “I disagree.”

    You don’t have to argue. You don’t have to shout. You don’t have to be clever or eloquent. Just those two words. But say them.

    • attica said:

      One of the benefits of speaking up is that it gives permission to others in the group to speak up, too. People are socialized to ‘go along to get along’, but if you push back on bad behavior, you will likely find a whole team of people who were just waiting for the signal to stand with you on what’s right. (Believe it or not, I’ve even seen this work on internet comments sections!) Even a small ‘Wow, I disagree’ may do wonders.

      • cruelmistress said:

        “I disagree” is a v. useful script I fully intend to adopt into my own life– because I sometimes hear defense/support of abominable positions from patrons at the library where I work, and while I can’t get into a debate or talk about my feelings, I might be able to go for a brisk shut-down that at least makes them question just walking up to random (white) people and assuming their captive audience shares their views.

        • anotheranon said:

          + 1 on “I disagree”. It’s usable in situations where a more extended discussion might not be possible, but it challenges the narrative that “I’m only saying what everyone thinks” by saying no, actually, if you think that it’s on you, it’s not a universal truth.

        • Emma said:

          Modifying it slightly to “Well, obviously I disagree” can also be useful, because it communicates that not only are the views being expressed wrong, they’re also patently ridiculous. If they ask why, you can just stare at them in wide-eyed incomprehension until they get embarrassed and go away.

    • BigdogLittlecat said:

      This. I [like to] think that most people don’t agree with the hateful bullshit, but they’re afraid to be the first one on the dance floor. One person’s speaking up opens the doors for others to speak up.
      And I think that a lot of people who hold shitty opinions know they are shitty, and aren’t willing to own it their shit in the face of opposition.
      I will never forget years ago when in company with my older white conservative parents and a group of their OWC friends the evening before Martin Luther King Day and the conversation started down the “why did he get a day named after him? special set asides” path, and I couldn’t deal, so I said, rather quietly: “All I know is that I’m hanging out my flag tomorrow.” There was a long silence and when conversation resumed it was a completely different topic.

    • Proffie Galore said:

      Yes to “I disagee”. I’ve come to consider that an obligation when people are dissing Pres. Obama. They seem to expect me to share their racist views. Maybe it’s my gray hair and conservative blouse-and-blazer teaching wardrobe. So it’s SO MUCH FUN to bluntly violate their expectations and then watch them squirm. Because I do look like their moms or church volunteers.

      Here’s another script I heard my sister say to our father: “Be careful, that makes you sound racist.” I thought that was brilliant — it’s framed as a friendly warning, not an accusation, but conveys an unmistakable message that “I hear you and am calling you on it, and I disagree.”

      Third script or at least empowering tune: “Your Racist Friend” by They Might Be Giants. It’s danceably catchy! “This is where the party ends. / I can’t stay here listening to you and your racist friend.” Cool LW, I hope you like it and that it makes your days a little easier. I’m sorry you’re having to deal with bigots.

      • Buni said:

        “Be careful, that makes you sound racist.”

        Frickin’ genius; saving that for future use.

        • Emma said:

          I dunno, I feel like a lot of the asshats I come across would interpret that as actually being a friendly warning: sort of a “Be careful, those over-sensitive tumblerinas/liberals/PC police will foolishly interpret your entirely correct description of All Refugees Ever as RACIST, somehow! And then you’ll have to get in argument in which you teach them what racism actually is, which is to say lynchings and maybe the KKK on a bad day”

          • Proffie Galore said:

            Emma, good point. It implies that the issue is *sounding* racist rather than *being* racist. Definitely not a default script.

            But in the circumstances (elderly father in pain, single brief aside rather than joke or rant), it put my dad on notice.

          • Depending on the context, it can be absolutely perfect or really awful. But context applies to everything.

        • Agreed. Just perfect.

        • Alice_Fraggle said:

          Same. That would work wonders on my Mom (who would still keep blathering on in her racist way, but at least I’ve warned her).

    • hbc said:

      I agree. It’s not only that one has a moral responsibility, but that position of privilege makes one more likely to be heard. Those with privilege are also most likely to hear that stuff said directly to them by people they know. When a coworker thought he was safe spouting off about men dressing up as women and peeping on women in the bathroom, he was assuming agreement since he was talking to a(n assumed) cis-het woman he respected. When I told him that I don’t care who is in the stall next to me or my daughter and that I was more worried about the chance of my son getting molested in the men’s room by a cis man, I know I didn’t change his mind entirely, but either he backed off his position a bit, or at least learned that it’s not just Those People who think differently.

    • untonuggan said:

      Yes, this is absolutely the kind of situation where leveraging your privileged For Good is a thing. Having been on both ends of the privilege equation and allyship in these kinds of conversations, it can just be a huge relief to know (1) not everyone thinks that way (2) not to have to Always speak up and thus risk being seen as an “Angry [Person]”.

      If like me you lack the perfect words until 3 am, may I recommend the all purpose:

      “Wooow”
      and/or
      “Ouch”

      Preferably coupled with shocked/dismayed voice and head shake, like they just shit on the carpet. If you can manage a disapproving “tsk” as well, that also works wonders.

      You do not have to explain why shitting on the carpet is wrong, or why saying bigoted shit (at work even!) is wrong. That is called derailing. I mean maybe you have some rebuttal handy. But if you don’t want to spend all day on this jerk (and they’re not your boss), you can go for a classic :

      “I’m disappointed in you.”
      or
      “I can’t believe you would think that.”

      /embracing my inner Granny Weatherwax

  11. kddomingue said:

    Wow. Just on top of everything else, I’m utterly dismayed that people have been so rude as to utter that kind of idiocy while you’re standing/sitting right there. There are extremists in every religion. Some are just unpleasant to be around and then there are those who are actively dangerous and deranged. They are (usually) a very small percentage of the people that follow that religion. And it’s so wrong to paint the majority with the same brush with which the extremists are painted.

    I wish I knew what you could say to rude people like that. I can’t imagine how scary that must be for you. I’ve run into racism personally. I’m amazed at the ugly things people will say about Native Americans. That kind of talk starts up and I’ll say, very quietly “I’m part Cherokee.” and people look abashed and embarrassed and slink away for the most part. It’s not the same thing, I know, but it’s the closest I’ve come to it. I’m agnostic so I don’t deal with much more than being told I’m going to hell when it comes to religion. Unless you count the time this small group of people tried to forcibly baptize me……that was interesting. I’ve had Jewish friends who’ve had to put up with crap from nonJewish people. I’ve started some fine arguments by pointing out that Jesus and all of his friends and family were Jewish, lol!

    Goodness, I’m rambling. What I want to say to you is that not everyone in this country is an idiot and I’m so angry for you that you’re being forced to deal with this kind of idiocy. Many, many hugs.

    • HannahS said:

      I think I’m missing something here–you don’t use the Jesus-as-Jew bit to start those “fine arguments” with Jews, right? Because as a Jew that’s had to put up with a lot of crap from non-Jews, that’s always (ALWAYS) been used on me in a hella insulting and manipulative way.

      I’m sorry people are jerks around you (and LW too, obviously). Standing up for yourself and others is hard, but worth it.

      • I was under the impression that was the argument used as pushback against anti-Semitic remarks, but I could be wrong.

        • kddomingue said:

          It was meant to be a push back against anti-Semitic remarks. I should not write when I’m tired as what I write can be kind of fuzzy…..like my brain.

      • kddomingue said:

        Ah, this is what I get for writing when I’m tired…….that question is the question I ask of nonJews when they are being rude and ugly to someone who is Jewish while in my presence. I have heard, in my lifetime, a Christian extremist blame someone who was Jewish for the death of Jesus while I was standing right there…… I believe my brain blew a circuit! I could not fathom how someone could blame an entire group of people for something that happened centuries prior to the birth of ANY of those people. My brain couldn’t make sense of it……and so I blurted out “Hey, Jesus was a Jew. What’s wrong with you?”. Needless to say, I’m not real popular with Christian extremists who have it in for Jewish people. Not that that breaks my heart since religious extremists of any variety or persuasion are certainly not my favorite people by any stretch of the imagination. I have relatives who are Catholic extremists who really enjoy making disparaging remarks about Baptists which was the faith I was raised in by my Grandmama. And while I am now Agnostic, I take offense. I don’t let it slide. I rarely have anything to do with those relatives outside of funerals any more.

        Anyway, I hope that cleared up any confusion about what I was trying to say……and evidently not saying it very well…..earlier. I really should get some sleep before I attempt to compose a post.

        • moss said:

          you’re fine… it was obvious to me. 🙂 Cheers!

        • HannahS said:

          No worries! I wasn’t 100% sure so I thought I’d ask. Thanks for clearing it up.

        • Sort of a side note, but those people are having a total logic fail. If said Jesus lived out his life and died a happy old man at age 92, they’d probably be Jewish themselves, because there’d be no Christianity. The crucifixion is sort of central to the whole religion.

          • kddomingue said:

            Ha! Must remember that one and put it in my arsenal for future use!

            My husband’s grandmother was born around the turn of the century. She was Cajun and raised Catholic. I’m talking old school Catholic……..nuns with rulers, mass for every holy day of obligation, don’t enter the church without a veil covering your hair, paying to light candles to pray your loved ones out of purgatory Catholic. She and I were talking one day and meandered into a conversation about religion. She said……. I don’t understand why people get so upset over other people’s religion. Whatever path leads you to God is a good path. And it doesn’t matter what name you call God by, it’s still God. You see that rose? You can call it a daffodil or a pansy or a cactus but it doesn’t matter what you call it because it keeps on being a Rose. It can be a pink rose or a yellow rose or a red rose or a tea rose or a long stemmed rose but it’s still a Rose. God is like that Rose. People get upset over the stupidest things.

            If a woman born at the turn of the century and raised old school Catholic can have that attitude towards religion……why can’t everyone?

          • spaceysteph said:

            I’m Jewish, I’ve been told a few times point blank that “you killed our Lord” and I started responding with exactly that sentiment: “way I see it, Judas did you a favor; if Jesus wasn’t crucified he couldn’t have become your savior.” Then I follow their stunned silence with a chirpy “you’re welcome!” and then walk off to talk to a more reasonable person.

        • TootsNYC said:

          Re: “the Jews killed Jesus”

          As a Christian, this always amazes me. It’s so ignorant of the basic theology.
          Yes, the authorities of Israel advocated for His death–thank GOD! Literally, thank Him.
          Because the death of Jesus was part of the Lord’s plan; his death paid the price for our sins.

          And our sins were the ultimate CAUSE of Jesus’ death; the Jewish authorities were simply the tools God used. God–remember Him? the one who made this decision, created this plan?

          Oh, and….He’s not still dead, dummy.

        • TW: antisemitism, bigotry Sadly blaming Jews for killing Jesus has been going on for centuries. (It was at Vatican 2 in the 1960’s that the Catholic Church officially renounced the dogma and condemned antisemitism as un-Christian; then in 2000, St. Pope John Paul II formally apologized to the Jews for antisemitism.) Anyway charges of deicide against Jews were used in czarist Russia to justify anti-Jewish pogroms; passion plays often preceded antisemitic attacks; the Crusaders killed Jews on the way to fight the Muslims.

  12. storyranger said:

    LW, I cannot stress enough the Captain’s suggestion to make art. Even if it’s not conscious-raising art. Even if it’s not particularly good art. Just make art. Being faced with hate often leads to anger, and anger is useful in short bursts but damages us overtime and everyone involved in the long, hard grind that is combating hate needs an outlet. (And yes, that outlet can be things other then art, but not everyone can exercise or watch television or go somewhere pretty to calm down. Everyone, everyone, can make art.) It’s not on you to fix the whole system, it’s just on you to keep your tiny corner of the system as bright as you can. Self care, self care, self care.
    Keep being you. That’s the hardest thing in the world sometimes, but it’s the only thing that you can totally control.

