How To Respond When Someone Uses Non-inclusive (or Bigoted) Language

Originally posted on It’s Pronounced Metrosexual and cross-posted here with their permission.

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.

Sam Killermann is a Staff Writer for Everyday Feminism and the person behind It’s Pronounced Metrosexual, a comedy show and blog focused on issues of identity, stereotypes, and oppression. A social justice advocate and ally, Sam performs the show at colleges around the country and writes for the site when he is at home in Austin, TX. Follow on Twitter @Killermann.