When someone says something offensive, I really do try hard to be like “hey actually when you say that it’s not so good to this group of people, plz don’t do it again” under the assumption that most people are not terrible people. I may be entirely misguided and people need to be yelled at, but I am not so good at yelling, and in my experience they respond better to being gentle. Like a skittish baby horse or something. Why did I say that? I’ve never met a baby horse. Plus I think baby horses have their own technical names so I’m not even right when I say “baby horse” OKAY STOPPING. SORRY.
Anyway, I managed to compile a list of things that I sometimes hear people say that are actually not such great things to say. If you say them, this does not mean you are a bad person! No sarcasm! Seriously! I get that you are trying. But here’s why you should probably not say these things. Also, as always, I am a white, economically stable, straight, able-bodied lady. Plus a few more privileges I am probably forgetting.
1. “I don’t see color.”
You may think this is an okay thing to say, and that’s because you are almost definitely saying it from a good intention. You are trying to imply that color doesn’t positively or negatively influence your opinion of someone. And that is a good start to not being racist! F’reals, way to not stumble right out of the gate.
BUT, and I know this sounds weird, but you NEED to see color. Not in a “yep you’re black so now I think because I’m white I’m better than you” way, but rather in a “yep, you’re black, so your experiences with the world have almost certainly been different than mine, because the world is not done with racism yet.” This person may have had some terrible slur thrown at them, have someone assume they’re dangerous because of their color, both, neither, something worse. You need to see their color/race/ethnicity and understand that the world is not the same for the two of you. Saying ” I don’t see color” is well-intentioned, I get it, but you gotta see color to even come close to understanding others’ experiences.
2. “Oh, I LOVE the gays! I have a gay best friend!”
This is generally a specific thing said by some straight women about some gay men. This is good that you do not hate gay people! This is not a true thing for everyone, so not hating them for their sexuality is indeed a good start.
But, these phrases and phrases like them are grouping all gay people into a stereotype, and just because this dude you work with is super awesome and goes shopping with you and is generally some SATC-glitter-covered happy unicorn who says “GURL” doesn’t mean that he represents all gay men. Is he your best friend? Just say that! It is excellent that you do not care who he is attracted to, but his sexuality is legit and should be treated with respect regardless of his opinion on your shoes.
3. “I’m not trying to be mean about weight, it’s just I’m worried about your health!”
Are you? This is a serious question! If you hang out with this person regularly and see that they are dealing with some disordered eating, or you think their mental health might be suffering, or whatever it is, then your concern might be legitimate! Trying to make sure your friend or family member has a healthy relationship with food, exercise, and their own thoughts is not inherently a bad thing.
HOWEVER. If you know nothing else about this person than he or she is “overweight,” you are probably not helping. Question yourself when this comes up. There is a chance that your “concern for their weight” might actually be “I don’t like looking at fat people because it grosses me out.” This probably sounds harsh. But because people are nearly always aware of their size, pointing out that someone is overweight doesn’t sound like a concern for their health, especially if you don’t talk very often (or don’t even know the person!). It sounds mean.
So what should you say? Probably nothing! They know already, and they are dealing with it or not dealing with it.
4. “She’s just so inspirational/beautiful/amazing!”
This is generally said to the chronically ill and/or disabled. This person may very well be inspirational, but you should probably be saying this about something really freaking awesome that they’ve done, like build a house or win an election or complete a hundred heart transplants or something like that.
I get it, you are inspired by this person’s ability to do things, but these things that are inspirational shouldn’t be things that are like “you were YOU for a whole day and are still happy! That’s amazing!” Yes, frequently being ill or disabled makes life much harder, but to say it’s inspirational that this person is just functioning often comes across as patronizing and insincere. It also can sometimes sound like you’re saying “I would hate my life if I were you, but you don’t! That’s cool!” Don’t do that!
You are on the right track, for sure, because this person may very well do some awesome stuff. But figure out what that stuff is and praise them for that.
5. “You’re not like other women.”
Ahhh you probably mean this to be complimentary to whatever woman you are currently talking to. And again, good first step! You’re trying to give her a compliment. But this is actually not a really great thing to say to a lady.
She is probably, in at least some ways, pretty similar to some other women, so the accuracy here is a little bit off. This phrase also ends up sounding like you’re grouping all other women into a category of “Those Bitches” or something similar, so that all of them are objectively terrible while the one you’re talking to is objectively awesome. If you are trying to be nice to a lady, I actually cannot think of a time when you can say that they are different/better from all other women and have it end up okay. WAIT. The Olympics and other athletic competitions. You can say a woman is not like other women because she is faster than all other women at running a marathon. But she knows that because that’s what the gold medal is for? So yeah, back to my original opinion: don’t tell ladies they’re way more awesome than all the other ladies.
And as a note to other ladies: don’t describe yourself like this! I get squicked out when women say “I just don’t get along great with girls, we don’t have stuff in common.” Um, like, ALL of us? Dude, there’s gotta be somebody, and the common factor in any attempted friendship with another lady is you. So the problem might be you, not Every Lady Ever. Being a woman is hard enough without you, dudes, and The World comparing you to every other woman. Don’t do it!
I am sure I am forgetting other things in this vein, so if you can think of any, please tell me in the comments! I’d like to add to my list of “good motivation, bad execution.”