Hello and welcome back to Dear Dodai, in which I answer questions about navigating problematic situations, in an attempt to assist the needy and school fools. Let’s jump right into it, shall we?
First up, a reader asks:
How do you identify productive conversations?
I have a lot of conservative/bigoted people on my social media, and they make a lot of ignorant remarks. Because facebook is so public, I try to challenge things that are said there, even if the original poster isn’t receptive, in the case that someone else reading might be. Is this the right response? I don’t want to let things slide, but I don’t want to waste time with someone who only wants to argue. My responses aren’t argumentative, but that doesn’t seem to matter. At what point do I back off, especially if the other person wants the last word? I want my interactions online to be productive and I want to challenge privilege, but is there a point where it’s energy wasted that I could devote elsewhere? How do I identify that line?
Great question! There’s an old activist/hippie saying: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” so I commend you for not wanting to “let things slide.” Progress is incremental, but one way to help move it along is to make those against it highly uncomfortable—embarrassed, even. For some people, just knowing that it’s not socially acceptable to broadcast racist views is enough to keep them quiet, and if you can help with that, it’s worth it.
But if these people are, as you labeled them, “conservative and bigoted,” then you seem to know that they’re not open to your arguments, and you may not be able to change their minds. A productive conversation is one in which all parties are listening, absorbing and keeping an open mind; by definition, a bigot is not. Posting in the hopes of reaching others is admirable, and just might work—especially if what you’re sharing is calm, logical, based in fact, and well-supported.
That said, if you feel like you’re wasting energy, give yourself boundaries. Set a limit. Pick a number that feels right to you: Maybe you push back just once a day? Once a week? Perhaps you post no more than three explainers? The truth is that the line is where you draw it. You choose! And remember that social media isn’t the only way to further causes you believe in. Volunteer with a local organization or mentor a young person—something that results in direct, tangible results. Your energy won’t feel “wasted” and you can use your experiences in your social media posts to educate the haters. Then again, you may find so much joy in giving back that you choose to ignore (or unfriend?) all those bigots on Facebook. That’s what I’d do.
Another reader writes:
My ex and I are in the middle of dividing our possessions, and we’ve come across a conundrum: What do we do with my (late) white Jewish grandma’s racially awkward art? When she died, she left me an African statue and a painting which appears to be… Thai? Indonesian? They’re not racist on their own, but I feel really weird being one of those white people who displays “ethnic” art in my house. Still, they’re family heirlooms. What do I do—sell them? Store them? Kindly advise.
Look, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having another culture’s art in your home. In fact, it speaks to the universality of art that it is capable of transcending identities and speaking to common human truths. Me? I love eclectic global maximalism like Kenneth Jay Lane’s apartment, especially when decorating means displaying things you’ve picked up on travels or have received as gifts from loved ones. I don’t think it’s weird for a white person to display African art if they truly love it and it speaks to them. (It’s maybe a little weird that you think it’s weird?)
But! If you don’t like this art, and don’t want it in your home, don’t store it, where no one can see it. That’s not what art is for. Sell it someone who appreciates it. Better yet, donate it to a cause your grandmother would approve of—many charity thrift stores will let you write your own receipt for tax-deduction purposes. Let that be your inheritance.
Experiencing sexist microaggressions at work? Coerced into spending holidays with Trump-voter in-laws? Beset upon by racists? Let me help you help yourself. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.