  13. Mama Kawala said:

    I was, for a long time, a person that did a lot of stereotyping and category lumping. Back when I was younger and my world was smaller (i.e. pretty much made up of people just like me). I think the Captain’s suggestion to use the “Um, you know I”m from X group…do you feel that way about me?” type of response is perfect.

    I was one of the people that would give the “Oh but not you, you’re not like that” response. What finally got me to change my way of thinking was when one person took the conversation one step further and said, “Yes, but imagine how many more people like me are out there.” It really helped me stop seeing people as the group they belong to, but rather as an individuals.

    • Thank you for saying this – I think it’s important for those of us who have overcome our limitations/prejudices of the past* to speak up and say that it’s possible to grow, it’s possible to change, and it’s possible to become more loving.

      (e.g., *I used to be a real asshole about addiction and people’s capacity to “control themselves.”)

      • Thank you for saying this! This is beautiful! Like my profile picture says, “It may be cooler here, but the stars are beautiful.”, referring to Plato’s Cave Allegory. I would, as we can, you reach out to people outside our tribe, and, of course, listen to their stories, voices, and accept those who reach out to us.

    • Beautiful! In psychology it’s called Outgroup Homogeneity Effect — something we need to question! Another one is Ingroup/Outgroup Bias, something bigots and opportunists throw gasoline on. It’s always good to leave Plato’s Cave, to recognize one’s views may be shadows on the wall.

  14. thebewilderness said:

    Shall we impose a curfew on men and monitor them because male violence is the greatest human rights crisis the world has ever known? Who else shall we watch, and who will watch the watchers?
    LW when you decide what to say you need to determine if you are talking to John for his benefit and your own or to the rest of your coworkers. It will inform how you say what you say.
    Also document this just in case John is intimidating you with malicious intent rather than generalized asshattery.

    • Mary said:

      What is going on with your first paragraph? Did you cut and post something from another discussion? *confused*

      • Maybe a reference to how “John” was saying to watch Muslims?

      • thebewilderness said:

        It didn’t post the way I wrote it. I don’t know why.
        The first sentence is a response to suggestions that certain groups be monitored. I like to ask if a group they are a member of should be monitored. Sorry for the confusion.

  15. Fishmongers' Daughters said:

    “Some of it is about speaking up to the people we know when we see something wrong. ‘Wow, John, really? You think that’s an appropriate work conversation? I’m surprised at you.’ ‘Dad, that opinion is really scary – you can’t be serious.’ Take away the fig leaf that “everybody” agrees with these ideas.”

    That’s the brunt of it for me. I just married a Hindu, and the marriage was performed by a secular friend. Lots of our sexual/religious minority-group friends were in attendance. My “homosexuality is an abomination”/”if you’re not a born again Christian you’re going to hell” mother was not invited, and from her reaction, it might just be the first time she’s faced any real-world consequences for her hateful rhetoric. I can tell her how fucked up it is that she thinks of herself as not racist but has used the n-word in my presence, but she’ll keep doing it till she learns that she Can’t Have Nice Things if she can’t conduct herself like the grown-ass woman she is and stop being a jerk.

    Dear LW: You, it is not on you, the most vulnerable, to confront someone who’s terrorizing you. It’s on everyone around you. I would suggest you not start with Office Islamophobe, but instead, with Sheepish Silent GuyGal who shuffles up to you later to say she heard what that guy was saying and she doesn’t agree man. That she thinks you’re cool, that she doesn’t feel like that, etc jerk-off-motion. Because that’s what s/he is doing when they say it to you in private, but won’t speak up otherwise. Would-be Allies:If you see something, say something. Don’t be that guy. And LW, *that* guy, who aids and abets bigotry by sitting by silently and signaling to Office Islamophobe that his ideologies and behaviors will be tolerated, will not get him shunned, is as dangerous as Islamophobe himself – more, maybe, because there are more of her.

    Remember the advice from Captain Awkward’s infamous Creepy Dude article? Copying part of it here. Replace the word “rapist” with “bigot,” and you have a pretty good foundation for being a decent ally.

    “The Pact. The social structure that allows the predators to hide in plain sight, to sit at the bar at the same table with everyone, take a target home, rape her, and stay in the same social circle because she can’t or won’t tell anyone, or because nobody does anything if she does. The pact to make excuses, to look for mitigation, to patch things over — to believe that what happens to our friends — what our friends do to our friends — is not (using Whoopi Goldberg’s pathetic apologetics) ‘rape-rape’.
    Change the culture. We are not going to pull six or ten or twelve million men out of the U.S. population over any short period, so if we are going to put a dent in the prevalence of rape, we need to change the environment that the rapist operates in. Choose not to be part of a rape-supportive environment. Rape jokes are not jokes. Woman-hating jokes are not jokes. These guys are telling you what they think. When you laugh along to get their approval, you give them yours. You tell them that the social license to operate is in force; that you’ll go along with the pact to turn your eyes away from the evidence; to make excuses for them; to assume it’s a mistake, of the first time, or a confusing situation. You’re telling them that they’re at low risk.”

  16. slythwolf said:

    Over the course of my adulthood, my small Michigan town has become home to an ever-growing population of Muslims (which is somewhat baffling to me since I can’t imagine voluntarily choosing this town to move to; I imagine they all work at the college, there would be pretty much no other reason to come here on purpose). Fortunately my retail coworkers are either not Islamophobic or have the decency to keep it to themselves, but customers will say some horrifying shit. Is there any way that I, a minimum wage retail peon, can push back on that without losing my job for being “rude” to a customer?

    • Shade 'O Pale said:

      Yours is a different situation than the peer-to-peer workplace examples. Can you ask your managers for advice, or get some official language added to your Employee Handbook? Other than that, what comes to my mind is from Miss Manners-to go frosty and unsmiling, and abruptly change the subject to the next step in their purchase, or if you have to, to the weather, etc. Thus, you’ve done nothing that they can whine about, but your message communicates. And they have neither a space to continue, nor have they gotten a rise out of you.

      • Emma said:

        This is really off track, but I simply have to throw this experience in. I was a medical assistant and a patient was pretty curt and fussy with me so I just did my job and kept very quiet. Didn’t say anything. She reported me to the nursing chief and I was reprimanded. When I exclaimed that I said nothing, I was told that I needed to control my facial expressions. Seriously, WTF?

    • mamacitaconpistoles said:

      I’d say, pretend there is a Muslim customer behind the guest mouthing off. Or that you are the PR person writing a blurb for the company’s Twitter feed.

      “We welcome all our guests equally here at Jim’s Tractor Equipment and Typewriter Ribbon Suppliers.”

      “Huh, well, I haven’t seen that around here. Can I help you find the white-out correction fluid?”

      “Jim’s Tractor Equipment and Typewriter Ribbon Suppliers is happy to have the business of the Muslim community members. It’s our pleasure to help themail select the right riding lawn.mower for their needs.”

      “Without the support of the Muslim members of our community, our locally owned business would not have survived.”

      “As a nation-wide business, Jim’s Tractors and Typewriter Ribbon Suppliers is happy to welcome a wide range of customers to its stores. Everyone is invited to use our service to meet their typewriter ribbon needs.”

      “Well, I can tell you that staff are trained in reporting hostile or suspicious behavior here at Jim’s Tractor and Typewriter Ribbon Suppliers. We also pledge to make our shopping environment safe and hate speech free for our guests, because everyone is welcome here. Can I help you with your tiller choice?”

      “Huh. Well, I have several Muslim colleagues and regular customers, and I love working with them, so I can’t possibly verify from my experience if that’s true or not.”

      IOW no matter what level of Islamophobia-global, national, or local- they’re yammering about, bring ithe back to your store, customer service, and policies. Keep your tone and language pleasant and informative, call a manager If things escalate and let them deal.

      • I love Jim’s Tractor Equipment and Typewriter Ribbon Suppliers. I should see if they have a local branch that can help me with getting a lawnmower.

        • mamacitaconpistoles said:

          At Jim’s Tractor Equipment and Typewriter Ribbon Suppliers, we are happy to help you with a wide range of items in a few very narrow categories! Thank you for thinking of shopping with us!

          Slythwolf, the Captain is really right. If your management is on board, your options will be much broader. If they aren’t, you can do what you can do.

          If polite robot voice is the strongest response you can make, it’s OK.

          You can’t be a good advocate for people at work if you lost your job and have to find a new one.

    • JenniferP said:

      I can’t tell you how your employer will react to any of these. I also think the customers are power-tripping at/near you on purpose because of your position. Anyway, some strategies:

      -Keep your words polite but make your face/voice very robotic.
      -Develop a code word whereby you can call your manager or another coworker in to take over the transaction and nope the hell out for a second.
      – If you think you can, try saying, “I don’t agree” or “I don’t find that to be true” before switching back to neutral retail mode. Otherwise, find some PR boilerplate – “We love serving people of all backgrounds here.”
      -Document (time, place, who was there, what was said, how you responded) the remarks so that you have a consistent record and raise the issue during a staff meeting. Your managers might tell you that one passing comment is just one “bad apple” but if you & coworkers can show that it’s a steady thing that goes on every day over time you might be able to make it a management/”Hostile workplace” issue, especially if there is blowback for you not being polite.
      -If you’re feeling very brave, ask the person to repeat themselves. “I didn’t catch that, what did you say?” “Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that – what did you say?” “I don’t understand, could you repeat that last bit?”

      There’s no awesome solution in life under capitalism, I’m sorry, but I think that finding a strategy for resisting is important.

    • twomoogles said:

      When I worked in food service I had a few customers who would make racist remarks and my response was usually something like “I haven’t experienced that.” It’s not as strong as “I don’t agree” or something else that I’d say when not on the clock, but it at least was *something*.

    • Elsajeni said:

      Oh man, yeah, it’s tough with customers. I used to combine elements of twomoogles’s and Shade ‘O Pale’s suggestions — something along the lines of “Huh, that hasn’t been my experience” or “Hmm, I haven’t seen that,” then become very focused on their transaction, so any further attempts to argue the point just meet with “And did you have any coupons you wanted to use today?”, etc. (I also think raising the question with management is a good idea, especially if the comments you’re hearing from customers are very pervasive or very aggressive, or if they’re ever directed at other customers.)

    • I have been there– I used to work in a craft store, and passing the time with spouses of shoppers (so the shoppers could shop more!) was par for the course for floor staff. On one occasion, some white dude thought that I, as a fellow white person, would be cool with listening to him complain about “all the n-words.” I was genuinely shocked speechless, and I think that looking startled and apalled was one appropriate response. When I recovered the power of speech, I said, “Excuse me, I think I need to be Somewhere Else, right now.” And I turned my back on him and walked away. I’m sorta proud of myself for finding a way to make it clear, without officially being rude to a customer, that he was absolutely not welcome in my social space.

      Fortunately, I was working the floor and therefore free to physically walk away. Had I been trapped at the cash register, or committed to providing a service like making bows for someone, I guess I would have had to go with cutting off any social pleasantries and going to just-the-facts. I love others’ suggestions of “That hasn’t been my experience” and “We welcome all our customers,” if you have the presence of mind; in any case body language can communicate that no, I am not your buddy and I am not on your side about that remark.

    • Jackalope said:

      My job has fairly strict rules about things we’re allowed to discuss with visitors (not retail, but I’ll continue to use the lovely tractor/typewriter ribbon example!), so I’ll usually say something like, “I’m not allowed to discuss that here; did you need any more typewriter ribbon?” That way I can be professional and stop the conversation in its tracks without encouraging them. At times I’d really rather comment on it, but this has given me a lot of success in not discussing it further.

