There are three things that my mom tells me whenever my extended family members come to town:
- Don’t bring up politics.
- If they bring it up, ignore them.
- You can’t change their minds, so don’t bother arguing.
I get where she’s coming from. Family events and dinners are hard enough with that simmering layer of political tension that makes the main course a little less appetizing. I understand that, but there’s a distinct difference between ignoring a comment here and there and letting someone get away with saying things that are blatantly wrong.
Last year I took an Islamic Middle East course for one of my history credits. I was so excited to learn about a new culture and read excerpts from the Quran until someone close to me asked: “So are you going to learn about why their religion says it’s okay for them to hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings?”
Obviously, everything about what they said was wrong, hateful and ignorant. The person wasn’t saying this because they were an expert or knew anything about the Islamic faith, but rather they were perpetuating stereotypes and things that they had heard. Was I supposed to do as my mother suggested and ignore them for the sake of not starting an argument? Something about that didn’t feel right.
Letting comments like that slide doesn’t just avoid confrontation. It normalizes what’s being said and makes it seem okay.
The person that told me that is someone that I know to be incredibly smart and kind, but that shouldn’t excuse the fact that what they said was hurtful to the Muslim population in the United States and to the millions overseas who have to live with the consequences of the actions of a few individuals.
It’s really hard to take a stand when someone makes a racist remark or a sexist joke and it’s even harder when that person is a member of your family. While you don’t need to come with a five-page essay, supporting arguments, and a thesis statement worthy of a 400-level English course, you do need to let them know why they said is offensive.
I struggled for a long time about whether or not I, as a white, upper-middle class female with privilege was able to speak up to people I knew who were spreading that kind of hate. After all, I have never experienced any sort of religious or racial bias against me. But I have been in the room when boys I know have made comments about women’s bodies under their breath or joked about how drunk they would have to get the girl to get lucky that night. I thought about how many times I’ve listened to rhetoric like that, terrified to stand up for myself in fear of being targeted, and wished that someone those men would listen to would just say something.
Maybe a specific group that you associate with isn’t being targeted, but we all have a responsibility as American citizens to stand up for those who can’t speak for themselves. It’s not about who’s president. It’s not about if you are a democrat or a republican. It’s about being a decent enough person to offer a helping hand to your neighbor. We’re all humans first and political parties second.
Isn’t that what being an American is all about?