By Joan Allison
I’m about to attend the wedding of my good friend’s daughter and will be part of the celebrations outside of the church ceremony itself. One of the groomsmen is known to tell racist and xenophobic jokes, including ‘jokes’ about people of color, LGBT folks, and even Jews and gas chambers! This is not acceptable to me.
Normally, I would just tell the ‘joke’ teller directly that I didn’t think the “joke” was funny, but I don’t want to cause a disturbance during this event. Do you think that expressing my feelings during what should be a celebration is the way to go? Or should I bite my tongue and say nothing?
Tongue-tied in Tennessee
Dear Tongue Tied,
Why, oh why do people spew such hateful garbage — especially at a wedding? This is a prime example of bully behavior. A weak individual tries to make others seem ‘less than’ when, in fact, it is he who is afraid of being perceived as weak. Let’s break this down a little so that everyone can enjoy the day.
￼￼It’s hard to know what his motivation is, but I would suspect that, like all bullies, he has insecurities that he doesn’t want people to see. Know that you won’t be able to change this young man’s biased behavior over the course of a few hours. You can, however, limit his ability to affect you.
This is a huge event for the bride, and this joker has a part to play in making the event special. In this case, I think it is a perfectly reasonable choice to simply turn and walk away from any so-called ‘jokes’ he tries to make, without saying a word. This is called shunning, and it can be a powerful way to make a non-confrontational statement and respond to this ignorant behavior.
If shunning doesn’t feel right to you, and you just have to say something, it might be a good time to play the fool. After he tells his “joke,” politely interrupt the laughter and ask him to explain why the offensive content is funny. “Excuse me, I don’t understand why it is funny that the man in the joke is gay?” “Sorry to interrupt, but could you please explain why it is funny that the woman in the joke is Jewish?” If you can deliver it without letting anger into your voice, you will rob his joke-telling of its power without ever being anything but polite.
Either way, relax and enjoy the celebration. It’s OK to take a break from standing up to hate speech. Perhaps you can double your fight after the weekend is over!!
To check out other ideas on this topic, check out the Southern Poverty Law Center’s discussion at splcenter.org/20150125/speak-responding-everyday- bigotry#family.
To submit your own question, email Allie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Focus reserves the right to edit letters for length and clarity.