  17. The script that goes:

    Bigoted Jerk Friend: “blah blah blah stereotype blah”
    You: “I’m a [category], actually.”

    runs the very real risk of making you a personal target for Bigoted Jerk Friend’s bigotry, if you’ve called it wrong and Bigoted Jerk Friend is more of a bigoted jerk than they are a friend.

    It’s a terrible calculation to have to make every time a bigoted jerk opens their bigoted jerk mouth. I’m so sorry.

    • espritdecorps said:

      As a mixed person who presents as white, it’s really depressing the number of kind, lovely people who will say something awful about people who look like half my family.
      Even more depressing is when their answer on hearing about said family is something along the lines of “White Parent raised you well!”

      • human said:

        Holy fuckballs, my mouth just dropped open. I’m sorry, espritdecorps.

      • That’s rotten.

      • Myth said:

        This happens to me often! My own paternal grandmother often ignored my mother in favor of praising other people who ‘raised’ me, sometimes to my face, as if hearing it was a kindness. It really is amazing what happens when people assume you’re Just Like Them; a privilege as much as it is eye-opening and painful.

      • I really hope that doesn’t happen to my son. I’m so sorry it happened to you.

      • Xenophile said:

        As another white-presenting mixed person, I get that a lot. People will start complaining about [Group] and when I point out I’m a part of that group, they either say, “Oh, but you’re the good kind of [group],” which apparently means light-skinned and middle class, or they get really uncomfortable around me like they’ve found a spy in their midst.

        • I, too, am light-skinned and mixed(and deduce people see me as white, as I was asked if I’m a racist when I mentioned an African-American couple. I replied my mom’s African-American.)
          I’ve basically been in all-white environments all my life(when I was younger, my mom went to a few black churches, but ended up at a white one, where I grew up). There was one guy at work who kept going on about my blackness. (On another occasion another coworker accused me of defending Oprah because she’s black[actually was due to opposing demonizing those you disagree with, but I wasn’t very articulate at the time]. This guy made the same charge after telling me of a conspiracy theory show that bashed Mandela, when I pointed out the logical fallacies.)
          Anyway concerning Mr. Obsessed-With-My-Blackness, he shut up after I decided to give a 2007 Arab Miss Israel contestant a shout-out every time someone mentioned black people. The guy actually was reasonable the next few months before he quit.(That’s a long story, though.)

    • The Awe Ritual said:

      Seriously, why do you have to be a member of a minority to not want to hear bigoted filth? Asking for a friend.

      • A friend (white straight cis woman) used to say at her work: Please think of me as a person of color, lesbian, trans, Muslim, any ethnicity you’re joking about, blonde, PC hardass. And shut up.

      • cruelmistress said:

        I don’t think Azure Jane Lunatic (or anyone else here) was implying that one must belong to a minority group to object to vocalized bigotry. Rather, I think the comment was meant to speak directly to LW, who *is* a member of a marginalized group here in the US, and who has been/may in future use the script “I’m a Muslim” to combat Islamophobia in her daily life, and to any of us who are in marginalized groups and may consider that script ourselves.

        There are lots of good scripts floating around for what allies can say, too, when we hear bigoted filth that is not directed at us specifically.

      • neverjaunty said:

        You don’t. The tactic is that bigots are generally more comfortable insulting Those People, who aren’t even hear to listen, than they are to insult someone (especially a friend) to their face. It’s the Miss Manners “perhaps you were unaware that my mother was ________” trick.

    • TootsNYC said:

      You know, those are shitty things to say even if you AREN’T part of that minority.

  18. Charlene said:

    I’ve found it helped to avoid the word “offensive”. There seems to be a theory out there that being offensive is a good thing, that ideas and beliefs are more true and more valid IF they’re offensive.* “Cruel” works better, as does “factually inaccurate”.

    *I call this the George Carlin Effect, after the loathsome man who convinced so many people that food allergies were all fake lies made up by craaaaaazy neurotic weirdos, and that “real men” needed to stand up and force people to be around peanuts at all times – because him having the right to eat peanuts on an airplane was infinitely more important than my right not to die in agony.

    • KellyK said:

      Oh, absolutely. There’s definitely a lot of people for whom saying you’re offended is basically showing them your PC Police badge and announcing that you are both thin skinned and out to deliberately ruin their fun. ” Not true” may work better.

    • jabes said:

      I’ve also used “That’s a really ugly thing to say.”

      • TootsNYC said:

        I might suggest, ‘I find that frightening,” in a slightly surprised tone. When you get into the emotional, it’s harder to argue. I wouldn’t go for the rational argument or the moral label.

        Talk about the human impact. “I know people who are Muslim/black/gay/trans. I can’t imagine how unsafe they must feel when they hear things like that. In their own country. I feel scared and unsettled, and I’m not even the person you’re targeting.”

    • Cactus said:

      Thank you. I don’t understand why Carlin is so weirdly beloved when he was such an asshole. (Actually, I do understand. People really love being assholes.)

  19. Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

    Many years ago, I was taking a shortcut through a cemetery, when I ended up unable to avoid a conversation with a neo-Nazi who informed me, with an absolutely straight face, that it was a good thing that Hitler killed ‘all the Jews’ in WWII, “except Anne Frank, it was a shame about her”.

    What I wanted to say was, so you’re sympathetic towards the one person who’s been humanised to you, but do you not get that *everyone* was Anne Frank? Everyone was an individual with things to say and a life to live, and if only you could read their words, you’d know that.

    What I actually did, because I was young and there was no-one around and he was drunk and I didn’t feel safe, was go to the nearest corner shop and lose him by the custard creams, and leg it round the corner.

    Sometimes it’s safe to speak up, and to chip away at people’s awful prejudices. And sometimes it isn’t safe, or its too much for your to have to carry all the time. Please don’t feel bad about those times. What you’ve been doing sounds spot on, but if there are times it doesn’t feel right then remember it’s not all on you. You are making a difference already – one you shouldn’t have to make, but you’re doing it and you’re amazing.

    • Alice_Fraggle said:

      What the ACTUAL eff? I think your first paragraph just broke my brain.

  20. Thomas Bushnell said:

    Thank you for writing this column, Captain. I’m crying now, but it’s a good cry.

    • moss said:

      same.

  21. AndTheRest said:

    Ugh. I know Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was a silly movie, but there was some valuable wisdom in their advice to “Be excellent to each other.” Dammit, can’t more people just be excellent to each other?

    LW, I really wish you did not have to put up with all of this. I wish no one would be peprsecuted just for going about living their life with no harm or malice toward anyone else. The only thing I can suggest — if you want to do it — is to remind people that when they say “all Muslims should be monitored” or other nonsense, that they are in favor of YOU being monitored or whatever it was. Rather than argue the issue of there being lots of nice people like you out there, focus on the fact that these people you know are advocating action against YOU (and you friends and family) for nothing more than your religion (or other factor, if that’s the case).

    They’ve put you in a tough spot by having to stand up for yourself against their bullshit, and there’s argument or position on your side that isn’t defensive. So if you have to be on the defensive, you might as well make it personal and expicitly make the point that YOU are/would be someone they personally know affected by policies/actions/etc. The “I didn’t mean you” excuse definitely does not hold when they are advocating taking away your rights — there are no “niceness” exceptions in laws. And you would have to be a broken record on the point: “So, John, you think I’m a terrorist and that I should be monitored?” “Well, I’m Muslim, and you said all Muslims are terrorists.” “Even if you don’t think I’m a terrorist, you still think I should be monitored, right? Because if I’m the exception to the rule that all Muslims are terrorists, then one of my Muslim friends or family members are likely to be a terrorist?” Just to be clear, this line of argument is not about you a good Muslim or even being Muslim at all — it’s that these bigots are saying that you, as a person who has done nothing wrong, deserves to be discriminated against. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and even somewhat confrontational, but it puts the bulk of the awkwardness back on them, if you are comfortable with this tactic.

    Unfortunately, there will likely be few good outcomes in the sense of people waking up to smell their own toxic bullshit, but it will give the silent either something to think about or an opportunity to say something if they have the courage. And be aware that there could be some negative fallout in once-amicable settings — I would be very careful about deploying this strategy in the workplace.

    There is also the “I’m so disappointed in you” tactic (I thank my parents for training me well in the art of the guilt trip) that may be useful with people who do care about you or otherwise value your respect and/or company: “No, I don’t want to have lunch with you, not after what you said about XYZ the other day,” and “I don’t feel comfortable around you any more after you said Muslims should kicked out of the country,” and “Wow. I never expected you to say something like that. You were someone I really trusted/admired/respected, but I guess that was misplaced.”

    Best of luck to you, LW.

    • “Wow. I never expected you to say something like that. You were someone I really trusted/admired/respected, but I guess that was misplaced.”

      Beautiful. And nuclear. And if you didn’t want to completely blast somebody, stop after the word “respected.”

      • AndTheRest said:

        Thanks! Athough I must give a heap of credit to my divorced parents, who employed atom-bomb levels of disdain at each other, levelled right where it would hurt the most. Not only did I learn how not to manage a relationship, but I learned how to nuke bridges, not just burn them. I try to use those powers for good… most of the time. 😉

        • By the way, I should note that my wife and I used “Be excellent to each other” in our wedding ceremony. Bill and Ted rock! (And no, I’m not going to see the third movie!)

          • AndTheRest said:

            Most excellent verbiage for you wedding ceremony! But whoah… a 3rd movie? I can’t grasp that right now.

  22. I just wanted to pipe in an suggest a podcast that the LW, and also members of the Awkward Army, might enjoy – Good Muslim/Bad Muslim (http://www.goodmuslimbadmuslim.com/). They discuss navigating what it means to be a Muslim woman in American, with a side of humor and feminism. Their podcast kicked off with a discussion about what it means to be a “good” Muslim – how non-Muslims identify what that means, compared to the Muslim community, and how they themselves view it. They have a segment called, “Awkward Ask a Muslim,” which the LW might relate to.

    I’m not a Muslim, and the woman on the podcast completely recognize intersectionality and that they only speak for themselves, but I heartily recommend the podcast to everyone.

  23. Nicole said:

    I have a recommendation, not for what to say, but for some solidarity perhaps, and community. There is a Muslim woman of colour in Australia called Yassmin Abdel-Magied who has been on a formula 1 team and works on an off shore oil rig and won Young Australian of the year and she just released a memoir. She is quite young still for writing a memoir but as she says, there are no stories like hers anywhere so she needed to write one. A great read. It is called Yassmin’s Story. She also runs an organisation called Youth without borders.

    • vass said:

      Jumping in to say thanks for the book rec. It sounds great, and it turns out my library has the e-audiobook available, so I’m downloading that right now.

  24. rmloro said:

    I just wanted to express my solidarity with the LW. We must attempt to be better, braver allies. Much power to you and sorry you have to deal with racist bastards on your own x

  25. SaeniaKite said:

    This is the one thing that bothers me in my relationship with my dad. We are most definitely on different sides of the spectrum. His favourite phrase after I call him out on a racist/homophobic/islamaphobic comment is always ‘I’m not saying they are all like that but’. He doesn’t seem to understand that asserting that he knows ‘they’ are all individual people but suggesting we treat them as an homogenous mass because of extremists is extremely hypocritical. It doesn’t help that my mother encourages me to keep quiet because she doesn’t like it when we argue. It’s never very nice when you realise the dad you idolised as a child holds some views that actually horrify you

    • storyranger said:

      Reverse the parents in this scenario and you have my family in a nutshell. Especially troubling when I actually belong to a few of they groups she keeps insisting on being schisty about.

