June 10, 2006 7:48 AM   Subscribe

PoliticsFilter: Help me (a moderate liberal) find ways to be comfortable in a social circle dominated by apathy and ultraconservativism.

I recently moved back to the area where I was born and raised, after four years away at college. My family and I have always been of a relatively liberal ideology; the community in general, including a majority of my grade-school friends, is conservative. In high-school, the topics never came up enough to be much of an interpersonal issue, and in college as we all became more politically aware and active, I was never home long enough for it to become an issue. Now that I'm back here with no immediate exit strategy, it's starting to grate on me.

To be clear, I like these people, as people. They've been my friends for over ten years, in some cases. But I dislike the feeling I get when they're all in on the big "liberals suck!" joke, and I'm the liberal sitting in the corner squirming. I could detail plenty of examples, but they all boil down to the same pattern: Social gathering. Somebody makes a liberal-bashing comment (not directed at me, specifically), everyone else joins in on the laughter, including the people who I know describe themselves as apathetic, rather than conservative -- they just laugh along to avoid getting singled out for criticism by the group. I'm left sitting in the corner trying to frame a polite response, which never gets me anywhere anyway. It's not even political discussion, typically, which I would enjoy because of the potential for some interesting debate, just a big joke everyone can be in on.

Since I'm just one person, I'm not sure how to go about dealing with this whole situation. For one thing, in college, a conservative would've felt very much the way I do here, if he or she had come to spend some time with my group of friends and housemates. We made the same kind of potshots at conservative ideology that my friends are now making at liberal ideology, except, to the best of my knowledge there weren't any conservatives present when we did so.

Is the answer "grow a thicker skin?" I'm not really in a position where I can find a new social circle, and I don't particularly want to lose these friends -- this one type of behavior aside, I respect and like them. I'm hopelessly outnumbered, and they don't seem willing to enter into any kind of discourse/dialogue/debate with an open mind. Part of me says "just politely ask them not to do it," but I suspect that'll just open me up to more ridicule. I'm one of the more quiet/introverted people in the group, for the record.

Am I making a mountain out of a mole-hill? How do I learn to deal with this? It seems like an issue of dealing with inadvertant bullying or something -- the feelings involved would be the same even if it wasn't politics that was the dividing line, I suspect. Advice would be greatly, greatly appreciated.
posted by Alterscape to Human Relations (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Become more agressive and learn to snark better. In these types of circles, it'll get you more respect. Or you could just hide in the corner.
posted by IronLizard at 7:56 AM on June 10, 2006

Yeah seriously, just be an asshole whenever it comes up.
posted by borkingchikapa at 7:57 AM on June 10, 2006

Or just laugh. You're not a senator, you're hanging out with your friends. You're not going to change their minds, so unless they're engaged in a real debate, I don't see the usefulness of being an asshole.
posted by danb at 8:02 AM on June 10, 2006

I can sympathize with you completely, but from the opposite side. As an "ultraconservative" living in Massachusetts, I am surrounded by those that don't agree with me.

I do have pretty thick skin, as I have one of those personalities that, by nature, gives permission for direct ribbing. That doesn't make it any easier when you are sad to see people you like and care about "be so wrong".

You have three choices in my book.

1) Come clean. Do the first step of the 12-step thing. "Hi! My name is Alterscape, and I am a liberal". This will at least make them aware of your proclivities. This is what I have done and do nearly all the time.

2) Keep quiet. This is often easier as generally, when people all agree, they move on to new topics quickly.

3) Change the topic aggressively. Try something like "Hey did you hear who Paris Hilton is sleeping with this week?" Just keeping track will cause plenty of debate.

As I mentioned, I mostly do #1 because I relish the discussion and debate. As an entrepreneur though, when I think it could hurt my business, I keep quiet, because I have other people (investors, employees, family) that should have to take the heat because of my more controversial views (controversial in MA, apparently not where you are).

The best thing under all scenarios is to have a good sense of humor.

Best of Luck.
posted by jshelus at 8:04 AM on June 10, 2006

I'm not sure what sorts of friends you have, or what sort of friendship you take to be salvageable. But good friends ought to know you well enough to know that you are the butt of their joke. If they don't even realize you might be offended, they're either obtusely unkind or you haven't been very honest with them. You should probably be talking this over with them over coffee or a beer, try to make them understand individually.

