Dining With Bigots (Part 2 of 2)

19 02 2012

This post is a continuation of Dining With Bigots (Part 1 of 2).

I manage to get out of that home and away from the conversation, and I begin this internal conversation:

Is it acceptable to be friends or even casual acquaintances with people who espouse bigoted beliefs, or values that I find objectionable?  This man would not be a natural friend, but when someone invites you into their home for dinner and these comments only start coming out afterward – what do you say?

What To Do In An Awkward Situation... (Not my photo)

What To Do In An Awkward Situation...

Can people’s other redeeming qualities ever outweigh a single bigoted belief?  And to what extent should you try exposing people to another perspective as opposed to conceding that some people just will not change?  Further, do I try to put myself out there as an advocate?

When Yair and I were in San Francisco, we attended an author talk and book reading of “Keep Your Wives Away From Them: Orthodox Women, Unorthodox Desires”.  During the talk, the author mentioned that earlier in life she worked at an Orthodox synagogue in Berkeley.  As an Orthodox Jewish lesbian, she didn’t know for years if there was anyone in the Jewish community who she could confide in.  It was tormenting and she explained that even a small symbol like a rainbow flag in someone’s house or office would have created a safe space and been a sign for her.

A Good Read, Though I Wish The Author Herself Had Done More of the Writing

A Good Read, Though I Wish The Author Herself Had Done More of the Writing In The Anthology

Reflecting on her comments, do I put a rainbow sticker somewhere on or in the RV, subtly creating a safe space as we make our way through very Christian areas?  Or does that welcome unwanted attention, hostility and other potentially dangerous unpleasantries depending on where we travel?

We don’t have an Israeli flag flying on the outside of our RV – should this be different?  But gay and lesbian people are 3 to 7 times more likely to commit suicide (depending on the study) and what if a simple sticker or show of support could actually help someone?

Would Putting An Equality Sticker Like This Inside The RV Make Any Difference?

Would Putting An Equality Sticker Like This Inside The RV Make Any Difference?

Since I’m on this topic, I would never do a Faces program for an audience that hates black people and minorities.  So should I also not consider speaking and presenting Faces of Israel at evangelical institutions and for Christian groups that are very interested in Israel but are outspokenly anti-gay?

I imagine that we will have more of these situations as we begin to explore Texas and the south over the coming months.  I have more thinking to do on all of this.

Where do you guys weigh in?

posted by ayo

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26 responses

19 02 2012
Brenda A.

Outside of family I could not willingly spend time with someone that bigoted. Naturally there are situations one has no choice about (and are challenging to handle). But given the choice? Why would I (or anyone) be willing to put up with that socially? And there’s more. It’s not even just the fact that this person is a bigot. This person is also a bully. Trying to force your beliefs upon someone who is clearly not interested amounts to bullying in my opinion. It’s all just a big bag of extremely negative energy I don’t need in my life.

21 02 2012
ayo

Agreed. However, it’s tempting to only surround myself with like-minded folks and “positive energy”, but if I never interacted with others unlike myself, I think I would be stunting my growth and leaving my own thoughts unchallenged, which isn’t so healthy either.

I hear you though and – for the most part – I agree with you.

22 02 2012
Brenda A.

Oh I interact with others unlike myself all the time! It’s a given with coworkers and clients. And those experiences do indeed help me to grow . However, it is also particularly draining to a natural introvert like myself.

And frankly at this stage in my life I no longer feel compelled to change everyone else (oh boy did I ever used to!). That’s their job. To change themselves. No one else changed me when I needed changing. I had to want it. It had to make sense to me. I had to be ready, to be open. The whole “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” thing. It can’t be forced. If the universe wants me to be a “teacher” it will work out that way. No need for me to go looking for it. I’m pretty Zen in this regard.