      • SaeniaKite said:

        Jedi Hugs to you. While I don’t belong specifically to any of the groups my dad gets on his soapbox about it never fails to hurt when I’m dismissed as a pinko liberal *slur I refuse to repeat* for standing up for people’s rights. But I’m sure his disappointment at raising such a daughter hurts him so there’s a slight perverse satisfaction in that

  26. Duly Concerned said:

    I may be too pessimistic here but I think that in many situations, there are no good ways for the target of bigotry to handle Islamophobia, racism, etc (good meaning without risk of social blowback in some form). I am half Korean, I was born not long after the Korean war and grew up as the Vietnam war grew and failed. My mother was Caucasian and I suspect that the fact of their marriage made it even harder for anti-Asian racists to accept than if my father had married a Korean woman. I grew up so soaked in racism that I absorbed it as part of my identity, I simply accepted that I was less than, inferior to, deserved all the bad things said and done to me (including being raped when I was 12 years old by a school employee). At the same time that I was voicing support for civil rights activists in the 1960s (which was about all I had the power to do when I was less than 15 years old), I never realised or recognised that I deserved civil rights as well. I scare myself sometimes.

    Well, I did manage to grow up and expand my consciousness somewhat. One script that has worked well for me a few times in the past has been “wow, when you say that, I feel really hurt.”

    One thing I have noticed over the years is that ‘nice’ people don’t usually view themselves as racist. I believe that some good researcher needs to do an equivalent of the Lisak and Miller study of rapists by designing a questionnaire describing typical racist behaviours without using the dreaded ‘r’ word; they discovered that if they described behaviours that fulfilled the legal definition of rape but without using the word, 6.4% of their subjects admitted to doing so.

    There is an implicit bias test for Muslim names versus other names:

    https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

    Which may be one way to open up some dialog with other people. A way for well meaning people to sort of sidle sideways up to the realisation that they need to be conscious of their own behaviour and checking what they say to make sure it doesn’t reflect attitudes that they don’t want to consciously have (see the implicit bias link for a good explanation of unconscious bias).

    After Trump said he believed all Muslims should be registered, I sent an email to everyone I know well enough that they probably realise I’m Buddhist (raised that way) telling them that if any sort of governmental registry of Muslims is instituted, I will experience an instant conversion to Islam. And that I hoped so many other USAns would experience the same sort of conversion that the database would blow past its maximum capacity within minutes. Many of those people told me that they, too, would be experiencing instant conversion and I did not get any negative remarks at all (which may be because I am such an unbearable bitch that anyone who can put up with me must be incredibly tolerant in general).

    • Madison Blane said:

      One way to get around someone’s need to self-identify as a good person, is to simply allow them to keep that identity by not framing accusations in a way that challenges it, but rather, challenges behavior instead. After all, the behavior is what you want to change anyway. For example, by focusing on, “That thing you did/said is X-ist” instead of “You are being X-ist,” you are implying that they are just a good person who did a wrong thing, instead of accusing them of being a bad person and getting a reflex resistance because of it. You can also use the fact that they don’t want to be seen as a bad person to your advantage by combining it with, “People are going to think that you are a X-ist if you keep doing/saying that thing.” They can’t really jump to I’mAGoodPersonHowDareYou mode from there and so it doesn’t turn into a discussion over whether your feelings and perceptions are valid. Basically, all they have to argue against is other people’s perceptions of them and no one has control over those people. You can shrug off any objections with, “Hey, I’m just letting you in on some inside information by telling you how other people are going to see it. They might not tell you this, but they will judge you for saying/doing that thing so, carry on at your own risk if that’s what you want people to think about you.” You also have a higher chance of your words being heard and heeded if they think you are giving them insider trade secrets, and rather than having your own personal experiences being questioned or invalidated, you’re more likely to be valued for your knowledge.

      • Duly Concerned said:

        I want to try to re-state what I said above: in 60 years of dealing with this, I have tried many, many approaches, including focusing on the behaviour without calling the person a bigot or racist and commenting that “when you said/did that, I think some people would think you were racist.” I actually, for real, have been to more than one rodeo.

        Each and every strategy I’ve tried has succeeded at least once and it has failed at least once. If I could predict in advance which strategy would always work or which one would be the spark in tinder, this stuff would be so much easier to deal with. Unfortunately, my secret super power has nothing to do with predicting how people will react, so I continue with trial and error.

        Speaking solely from my own experience, I find it impossible to try to reassure someone who is being affected by racism or bigotry or someone who is an ally that there is some way that will not expose them to the risk of social blowback. In my experience only, there is never a zero risk. That is part of why it is difficult to do. Although now that I’m old enough not to give a fuck, my fear of social blowback is lower than my irritation about going through this garbage *again*. Didn’t I have this conversation last year and the year before that and the year before that? It’s like having to play Whack-a-Mole even though I don’t even like the game.

        If those strategies work for you every time, you’re obviously better than I am at it.

  27. omj said:

    One of the simplest, most powerful things I ever learned to do was to just turn off my nervous/compliant laughter after someone said something horrible. In my head, I was “laughing it off” or “reducing the opinion to a joke” or whatever – but in reality, it always read as social approval to the offender. And it always does. Making it into a joke only helps them because it gives them somewhere to hide.

    It’s such a simple-sounding thing, but it was so hard for me as a young woman who was 1000% socialized to avoid confrontation and awkwardness. And it was the crucial first step toward being able to actually use words to disagree.

    So I’m just saying, fellow bystanders, if you can’t (yet) get to the point where you actually shut things down, at least make it very clear that you don’t agree or approve. Don’t laugh. Don’t smile. Just give them a confused, stony look, let the awkwardness land, and then either leave or change the subject completely.

    • CommanderBanana said:

      Yes, THIS ^^^^

      I completely understand that a lot of people (particularly) women react to uncomfortable stuff by smiling or giggling, and it is hard to turn that off, but YOU CAN DO IT!

      I am not a smiley, friendly person but nature, so this was not particularly hard for me, but I have trained myself to not reflexively smile at people when they talk to me on the street or in the subway, and let me tell you, nothing blows someone’s brain receptors like a woman not smiling at them when they’re about to ask for change/ask for my number/make an asinine comment/ask if I want to learn more about Bernie (#hillary)/ask if I’ve invited Jesus into my heart, etc.

      Seriously, if you need to practice your expression in a mirror, it’s worth it. I have perfected the Stony Stare of Doom + The Raised Eyebrow of Not Taking Your Bullshit Today, Sir, and it is Kryptonite.

      • I agree! I have a Basilisk Stare that really gets the job done.

        Bigots look for agreement; body language that makes them uncomfortable lets us censure them, but in a way which can safeguard the work environment.

      • Part-time Jedi said:

        I’ve had some success with pointedly pulling out my cell phone and staring into it when someone keeps talking about something inappropriate. It’s super non-confrontational, but it makes it very clear that you are not willing to validate their opinions or participate in further conversation on the subject

        • helva2260 said:

          From the description, I’m pretty sure that’s what I used to do at school when I fancied having a quiet lunch in my classroom with a book, instead of sitting out on a cold and windy playground listening to the other kids scream and shout. Head high, square shoulders, look like you’ve got a target in mind, and at least 80% of the time, prefects several years older than me (whose entire point of guarding the doors was to challenge kids and turn them outside if they weren’t on a teacher-sent errand) would let me pass without a single word.

  28. Dear LW,

    The script of I am a Muslim, you mean I am a terrorist who should be monitored? may work.

    Not at that moment necessarily. I’ve said “my significant other is also a woman” at work. A year later a co-worker (the office jerk) came up to me and told me that I had changed his mind and he had been wrong about queer people.

    Or maybe at that moment: an acquaintance at my dojo had been mouthing off (he’s a person of color) about the awfulness of gay and bi people. When I said “like me?” he stopped in his tracks and said “shit. No. I’m an ass”. And never did it again.

    So it can be worth it.

    But it was really scary. And it might have gone badly.

    I do, however, suggest that you document the horrific behavior John is engaging in.

    LW, you don’t have to do anything, but I hope you will make art. It helps.

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

    • Naphtali said:

      A tactic that has been helpful with this approach has been to be as visibly sad and confused as possible when I ask them if they mean me.

      Like, why-would-you-say-that-about-my-dead-puppy face. Doesn’t always work, but the sheer mortification on the other person’s face when it does is deeply gratifying.

      • AndTheRest said:

        Oooo, I like this! I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve rehearsed a few scenarios in my head.

      • TootsNYC said:

        It also keeps from putting them on the defensive; it’s clearly not an attack. When people feel attacked or argued with, they shut down, go on the defensive, expend all their energy and attention on defending themselves.

    • Marie said:

      Not sure how it’s relevant that your acquaintance is a POC?

      • Part of my memory of the event is the acquaintance bringing it up. But it’s probably not germane

        • Marie said:

          Ah, okay. I can see that. Sometimes people do introduce their own oppressed status in an attempt to back up their horrible views

  29. B. said:

    LW, you’re awesome. Shame awesomeness can’t cure bigotry! You’re giving it your best, and that’s good enough.
    I don’t know what to add to the Cap’s great advice, save this: you don’t have to fulfill an educational/spokesperson role 24/7. If you can’t or don’t want to, that’s ok. We not-on-the-line-of-fire people need to step up and take some of the pressure off, by speaking up and being good allies. Our silence makes us accomplices.
    I hope there’re people on your workplace you can talk about how these comments make you feel, and that they’ll help so you can feel safer in there. You deserve to feel safe everywhere, plus safety is very important to create a productive working environment.

    As for other things non Muslim people can do to combat Islamophobia… a couple weeks ago I went to visit a friend of mine and saw a wall covered in paper signs asking for the eviction of Muslim people from my country. I texted my friend that I would be running late and spent half an hour scraping all the posters off the wall (yay for long fingernails!) and throwing them into a nearby dumpster. All it took for me to make that street a bit safer was 30 minutes and a bit of effort, so… maybe we should all try and be more aware of aggresive behaviour and step up when we can to counter it?

    • Original LW said:

      YOU. ARE. AMAZING.

      • B. said:

        *blushes* Thank you. I hope not to see those posters again, but if I do, my fingernails will be ready 😉

        • Carry a paint scraper in your purse. 🙂

          • B. said:

            That’s actually a great idea, will take it under advisement!

  30. I just want to chip in and say that ‘activist burnout’ is a real thing. See also ‘compassion fatigue’. This is especially true for people who are advocating on behalf of a marginalised group of which they are a member. Look after yourself: take time to do fun things, to relax, to hang with supportive people. Find or build a support network that will understand when you are tired. Some charities provide helplines to assist volunteers and advocates who are experiencing this (it’s very common in the animal rights movement).

    I’d also like to point out that politics IS personal. Politics influences every aspect of our lives! No just the news cycle, but everything from access to housing and healthcare to whether or not you pay tax on tampons. Politics is responsible for public infrastructure – and the lack thereof. Education, the judicial system, police and defense – all political. Anybody who says “It’s not personal, it’s just politics” is either willfully ignorant or a moron. The politics in my country (Australia) locks up asylum seekers in gulags for an indefinite amount of time. It restrict public housing and directly contributes to growing homelessness. It forces the unemployed to sign punitive contracts with ‘job service agencies’ who can then suspend payments for a myriad of arbitrary reasons. It defunds the only national helpline dedicated to helping those with eating disorders. It actively funds the fossil fuel industry and thus the pollution of our planet and climate change. This in turn creates the conditions for catastrophic fires and floods – last summer our country was literally burning. If all this isn’t personal then I don’t know what the hell is.

    Yes, activism and political agitation are super important in changing these attitudes in our personal lives and in the halls of power. However don’t feel obliged to run yourself into the ground and have a nervous breakdown. Remember to look after yourself and take breaks when you need to. It’s a hard lesson to learn but vital.

    I’m sorry I can’t make any suggestions to help your specific situation, LW. I can only offer you virtual support and encouragement.

    • I think this comment and the comment above are really important. You can do as much or as little activism as you want. When you start feeling burnt out, stop.

