I have a friend who I care about dearly but he keeps sending quite rude (almost downright racist) messages over a group chat I have with all of my friends, often targeted towards me and my heritage. A recent example is that he sent a photo of a map from almost 200 years ago and said “Ha, look, your country isn’t even on this map! It’s not a real country lol.” Another was when he kept trying to explain and then lecture me (quite patronizingly) about this country’s history (with inaccurate information, if I may add that) although I have family from this country and have read books about its history. I have told him that I find this rude and I have heritage from this country but I grew up in the same country he has, so I don’t understand why he can’t accept me as at least both nationalities. I used to be bullied for having “foreigner” relatives and being related to said country and his behaviour is similar to how it started out when I first was bullied (by other people, to clarify) which is making alarm bells ring. As it is on a group chat and I struggle with anxiety and confronting my friends (he knows this), then I find it difficult to call him out on his behaviour and I try to ignore the group chat, however, I feel like if I constantly ignore it every time people accept this behaviour more and it hinders my ability to communicate online to my group of friends (also, they know I get upset about it but I don’t expect them to do anything).
My solution was to block him on Facebook so he can’t directly message me and to avoid him on the group chat, which worked except he found out that I blocked his messages and keeps trying to call me out on the group chat. Other friends keep messaging me saying “why have you blocked him?” and then they post screenshots on the chat (so far I’ve replied with “what? I think my messages are just messed up at the moment”) so I’m afraid to tell them because these kinds of jokes are often made by him so that’s partly why no one goes “hey that’s not cool, friend.” I don’t want to be seen as humourless by telling everyone, because then people treat me like they’re walking on eggshells. Am I being irrational? Are they entitled to an explanation? Are there any scripts you could possibly give me?
I Just Want To Talk To My Friend And Not Get Upset (she/her)
Dear I Just Want To Talk To My Friend:
What is stopping you from saying “Please stop saying offensive things about where I’m from?”
Or “Rude!” or “Can you not?” or “Did you mean that to be offensive, b/c it was?” or “Your ignorance of [place] isn’t actually a commentary about [place], aren’t you embarrassed to say things like that?” Or “Dude, we’ve talked about this. Just stop.”
Right now you have blocked him and you’re lying about it, you are avoiding a group conversation you theoretically enjoy, you are asking me about non-confrontational ways to handle this, people in the chat are sending your screencaps and asking why you’ve blocked him, and you’re lying to them about it. And he’s weirdly trying to get your attention despite pretty much almost certainly knowing why you’re avoiding him. That’s a lot of work! A lot of emotional energy! Why not say the truth to these people? “[Dude] says offensive stuff about where I come from and I’m struggling with how to deal with it – I don’t want to come across as humorless, but I also don’t have a sense of humor about it anymore so I’ve started just avoiding him. He doesn’t listen when I tell him to stop.” “Funny you should notice that I’m kind of avoiding you. I don’t want to have to avoid you, but if you keep saying [xyz rude stuff] I just can’t hang. Can you promise to knock it off and then actually knock it off?”
If the other group members are so concerned about his feelings they can tell him to calm it down. If they back him up at your expense, that will suck, but you can also stop walking on eggshells around these people!
This is all happening online (online interactions are real, but in this case you don’t have immediate physical safety to worry about), so there is a delay and a bit of a remove. The stakes have never been lower for you to just say “Wow, not cool!” when he says something annoying. Group chat is already kinda ruined for you, so why not ruin it a little more in a way that has a chance of resolving this in your favor (dude knocks it off, other people maybe notice and call him out on it)(maybe it gets fun again)(if not at least you know and can avoid it altogether)?
I know why it feels scary to do this. When you tell someone “no” they reveal who they really are. If everyone’s been maintaining a “heh heh this is all in good fun” plausible deniability shield around the behavior, the second you admit that it’s not really fun for you force people to reveal that they were maybe just bullying you on purpose because it’s fun for them (and that the bullying and getting away with it is the whole point). It’s also awkward because it forces the bystanders to choose a side, and risk having people blame the victim of the rude behavior for ruining the overall vibe, like everything was fine when your friend could say rude, ignorant shit to you but YOU TOTALLY POOPED ON THE PARTY when you didn’t enjoy it. But sometimes it’s gotta happen! This social pressure to be cool and accept people’s bullying and not make a big deal about it has got to be resisted! And people on the sidelines have to stop being the eternal “I don’t see why everyone can’t just get along!” police.
It’s okay to be humorless about some stuff. It’s okay to find certain jokes to be offensive and cruel and to ask people who purport to be friendly with you to knock them the fuck off. When bullies are like “What, can’t you take a joke” it’s okay to say “Guess not! Can you stop being an ass for a sec and listen to me?”