Saturday, November 28, 2009


In the earlier part of my life, I often heard racial slurs and comments delivered freely and openly. This always struck me as exceedingly strange, as I was raised in a home where racial prejudice was not tolerated. My mother always took a very strong stance against bigotry; if she heard a racial joke or comment, she felt compelled to voice her displeasure with the speaker. She was not very diplomatic about it either, since she seemed to take such comments as a personal affront. This made her unpopular with some, but she didn't care. She stood up for her beliefs.

I always admired my mom's strong stance, but I didn't feel the same need to speak out. While I always found racial jokes and comments to be distasteful, I felt that speaking out against them would be to no avail. It always seemed to me that it would be impossible to change someone else's lifelong prejudices simply by letting them know that I disagreed with them. I've often wondered if that was really true, or if I might actually have been able to change someone's mind if I were not so eager to avoid confrontation.

I was recently reminded of this dilemma in an entirely different context. This time, the issue was gay rights. I found myself in a social setting where people were freely disparaging and joking about gays and lesbians. Although I found the comments to be very distasteful, I ignored them. Once again, I reasoned that voicing my disagreement would accomplish nothing other than alienating the speaker.

Is this true? Should we speak out in such a situation, or ignore what we perceive to be objectionable? It is a difficult issue.

I find myself questioning the wisdom of my decision to stay silent. Is it possible, just possible, that by registering my disagreement in a civil way I might change someone else's mind? Or would they only become more firmly entrenched in their bigotry, and resent me for speaking out? I really don't know. But I'm thinking that the next time this happens I may feel better about myself if I say something rather than remaining silent. I know that's what my mom would have done.