I was sitting in a booth this weekend, wedged between a couple I had just met, and a few long-time friends. We were having a good time, when one person in the new couple started a sentence with “Not to sound racist but…”
In my experience, anything that follows that, or a handful of other sentence starters (“No offense…” or “I’m not sexist but…”) is not going to be a good thing. In this case that held true – the story he told included making a sweeping generalization about an ethnic group based on a single interaction he had. I have been known to simply walk away from conversations like this before, but in this case that would have meant making 3 people get out of the booth for me to leave, so it wasn’t something that could be done gracefully.
I probably should have pointed out that his generalization was racist, and that his “disclaimer” doesn’t actually help at all. I didn’t. It would have upset the whole table, I would have been the only person who felt that the bigotry should be pointed out (these friends of mine would not have helped), and our otherwise pleasant evening would have been derailed. So I said nothing, and 3 days later I am still annoyed with myself about it.
I DO often call out other people’s bullshit in my social life. I have lost friends, offended people, and upset otherwise pleasant situations by refusing to let something like this go by without comment. Most people would rather keep things polite and friendly, and pointing out bigoted behavior is generally NOT considered polite.
How much social disruption are you willing or able to create in the name of battling racism, sexism, or homophobia? Is it worth upsetting friends or family? Have you ever made the decision to just let it go by, and how did you feel about that afterward?