It's the kind of mistreatment that often cuts you to the core... being picked on for who you are and what you believe can be an incredibly painful experience. Not only do you feel singled out and made fun of but you also feel that the group you identify the most with is under attack. In a society that is emotionally charged with bigotry and prejudices, being bullied based on your race, religious beliefs, and/or sexual orientation seems to be at an all time high. No one deserves to be mistreated. Here are a few tips on how you can peacefully respond if someone verbally attacks you because of prejudice.
How Do We Stop Prejudicial Bullying?
1. Identify Whether Actions are Bullying or Criminal Behavior
It is important to draw a line between bullying and criminal behavior. Bullying is behavior that is meant to assume a dominate position over someone by hurting their feelings. Criminal behavior aims to harm someone's body, property, and can often include certain discriminatory actions. For example, discriminating someone based on their of their race, religion, or sexual orientation is clearly against the law when related to a persons' education, work, and place of living.
When prejudicial behavior crosses this legal line, legal action should be taken. We all have basic human rights and many are protected by the law to a certain degree. The word "bullying" often makes this conversation more confusing. For the sake of this article, I will focus on behavior aimed at hurting someone's feelings by putting down their identity and/or beliefs so that you can learn how to protect your feelings and respond.
2. Seek to Understand the Thinking Behind the Behavior
You may have heard the phrase "All behavior is motivated." People typically have a 'reason' why they act the way they do. It's the "thing behind the thing". What we don't talk out we typically act out. This thinking can be conscious or unconscious. Prejudicial thinking is formed by a person's experiences, whether real or fictional. You might say that you aren't prejudiced but the truth is that you are. None of us are exempt from having prejudices. We all hold them because of the positive and negative experiences with different people groups. Prejudicial thinking often involves stereotypes. We associate certain people or people groups with certain negative experiences.
Just for a moment, think of the first two words that come to mind when you read the following. Don't 'edit' yourself. Simply go with the first word that comes to mind.
- Black Man
- White Man
Simple word associations like this often reveal stereotypes and prejudicial thinking that has infiltrated our minds. It comes from real people that we encounter, stories shared by family and friends, and the media. It is likely that a person who attacks you based on the group you identify with is not reacting to you alone but rather associating something about you with a negative belief that they have about the group that you are a part of. As with most things, there are exceptions. Not everyone that is mean to you is a racist, bigot, etc. You may have done something to offend them or perhaps they don't like you for another reason. Don't put them into a box for how they act (after all, you don't want them to treat you that way).
You must also understand that your beliefs and/or lifestyle may conflict with the beliefs and lifestyle of someone else. Sexual orientation is often seen as controversial because many religions like Christianity and Islam clearly forbid it. Despite the legalization of gay-marriage in the United States, many still hold to their religious convictions over the law of the land.
3. Use the Peace Sign
Step 1. Don't Get Upset
Getting angry when someone mistreats you is never helpful. Don't believe the 'Anger Illusion' that tells you that you're winning when you are mad. It's a trap that often makes you look weak, foolish, and defensive. The best way to deal with a hostile person is to remain calm.
In regards to prejudicial behavior, getting angry with someone who mistreats you often reinforces their pre-conceived negative views about you and your group. Remember that you hold prejudices too. Getting angry that they think this way is hypocritical. When you remain calm it gives no fuel to the fire started by the other party.
2. Treat Them Like a Friend
The greatest strategy to deal with someone to treats you badly is to treat them like a friend. Responding with kindness to a prejudicial person starts to chip away at the negative beliefs that they hold about you. It may even help them begin to see you and people like you in a different light for the first time. When someone displays bigotry see it as an opportunity to give them a different experience than they've had before.
By acting like a friend you might just open a window for future dialogue which can deepen understanding and foster compassion and acceptance. As Abraham Lincoln once said, "Do I not destroy my enemy when I make him my friend?" Respond as a friend and watch how love changes it all. When you don't give the person a reason to be mad at you they will often find them self confused and quickly questioning their own behavior.
Examples of Peace Sign Dialogue for Prejudicial Bullying
(Unfortunately the following examples are real and come from individuals that I care about and have had the pleasure of meeting in my work. The responses in this article are extremely simple but can still be powerful in escalating aggressive behavior.)
Bullying Based on Religion
Aggressor: All of you Muslims are terrorists. Why don't you go back where you came from?
Target: Shut up! I have the same right to be here that you do.
Peace Sign Response
Target: It's really sad that terrorists have killed people in the name of our religion. I would never hurt anyone. It makes me sad that people see someone like me and think of those terrible things that have happened. I hope that I can change that by being loving to others but I know that some people may not give me a chance.
Bullying Based on Sexual Orientation
Aggressor: I heard that you're gay. Dude, that is so gross!
I have the right to love whoever I want. You are a jerk!
Peace Sign Response
You can believe whatever you'd like about me. I'm not going to try and change your mind. I believe that everyone should be treated with respect so know that I'll never disrespect you.
Bullying Based on Race
Aggressor: It's just a fact. Black people just aren't as smart as white people.
"Yes they are. You are so racist!"
Peace Sign Response
"There are many African Americans in this country that are extremely intelligent, have worked hard, and achieved great things. If it were true that black people were stupid we wouldn't have black doctors, attorneys, teachers, and CEO's. You may want to ask why you believe that and what kind of person you pictured in your mind when you said that. Do you think all "black people" look/act this way?"
Love is not easily angered
Jeff Veley is a bullying expert, radio host, and World Peace Ambassador. Jeff has received a Diversity Award for his efforts in reaching and including all people through culturally relevant and inclusive positive youth development programs. His program promotes peace, civility with the core belief that we should be friendly, extending respect and love to everyone, even if we're different.