  31. Kathryn said:

    LW, I am so sorry you have to deal with this nonsense. I want to second the advice from Fishmonger’s Daughter that suggested enlisting allies. Is there a non-Muslim in your workplace who you know well enough to discuss sensitive topics with and who you know or suspect have had it with anti-Muslim bigotry? If there is, are you able to pull that person aside and discuss this problem with him/her? There have been times in my own life when I haven’t spoken up against comments like that because, as far as I knew, there was nobody listening who belonged to the group being attacked, so nobody was being hurt; since nobody was being hurt, it wasn’t worth the problems that getting into an argument at work could cause. I now understand that this is terrible logic, but I think there are a lot of people out there who use it. You might work with some people who would be much more vocal about their disagreement with John if they understood that his words were causing actual harm to you (and any other Muslims in the office.) It could be awkward to talk to these people, and it shouldn’t be your job to do that (white people from Christian backgrounds really need to get better at dealing with the bigots among them,) but it could be a way to prompt confrontation with John without you having to confront him yourself. For me personally, having a conversation with a minority (of any kind) who had been hurt by a co-worker’s words would have made me much more vigilant about calling John on his bullshit when I was a young, shy person in an entry-level job.

    Please take good care of yourself, and I hope you’re able to find a solution that works for you.

  32. AutumnFire said:

    I’ve Been There mentioned that they’d had a horrible experience with their company’s HR. (I’m so sorry to hear that!) Let me tell you about the HR for my institute of higher education in what we call the Belt Buckle of the Bible Belt. If someone had done that, they’d be hauled into a meeting with their supervisor faster than greased lightning. They’d receive warnings in their permanent file, and they’d be forced to undergo EEOC and anti-Discrimination training. That’s if, IF they weren’t fired on the spot. Because we are a public, government-funded college the folks at my institution take it very, very seriously! You might want to email your supervisor to see what the policy is at your place of employment. This also gives you documentation that you sent something concerning this incident and that (hopefully) your boss responded. Forward those emails to your personal, non-work email account.

    My daughter attended school with a lovely young lady who is Muslim. I would occasionally give her a ride home. When 9/11 happened she told me that kids were saying death threats in the halls between class change. I shot out of my car, cornered the vice principal and gave him an earful. He asked me if I was her mother and I said, “No, and I don’t have to be for this to be wrong. You need to know it’s taking place and do something to fix it.” This lovely young lady is still friends with my daughter and works at the same college I do. She calls me her ‘White Mommy’. She is a dear sweetheart and she knows I will rip the liver out of anyone giving her a hard time.

    Hang in there and keep your head high and a twinkle in your eye. People with such hate are lost souls. I’d pity them, but they chose their hatred–usually to make up for a lack in themselves. You are awesome!

    • Good for you! Someone has to stand up for people, even if they’re not related. May I have that kind of courage/outrage when I run into things like this.

  33. neverjaunty said:

    I can’t find a link to it now, but I once read a letter of apology written by a German man to a Jewish friend who had fled during World War II. In it, the German man talks about how he had allowed his anti-Semitism to blind him, and he talks at length about his horror at finally realizing he had been performing mental gymnastics to continue thinking of his Jewish friend as a good person and a friend while still believing and mouthing horrible things about ‘the Jews’.

    In other words, the exact same fucking thing the LW is talking about “Oh, Muslims blah blah blah but not YOU, you’re one of the good ones, as I was saying blah blah Muslims.”

    Those people are stupid and evil and you are right to do whatever you must in order to survive contact with them, whether that is a quiet word to HR or cutting them and anyone who is buddies with them out of your life like a rotten extremity.

  34. Original LW said:

    Original letter writer here. I wanted to thank you all your support. It means the world to have the Cap and the Army stand with me. So Jedi hugs back at you.

    I wanted to say that having other people speak up would mean the world to me. I’m sure it would for anyone from any gender/faith/orientation/anything-else-I-missed targeted by bigotry. So thank you again for those who speak up and try to do what they can to shut this shit down.

    I agree with self care. So anyone else facing this problem, I highly recommend it too. Do not let your life be consumed by hate.

    I do have a few questions that I’d like to throw into the discussion:
    I feel like if I don’t do something to promote change do I really have the right to ask it of others? I’m not talking about arguing with random strangers or putting myself in danger.
    I often hear from others that it’s Muslim peoples’ jobs to fight against this. That if we don’t want to be painted as terrorists then why don’t we speak out against it? Often it’s from people like John – but in some way I can see a valid point. We do stand against terrorism, but our message is not heard. Isn’t this my job too?

    Most importantly. I wanted to take a moment and stand in solidarity with the people of Orlando. I’m sorry for their loss in the face of such a monstrous crime.

    • Amphelise said:

      Every one of the Muslims I know has spoken up against terrorism – in person, on facebook, in blogs, etc. You’re right that the message is not heard, and I think that’s crucial to remember: you can’t make people hear. Shouting yourself hoarse trying to unblock their ears is not a moral obligation.

    • Duly Concerned said:

      Original LW wrote: “I often hear from others that it’s Muslim peoples’ jobs to fight against this. That if we don’t want to be painted as terrorists then why don’t we speak out against it?”

      Well, I give that one the massive side-eye for derailment. That’s just a thinly disguised version of the monolith fallacy: that a handful of people represent the views of all people who are in that group.

      The majority of terrorism attacks in the US have been by white Christian men. But when yet another white Christian man goes on a rampage, other white Christian men are not expected to fight some perception that it must mean all white Christian men are suspect or, at the very least, silently supporting the white Christian man who just killed or tried to kill a bunch of people. Baptists are not usually expected to express their disapproval of the Westboro Baptist Church, either. It is hypocritical to hold Muslims to a higher standard.

      Also, people who don’t think Muslim community leaders aren’t speaking out are not looking very hard. There are thousands around the world speaking out against terrorism. It’s easy to find dozens of mainstream media articles that include Muslims condemning terrorism. In some places, Muslim communities have taken out *paid* advertisements to publicise their disavowal of all terrorism. I assure you, Muslims should not be expected to approach everyone in the US to explain that the overwhelmingly vast majority of Muslims are just as horrified by terrorism as any rational person is. Someone who expects you to be their own personal educational envoy on behalf of the majority of Muslims has entitlement issues.

      • B. said:

        +1 to everything you said. Also, making it the work of an oppresed group to fight against oppresion is part of the problem: it’s saying that it’s the job of the oppresed to educate their oppresors instead of asking the oppresors to accept their fair share of responsibility and make an effort (or use their greater social status) to change things.

      • neverjaunty said:

        Yes, this. I’ve had those conversations where the shitpole says “why didn’t Muslims denounce X?” and when you point to numerous public, clear denunciations of X by leading Muslim groups and Muslims worldwide, the shitpole simply moves the goalposts. Oh, yes, but they didn’t speak up fast enough, or loud enough, or they only did it because they wanted to look good, they didn’t really mean it.

      • Oort Cloud said:

        Yes! And a big part of this is directly and specifically the result of deliberate decisions on the part of the mainstream media. The TV and newspapers (certainly here in the UK; I’m guessing probably in many other places too) give prominence to – for example – a terrorist action and then they give prominent coverage to reaction and comment from non-Muslims; what little coverage they give to any kind of response from Muslim people is usually almost entirely from the more authoritarian men. Muslim groups and individuals may be denouncing terrorism until they’re blue in the face; they’re getting very little coverage. And of course that contributes massively to the impression among non-Muslims that Muslims a) all think the same and b) either don’t care or condone terrorism.

        The media don’t do this by accident, of course. But they contribute to making this our society’s predominant notion of “normal” to such an extent that we need constant, explicit reminders that feminist Muslims exist, that gay Muslims exist, even that non-extremist Muslims exist. (Which in turn just makes it harder to talk about e.g. misogyny and homophobia as they manifest in any society and any religion without playing into the hands of the right-wing authoritarians and without people assuming you’re supporting that shit)

    • Astral said:

      From what you wrote, you already do promote change! Part of self-care is giving yourself permission to not do that emotional work all of time. Human beings can and have worked to create many types of societies they envision. So, yes, let’s continue to ask others to create and support more welcoming and inclusive spaces! There are far too many people trying to create, re-create, maintain the narrow-minded intolerant ones.

      I actually have had to nuclear option a family member after physical and verbal abuse was directed at me for sticking up for myself and others. Voicing my disapproval of the hate was my choice, but continuing to listen to it was not something I could live with. My world has been filled with so many people speaking up about and educating others about their experiences and needs, and I’ve found that change on the micro-level can create the most wide-scale, lasting effects. I had role models and mentors who were supporting and encouraging me, counting on me to join the struggle for the world we wanted to see exist. Thank-you for adding to that group! I’ve moved around a lot and know how to do alone and find new people which helps me to be willing to risk loss to call out erroneous, prejudiced, intolerant statements in person. Which I seem to be having to do regularly lately, unfortunately, including one in-depth conversation about the Muslim people I know from various parts of the world when others in the conversation group were voicing stereotypes and fear.

      From my vantage point as a secular white U.S. American, usually living outside the large cities, I hear Muslims speaking out all the time against extremism, but one has to know them personally or pay attention sometimes to the political discourses happening across Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Iran, Indonesia, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Mali, Somalia………and from my experiences in the U.S., a lot of people really don’t know people or pay attention to much outside their bubble. They can’t be hearing what they’re not listening for! Thus the uninformed, “gee…why don’t they speak out against extremism or something” statements. Of course, I also know more secular Muslims who don’t think enough people are speaking out and taking action; many ideologically support the strong-arm model (historically rife with the kinds of dictatorship and torture that has fueled extremism…) of secular governance they think is necessary to combat extremism.

      I wish for you that the rest of Ramadan is filled with the contemplative peace, charity, and renewal of the season and that this collective spirit graces all!

    • I feel like if I don’t do something to promote change do I really have the right to ask it of others?

      Are there axes on which you *do* have privilege? If you’re not up for making yourself John’s target forevermore, cool. But maybe there are times and places where you can be a non-bystander speaking up for LGTBQ folks, or counteracting homeless=criminal or mentally ill=criminal kinds of talk. We can all promote change together.

      • untonuggan said:

        ^This. Plus there are some pretty awesome social justice sides to Islam, like almsgiving/zakat for one.

    • LW, I am so, so sorry that you’re dealing with this.

      “I feel like if I don’t do something to promote change do I really have the right to ask it of others? I’m not talking about arguing with random strangers or putting myself in danger.”

      Yes! Yes, you do. Non-Muslim allies get to go home and not think about this at night. We can take a vacation from advocating for justice without having someone bring it to our attention by virtue of us existing. It’s an unfair advantage that allows us to recharge our batteries in just the same way that the bigoted jackasses get to, and that you do not, and therefore I tend to think we owe it to you.

      I think of the image of the Christian protesters in Egypt, back in 2011, joining hands to protect Muslim protesters at prayer– and if any of the allies you know have seen those pictures, they’ll probably get the concept behind that visual. “I need to do something else that does not mean constantly fighting this battle for change, can I count on you to have my back?” is a valid request. (Special bonus points for specific requests, like “can you be the SIT DOWN, JOHN police when he goes all Islamophobic in your hearing?” because having someone else protect you without you having to “out” yourself on someone else’s timetable is a great blessing.)

      “I often hear from others that it’s Muslim peoples’ jobs to fight against this. That if we don’t want to be painted as terrorists then why don’t we speak out against it? Often it’s from people like John – but in some way I can see a valid point. We do stand against terrorism, but our message is not heard. Isn’t this my job too?”

      Well, yeah, but that’s an unfair thing to ask when there ARE millions of Muslims speaking out against this, it’s just that they don’t get asked to be on the shows that bigots watch because those shows know their audience and are cultivating this kind of outrage. Therefore, the only Muslim views being aired on those news programs are the people who blow stuff up and/or shoot people and claim it’s for an Islamic cause.

