How Should We Talk About Intolerance? 

How should we discuss injustice and intolerance so that our audience isn’t uncomfortable, guilt-stricken or attacked?

Simple. Well maybe not. 

Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to have honest, behaviour changing conversations without these feelings. I do think there are ways of calling out racist, xenophobic, intolerant behaviours in a way that is respectful, but I also believe that ego plays a huge role in the way in which messages for change are absorbed. 

The natural response is to feel “wrong” and “like a terrible person” but know that these conversations go beyond you. What I mean is this isn’t a conversation condemning you, but rather one condemning what you’ve been taught. The conversation itself is a way of getting you out of a pattern of micro-aggressive behaviour. 

It is never meant for you to feel attacked when I tell you that petting me is unacceptable; it’s meant for you to learn and change those actions. 

Though, I’ve learned that intention is very different from impact and they sometimes have no correlation– that said, it’s important that you go through those emotions– guilt, rage and discomfort because they are perhaps what it takes to change.  It’s also important to know that how you feel matters, but the change you make and the messages shared to promote safe spaces for your friends and colleagues matters more.

3 Steps to Consider During this Difficult Conversation:

1. What is your gut telling you?

Is your gut telling you to feel uncomfortable because the advice given is wrong or because the advice is right? Do you feel enraged or defensive? Uncomfortable and embarrassed? Chances are if you are uncomfortable there is something to be learned. 

2. Who are you having this conversation with? 

Is it someone who cares about your wellbeing and the wellbeing of others?

Are they speaking from experience that is personal or as a bystander of this form of intolerance? 

And of course, do you share the same values? Do they value safe spaces? Do you? 

3. Let that conversation bake a bit. 

Maybe you’re feeling annoyed and defensive and that’s fine, but before you go on a massive Twitter or Facebook rant about how you are the most respectful, tolerant-person out there and how dare they– let that advice settle. Consider both views and cool down. The questions listed above will help you to decide where this advice comes from. 

See MTV’s Decoded comment section for what not to do. 

So yes, go through those waves of guilt, discomfort and anger if they come. But know that the intention was to educate you and promote a safe space, and the impact however was under your control: you can choose to take this personally as an attack on your character or you can take it as a confession from the other party. 

Macro and micro-aggressions bring with them feelings of inferiority, discomfort, betrayal and so many other emotions; to recognize what you’re inflicting is to be given a second chance and only those who care for you want you to be better. 

Sometimes important chats are uncomfortable and they make you angry, but know that what’s at the heart of that conversation is what matters. Conversations around race, privilege, xenophobia, homophobia, etc will be uncomfortable and they will need extra time to be absorbed. Feelings of defensiveness and anger will follow and so be it for safe spaces. 

How should we talk about intolerance? We should talk about it openly and honestly. Perhaps better word choice is needed in these conversations before you could realize that the intention was to educate and promote growth. 

Remember these conversations are meant to say: “I care about you and want you to know that this behaviour isn’t appropriate or right.” It isn’t to say, “You’re an asshole,” but if you feel like one chances are you care and you’ve learned something. 

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