As someone who spends a lot of time reading, commenting, and writing online, I consider myself adept at arguing with people on the Internet. When I come across bigotry or ignorance or misinformation on the web, I enjoy educating, enlightening, refuting, and smackin’ down. But, as I was reminded during the holiday break, excellence in Internet discourse does not necessarily translate to excellence in in-person discussions.
Like PhDork, I was shellshocked by many things I saw and heard whilst staying at my parents’ house over Christmas break. I choose to surround myself with generally progressive, feminist, anti-racist folks online and off. Despite the fact that I spent over 18 years of my life there, I feel like an outsider when I return to my beloved hometown. I feel like an outsider in my own family. It’s not because anyone is cruel or unwelcoming. But my philosophies are completely foreign to most people in my family and some of my acquaintances and high school friends.
I had a wonderful time this year, but I became slightly weary after just 48 hours or so. The complaints about “illegal aliens” and the high school turning into the “United Nations,” the concern about my marital status and pity for my bare ring finger, the misguided jokes about zomgsocialism!1!!1 – it’s exhausting. Now, nearly half the offenses were committed by my grandparents. But still.
I wind up obsessing about these instances long after they’ve happened, wondering how I should have handled them. Because in the moment, I freeze. Dealing with bigotry in person is so different from dealing with it online. There is no time to type your talking points, gather your links, and organize your thoughts. It’s not that I remain silent, but I don’t think I ever make a dent with anyone. I am so used to the online format that I am taken off guard when I encounter foolishness at the kitchen table. And it’s easy to be brutally honest or harsh with a person online; you can just close your browser afterward and hope it got through. The same can’t be said for conversations with your godfather in his home.
Can any of you recommend strategies for combating bigotry when it’s (literally) staring you in the face? I’d love to hear some tips and success stories.