      The other thing here is that what people really mean, when they say that, is “why isn’t there someone telling them NOT TO DO THAT?” and… that’s not how that works, so there’s never going to be an acceptable answer. Christianity, too, has a long sordid history (which continues in the current day) of having Very Strongly Opinionated Special People Who Know What God REALLY Means commit horrifying crimes, and people do tell them, all the time, to stop doing that! and generally those people are either ignored or imprisoned or killed. People just want it to STOP and they figure that Muslims (Muslim leaders in particular) have some kind of way to MAKE IT STOP and that you just have to be prompted to use the magic words to do it. I’m not sure why they think that Muslims have access to some kind of off-switch for extremists when Christians certainly didn’t in the case of Bosnia, the Hindus did not in the case of Gujarat, and the Buddhists did not in the case of Myanmar.

      There are no great answers here, just… I hope that there are people around you who can have your back, who can circle around you and give you a breather from the world. Be safe, be well, Jedi hugs.

    • onyx said:

      “I feel like if I don’t do something to promote change do I really have the right to ask it of others?”

      You absolutely have the right to ask it of others, no matter what you do. Because the “change” required is called treating you, your people, and your religion with Basic. Human. Dignity. You are ENTITLED to be treated with respect, to be seen and valued as a human being. When bigots talk about the subject of their bigotry, they are actively dehumanizing that group. This is not okay.

      I’ve seen this sentiment come up a lot with Darth Vader Boyfriends and the like: the idea that not being abusive is something worth a gold star for good behavior, like men should get praise for not hitting women. This mentality is messed up, because -not abusing people- is a baseline for being a decent human being instead of a pile of garbage. It’s no different with bigots. Being treated with basic respect is not an absurd, unreasonable request. It’s your right as a person. ❤

      I hope your HR department/higher ups at your job handle this as they should. You don't deserve this.

    • solecism said:

      Thanks for checking in!

      You are existing in the world and putting the lie to the bigotry simply by that fact. So you are promoting change by being you in public, unreservedly and unashamedly, speaking up when you feel you can/want to, and simply being dignified and real even when not speaking up in that particular moment. You absolutely have the right to ask for other people to change how they behave around you when their behavior harms you. That is basic boundaries regardless of the particular circumstances. Whether or not it feasible/safe is different–the basic human right is always there.

      It is the work of the community experiencing a problem to try to address that problem. True. It is the work of the people outside that community to listen when people within that community speak. It is also the work of the privileged majority to address the hatred/bigotry/discrimination/marginalization/abuse of power/real-world disparities perpetrated against the disempowered minorities and concomitant desperation/fear/hopelessness reactions within those disenfranchised communities. It is the work of everyone to build connections between communities, to offer mutual support, to build coalitions, create better opportunities, etc.

    • Vicki said:

      YES, you have the right to ask it of others. Those of us who aren’t Muslim aren’t starting from just having been hurt or made to feel insecure, so in that moment we may have more strength/energy for the argument.

      If there’s a reward for my doing so, it’s not that you owe me anything, it’s that I want my straight and/or male friends to speak up when they hear that sort of comment about women or queer people.

  35. Traffic Spiral said:

    The simplest way to humanize Muslims is to remind your coworkers of their similarities to Christians. Just be like “look, I don’t call you an abortion bomber or gay basher just because you’re Christian, do I? If you can accept that there’s tons of Christians out there that don’t want to blow things up or enforce Theocracy even if Christian Dominionists, Clive Bundy and Jerry Falwell exist, you should be able to accept the same about Muslims. We have our zealots, just like you guys.”

  36. I’ve found that speaking up about my thoughts and feelings at other, less charged times and coming up with a few, “Wow, really?” has made me a lot more comfortable speaking up when things are charged. I was once the “one of the good ones” to a misogynist and there was very little I thought I could say at the time, but I tried to at least make my discomfort known to the men involved. I don’t know if it changed their minds, but I don’t think we can think of this in terms of changing other peoples’ minds.

    Asking questions can be one way of getting at some set of discriminatory info – if you do this, try to keep it very low key and unemotional and don’t be surprised if the person abruptly changes the subject; let them do so – they might have come to an uncomfortable realization they need to process alone. This is easier if you aren’t the target, fwiw.

    I’ve also found that stubbornly rewording things sometimes works, too. For example, misgendering public trans people comes up now and then, and I’ll very doggedly use the proper gender terms and name for them while the person I’m talking to gets more and more confused/defensive; sometimes people ask (if you do this sort of thing a lot you can get A Reputation; I’m the SJW-known person to my family) and sometimes they don’t, but sometimes just existing strongly at people can have an effect.

    Sometimes after something happens where I wasn’t happy with the outcome I’ll spend a while thinking through how I could have responded, and I find this blends its way into all of my interactions even if the I-didn’t-do-it-right was on the topic of racism and the new bigotry is ableism. It also often pushes me to do more research of my own so that I can be really settled in exactly what I think and am comfortable speaking up about/acting on; even for discriminatory axes I’m on, there’s always ways to learn a new way of looking at things or a new type of language that can be helpful. This is when being kind to myself for not being The Perfect Activist is really important; over time I’ve shifted to focusing on how I can incrementally improve instead of looking for some magical sinecure, and that’s helped a great deal as well.

    Good luck and best wishes.

    • solecism said:

      I tried the asking questions route. My ex was every flavor of bigot. It was really an educational experience for me. Anyway, he was all against mixed-race marriages, Bible-something, miscegenation something, etc. We had a whole conversation of me asking questions about why he has problems with the concept. It boiled down to society treating mixed-race children poorly, therefore they needed to not exist. I was stunned, really. Therefore society needs to be less fucked up about how it treats children, surely? Anyway, in the end, he circled right back to his starting position. Same experience trying to discuss bigotry online–whatever calm, reasonable points I make don’t really matter, even if the person agrees with individual points, because the person just circles back to their starting position, and their goalposts shift position accordingly. My ex was homophobic too but had no problem with my gay friend. Just couldn’t extrapolate from this one individual to the larger group that he was stereotyping.

    • Rose said:

      “I was once the “one of the good ones” to a misogynist and there was very little I thought I could say at the time,”

      How did you manage that?
      I mean, most misogynists I have met didn’t openly admit that they are misogynists, but the conversation usually goes like this:

      He, suspicious: “… you are not a feminist, are you?”
      Me: “Well, of course I am. So?”
      He: “[some expression of disapproval]”
      Me: (leaves)

      Perhaps I am just shit at keeping my opinions to myself. Most misogynists I usually catch by finding out about their antifeminist attitude. Woman-hating men never think so highly of me that they’d admit to me that they despise all women except me.

      I imagine, being “the good Muslim” is much easier, as all you have to do is … just be a normal person, basically.

      • I’m not so sure. I imagine that to be the ‘good Muslim’ you’d have to also denounce extremists as often as possible, like way more often than anyone should be expected to, while also making sure you didn’t outwardly display your religion in any way and also reassure constantly that no one around you is being Islamophobic. Even if secretely you think they are but you can’t say so because of the consequences to your social and employment life.

        In my experience, ‘ you are one of the good [x group]’ almost always means ‘you put up with all the shit I spout about your race/gender/sexuality/religion and do so with a smile, therefore never making me feel bad about my bigotry and also being a handy tool I can wield where I can say ‘my friend is x group and she’s fine with me saying this!’

  37. Amphelise said:

    I have so much sympathy for all of you – all of us – who are dealing with these microagressions and macroaggressions in our workplaces.

    One thing I will say to allies is – it can be helpful, when someone tells you about an incident like this, to match your level of outrage energy to that of the person who is telling you.

    At my last workplace, a primary school, I was forbidden from outing myself to the parents or children at a “getting to know you” event where literally all of the other staff were free to refer to their spouses. I was too fragile and exhausted at the time to go down the “you know that’s against the law, right?” route, and just let be. I found the outraged reactions of several friends – who demanded to know what I was going to do about this!! – even more upsetting than the original incident. I was too tired and sad to take action, and although they didn’t mean to, they made me feel worse by getting fired up about it when I just wanted them to be sad with me. Being actively activist (ha) is so draining and you can’t do it all the time, especially when it’s likely to make your workplace hostile. (And other teachers will know just how hostile a school can be if one or more parents have a bee in their bonnet about you). Accidentally putting pressure on people to stand up when they just want to curl up is something to avoid if possible.

    Thankfully, I am now in a better workplace. I was still surprised when an otherwise lovely colleague sent me an alarmed look when I mentioned my wife in front of a learner (because apparently young adults with autism shouldn’t know someone is gay???) but I was feeling healthy enough to challenge it in a positive way. Many of the learners know that I’m gay, and one has even opened up about her own non-straightness (something many people with learning delays or difficulties may never find safe due to seriously wonky social beliefs about disability and sexuality).

    I’m also kinda hoping that in a few years’ time my former primary school pupils will remember Mrs Amphelise-Hyphenated’s “friend” Miss Hyphenated who slept on the same blow-up mattress at the school sleepover, and have an “oh, duh” rainbow moment 😀

    • MizzMaryMack said:

      Oh. My.

      You mean I should be shielding my autistic toddler from the lesbian couple and their daughter who live across the street? And my non-binary friend from college? (They are the most effective mother’s-helper in public places anyone could ask for – fast, strong, and loyal)

      Shit. I guess I have to hide in the house with my blinds closed now.

      • Amphelise said:

        I know right?

        Thankfully, this colleague was able to recognise how silly her reaction had been once I called it out. She doesn’t really believe that they shouldn’t know; it was just a gut “we don’t talk about teh gay in education settings omg” kind of hangover from the days when that was true.

        I’m pretty sure there’s other staff lurking in the same organisation who would really believe that, but as they’re at a lower level to me, they can *just try* bringing it up and see what happens…

        Funnily enough, my almost-certainly-autistic (we’re one session in to ADOS now) stepson, aged 8, has never actually twigged that there’s anything unusual about his mum being married to a woman!

  38. vass said:

    LW, I’m so sorry people are targetting you and yours in this terrifying and shitty way. The only advice I can think of to give, apart from what CA said, is to lean on your Team You for as much in-person support and advice you can. Particularly if you have any Muslim coworkers or Muslim friends working in the same industry, at least they would be people who you absolutely know are in the same position as you and can commiserate and share advice and safety tactics.

    With your non-Muslim friends and friendly coworkers, it might be worth thinking about how, specifically, you’d like them to react when someone says something shitty (including when you’re not there) or even just general care and feeding stuff like what’s helpful when you’re fasting or what to say to you on your holidays (Ramadan Mubarak to you, btw, while I’m mentioning that) and then asking them, in so many words, to do that. I bet some of them want to help but don’t know how and don’t want to make it worse for you, and maybe some others think they’re doing enough just by not being Islamophobes themselves, but would step up more if they were asked.

    Especially in your friendship groups, since you mentioned that as well as work, and at least some of your friends are also friends with each other, so it should matter to them when a friend treats another friend so badly.

  39. Sweetie Pie said:

    LW – my advice is slightly different to what I’m seeing in the above comments. (I am not experiencing bigotry to the same level as I can only imagine you are, but I speak from the experience of living 15+ years in a place where expressing hatred of people with my background, including to my face, is extremely common, generally socially acceptable, and sometimes includes a fun side helping of physical threats.)

    I tried the ‘like me?’ bit for a while, I tried confrontation, I tried thoughtful explanations of how they were being uncool, I tried going to HR, etc, and none of that worked out quite the way I wanted it to, ever.

