Opinion

How to react when you offend someone

aziz

Oops! You’ve said or done something offensive and someone has called you out on it. They’ve labelled you a homophobe, a racist or a misogynist*.

Perhaps it was because you didn’t understand the “big deal about black face”, you said “that’s gay” about something you dislike, or you told a girl to smile, because she looks prettier when she does… and they call you a racist/homophobe/misogynist.

You’re feeling riled up, upset and hurt that they’d call you such words: you didn’t say anything that bad! You have friends who aren’t white! You love your gay friends! You have a girlfriend! How dare they use such words to describe you?!If you are in a position of privilege, whether it be your white skin, your cis

If you are in a position of privilege, whether it be your white skin, your cis genderness, your heterosexuality or your maleness (among many other things), you benefit from a system that oppresses those that don’t fit that mould and even without meaning to, you can contribute to that systematic oppression.

Quick example: I’m a white woman. I regularly find myself objectified by men, but I’m not going to be racially profiled at the airport or while browsing a shop.

Back to you, you’re upset and on the defense: you are NOT sexist/racist/homophobic!!! How dare this person suggest that you are? It was just a joke, geez can’t people lighten up?! OMG it’s not racist to wear a bindi/want dreadlocks/paint your face black! They’re the REAL racist here, pointing out your racism! Why are jokes about white people not racist but jokes about Aborigines are? How is that fair?!

Yes, we’re all guilty of saying these things, because we think we are better than that, because we are fighting so hard to not be offensive… (Although, some people literally love playing devil’s advocate, these people are most often white men because unlike the rest of us, white men can easily ignore oppression because it isn’t part of their daily existence).

Now think for a second: if you’re offended by the label racist/homophobe/misogynist, imagine how hurt and upset the person whose very existence is defined by these constant microaggressions and harmful stereotypes?

Anyone who sits at any intersection of marginalisation has to deal not only with systematic oppression (primarily lack of opportunity and representation) can quickly become tired of harmful jokes and words.

Some examples:

Women are tired of fighting for the right to walk down the street safely and earn the intellectual respect from their male co-workers, having to constantly deflect jokes about their bodies or having their anger or frustration dismissed as ‘just PMS so it can be ignored’, no matter what time of the month it is.

Indigenous people are tired of being called ‘drunk hobos who leach off the system’ and being watched intently when they are just trying to buy a load of bread.

Middle Eastern people are tired of having to explain to people that no, they don’t support ISIS and they aren’t terrorists and that wearing a hijab does not make them feel oppressed.

LGBTQI people are tired of terms like “that’s so gay”, being asked “which one is the man in the relationship?” and having to fight for basic rights the rest of us take for granted…

Your being offended doesn’t seem so important now, does it? So what can you do to fix the situation?

Apologise

Proper apologies go a long way. Do not, under any circumstances, say “I’m sorry you’re offended” or “I’m sorry that you find this offensive” – these aren’t actual apologies, but pass the blame back onto the offended person. Instead, tell them you’re sorry you were offensive and will learn from this to improve yourself and call out others in the future.

Ask them if they mind telling you which part was particularly harmful

If you’re honestly unsure which part of what you said was offensive, ask gently which part was offensive so that you can go away and learn why. Don’t ask them to tell you why it is offensive – they MAY offer to tell you, but they don’t owe you that.

Don’t tell them that your other friends don’t get offended

If one gay man is ok with being called a fag, it doesn’t mean they all are. It’s important to consider that the wider gay community will find the term offensive. If your friend is ok with the term, perhaps keep it for private conversations.

Research why what you said was harmful

Actually commit to learning. If you’re still unsure and can’t find a resource to explain it clearly, submit it to us as a question and we’ll answer it in an article for you!

Make a commitment to not partake in that harmful act again

No one is perfect but we can all work towards being better people. Making a commitment to improving is a great first step in the right direction.

Call other people out on their shitty behaviour

This can be hard, and we recommend doing it cautiously when you’re in a situation where you might not know how the other person will react (we always advocate avoiding physical altercations), but every time someone calls someone else out for their shitty behaviour, the world gets a little brighter.

*We’ve stuck to these three major categories, but please apply them equally to ableism, transphobia and general bigotry.

Image Credit: Master of None/Netflix

About the author

Georgia Leaker

Georgia is the Editor in Chief at F is for Feminism. She is a part time writer, part time pastry chef and full time feminist, having been born on the most important day of all: International Women's Day.
She has a penchant for Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Harry Potter, anything glittery and every musical ever. She hates shoes, preferring to spend her hard earned dollars on novelty socks...

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