We must educate our friends about intolerance and bigotry

We must educate our friends about intolerance and bigotry

In a time when America seems to become more divided every day, many argue that friendships and marriages and relationships between members of different political parties are possible. They’re absolutely correct - one should not reject interaction with another human being based solely on their political affiliation. What cannot coexist, however, is tolerance and hatred. 

This goes beyond just labeling all Trump supporters as hateful or ignorant and arguing that you should remove all of them from your life, an attitude which I admittedly did hold at one time. Political parties are not monoliths and it would be disingenuous to argue that every conservative is a bigot or every liberal is lazy. But when someone in your life is genuinely behaving in a way that can be labeled racist, sexist, or oppressive, you are obligated - if you believe those things are wrong - to try and educate them. 

It can be difficult to speak up and tell a friend that something they’re doing is wrong or hateful. But it’s far more difficult to live with the consequences of bigotry and to know that you allowed it to occur. If you consider yourself someone who cares about love and equal treatment, it is hypocritical to stand by as someone you have a relationship with uses slurs or treats people who are different from them poorly. If you are advocating for a change in political policy, the only effective and responsible way to accomplish that is by starting at home. 

Harley Barber didn’t exist in a bubble. That was clearly not the first time that she had used that slur, given how comfortable she felt posting it on her social media not one but two times, and later defending her behavior in a phone conversation with a friend. But the reason that  hateful behavior was able to continue is because people around her didn’t stand up for what is right. Her friends in the car who laughed along as she screamed horrible things were egging her on, and they are just as culpable because of it. They may not be racist themselves, but they were complacent bystanders in the presence of it.

Who you associate with does reflect on who you are as a person, whether that’s fair or not. You have a responsibility to speak up if you see something that’s wrong, and if someone in your life is unwilling to - at the bare minimum - treat oppressed people with dignity and respect, that’s a relationship that needs to end if you consider yourself an advocate for equality for all. 

Hate breeds hate. Standing by and allowing hateful behavior and actions is allowing that hate to spread. Politics are personal, and change starts with human interaction and a conversation between two people. But if someone is unwilling to be educated and to change, that’s a relationship that you do not need in your life. I have close relationships with many people who think differently than I do about a wide variety of topics. I do not have close relationships with people who actively engage in bigoted behavior. I think my life is better for it. 

Caroline Builta is a senior majoring in social work. Her column runs biweekly. 

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