If the behavior continues, after you've taken the time to sit with most of them individually and explain your feelings, you should consider again what makes a friend 'friendly' rather than simply familiar. If they continue with the ribbing and it's all in good fun, that's just playfulness. If they take your feelings as an excuse to call you out and insult you, that's hostility. You shouldn't consider such people friends. Friends allow you to grow and change without hating what you've become. Would you become conservative to keep them? Would these friends be worth the conversion? (I suspect not.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:05 AM on June 10, 2006

Now that I'm back here with no immediate exit strategy, it's starting to grate on me.

posted by jellicle at 8:11 AM on June 10, 2006

this one type of behavior aside, I respect and like them.
I think this keys in on the issue and backs up with what anotherpanacea said. If they're truly your friends, and you are willing to avoid politics, they will defer to your wishes and even go up to bat for you when someone outside the group creates an awkward situation. If that works, awesome. BUT if they can't do that and wish to simply have fun at your expense, it will demonstrate clearly that they're not your friends, and you should move on and find another social circle (unless you're a glutton for punishment).
posted by chef_boyardee at 8:17 AM on June 10, 2006

Speak up. You aren't the only one. I mean, look at Bush's poll numbers! There are other liberals at each of these gatherings, you just don't know it because they are wimping out, same as you.

I am a liberal--but used to be quite conservative in the 1980s, the same decade I spent backpacking around the world, working summers for the National Park Service, and attending some very PC universities. I was always surrounded by people who would casually dismiss, mischaracterize, and demonize my beliefs. Sometimes I shut up and let it slide, but more often I spoke out. Not with in-kind hostility, but in an engaging way: "Now wait a minute--you just said X, but that isn't true. Consider Y and Z, for example."

I quickly discovered two things: 1) people who are not used to having their beliefs challenged are very poor at logically defending them. I was familliar with their arguments, they were not familiar with mine. I could nearly always get the best of the discussion, even if it was me-versus-everyone. 2) Actually, it was almost never me-versus-everyone. Even when I went in convinced that everyone there was of the opposition. If I maintained my viewpoint coherently for a round or two, at least one other person would usually speak up in support of what I was saying. They too thought they were the only one of their beliefs in the group. Some of my best friendships began this way.

Also, you might come out of the liberal closet and announce yourself with humor. "What were the three best years of President Bush's life? The fourth grade!" That kind of thing. It will put people on notice.
posted by LarryC at 8:31 AM on June 10, 2006

Also, it is important to talk politics with people you disagree with. It makes you mre thoughtful and intellectually honest.
posted by LarryC at 8:33 AM on June 10, 2006

I have had a similar decision to make. I've moved to an area that is primarily white/european. Locally, it is socially acceptable to give voice to opinions that would qualify as bigotted. Racial slurs and jokes at the expense of minorities are the norm. I am white, so I'm automatically a member of the beligerent/redneck camp.

But, I don't do this. I grew up in a much more cosmopolitan city, and I had friends from all cultures -- to the point where I didn't even recognize there was anything "different" about my friends. (ie. I didn't think of them as "Jewish Friends" or "Indian Friends", they were just "My Friends").

But now I'm in Alberta, which is Canada's Texas. Peoples don't mingle here. You're only supposed to talk to the neighbors that are the same color as you. Members of the local first-nations gets no respect except as a bloc (and then, only because they have investment capital).

Words like "Paki", "Towel-head" and "Chink" actually crop up in public conversations, here.

So what am I to make of my friends who crack "Paki" jokes and laugh? I read once that you don't choose your friends, you only accept them, and I think that's true. If you can put up with people, warts and all, they remain your friends. If they're too monstrous, you leave them behind.

That works both ways - you have the choice to accept your friends, but they have the choice to accept you as well. If you reveal your politics and they do not accept you, move on. If you cannot accept your friends' politics, move on.

Otherwise, accept that life is a rich tapestry, and find the beauty in that.
posted by Crosius at 8:42 AM on June 10, 2006

jshelus has some good advice.

Get it out in the open. Many of your friends will be accommodating and respectful; many just won't know how. In some cases, they are so used to everyone believing the same way, they have no clue about how to deal political diversity. For the most part I don't blame them, but for the one or two that are the worst, I try not to raise issues around them that will set them off.

I live in Texas. I am an open Democrat; even sported a Kerry sticker in 2004. Most people I work with are conservative, but since I've decided to become a little more open about my political/social ideologies, other closet Dems/liberals have (often privately) thanked me for saying what they were afraid to.