Now you are indeed a teacher. It’s your role at this time. Make the most of it girl! 🙂

19 02 2012
sharontb

Hi Ayo,
Thanks for writing about this. I have run into a similar situation and have asked a lot of the same questions. I really believe that it is valuable to respect different opinions and to give everyone the opportunity to explain how they come to their beliefs. If someone has beliefs that I find offensive or bigoted, I try to reserve judgment until I can ask some inquiring questions and learn more about how and why they believe what they believe. Sometimes someone is just parroting bigoted comments that they have heard from family or friends. When you try to learn more, it turns out they haven’t really thought about the assumptions that underlie those beliefs or how they may conflict with values that they espouse. They won’t necessarily change a belief right then and there but at least I can understand their character better and determine whether I want to continue the relationship. It is very difficult to take an inquisitive and curious approach when your initial reaction is disgust or anger, but if you can, you have a chance to learn a lot more about how that person thinks and whether or not you should continue to get to know them.

~Sharon

21 02 2012
ayo

I like your perspective. The “why” behind the “what” provides insight worth attaining. Thanks for sharing, Sharon.

20 02 2012
Sharona Guggenheim

Bigotry and narrow-minded tolerances of anything even mildly out of the norm make my insides turn. People who fit the bill don’t typically end up being friends of mine, and certainly not close friends, but I’m of the opinion that speaking your mind may not appear to have any effect, but that most people do have a residual processing effect of information that is shared, and even if something you say immediately register, it may at some point in the future. That said, there’s a limit to how much arguing with someone who’s extremely set in their beliefs will accomplish, outside of making you feel frustrated and unvalidated. I love the idea of putting up the rainbow sticker somewhere on the RV, but I see your point too about how traveling with it may not be safe. GLBT issues have long been near and dear to my heart, and especially in the last 5 or 6 years since my brother came out.

21 02 2012
ayo

A residual processing effect, ey? I like the sound of that. I think that some people can’t open themselves up to conflicting viewpoints on the spot because it makes them too vulnerable, but perhaps it does eventually sink in in some way.

20 02 2012
libertatemamo

You won’t ever be able to screen your entire audience before a presentation, but you can certainly check if the organization you’re presenting to has strong, offensive views, and then make a personal choice based on that. So, it’s something you can *somewhat* control, but never fully.

As to meeting folks…if I come across something or somebody that offends me strongly I’ll simply leave and not return there. These days I prefer to cultivate things and people that make each other happy, rather than fight those that are hateful. When I was younger I would fight…but I’m all about cultivating happiness these days (just a personal choice).

There’s no right answer…

Nina

21 02 2012
ayo

Let’s cultivate personal happiness in Austin this spring. Come visit! 🙂

21 02 2012
Lisa

When I was in 5th grade and the boys were just beginning to notice the girls, a boy in my class decided he was in love with me. Trying to impress me, he told me, “I hate [N-word]s, Catholics, Jews. (Yes, this was in Texas many years ago.) Well, since I was Jewish, I was taken aback, but only for a moment. I promptly replied, “I’m Jewish!” The point is, when we have the opportunity to dialogue with those who hold prejudices against others, we have an opportunity to make them reconsider their prejudice. I don’t advocate engaging in heated argument but I do think its important to openly condemn bigotry (no matter who that bigotry is against, whether it’s your dinner host’s bigotry towards Muslims or a liberal espousing bigotry towards, say rednecks) because bigotry always has the potential to manifest evil. I always hoped that my conversation with that 5th grade boy had an impact on him and made him rethink the bigotry he had obviously learned from his parents. So too, if you have a civil and intelligent conversation with a bigot, even if it’s brief, you might not change his or her mind, but you might have an impact down the line. So my take is I don’t think you should avoid the bigots, that is a variation of the old saying that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for the good to do nothing…..And just one more thing: In particular, I think you could have a substantial impact on those who have preconceived notions about Muslims a la your dinner host – you have lots of cred there. (Sorry for the long post but the topic is interesting.)

