Dear Miriam | How Do You Deal With a Bigoted Acquaintance?

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Dear Miriam,

I just found out that a friend of a friend holds some bigoted beliefs that I find extremely problematic. Our paths occasionally cross through these friends. Now that I know about her viewpoints, what’s the best way to handle these interactions?
Avoiding Prejudice
Dear Avoiding,
Before I answer your question, we need a few guiding principles: 1) Bigotry is awful and cannot be excused. 2) You never need a reason not to spend time with someone who makes you uncomfortable. 3) I’m going to assume that you are absolutely, positively sure of this person’s unacceptable beliefs because you were present when something bigoted came out of her mouth, or you saw a comment in writing by her hand/keyboard, and not because of a possibly thirdhand interpretation of something that someone thinks they heard.
Given all that, I would encourage you to please avoid this person. Don’t engage with her, don’t accept invitations to places where you know she’ll be unavoidable and don’t consider her part of your social circle. If these intermediate friends want to know what’s up, tell them that you find her prejudice an absolute barrier to socializing with her. While they don’t need to come to the same conclusion as you, I hope they’ll respect the line you’re drawing.
If you’re not able to excise her from your life, be prepared to speak up if her racism or homophobia or classism or whatever it is comes up in your presence. Your moral obligation is to speak up in the face of bigotry, and being around her opens you up to that distinct possibility. Sadly, I don’t think you’ll be able to change her mind, but other people who hear you will be inspired by your courage and also feel less alone if they themselves belong to a marginalized group or if they wanted to say something but didn’t feel equipped to do so.
You don’t need to pretend that her prejudice doesn’t matter to you or that you can be polite to one part of her while being rightly offended by another. You don’t need to tolerate her presence for the sake of your mutual friends or to keep the peace. You also don’t need to bear the sole responsibility for exposing her bigotry or for educating her.
If none of my suggestions work for you on a practical level, please take this one line with you: Your own well-being and safety take precedence over routing out her misguided beliefs so, whatever you do, please take seriously how to take care of yourself.
Be well,


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