Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry

What Can I Do About My Own Bias?

'I Lost Perspective'

A 45-year-old man writes:

"I was young, but that's not really an excuse. I was hanging out with a mostly male beer-drinking crowd, and raunchy, sexist 'jokes' were one of the conversational norms. Not that it's right to tell those kind of 'jokes' anywhere, but I just got used to it in that crowd, and I guess I lost perspective of how inappropriate they were.

"So I find myself at a dinner party, not fancy, but fancier than the beer crowd I'd been used to. As an icebreaker, I tell one of those 'jokes,' a brutally sexist one that got big laughs from the boys earlier that week. And this huge silence follows. A nervous chuckle or two among the half-dozen dinner guests, but otherwise just a big, booming silence. I felt like an idiot and didn't even have the good sense to apologize, though I was at least smart enough to stop telling 'jokes.'

"A new job and other life changes took me away from the beer-drinking buddies, and I'd never tell those kinds of 'jokes' anymore — in any company. But it's almost 20 years later, and I still feel a sense of shame for the awful judgment and taste I showed."

Apologize immediately. Save yourself the guilt by apologizing in the moment: "I don't know what I was thinking. I could make some excuses, but none would make up for telling such a sexist, tasteless 'joke.' I apologize and hope I haven't ruined this wonderful dinner."

Write a letter. Candor can be difficult to muster in such moments. If words don't come at the gathering, try handwritten notes to the host and other guests afterward: "I went home from the dinner party feeling ashamed and embarrassed, too embarrassed even to say anything to anyone. I'm sorry for the sexist, tasteless and totally inappropriate 'joke' I told. Please accept my humble, and belated, apologies."

Offer to make amends. "Is there is anything I can or should do to make this up to you? Our relationship is important to me."

Learn the lesson. Don't do it again, even if you're back with a crowd that finds such "jokes" humorous. Choose jokes that are funny without being sexist, racist or otherwise offensive.