Usually, when we think about traveling the idea of trying new foods, meeting new people, and taking breathtaking Instagram photos may come to mind. But, traveling also comes with a ton of emotions and questions that may have one feeling more anxious than excited. Such as: Is there Wi-Fi? Where do I find coffee? To more important questions like, will my beliefs and identities that I hold be respected? If not, how do I go about engaging others in dialogue? And also, where does one find support for such instances?
These are some of the questions I find myself asking while abroad. As someone who does not easily let things go, I cannot ignore comments people make that I find deeply offensive, to not only the identities and beliefs I hold, but to any other marginalized identities that other people have. So, what do you do?
Is it okay to call out your host family?
Imagine your host family invites you to a birthday party or you are riding in the backseat of an Uber. Everything is going well, until an inappropriate comment is made or a conversation is sparked about a controversial shooting that happened in a nearby city. Insensitive statements are made by your host family, host family’s friends, or the Uber driver-should you let it slide?
The answer is no!
Instead of calling them out and going on a tangent about how inconsiderate, disrespectful, or racist they are coming across-jump in and call them into a conversation! In my scenario, some of the negative comments were about the ethnic identity of the individual, immigrant status, and heavily opinionated statements about how that individual went about his day-to-day life.
Here is my advice:
- Ask questions that challenge the statements that are made or make them consider another side of the story.
- Back up your questions and reasoning with examples that contradict their beliefs/assumptions.
- Check your tone and use of language.
- Remember that person has a completely different lived experience than you do-respect that.
For example, I never once said “No, I disagree. I have met *insert ethnic group* and they are the complete opposite of what you said.” Starting a conversation this way immediately makes people feel the clash and tension of opposing beliefs. Minimize this by rewording your language and responding with something like, “Yes, that’s possible and it’s also possible that X is actually *description/example*, isn’t it?”
I find that keeping these things in mind help me to invite others to think differently about someone or something. Even with my Uber driver who made a comment about a boy who was asking for money at a stoplight. I offered him a possible explanation as to why he could be asking for money. He immediately quit speaking about the boy. Now, I do not know if I truly changed the Uber driver’s opinions on people who are poor. But, I did provide him an opportunity to engage in dialogue. Most importantly, I made it clear that I was not on the same page as him, without bluntly telling him his opinion is full of ignorance.
Whether you are at a social event or in the backseat of an Uber don’t hold back when you hear something you do not tolerate. Do not remain silent out of respect for your host family’s friend or the Uber driver-speak up out of respect for people who are marginalized.