Being the target of someone’s prejudice (bullied for your race, sexual orientation, religion or gender identity) can be very upsetting. Bigotry targets us not only us as individuals, but the entire group we belong to or identify with. Society considers bigotry a serious problem, with good reason. Far too often, it escalates into hate crimes.
Fortunately, we can deal with bigotry-based bullying the same way we deal with other forms of bullying.
Always remember that some behaviors are crimes, and it’s not helpful to think of them as bullying. For example, no one is allowed to injure you physically, destroy your property or prevent you from studying, living or working where you want to because of your group affiliation. For such actions you need to get the authorities involved. Acts that hurt your feelings, however, you need to learn to deal with on your own.
Our natural tendency is to get angry at people who insult our group and to get defensive about what they say about us. However, anger and defensiveness are hostile responses that encourage the people insulting us to continue their verbal attacks. Furthermore, reacting angrily can make us look foolish. When we react with hostility, we confirm how our they may feel about our group: we show the world that we are hostile and immature.
So how can we successfully deal with bigoted remarks? By using the Golden Rule.
Abraham Lincoln said, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
Instead of getting worked up and emotional about their opinions – however nonfactual, absurd and ignorant they may be – flex your resilience; you have the right not to care about their uneducated remarks.
You will not change the way they think or feel about you by demanding that they respect you. Change can start when you resolve to being respectful to them. You can tell them, “I’m sorry that you hate me, that you don’t approve of my life, that you dislike the color of my skin. If you ever want a friend, I’m here for you. I will always be kind to you.”
What happens next is that these prejudicial people have something of a crisis of conscience inside. The brain and heart do not align when they treat you, who are being incredibly understanding and nice to them, poorly. When you treat them with kindness and respect, you begin to change the way they think about you.
By responding in a non-emotional, non-confrontational way, the people insulting you won’t gain any satisfaction from your reaction. They will have more respect for you, and they may start thinking, “Well maybe your group isn’t so bad after all.” You could turn them into less prejudiced people all by yourself by treating them like friends.
If you insist on treating them like enemies, they will be your enemies and will continue their hateful behavior towards you and your group.
The way to end prejudice is through education. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said it best: “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” So, let’s overcome hate, the most destructive force in the world, with love, the most powerful force in the universe.