How to respond when someone uses non-inclusive (or bigoted) language

Intentions don’t matter, outcomes do.  However, I still think we need to do a much better job of being supportive of newcomers to the social justice “scene” who may be well-intended, but don’t quite know the ropes yet.  

Following is my picture guide (sorry, no flowchart) of how to properly handle such situations, without scaring off a potential ally.

"How to Respond" Comic

Here’s the text (for folks who use screen readers):

1. DON’T eat their faces off (FYI: I was using this expression way before people were literally doing this)

If they seemed well-intentioned, or even if you’re not sure what their intent was, you’ll attract more bees with honey than you will by being a jerk.  You want more bees, don’t you?  Also, bees, here, mean social justice friends.

2. DO kindly point out their error

Explain that what they said or did wasn’t inclusive or good or friendly or correct or, as the social scientists would describe the behavior, “non-douchey.”  But do it kindly, or run the risk of coming off as a bit pro-douchey yourself.

3. DON’T make them feel like bad people

Focus on the behavior, not the person.  They aren’t bad people, unless they are squirting vinegar at bees.  Then they might be bad people.  Unless bees are secretly into that sort of thing, in which case, go you.

4. DO provide a correction for the future

Don’t leave them flying blind for the future!  They are just going to run into the same mistake.  Provide a correction, then explain why it’s better.  Also, did you know that bees literally fly blind?  Also, that might be bats.

5. DON’T reflect their behavior back

It may be tempting, but don’t fall into the childhood trap of “oh, I am? Well so are you.” Reflecting the behavior will only escalate the situation, and you don’t want that, do you? Do you? DO YOU, PUNK?! I DIDN’T THINK SO!

(big thanks to Jesse in the comments for this one!)

6. DO reinforce positive behavior

As much as we nit-pick negative behavior, we should try to nit-pick and highlight positive stuff, particularly in folks who are still getting their footing.  It helps a lot in building confidence.  Sorry, no bee joke.

Have some additional DOs and DON’Ts?

I’d love to hear them.  And if I’m feeling particularly creative I might even comic-ize them and update the list above.  Share them in the comments, or drop us a line on facebook or twitter.


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About the Author

Sam Killermann Self Portrait

Hi! I'm Sam Killermann. I'm the author of A Guide to Gender: The Social Justice Advocate's Handbook, and I was featured in Katie Couric's NatGeo documentary "Gender Revolution". I created It's Pronounced Metrosexual in 2011. I write everything here and doodle the doodles myself. Bonus: everything I create is uncopyrighted and freely accessible — I even coded (& open-sourced) this site itself, my gift to you. Read More →

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