    What does work (for me) is pausing whatever I’m doing and calling over to the bigot, “Hey, I can hear you,” and then going straight back whatever I was doing without saying anything else. The lighter my tone of voice is, the better. That means the bigot, and/or the bigot’s audience, has to be the ones to remember/figure out that I am part of the group they’re insulting and, more importantly, that since I’ve heard the insults/threats/whatever there will be consequences.

    Things then usually go three ways:

    1) they go bright red and shut their mouths and keep their mouths shut about this bigotry in my presence in the future, in which case no further action is required
    2) they find me later to apologize, at which point I usually give me a polite piece of my mind which leads to further apologizing, which I accept if I feel like it, but I try hard to keep the tone light (this is not always possible). If it happens again, they almost always go to reaction #1, but I repeat as needed.
    3) they try hard to get my attention and, once they get it, go on a vocal defensive rant explaining why their bigotry is completely correct and totally acceptable. Then I laugh, say “Really?” and then leave, usually to go shake in the bathroom for a few minutes. The laughing is VERY important; I want to make sure my contempt for their attitude is crystal clear. But coming back as if I was just making a phone call or peeing is EQUALLY important. Because this way the bigot is almost always called out in my absence. Repeat as needed. So then if it happens again, we go back through the steps, to reaction #2, and then eventually reaction #1.

    Bigots are contemptuous and expressing your contempt for bigotry, if not always for the bigot themselves, is very important. You won’t be able to erase the bigotry by snapping your fingers, but you can make it very clear how extremely beneath you it is. And if you can do so in a way that makes it clear you are disgusted by the unpleasant necessity of doing so, the bigots will start choking on it. As they should.

    I can suggest something else from my life experience too. I am bi, but was married to a man for a while. After my divorce I started dating women as well as men, which was a big surprise to a lot of people, which surprised me, since I hadn’t realized how straight I presented (or how little people thought about my sexuality past married-to-a-man). After a few instances of friends getting all annoyed at me ‘blindsiding’ them, I hit on reacting like this: “So I had this date with this woman…” “WHAT? You date women? You’re gay now?” “Oh I’m bi, always been, you knew that. So what happened was…” In other words, I was as blase and matter-of-fact about it as possible, leaving people with no choice but to pretend “Oh yeah, I totally knew that” so they could save face and still look cool.

    Allowing people to save face and still look cool, even while they are spouting unbelievable bigotry, is unfortunately important. This is where your disgust and contempt comes in if people behave in any way other than politely.

    GOOD LUCK.

  40. B said:

    Sorry you’re going through this LW

    I think a lot of people are afraid and desperately trying to figure out “what can be done” with various conclusions. That in turn fuels a lot of anger and negativity.
    I, personally, try not to get angry because I’ve never found shouting at someone works at changing minds. I think I have changed a few minds with mostly cool-but-persistent correction. This was mostly with family and LGBT issues previously, but now it’s religion and immigration I’m having to work on.
    When someone starts with “muslims ___” I say something like “you mean extremists? I’ve had plenty of Muslim coworkers and bosses who were the nicest and most respectful people I know, and think God should be worshiped out of love and respect, not because of fear.” Also, “all the times I’ve been threatened by someone, none have been a Muslim” – which are my true stories. Other people’s true stories may vary.
    I do try to challenge these things when I see them (main exception I can think of – very sick patient saying bad stuff – felt it was most appropriate to go with “Huh” and redirecting). LW should be safe first though – and I hate to say that. I agree with the captain’s scripts when LW feels up challenging it, also the advice to try to recruit friends.

  41. JoanofAnon said:

    LW, I am not a muslim and I don’t feel like I can offer you advice without the insight of experience, but I just wanted to say that there are people on your side, who will speak up for you, who won’t accept you being subject to this racism. I’m sorry you are experiencing this and I hope you have lots of people in your life who are allies to you.

  42. quinalla said:

    LW, stay safe and don’t speak up if you don’t feel safe, but I agree, you are already doing what you can and yes enlist help from your friends/coworkers to speak up too so the burden isn’t on you and because it is less consequence for them to speak up too. People with privilege (I’m a woman, but otherwise very privileged), we can speak up and help in situations like this, but we have to work to be aware of it, it’s far too easy for us to overlook. It helps me to relate it to the nasty misogynistic things I hear everyday and how I wish I wasn’t’ usually the one to have to speak up and ruin the moment/hour/day/year/more? or stay silent and fume/stress/etc., wishing allies would speak up more often so it wasn’t always me doing it. Not that I don’t speak up, I do when I have the spoons and feel safe enough, but sometimes you can’t for whatever reason.

    Anyway, when I am speaking up about these things (either against misogyny which affects me directly or other bigotry), I know I am unlikely to change the opinion of the one spouting bigotry, if I do, great, but for me it’s (1) Letting them know that it is not social acceptable to say that BS out loud even when they are alone with me and (2) When not alone, that I clearly communicate to others who are listening that this is not ok and I’m not ok with it. The latter is where you have a much better chance of changing hearts and minds, in the people that are on the fence or are privileged and aren’t really thinking about it. Comments like that made around me are what started (and continue to help) me awaken to my own privilege and it’s how I keep spaces I have a stake in as safe as I can (gaming groups, game guilds, work, etc.) And if it is a group I am in charge of, I really NEED to speak up if I want to keep folks participating. This is SO important and something a lot of geek spaces in particular fall down.

    Again, everyone needs to stay safe, so none of us should feel we have to speak up when it isn’t safe to do so, but we should all speak out more, especially when our various privileges make it safer for us to do so. And yeah, usually it’s just a quick “Hey, knock that BS off!” or “That’s not funny.” or “Excuse me?” or “We don’t tolerate bigotry in this group.” or “Woah! Sexist/racist/etc. much?” or whatever phrasing is most appropriate for you and the situation.

  43. MrsLokiofAsgard said:

    I wrote something this morning because a few of my friends lost loved ones this weekend in Orlando and the sweeping statements from those who weren’t impacted beyond reading the news bothered me. The cliff-notes version is this: anytime a sentence starts with the word “ALL” it becomes a sweeping declaration and paints everyone who falls under that category with the same brush: ALL Muslims are terrorists, ALL women are angry feminists, ALL men are rapists, ALL religions are narrowminded and bigoted, ALL police are racist killers. These statements are untrue, obviously, but the true thing that these statements have in common is fear and that’s the only sentence that should start with “ALL” : ALL the people I know are scared by the hate and fear that is festering within humanity and we’d like to know what we can do to stop it. How about this?

    – I was kind to ALL people I spoke to today.
    – I was helpful to ALL the people I encountered today.
    – I refused to judge ALL people based on the act of one.
    – I loved ALL the people close to me today.
    – I understood that I am one of many and my decisions impact ALL

    LW, you are not alone. There are legions of us who stand with you in word and deed. I am not Muslim, but I stand up for you. I am not a lot of things…but I will speak for you…stand up for you…and choose kindness every single time!!! 🙂

  44. Clare said:

    What I do with my family members and friends that I still want to see (ie non-nuclear situations) is make sure they know how excited I am about ally-activities. “Guess what? I was just matched with the Syrian refugee I’m going to tutor in English! I can’t wait!” “I’m so excited to go to the pride parade next weekend!” “My friend David and his boyfriend invited me to see Taylor Swift with them! I can’t wait!” “Headed to the take back the night rally with my BFF tonight!” I act like I’m so excited for these activities (which I am) and as though everyone would be too. It’s not over the top (ie “why aren’t you excited for pride too? what’s wrong with you?”) but a signpost of where I am. Now, part of this is largely for my young cousin whose nightmare mother constantly tells her she’s going to hell and sends her to a megachurch convention each year, so I want to normalize social justice causes without being too aggressive. But for my family and acquaintances I’m hoping to start off the evening showing that there is no fertile ground for their hateful garbage. Sometimes they still spew it, and then I have no regrets calling out the bigotry, but most now know that they won’t win and will look terrible as they were the ones to break the peace and make dinner uncomfortable. And I might be the “problem” but if I’m a bad person for challenging “we should ban all muslims,” everyone knows they are responsible for lighting my fuse and starting the issue. And I have no problem being a ticking time bomb vs. family bigotry.

    • BigdogLittlecat said:

      High five, fellow family-ticking-bomb. I smile to myself when I hear conversations abruptly stop when I enter the room.

      Your poor cousin is lucky she has you. Hmmm, is she “sent” to the convention, as in by herself, or is she dragged in tow? I am daydreaming about your going with her, and some how or another the two of you get lost and don’t make it to the convention hall. except those dreadful things probably have cards that have to be time-stamped or something so the kids can’t escape.

      • Clare said:

        I’m not going to lie, it’s kind of delightful being “the problem” now. My dad’s family liked to play “devil’s advocate” until it became too uncomfortable for them to be face any opposition. I recently learned that my uncle and his family refused to attend an event because I “bullied” my cousin online by pointing out the factual errors in her racist and bigoted post on facebook 2 months prior. I’m lucky as I am in a relatively privileged position in my family and also have a PhD in history (“Do you know how Canadian politicians viewed our Catholic family prior to 1890? Our family would have faced the same suspicion that Muslims face today. How were we different? There were even terrorist attacks along the US/CND border by the Fenians. Should Canadians have refused all Catholics entry?”) but it’s so so so nice to be able to talk back and make them scared to say horrific stuff in front of me because they will be challenged and they know they can’t stand up to it.

        So, yes to all people who have the ability to be ticking-time-bombs!!!

        • Shade 'O Pale said:

          I’m reminded of “race is a construct” and that what people are calling “race” is “ethnicity.” If we’re all Homo Sapiens, if I can find biological connections to others from all over the world, then what is this Great Wall of Race comprised of?

          • JenniferP said:

            And yet, race and racism exist as forces people have to deal with.

          • johann7 said:

            “And yet, race and racism exist as forces people have to deal with.”

            They are indeed; being a social construct doesn’t make something any less real. The English language is a social construct, and there is evidence of its existence all over this page. The legal system and our economic markets are social constructs, and they impact everyone daily in hugely important ways.

            Being a social construct DOES mean something is relatively easy to change with the social will to do so, because immaterial abstractions don’t face material barriers to alteration. Sadly, the “social will to do so” is often a huge barrier itself, because people.

  45. I wish I had something better to say than offering general support. Most of the scripts above are really good and you should pick a couple scripts which work for your workplace and use them. That being said, a couple thoughts:

    I always like evidence-based thinking, and taken numerically the issue of Islamic Terrorism is microscopic, at least in the US. In 2015 the US lost about 25 people to Islamic Terror. And we lost 7,500 people to allergic reactions because they took the wrong over-the-counter pain reliever. We lost around 450,000 each to cancer and heart disease. 2.5 million people died in the U.S. in 2015. Those are the real numbers. So for 2015, one death out of 100,000 is due to Islamic Terror and any given person probably has a better chance of being struck by lightning than being killed by a Muslim. If you can use those facts to calm someone down, maybe in a longer discussion, that would be great. Maybe someone reading this has a good script for working the numbers into a conversation – I’m really clumsy about that stuff and I don’t do it very well, as you’ve probably noticed.

    The other thing to note is that this prejudice DOES NOT happen in a vacuum. There is a large media industry dedicated to using the most powerful persuasive techniques available to make people frightened of Islam. The reason I bring this up is because while some of your coworkers are “real” racists, others are victims of some really vile propaganda, they’ve got low media-immunity, and they’re very, very frightened because the tiny minority of people killed by Islamic Terror get a lot more coverage than the thousands killed every year by the unspeakable horror of over-the-counter pain medications. *Snark-mode off*

    I bring this up because maybe there’s a good script for handling your problems in a way which addresses the fears your coworkers are feeling, and I think it’s possible (and once again, I’m really bad at making scripts) that this particular approach could be really fruitful.

    Having said my piece, I’m sending good thoughts in your direction and I hope you are able to improve your situation with some good scripts and without any complications.