I've even had some Republicans confide in me that the Republican revolution is being carried a bit far.

It's part of who you are, though, and don't be ashamed of it. But pick your fights.

One other thing: go to websites that cover the issues, and participate on both sides (respectfully, of course). Being better informed will help you articulate your views.
posted by Doohickie at 8:44 AM on June 10, 2006

Couple three things, having dealt with this at least in passing (most of my relatives live in Indiana, which is the furthest north Southern state).

First off, feel free to call 'em on bullshit. They're your friends, and there's plenty of bullshit to go around. There's a lot of liberal stuff that does deserve to be laughed at, so long as it's not a broad caricature. Second off, know your shit. Don't be the hippy bested by the conservatives, don't be the touchy-feely liberal. Know your shit, and know their shit. I can make an argument for just about anything starting with conservative principles. If you can take their motivations and show how they're served by your position, that's a win. Third, don't make it a big deal. One of the biggest things that I learned to do is talk about sports around conservatives, for two reasons. First, they tend to think of liberals as faggy milquetoasts who don't know zone coverage from the DH rule. Second, irrational attachments are the norm in sports and no one (except real douchebags) gets all that upset about 'em. Everyone outside of New York hates the Yankees, y'know? And while plenty of people (especially this season) might not like the Tigers, they at least understand the attachment I have for my home team. Being around people that I disagree with has made me tighten my knowledge of sports quite a bit (even though it's still not on the obsessive level that many of my pals have).
posted by klangklangston at 8:53 AM on June 10, 2006

See, I've basically been in the middle of a political threesome sandwich. I grew up in a very conservative area during the Clinton Administration, and have spent the entirety of the Bush Administration in a very liberal area. I agree with big portions of both ideologies and can usually feel the butt of any fun made in any direction. (I won't go in to how loathesome all the whining has been.) However, I like to fuck with people, so this does give me a lot of fodder. Anyway...

When I'm in your situation (among friends, hanging out wherever) I gauge the tenor first. Is it just a one-off comment? Does everyone laugh and move on? Unless you want to needle someone, just let it pass. Not every conversation is an opportunity to wear the gold star of your ideology. Furthermore, unless you're a very adept student of group interaction, you're not going to make them laugh with your own mocking of them.

Is it a longer conversation? Has it been going on for ten minutes or more making you more and more uncomfortable? Has it passed the joke point? If you're growing uncomfortable, speak up and join the conversation.

Now, is it always turning into a long conversation making you uncomfortable? Don't go in for telling them you're uncomfortable in front of the group. Even amongst good friends it's going to put it in an them versus you mentality which won't solve anything. Speak to individuals.

If you've got to do it that night and you're at someone's home, go with someone to grab a beer from the fridge and have a chat there. Do something similar when you're out.

You can also just speak to each person individually at different times. Let them know how you feel. You respect their thinking and that they're relaxed and want to joke around (you really can't fault people for that), but that it makes you feel left out. Not made fun of, left out. Because as the object of the jocularity, you're necessarily excluded.

You can do this over the course of a few weeks. Even when one person knows, and if they care, it will change the tenor of the convesations. When more know, even more so. But doing this last bit will really make it inclusionary for the people excluding you.
posted by Captaintripps at 9:16 AM on June 10, 2006

So what am I to make of my friends who crack "Paki" jokes and laugh?

You don't have to punch them in the face, but you absolutely have to say something. Otherwise your silence is complicity, and gives them permission to keep on telling that joke.
posted by LarryC at 9:17 AM on June 10, 2006

I'm a libertarian-conservative surrounded by unreconstructed liberals (I live in Greenwich Village), and I hear plenty of joking and bashing from people who are often *very* surprised to learn that I am "one of THEM."

You might adopt the attitude that politics and economics are but two of the many subjects about which intelligent people may disagree in good faith.

And then you can choose to either call your friends on their poorly-thought out jokes and comments and engage them in spirited but polite and respectful discussion, or just blow it off, depending on your mood.

In the circles my wife and I travel in these days, I'm pretty much everyone's token Republican friend. :-) I don't find it necessary at all to agree with someone politically in order to be their friend.

And to echo what others have said above, if you *do* decide to try to engage your friends in discussion when they say something you perceive as thoughtless and/or stupid, you will probably be pleasantly surprised at the areas of agreement and common ground that emerge, if you approach things forthrightly and in a spirit of intellectual honesty.
posted by enrevanche at 9:21 AM on June 10, 2006

My strategy is to be over-the-top so that everyone not only knows I am fully ready, willing and able to put up a fight, but also know that I'm also willing to have a sense of humor about things.

