A friend of Fred Clark’s has a constructive way of dealing with bigotry when she confronts it from a client at work:
Occasionally, those conversations take a turn that makes her uncomfortable, suddenly switching into a category we might describe as white people talking to white people when they’re sure there’s no one but white people around. She’s had clients blurt out some appalling things, hateful, ignorant, infuriating statements about African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, gays … you name it. In another context, a non-work setting, their comments would likely have prompted a sharp rebuke from my friend, likely something withering, pointed and laced with just the right amount of profanity.
But that sort of response isn’t an option in the context of her work, where she’s required to keep her cool, to be unfailingly polite, friendly and cheerful. In that context, she’s developed some various other ways of responding. One trick she sometimes uses is to talk about food.
That doesn’t apply in every case, but it works pretty well, for example, for transforming the dynamic of a conversation in which some client has expressed their fear, unease, or flat-out, bald-faced, xenophobic hate in response to the number of South Asian immigrants in our area. My friend acts as though she completely missed the unambiguous animosity of her client’s comment and begins to gush, with cheerful enthusiasm, about the many excellent Indian restaurants in the area and about her one client — lovely woman, a biochemist — who gave her a family recipe for naan bread. Have you ever had naan? I mean the real stuff not store-bought it’s delicious you have to try it I could give you that recipe if you want I’ll bring it Thursday or samosas have you ever had really good samosas?
The baffled client finds himself off-balance, peppered with a series of yes-or-no questions about the wonders of South Asian cuisine as the conversation barrels on with an aggressively cheerful momentum all pointing to the undeniable fact that any true lover of good food would be much happier living around here than in some homogenous gastronomic wasteland with no access to the glorious contributions of so many different cultures. The bewildered bigot winds up unsure exactly what just happened but agreeing that, yes, he probably does owe it to himself to try the masala at the new place off the bypass.
What I like about this trick is the way it counters without confrontation, avoiding triggering the cognitive fight-or-flight impulse that cuts off any possibility of persuasion.
Clever, and undoubtedly effective. Useful technique to keep in mind.
(And yes, it’s getting to the point where you might just as well follow Clark’s excellent blog, if you’re not doing that already.)