21 02 2012
ayo

Interesting indeed. Thanks for sharing and I love the story about the 5th grader… You should look him up on facebook and see how he turned out! 🙂

21 02 2012
Cathy

This fellow sounds like a classic “Archie Bunker” . I remember good advice I received once and it rings so true, “Never argue with a Philistine”…on whatever side of the aisle…I am a Republican and a Christian working in the public library among a vast majority of very liberal employee population.One of my co-workers was a very out-spoken lesbian. Jennifer and I worked well together, we were comfortable around each other and she and her partner….along with the rest of the library staff had been to my home for Christmas parties and such….anyway, for some reason I made a comment mentioning I was a republican and she acted so absolutely shocked and horrified….in fact, I thought she was kidding, but no, she was apalled! We had worked together for over 3 years at that time….then I informed her I was also a Southern Baptist….well, that left her speechless…she had always assumed the opposite because I had not acted in the way she thought people like me acted! Later, she appologized and said she had learned a valuable lesson. I had also learned that bigots are not just conservative Southern Baptists. As you head into Texas please give those folks a chance, there are good people everywhere….even Texas 😉 Oh, and I am from Missouri….

21 02 2012
ayo

Thanks for sharing your story, Cathy. Judging others unfavorably is an action that can be applied in both directions and you remind us well not to pigeon-hole people. We need more good folk like you. 🙂

21 02 2012
Lainie

Sorry to read about your dinner encounter. In any case, your host had an obligation as a host to make you feel comfortable in his home and should have toned down his rhetoric when he saw your discomfort.

21 02 2012
Marco

The way I see it, if you make it a criteria that people you spend time with don’t have any bigoted views, I don’t think you’ll find enough people to fill a minyan.

And that’s not just in Texas – really anywhere. Most people hold some kind of bigoted or unpleasant belief even if they don’t wear it on their sleeve.

21 02 2012
Martin S.

Did you stay for dessert? 🙂 (These sort of people totally give religious people a bad name, btw.)

21 02 2012
David T.

**hugs tight**

21 02 2012
Larry Bach

Yikes! Perhaps a follow-up post on “dessert wines with cool people” would cheer you up 😉

21 02 2012
BMK

I think that this experience highlights the specialness of who you are and what you choose to focus on, namely, the beauty of variety, tolerance and endless life experience. The contrast provided by some of the people you encountered is a powerful impetus to keep choosing peace, coexistence and seeing the wonderfulness in all groups of people. We can’t really change what other people think and feel but I am sure that if you stay true to who you are and enjoy your perspective, it will for sure rub off on others in some way. Ironically, spending time with a bigot is the ultimate test of tolerance. 😛

21 02 2012
KayakDov

Ingratitude. Amy, I think you should be a little more thankful that this fellow was taking the time to try to save your soul and his vision of God’s glorious America. The Amazing thing about being wrong, is how much it feels like being right.
Was the food any good at least?

21 02 2012
Salmah Y.R.

thanks for standing up for my people and the glbts and for always being a bastion for diversity. i’m blessed to have you as a friend, girl. you and yair are in my prayers and i hope we can get together when i’m back in the states. xoxo

21 02 2012
Naomi H.

Really interesting post.

27 02 2012
Mike

“Or does that welcome unwanted attention, hostility and other potentially dangerous unpleasantries depending on where we travel?”

So what if it does? Living honestly requires bravery.

Whenever I wonder if I should speak up about gay rights issues, or just keep my mouth shut and let it go, I think of Frank Kameny picketing the white house for gay rights in 1961, and am shamed at my cowardice. So put up a sticker on behalf of all the same sex RV-ing couples who have to wonder about their own safety sometimes, not because of a sticker, but because of who they’ve chosen to share their RV with.

2 08 2012
ayo

Your words are strong and fair, but then where do you draw your line? At what point do you put your own safety – not comfort, but safety – before others?

28 02 2012
tiffany

great post ayo, i have wondered the same things when encountering people who hold strong prejudices, great dialogue.. t.

2 08 2012
ayo

Thanks, Tiff!

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