How do we deal with hate speech when encountering it in person? It may feel riskier to challenge someone when they’re in the room – it may actually be a lot more dangerous. You may be dealing with people where you can’t afford outright conflict – work colleagues, family members. Outright conflict can also be emotionally expensive and you may not have the resources to risk getting into a fight. You may find fights and shouting triggering and not be able to take the risk. I’ve not tested all of these approaches myself, but I’ve seen them used and seen people talking about them.
‘Innocent and confused’ can be a good strategy. Ask people what they meant. Ask how that would work. If you’re told it was a joke, say you don’t get it and ask them to please explain it for you. Asking questions can be a way of exposing something without making outright accusations. ‘But why is that funny?’ can require a person to face the underlying prejudice in their joke. ‘How does that work?’ can make a person look at the mechanics. It’s not foolproof, but it makes it harder for them to turn their anger towards you.
Disappointment can be effective. “I thought you were better than that” is a hard thing to argue with. It is likely to provoke an emotional response, but it does make a person aware that going on the offensive at this point won’t make them look good. The desire to look good is far stronger in some people than the desire to get things right, this can be used to apply pressure, sometimes. A person who cares about how they are seen often won’t express opinions they think will cause those around them to think less of them.
Make respect conditional and use it as a lure. ‘I’m surprised someone who seems as clever/informed/well read/etc as you would find that argument persuasive. What evidence are you drawing on?’
Make it specific. It’s easier to hate when the object of hate is vague and distant. Turn it into a conversation about a particular person if that’s an option.
Turn it around. ‘That’s really surprising. I admit I thought you were trans.’ ‘Sorry, I thought you were gay.’ ‘Oh, I assumed you’d be on the other side of this argument’. It makes people stop and think, at least. A few seconds of wondering what it would be like to be on the other end of things can get a lot done.
Hate speech is based on assumptions that don’t stand up to much scrutiny. Prejudice depends on people repeating the same lines to each other so that it seems normal and supported. Any kind of disruption to this can undermine it. Sometimes simply asking ‘but why?’ a lot can push people to expose the problems in their own thinking. An unconsidered opinion won’t hold up in the face of someone asking why. ‘Why does this make you so uncomfortable?’ is also a powerful question to ask, and if it’s done gently, it doesn’t sound like an attack and may even provoke a genuine response and actual thought. It’s worth a go sometimes.
It shouldn’t be down to people who are most affected to challenge people who are most prejudiced. Get in where you can. You don’t have to aggressively call someone out to present them with a challenge.