Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry

What Can I Do About Sour Social Events?

'That Can't Be Good Manners'

From a California man:

"I grew up fairly poor, but I attended a college that drew students from some very rich families. A wealthy classmate invited me out to dinner one night when her family was visiting, and we went to the fanciest restaurant I'd ever been to.

"During the salad course, the waiter brought a cloth-covered platter with what I found out later were chilled forks. I reached to take the platter out of his hands so I could pass it around the table to the others. Apparently, judging from the laughter from my classmate's sister and parents, this was a major faux pas. I was supposed to just take my fork and let the waiter move to the next person with the tray.

"I felt ashamed for the rest of the meal and excused myself from joining them for some sightseeing afterward. Heading back to my dorm room, I just kept thinking about them laughing at me. That can't be good manners."

Others spoke of similar social-event moments, including being in groups where phrases such as "redneck" and "white trash" are used in "joking" but uncomfortable ways.

Address the speaker. A simple comment — "I'm sorry; what's so funny?" — can jar someone from their rudeness. Or be more exact: "I'm sorry. I'm not sure I know what you mean by 'white trash.' Could you explain that term?" When faced with crafting an answer, the speaker may begin to understand the inappropriateness of the remark.

Appeal to the host. Party hosts have brought people together and often are the closest to each of the guests. Ask the host to rein in offensive "jokes" and culturally biased statements. In the above case, the man may have discussed the moment later, with his classmate, who then could have raised the issue with her family.

Look for body language. Did you see anyone else flinch when the comment was made? If so, approach the person and assess whether they know the speaker well. If so, consider asking that person to approach the speaker privately.