  46. winter said:

    I hope I’m not repeating someone else, but this thread is handling sensitive topics and it would be great if people could put content notes on top of their posts if they are recounting encounters with -ist people. Like it’s great if you stood up to racists etc but I’m sure this is still upsetting to read for the people who are targeted by those kind of attacks.

  47. Magpie said:

    We, as citizens of earth must make it be known that this racial/religious/sexual intolerance is absurd and wrong. We must at least attempt to shut it down in its tracks. ❤

  48. MD said:

    I am wondering what would be a script for bigoted family members. This has been on my mind over the last week. I have a family member (incidentally, we are Ukrainian) who has been re-posting a lot of homophobic crap on Facebook. We are on different continents, so it’s not immediate. They have been called out by other people before I got there, and reacted badly, effectively resulting in more nasty stuff spilled out. I am straight, but I get upset reading those things, because I have friends who are gay. I want to stand up for them, but I know that I won’t change that person’s mind, and FB interventions don’t seem to be working. I have been considering just hiding their news feed altogether, but that seems equivalent to silence, and therefore wrong.

  49. zephyr haversack said:

    Notice how when a “Christian” shoots a doctor or blows up an abortion clinic, no one’s talking about rounding up all the Chistians — and I’m sure Dump wouldn’t. He’d say, rotten apple in every barrel. To continue botanically, he dos not (nor do his supporters) extend the olive branch to other religions.

  50. Jackalope said:

    I don’t know if any of you have read anything by Tim Wise, but he’s a white anti-racism speaker who has a technique for allies that I found intriguing. I haven’t had the chance to try it out, so I can’t comment on how well it works, but I appreciate his logic. He pointed out that telling people that, “What you just said is offensive,” (or some version of that) may make them stop using that racist/sexist/homophobic/etc language around YOU, but doesn’t make them think beyond that (although he still decidedly supported saying something along those lines rather than saying nothing). His technique was this:

    When he had someone tell him a racist joke about African Americans, he told the “joker” that he was black. When that person responded that he was sorry, and he didn’t know, Tim Wise said, “No, actually, I really am white.” When the other person got confused, he said, “I’m not black… but I find it interesting that when you thought I was, you apologized. In other words, you know that joke was messed up, so that if you’d been around a black person knowingly, you never would have said it. So why did you feel comfortable saying it in front of us? Why do you think so little of white people?” When the other person asked, “What do you mean?” he responded, “You must think all whites are racists, and specifically, that we’re all the kind of racists who enjoy racist jokes. Otherwise you wouldn’t take a chance making that kind of comment around white folks you don’t even know. So tell me, why do you think so little of white people?” He said that taking things from a different perspective gave him a chance to actually engage the speaker and make that person think.

    He also pointed out that this makes it harder for someone to assume that a stranger they meet in the future is going to go along with their efforts at “white bonding”, and can be a way to help “dial back” the racist ways that they act. I’m not sure if it works, but I wanted to offer it as a possible option for those who wanted to make the other person think a bit.

    (For those who are curious, this was from the book “White Like Me”, in the chapter called “Resistance”.)

    • Marie said:

      Tim Wise is not great. He takes up an awful lot of space and profits from the anti-racism work of POC. Consider reading some posts about him on Gradient Lair and donating to her instead of buying books from a white dude. 🙂

      I also think that there are better ways to call out this behaviour. His approach is frankly bizarre and elevates white feelings over black dignity. Like, it’s definitely uncomfortable when other white people assume that you’re down with racism too, but that discomfort literally doesn’t matter. At all. The only real harm done by these “jokes” is the dehumanisation of black people. And you don’t have to be black to think racism is gross and violent and harmful. I just don’t think pandering to the joke-teller’s sense of white supremacy would be helpful? It’s a lot easier to just be like, “Ummmm gross. Bye”

      • Is he the guy who used to be a skinhead and is now a Buddhist? If so, I remember he was on Point of Inquiry a while ago and while I give him props for turning his life around, he also said some pretty boneheaded things about how the anger of the oppressed is really just divisive.

        • Cactus said:

          As far as I know, he has never been a skinhead or a Buddhist. He’s a white southern guy of Ashkenazic Jewish heritage who was an anti-apartheid activist in college and who has written some books about ending racism. He frequently visits college campuses to talk about anti-racism, but he’s far from an ideal voice.

    • I like that a lot! It is mental judo!

      I have been wondering how I would handle such a thing, and of course what I came up with would depend on the person and the environment.

      What if “John” had his protest met with, “I am glad to hear that I am not “one of them” so would you write me a letter saying so? Then when they come to round me up/deport/beat me up, I will have a letter stating I am not like the people they want to treat badly.”

  51. commentorprfk said:

    Hi PrincessMuJasDragonZ,

    I was really moved by your question and wanted to comment.

    I have a lot of strong feelings about the Donald Trump phenomena in particular, because a few years ago I lived through a terrorist attack that left me with pretty bad PTSD for a while.

    Even though the attack was carried out in the name of Islam, I don’t think I ever hated Muslims as a group because I know that every group of people is bigger than the actions of its worst members. However, there were times when I did have feelings of rage and paranoia not really towards Muslims but towards a world I didn’t feel was doing enough to protect me. Sometimes, I felt like I needed a safe place to process my angry/scared/paranoid feelings without being judged for them and also to feel my vulnerable/open/compassionate feelings that are scary in their own way.

    I think most humans are complex mixtures of good and bad, which is why discussion of who is more ____phobic tend to annoy me, because it’s like calling people out for experiencing fear. I think most people have parts of them that are loving and kind and parts of them that are searching for signs of “friend or foe” based on limited knowledge and preparing to respond to that. Terrorism (and probably acts of war in general) throws a wrench into this because terrorism, by design, is about bypassing the logical and compassionate side of people and activating a raw, panicked reaction. When I was processing my own experiences, I didn’t want to be egged on towards prejudice or held up as a model of restraint and forgiveness either.

    There are some people who can’t really help being scared, but who need to find ways to express that that don’t involve hurting others (especially not innocent others like you who never did anything to them). Then, there are some people who enjoy propagating fear and indulging in their aggressive sides. Some people will immediately snap to aggression as a reaction to *anything*, because it gives them a pass to indulge in bullying, to manipulate others, and to show off their might.

    The fact that your handle is PrincessMuJasDragonZ and I just finished rewatching Mulan makes me think that we probably dream of some similar things: of being loved while being authentic, of having confidence based on accomplishment, of being able to protect ones ‘people’ whoever they might be. I think we probably both desire deeply to protect the weak and to fight for justice, which maybe is why you feel so conflicted between knowing there’s no winning with some people, wanting to be understanding, and wanting to fight back.

    I guess I can’t really give you advice in this comment, because I’m not sure what advice to give. I’m very conflicted myself when I see my country’s leaders and media spokespeople behaving like idiot warmongers, inciting violence towards minorities while making everyone less safe in the process. I hope you have others standing up with you, not only in cyberspace, but in the physical world as well. But I just wanted to add my voice to people supporting you digitally.

    • Original LW said:

      “The fact that your handle is PrincessMuJasDragonZ and I just finished rewatching Mulan makes me think that we probably dream of some similar things: of being loved while being authentic, of having confidence based on accomplishment, of being able to protect ones ‘people’ whoever they might be. I think we probably both desire deeply to protect the weak and to fight for justice, which maybe is why you feel so conflicted between knowing there’s no winning with some people, wanting to be understanding, and wanting to fight back.”

      Yes. You hit the nail on the head. It does mean a lot to me that we both share the same dreams @commentorprfk – even if the connection is only in the cyberworld, it means something to me.

      I’m very sorry to hear about the horrors you have experienced. I think you’re amazing and strong.

  52. RedinSC said:

    Wow, I read this letter, and the response at the same time that Senator Tim Kane from VA took the floor to ask a question during the Democratic Filibuster in the US senate today. Senator Kane ended his question with, “we don’t have to be heroes, but we can’t continue to be bystanders”. That is so powerful. And I feel that is what the Captain is asking of us as well. We cannot be bystanders as people spew this hateful bile out here.

    LW, I’m sorry you’re feeling that you have the be the “good Muslim ambassador”, please know that I have pledged to not be a bystander. I will passionately speak up for you, for any LGBTQI individual, for women (like myself), for all. Thank you for not being a bystander, and I hope we will all see a brighter future.

    • Original LW said:

      “we don’t have to be heroes, but we can’t continue to be bystanders”. That is so powerful.

      I second that. For all minorities – LGTBQ, racial, gender, I also pledge not to be a bystander.

  53. LW, I’m so sorry you have to go through this. I really wish you didn’t. But all I can really offer is -jedi hugs- if you want them.

    I’ve been forcibly (I say forcibly but really it’s more gently prodding and them taking it from there) making my fellow white friends (as I am white myself) help to stand up against this b.s. Islamophobia. I have yet to meet a Muslim, online or IRL, who ISN’T a nice and sweet person. I am literally verbally fighting my parents every day about this (at which my dad who usually starts in on it will say once I start in “ok we don’t talk politics in this house I don’t want to hear it” which makes me fume and I have to leave the room and read so I don’t punch him and lose my place of living). But this is all fucking exhausting work (especially as I have chronic pain/fatigue and don’t have the best energy levels on the best days). Just know LW, that there are plenty of us attempting to fight against this with you and you aren’t alone. Also as for advice I second everyone else’s advice.

  54. untonuggan said:

    So, my partner’s family is Muslim (and awesome, except for some outliers). I get some carry over microaggressions from people who think it’s cool to be bigoted around me. The one I get the most from liberal ally type friends: assuming that my partner must have been “oppressed” by the men in her family. Yes, some people have this experience. But not everyone, and US/European people are just as capable of being misogynistic. See: The Duggars.

    Anyway, after like the 5th person it gets old, and it’s not even something I’ve had to deal with my whole life.

    • untonuggan said:

      The point being: please don’t do this either, omg.

  55. Frost said:

    It’s horrible that people have to live in fear like this…People should be free to love and live the way they want (as long as no one is hurt, of course), and it breaks my heart that people have to be so fearful because of hateful bigots.

    If you’re suffering because of any form of hatred based on race, sexuality or any other reason – Know that you are loved and cared for.

  56. KimberlyR said:

    I think roping in your friends, coworkers, anyone who loves you and would never think of themselves as a bigot would be a huge help. Unfortunately, some people hear these words, and similar ones, so often that they tune them out. They need to tune in and address the words as they happen. As a white person, I have a responsibility to all Muslims to speak up anytime someone is spouting anti-Muslim rhetoric. But, and I hate to admit this about myself because its horrible, I don’t always tune in and LISTEN to these words. Often I just ignore the crazy bigot and move about my day. But I have a responsibility to speak up and stop that person. We all do. And your friends and coworkers would probably do so gladly if you helped clue them in. Because we are backsliding so much in terms of social progress that I wouldn’t believe it if I wasn’t living it. And I want a better world for myself and my children. So we all have a duty to shut it down.

  57. Eohippus said:

    Late to the game here, but from personal experience I think repeating their comments in the form of a question is an extremely effective response. I encounter people who think that being a Marine vet with two deployments means I’ll happily climb aboard the Asshat Bus they’re driving to Bigotville. “Muslims hate America? That’s funny, I served with several who did their jobs just fine. When did you serve again?” forces them to articulate their bias, and so tends to shut them up fast. A little modification makes it equally effective towards racists as well.

  58. LW: I, too, am sorry that you have to deal with these bigots. I don’t have advice but I just want to send well wishes and say salaam!
    Ramadan Mubarak, and if it’s a couple of weeks before you read this Eid Mubarak!
    Assalamu alaikum rahmat-Allahi wa barakatu! The peace and blessings of Allah(God) be upon you! (If this is inappropriate for a Christian to give a greeting, I am really sorry!)

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