As Captaintripps mentions, if it's just a one-off joke, let it slide. Otherwise you'll look like an ass. If it's a snowball effect where everyone starts chiming in, wait your turn and chime in with something balls-to-the-wall. Turning the tables is an easy option: if they're talking about crybaby Dems with their taxes to aide the crack whores, you might want to pipe in a hearty "Yeah, fuck those poor people if they can't work for a living. And fuck those crippled people if they can't move around and look for work. And fuck those vets if they're crippled."

Basically, pull a Colbert Report on 'em and expose them for the jackasses they are.

So what am I to make of my friends who crack "Paki" jokes and laugh?

Same thing. Towel-head jokes should be immediately followed up with Nigger jokes, or possibly the most offensive Jew-in-the-oven joke you can think of.

The thing is, most people have boundaries. They like to think they're not crossing the line when they make "Paki" jokes, so it's necessary to remind them of their biggotted ignorance in the most abrupt manner possible. You have to practice the delivery, though, lest anyone think you're serious. It needs to be completely over-the-top, beyond the realm of civilized etiquette.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:06 AM on June 10, 2006

I am also quite the introvert. Worse for me is that I am emotionally reactive to incidents where people are specifically attempting to goad me into reaction. (Politics being one the things that is the worst sort of thing.) But I am aware of it. And honestly, when I recognize that someone is doing it, the person goes off the list of people I want to hang out with. It may be fun for them to get up a good controversial conversation, and they may learn something from it, but it's not fun for me. I'm happy to have a conversation with them about it. I'm not happy to be constantly belittled about choices I make. And that extends beyond politics for me. Honestly, I have a good sense of humor about myself and I am quite self-deprecating. My wife and I get along so well (together 14 years, btw) greatly in part to our ability to laugh at each other's silly personal affectations and eccentricities. But when I come across someone whose only method of communication and conversation starting is to dive right into making fun of anything and everything about every person they come in contact with... eh. No thanks.

Just let them know straight up: "You know guys, here's the deal, I'm actually pretty damn liberal. Not sure if you know that or not. That's just the way it is. I know you guys don't agree with it, but here I am hanging out with you even though I don't agree with you guys about your side of it. But I take the jokes a little personal. That's just who I am. It's probably a fault that I can't shrug it off more easily and be more thick skinned, but I can't. So, just be aware, when you throw that term around like an insult that it's just a little weird for me." And frankly, if it does open you up to MORE ridicule, well, you might want to reconsider that part about finding somewhere else to live. If they prefer to see you squirm over seeing you hang out with them and have a good time, well, you might want to ponder over whether or not they really are the good people you grew up believing them to be. But definitely give them a chance to have a conversation with you about it. If you're like me, introverted AND emotionally reactive to that sort of thing as "confrontational" then it will definitely be stressful, but in the long run you'll suss out who is willing to discuss it with you without making fun of you and who isn't. And if not a single one of them wants to have a conversation and just wants to keep on keepin' on, well... eh. Time to move on.

I grew up in a rural Alabama town, lived in a few Southern cities (Nashville, Huntsville, Birmingham) and now live in a west coast city (San Francisco) and found that extreme side of anything is just dumb and annoying. :) Left or Right, when people are illogically and unreasonably overboard about their beliefs it's really very annoying.
posted by smallerdemon at 10:16 AM on June 10, 2006

Aww, c'mon. If they're clearly joking, you need to be in on the joke. Come right back at them with something that's not mean-spirited, just tit-for-tat. You're all friends.
posted by Hildago at 10:58 AM on June 10, 2006

I agree with the posters above who say you need to know your stuff if you get into a discussion, and you need to gauge the people you're talking to.

If it were a situation that really bugged me, I'd wait until the laughing died down and say "you know, when you ridicule liberals for XYZ, you're ridiculing me." Let them squirm for a second. Alternately, you might be able to say "when you ridicule liberals for XYZ, you're completely off-base. That's just what Rush Limbaugh tells you liberals do, and none of it is true."

