Posted by: Ophelia | July 10, 2010

Only petty people are bothered by casual prejudice

I was checking out Slate’s Dear Prudence this week and saw this truly out of touch answer.

Dear Prudence,
I am a proud gay man and for the last several years have worked in a high-ranking position for a company where my homosexuality has never been an issue. Recently, while a group of us were having lunch, the topic of two straight female celebrities kissing on an awards show came up. Everyone agreed that the kiss was a stunt, but one co-worker, with whom I’ve always been close, called it “trash.” She ranted about how it was indecent and that children were watching. It made me very uncomfortable that she displayed a hateful side I’d never seen before. She later apologized, saying that her comments were in no way directed to me. I accepted her apology, but I’m still very bothered by it because there was a tone of disgust toward gay people. I’ve changed around her and no longer talk to her about my personal life. She’s noticed and keeps asking me whether I’m still upset about that conversation. I say no, even though I am. I have great memories of the fun times we shared as friends, and I don’t want to bring this up because it could have an impact on our professional relationship. How do I tell her how I feel and finally put this behind me?

—Out

Dear Out,
When Joseph Biden declared his candidacy for the presidency, he evaluated his opponent, Barack Obama, by calling him “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” It was the kind of compliment that required an apology for its racism, yet presidential nominee Obama selected Biden to be his running mate. Which means you should let go of an ill-considered remark by someone you know to be a decent, nonhomophobic person. It’s possible your colleague’s ire was more about the slobbery, in-your-face nature of the kiss than a commentary on homosexuality. Surely, how she treats you is more indicative of her true feelings than her reaction to celebrities being deliberately provocative. It’s a mark of how comfortable she is with you that she could express her unfiltered opinion (which she won’t do again). When she saw you were upset and realized she may have been out of line, she apologized. It’s churlish and even mean-spirited on your part to accept her apology, yet behave in an obviously cool fashion. There’s nothing to be gained by re-airing the whole episode. I think you should tell her that she’s right—you’ve been letting the lunch incident eat at you, but you’re over it now, and you look forward to resuming your close relationship.

—Prudie

(emphasis mine)

You’ll note that Prudie immediately begins seeking to excuse the co-workers comments. You’ll also note that the original letter indicates that the co-worker stated that her comments weren’t directed at the writer, not that they weren’t intended to be homophobic. But clearly the writer is the smaller person for failing to regain his previous comfort with someone they now know/suspect to be disgusted by homosexuals. Really? We’re relying on Obama’s (highly strategic) move regarding Joe Biden’s articulate and clean comments to set the standard for regular social interactions?  Perhaps the writer doesn’t want there to be another incident where the co-worker expresses her “unfiltered opinion”. Frankly I think it’s mean spirited and naive to believe that things should go back to the way they were just because you apologized for your homophobic remark (or at least said “I didn’t mean you”). Moreover, apologies (if that counts as an apology) don’t mean that the person forgets what was said. Maybe it’s me but it sounds like Prudie thinks that people are entitled to say whatever they want and those who are injured by it shouldn’t be so uppity about accepting apologies and letting bygones be bygones. Maybe Prudie doesn’t realize that once you’re on notice that someone is disgusted by your existence, it’s hard to muster up any excitement for going out to a movie with them.

I also have difficulty believing that if the situation was the same but without the homophobia that Prudie would give the same advice. She’d probably say that maybe you shouldn’t bring up the reason for the end of the relationship but that you aren’t obligated to be someone’s friend because you work together.

Frankly I’d recommend a trip to HR if this lady won’t stop pestering you about why you don’t want to be best friends forever anymore.


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