May 10, 2017

The Obligation to Call Out Bigotry

outraged child

I was writing a blog post the other day, and I had my Twitter app open on my desktop as I often do when I am writing blog posts. Out of the blue, someone I was not following and with whom I was unfamiliar tweeted a bigoted statement to me. I mention that I was not following this person to indicate that this was different from me seeing a bigoted statement appear in my timeline from someone I was following. This one was tweeted directly to me (i.e., the tweet began with my Twitter handle, @vjack).

It occurred to me in the moment that I had at least a few choices here. For example, I could:
  1. Ignore the tweet.
  2. Respond directly to the person who sent the tweet (i.e., use the normal reply function).
  3. Respond in such a way that my response would be seen by everyone following me on Twitter.
In this particular instance, I opted for the first option. I decided that I'd rather keep writing the post I was writing and not get sucked into what was probably trolling. I ignored the tweet. I suspect that the reason I am rarely trolled is that I usually don't respond to trolling in the way the troll desires. I have little interest in arguing over social media, no need to have the last word, and no problem walking away from interactions with those who behave irrationally or demonstrate their lack of willingness to engage in civil discourse. I'd rather use my time to do other things.

I have been told repeatedly that making choices like the one I made here makes me "part of the problem" because the only acceptable response to this sort of thing would have been to publicly "call out" the person who made the bigoted statement. Not only should I have challenged the bigoted statement, but I should have done so publicly in order to shame the person who dared to make it. I cannot claim that I would never choose this option under any circumstances, but I disagree with those who insist that I have some sort of moral obligation to do so in all circumstances. If that makes me "part of the problem," in the eyes of some people, I can live with that.

As a freethinker, I value my ability to make my own decisions even when they deviate from the norms of the moment. My judgment is far from flawless, and I learn a great deal by listening to others who express views with which I disagree. I am interested in what others think and even in how they think I should behave. But none of that means I must bend to social pressures to conform to views I do not share. I am responsible for my behavior, and I am the only one who can be responsible for being the person I seek to be. I have no interest in being the sort of person who publicly calls out everyone who says something I dislike.