There are also moments where you can disagree with the substance of a position without getting personal—I've had one or two interesting coffee-shop discussions with people I didn't know along those lines; neither side got heated, and I think both found the conversation illuminating.
posted by adamrice at 11:10 AM on June 10, 2006

I actually think that LarryC has the right idea here. Make sure you are very well informed and educated on the issues, then engage them in friendly conversation about them. Almost always, you'll earn some respect by a) having facts on your side and b) being able to express them in a firm and confident way. I'd say keep listening for a while, understand what the most common "joke" comments are, and then turn that joke to a deeper conversation.

to co-opt a slogan from someone else's campaign:
silence = consent
posted by anastasiav at 11:10 AM on June 10, 2006

You're not a senator, you're hanging out with your friends. You're not going to change their minds, so unless they're engaged in a real debate, I don't see the usefulness of being an asshole.

Exactly. If you don't want to let it slide, use humor, remember that they're your friends and friendship is more important than politics (IMO), and pay close attention to klangklangston's wise response.
posted by languagehat at 12:19 PM on June 10, 2006

Crosius, bigotry isn't something you tolerate, like political differences. I talk a lot, but am not outspoken (if that makes sense) but will even call out someone who's interviewing me for a job for racist comments. Most racists, not just casual bigots but even the hard core assholes, are very easily made ashamed. Political differences can be justified; racism, not so much. Further, some real pricks will respect you more (!) for telling them shit like that don't fly.
posted by notsnot at 12:25 PM on June 10, 2006

Along the lines of what LarryC said, I'd either argue or at least engage with them a bit. If it's a "Liberals are all wusses who want to ruin the US by giving Iraq to the terrorists" comment, for instance, while people are laughing just looked confused and say, "Wait, I don't understand. The terrorists are already taking over. How are we making it better?" and force them to explain their position. If it's "All liberals are baby-killing hippies," then look confused and say, "I don't understand. Bush's policies are leading to more unplanned pregnancies, so more abortions and more kids that no one can care for. How are the Republicans helping solve that problem?"

If you're comfortable just coming out fighting rather than asking questions, that can work, too. "Oh right. We're doing such a good job keeping terrorists at bay right now. Mission accomplished!" or "Yep. Baby-killing hippies. Free love, dead babies all 'round." Whatever.

The goal, whichever tack you take, is to make them explain and back up their views a bit more rather than just relying on stereotypes. It'll be easier for you to make your points, then (and for others maybe to speak up), and it'll be harder for them to keep assuming that their positions are oh-so-obviously right.

I went to high school in the South, surrounded by a bunch of straight white men who were very nice and intelligent but really didn't understand why on earth anyone would be fighting for social causes. I became the token feminist, the token environmentalist, the token civil rights-ist (?), the token liberal. I tried not to take the bait when someone was just baiting me, but beyond that, I always tried to at least engage people who made political comments that I disagreed with. And while I don't think I changed anyone's mind, I definitely felt like I was keeping my integrity and forcing people to think about why they believed what they believed.
posted by occhiblu at 1:58 PM on June 10, 2006

"The goal, whichever tack you take, is to make them explain and back up their views a bit more rather than just relying on stereotypes."

Nah, the goal is to get along with friends without having to worry about hearing bullshit, generally.
posted by klangklangston at 2:24 PM on June 10, 2006

They kinda go together, in my experience. If people know you're going to make them actually *think* about the shit they're talking, they're less likely to make stupid comments as often. (Which I actually meant to point out in my first post, and forgot.)
posted by occhiblu at 2:34 PM on June 10, 2006

I would respond with, "You know us liberals (point to yourself) we are always (insert butt of joke here)... it's just because I hate America." Smile. Laugh. Repeat if needed.

Or learn to roll your eyes politely.
posted by haplesschild at 4:53 PM on June 10, 2006

I move between my largely liberal/leftist social circle up here in Cleveland and the more or less conservative bastion of Cincinnati on a monthly basis.

I have to deal with a lot of conservative German-Catholic types back home in Cincinnati and as a leftist at heart, my best advice is to avoid politics completely.

If you must discuss, take their side and dish out some really harsh realist and/or neo-conservative talking points. If the conversation turns toward the war in Iraq, I usually end up quoting General Westmoreland to put things into perspective for them: 'The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient."

It might be abrasive but it usually earns a few nervous chuckles and turns the conversation to more palatable subjects like the Bengals or the 2001 race riots.
posted by vkxmai at 12:45 AM on June 11, 2006

See the Christian Science Monitor's 2004 series on talking with the enemy, particularly At heart of good political discussion: the idea ("That's interesting. Why do you think that?")
posted by niloticus at 6:34 PM on June 13, 2006

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