Quite Frankly

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Hey Frankie,

I love my close friends, who happen to be bro-ey, straight white men. Unfortunately, they are subscribers to the philosophy that Vassar is too “PC.” They often respond to pronoun issues with a glib attitude, and occasionally claim reverse racism on campus. Given the social climate/identity politics at Vassar, they feel judged and silenced for being athletic straight white dudes.

I feel like I have some responsibility to educate them, but I often find myself grasping for words or pulled into heated exchanges when the subject comes up. Any suggestions on how to more effectively go about this?

Sincerely,

Hopeful Ally

Dear Ally,

Quite frankly, relative to their pre-Vassar experience, they probably are being judged and silenced far more frequently

here. I say that not to justify problematic behavior, but to remind you that going from the “most important” voice in a room to one amongst equals will feel like a downgrade to anyone. People aren’t likely to feel comfortable in an environment where others challenge their privilege—that’s just a fact.

The best advice I can impart to you is that arguing with them about this is not likely to change this fact.

Those with privilege blame “reverse racism” or misandry when they are forced to confront their own positionality. They’re right that being faced with your own complicity in others’ oppression is uncomfortable, but that doesn’t legitimize their defense mechanism. Discomfort is part of learning, and blaming that discomfort on others hinders learning.

Also, I understand why you feel responsible for educating them, but at some point, this becomes a Sisyphean task. Unfortunately, some people will always prioritize their own comfort and privilege over the wellbeing of others. They may not even realize they’re doing this until and unless you point it out. Rather than wholesale ideological arguments, try respectfully calling them out about specific behaviors. Arguing with them in a more prolonged way will likely incense them and not lead to any productive conversations.

This is, as you’ve no doubt realized, a tricky position for you. You care about these people; you don’t want to cut them off. They may even be really supportive in other ways. On the other hand, their behavior is not acceptable. We often feel obligated to educate those close to us about their problematic behavior, but constant pressure to curb their behavior is draining. Exactly how you want to reconcile these competing considerations is, necessarily, up to you.

Best Wishes,

Frankie

P.S. You can’t make someone change if they don’t want to. All you can do is try to provide them with a new perspective on their behavior.

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