Dear Carolyn: Two friends have recently expressed bigoted views, and I have been left devastated and confused. These people have been truly great and supportive friends, and we’ve been through a lot when it comes to raising our kids.
But their newly stated views go against my core values. At the very center of who I am is a rejection of the type of divisive, negative stereotypes they clearly believe in. I expressed my own views to them, and we had a spirited, difficult discussion. They’re OK with the result, but I’m left feeling like a hypocrite: If I agree to disagree and continue the same level of friendship, I’m being friendly with people whose opinions hurt so many and go against the core of who I am and want to be.
But if I cool the friendship, am I being just as intolerant, because I’m setting aside all the good they do and have done? How do I decide whether to stay or walk away?
It’s not “new colors,” it’s “true colors.”
And let’s get this out of the way upfront: Tolerance is about accepting as valid views that differ from yours. Bigotry is not valid. We do not have the moral luxury of practicing it, defending it, condoning it, normalizing it, or treating it as the aw-gee-bummer downside of a friend who is otherwise! so! great!
That has always been true; some of us merely got busted recently for our complacency in thinking this was a near-universal value, so thank you for bringing your issue up now.
And because I’m seeing your letter today as opposed to, say, a year ago, here is my answer: Still torn? Then engage. Do not drop these friends.
If anyone drops anyone, let them drop you for being their loving, gracious, kind, calm, patient, relentless and absolutely fierce reminder that treating one variety of person as better or worse than others by accident of birth is morally indefensible.
“That’s a stereotype, and unfair.”
“I find that offensive.”
“These are human beings you’re talking about.”
“Would you say that to a (demographic adjective here) person’s face?”
“You just put hundreds/thousands/millions of people in one box.”
“We’re all individuals, not spokespeople for our color/gender/faith/place of birth/ancestry/politics/education level.”
“Isn’t putting people down just a way of praising ourselves?”
“How would you feel if someone said that about you?”
Have your resistance ready and do not flinch — or flare — when it’s time to use it.
If you find you just don’t like these friends anymore then, OK, be done. But as long as you’re torn enough to sustain some interest in remaining friends, then let them — again, kindly, gently, lovingly — be the ones to choose to stop seeing you because you won’t confirm their biases. Let them actively opt out, if that’s their priority; let them live with that. Your dropping them is their easy way out.
Consider not limiting your efforts to these friends. This isn’t to say your commitment to equality is lacking — for all I know you’re an exemplary walker of the walk. If some self-examination reveals that you aren’t, however, then this crisis with your friends can be a useful pants-kick toward broader, deeper action in service of what you believe.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.