Posted by: Ophelia | July 22, 2008

What to do

If you discovered suddenly that a friend was a racist/sexist/homophobe/ableist/ageist/xenophobe/classist/intolerant towards other religions, what would you do? I offer a friend in this example since it isn’t always an option to cut ties with an intolerant family member. Further, the prejudice that the friend maintains doesn’t apply in any way to you. Should you try to teach them? Do you cut ties?

I’m asking because the advice dispensed at Salon about the matter levied a heavy dose of relativism insisting that prejudicial beliefs were once correct and sometimes it is difficult for people to learn the new correct beliefs–this is in reference to the friend in question’s age.

Can you love someone who is deeply flawed? Do you have the courage to do that? Can your love be tinged with disapproval and still be love? Can you heatedly dispute on matters of social beliefs and still remain friends? I hope so. I hope you can do that. I also hope you can find persuasive materials to show that the beliefs of your friend are groundless and pernicious, for that is today’s correct belief, and it is the one true belief, and it is the belief that everyone should have. (Since You Asked)

When confronted with a situation in which a young woman espouses racist beliefs, Tennis asks the boyfriend to consider the genesis of the ideas and try to work through the issu.

You may have an uphill battle. Say you explore all these issues with her, and you come to understand the genesis of them, but you find she actually has great enthusiasm for these ideas and doesn’t want to let them go. At that point, I think you and I would agree, you have to let her go. (Since You Asked)

In my experience, sometimes people hold onto beliefs that they’ve been indoctrinated with and they don’t really deeply believe in them–it’s just what they know. So I can’t say outright that I would immediately cut all ties. However, I have found that I have trouble making and maintaining connections with people who are prejudiced, especially if they don’t want to hear alternative opinions.

How about the rest of you? What’s tolerable? What’s completely intolerable?



  1. I attempt to engage with a person for a time and see if their attitudes can be swayed if it seems that they are totally married to the idea that “isms” that construct people as less than is correct I disengage and end the relationship. I believe we always have to leave the option open for people to change however it becomes apparent that they are unwilling to even consider the idea that the world as they perceive it is incorrect to maintain that relationship is to hurt yourself. At some point self preservation needs to kick in.

  2. My dad is really bullheaded on his opinions when it comes to politics or things of that nature. He thinks Bush is a great president (and he’s Canadian. Go figure), and he can’t conceive of an American president that would do something that wasn’t for the best of his country. There are only a few times I’ve gotten him to admit that he could be wrong, but still.

    He’s not a bad person, just a little unwilling to see the failings of some people in society.

  3. I’ve got a friend that I’ve known since childhood and only in the past couple of years have we begun to notice serious differences in our opinions. Heated debates arise out of the most innocent conversations and I can’t help but feel that she’s being so unreasonable that she must be trying to hurt me. It’s obvious where it comes from – her family. And I don’t see much of a way of changing her at that level of indoctrination. I’ve gotten through to her in small ways through the use of… LOGIC. But she always reverts to the same old way of thinking.

    We’ve been friends so long there’s no way I could ever sever ties with her- as is the case in family conflicts, so it seems apparent to me that there really is nothing to do but keep on arguing, and keep on trying to change each other.

  4. Wow – this is a good question, but one without a simple answer. I think I work on a case-by-case basis… Friend who is awesome except for holding some gender-essentialist ideas that make her say some sexist things and make some decisions I find bizarre from time to time: keep, but argue. Tons of atheist friends who make sweeping generalizations about anyone with faith: keep, but argue. Acquaintance who tells me she ‘doesn’t like black people’ (and when I say “Bullshit! You flirt with R. all day, and, in case you hadn’t noticed, he’s black!” responds “Oh, he’s not black – he’s going to med school!”): tell her she’s racist and then drop her like a hot brick.

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