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  • Someone close to me is spreading hatred: what to do?

Someone close to me is spreading hatred: what to do?

If your loved one has a tendency to insult, belittle or humiliate others because of their sexual orientation, gender, nationality, disability or other identity traits, try the following strategies.

Ask questions. If you hear that a person you love despises other groups in society, you can ask them why they think so. Such a question can provide an opportunity for the person to reflect on what they are saying and thinking, and to try to justify or explain it. This will give you the opportunity to talk about stereotypes, their damage, discrimination and hatred against specific groups in society.

Create a respectful environment. Inspire others by your example by communicating and speaking respectfully about other people. Make it clear that you do not tolerate hate speech in your presence. Ask your friends not to use offensive language around you. Not only will you create a respectful atmosphere around you, but you will also encourage others to choose their words more carefully and think about what they say and how they say it.

Explain why the language used by someone close to you is offensive and hateful. Sometimes people speak without thinking about the meaning and impact of their words. Before you criticize your interlocutor, try to clarify what they meant. Share your views on why this should not be the case. For example, “I’m not sure what you’ve meant by that word/phrase, but I try not to use such derogatory words/phrases myself because…”

Be clear about what behavior or speech you consider inappropriate. Sometimes clearly identifying hate speech can help the person using it to hear what it sounds like from the outside. For example, “Are you saying that all Roma are thieves?” or “by talking like this, you give the impression that all people from this ethnic group are bad. Is that really what you mean?” It is important to name the inappropriate behavior and not to denigrate the person who is behaving inappropriately. Calling someone racist, homophobic or sexist won’t open up a dialogue – it’s likely to just deepen the disagreement.

Share real stories about how offensive and hateful language works. Real persons’ stories are often more inspiring and explanatory than any theoretical musings. If you have or have seen real examples of this in your environment, share how it hurts, humiliates and negatively affects people.

Don’t laugh at offensive jokes and anecdotes. The easiest way to show that a joke isn’t funny is not to laugh at it. If you have the opportunity and feel that the language will be degrading and humiliating, stop the joke before the speaker reaches the climax.

Don’t say anything. A questioning look or expression can sometimes be stronger than a comment. Especially in situations where you feel uncomfortable answering directly (e.g. during a work meeting). This way, you can express your disagreement without creating a dangerous confrontation.

Speak clearly. If you decide to address a problem, do so directly and concretely. For example, “your statement is hateful and offensive” or “I think it’s wrong to talk about people in such a stereotypical way”. When speaking, target personal values.

Have phrases/responses ready in advance. You can prepare phrases, quotes, infographics, images or other creative responses to hate in advance. When you see relevant explanations, phrases or quotes on the internet, you can save them and use them in your conversations or comments. Always communicate respectfully – do not insult your interlocutors.

Speak positively. Often a positive message is far more effective than trying to refute someone’s offensive statement. Therefore, if you hear or read a hateful comment, you could say something positive about the same group being humiliated. For example, “I’m sorry that your opinion/experience is so negative. I know someone from the social group you mentioned who is very friendly, understanding…”

Withdraw from the situation. If these tips don’t work for you, you can always withdraw from the situation and stay out of the debate. Try to identify how you feel and why you don’t want to continue the conversation. For example, “I’m sorry you feel this way, but if you continue to speak in an insulting and belittling way, I’ll go home.”

Based on:

  • Six Ways to Call Out Racism and Bigotry When You See It.  In Amnesty.org.au.
  • Bates L. Everyday Sexism, Simon & Shuster UK Ltd, 2014.
  • Bates L. Girl Up, Simon & Shuster UK Ltd, 2016.
  • Six Steps to Speak Up. In Learningforjustice.org.
  • How to Respond to a Racist Comment. In Reader‘s Digest.