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There is no cut and dried way to respond an inappropriate joke or a slur, but do keep some things in mind. Someone who believes that racist, sexist, heterosexist language is ok will not likely change their beliefs because YOU said something to them, but letting them know that you find their remark or joke unacceptable is great first step in letting them know that you do not agree.
Interrupting racist jokes and slurs is especially difficult if you are not member of the group who was slurred, though there is NO HONOR in stereotyping or speaking badly about groups just because they are not in the room. Being an ally is often about being willing to speak up for what is right rather than allowing others to believe that racist, sexist, and heterosexist sentiments are condoned and valued.
The process of education is hindered when not all groups are respected and valued. Without safeguards for effective communication, learning is prohibited and personal growth is impossible.
What NOT to do:
Yell. Of course personal feelings are always at stake when a friend or highly regarded peer says something that you might find is WAY off the mark and rude. Keep cool. Yelling will likely just get you ignored than heard. Have you ever be in the presence of people who disagree and they argue while yelling at each other to make a point? Right! No one heard, so what's the point of yelling. Collect your thoughts and your words... then make your point calmly and articulately.
Slur right back. Conveying the point that a slur or racist/ sexist/ heterosexist remark or joke is not condoned or supported by you will not be helped if you do the same thing.
Tell someone they are WRONG. Remember, if they thought it was wrong, would they have said it in the first place? No. So this is less about right or wrong than it is about what is and is not acceptable in your presence. Interrupting bias jokes and slurs is about knowing what is right and wrong to you and letting the other person know you disagree with them. You are trying to interrupt the safety the "offender" assumes is present. Society has taken great steps in liberating many groups, the last frontier seems to be what we believe and how we all talk when we are our most comfortable.
What to DO:
Take a minute to collect your thoughts. There is no rule that says you cannot approach someone who uses distasteful language or concepts in your presence later. In fact, if you take the time to collect your thoughts, you may be better able to explain yourself in a way that is better received than an on-the-spot discussion. Being willing to address someone at a later time often conveys the point that THIS subject matter was important enough for you to think about after the fact. And of course being willing to talk about it conveys the sentiment that you are willing to discuss it without judgment. Remember this is about you defining your boundaries with a friend.
Practice. The best way to interrupt jokes and slurs in the Residence Halls and generally in your personal life is to practice a response before you actually respond. This is one of those times when talking to yourself in the mirror is a GOOD thing. There is no harm in practicing your delivery. Interrupting bias language and jokes is not an easy thing to do. And you are courageous for even thinking about it.
Let everyone involved speak for themselves. Use "I" statements rather than "you" and "we." Using "I" statements re-emphasizes your point that it is about YOUR rights, not their beliefs.
Assert your rights. We all have the right to believe in whatever we want while maintaining an environment that is safe and supportive. That line is crossed when a friend or peer feels the "liberty" to insult individuals or groups in the presence of people who do not agree with their ideas but moreover are offended because of those ideas. You have the right to tell someone that certain terms are offensive and you prefer they not be used in your presence. Often times when you confront a friend by saying "Hey I don't agree with you using stereotypes just so you can prove your point. Either be specific or leave those gross generalizations out of it."
Sync-up your intentions with your actions. Many students say that their friends use certain kinds of language, but they don't. So then WHY do so many students accept behavior they do not condone from people they call friends. Friends should mirror your values and if nothing else contribute to your personal space. Racist, sexist, and homophobic language do nothing but contribute a spirit of disrespect and hate. Challenge yourself. Be who you WANT to be and let your words and actions say it too.
If you would like more information on interrupting biased language call the Multicultural Student Affairs office!