Do I have to fight racism at a dinner party?

I was out to dinner with a group of people recently. Some were friends, and some were friends of friends. I was having a nice conversation with the woman who was sitting next to me, who I had just met, when out of the blue she made a rather startling and unpleasant comment about people of a different race and nationality. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t respond, and just kept talking, but now I’m kicking myself because it was an awful thing to say and I feel like I should have said something to her about it. I like to be polite, and not cause a scene, but I don’t feel comfortable with letting racist people say things and not be taken to task for it. Did I do the right thing?

I feel your pain.

I was recently at a little kid’s birthday party, talking with an acquaintance about some volunteer work I was doing, and she chimed in with a stunningly f-ed-up observation about “those people” and how “they all” had an affinity for a certain thing. I was shocked, and I think the third party in our conversation was also shocked…and I stood there like an idiot with my mouth hanging open, staring at her.

Of course, since she’s the sort of ass-face who would make a comment like that, she didn’t pick up on the subtlety of my what-the-fuck-did-you-just-say face, and continued to talk. And I let it go. I wish I could rewind.

I think people continue to say (and believe) these things because they continue to be let off the hook by people like me, who don’t want to cause a ruckus with a relative stranger at a toddler’s birthday party, or like you, who don’t want to ruin a perfectly nice evening out by calling someone out for being a hateful asshole. In retrospect, I would have said, “What you just said is not okay,” and walked away. That way, there would have been no trouble at the birthday or dinner party, but that racist jerk wouldn’t have been let off the hook.

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