Grey Matters: What to do if you say something offensive to a friend?

Friendship - The OfficeChad checked his watch. He and his friends had been waiting in the bar area of the restaurant for almost an hour. He loved this place, but it didn’t take reservations, and getting a table for eight on a Friday night required a wait. It did give him a chance to catch up with his friends Ronald and Larry and their house guests.

“How’s telecommuting?” Ronald asked Chad.

“A-mah-zing!” Chad replied. “I can get twice as much work done because I don’t spend 40 minutes driving to my job. Plus I save all that time getting ready in the mornings.”

“I imagine it probably took you twenty minutes to get that hair styled.” Larry always picked on Chad about his golden tresses.

“I wake up looking like this,” Chad said, and ran his fingers through his long bleached-out surfer dude hair. “I’m not sure my husband has been all that excited because I think I only showered twice  last week.”

Chad’s husband, Tyler, overheard this part of the conversation and weighed in. “Would someone please tell Chad that jumping in the pool twice a day doesn’t constitute bathing?”

“A ‘pool shower’ equates to half a regular shower, so if he’s doing it twice a day,  it counts,” Jonah said and handed Chad a fresh cocktail.

Chad had just met Jonah, but he liked him already. A guy who was clever and bought him drinks – Chad figured he’d met a friend for life.

After another ten minutes, the hostess came over and announced their table was ready. Chad downed the rest of his drink, and the group of guys sat at a large table in the middle of the restaurant.

The waiter handed out menus, and Larry started reading out the names of the dishes. “I’m not familiar with Vietnamese food. What’s good?” he asked Chad

“I just tell them to feed me,” Chad replied. “I haven’t had a bad dish here.”

“Would anyone like anything to drink?” the waiter asked.

“Just bring us two bottles of the house white wine,” Chad said, and the waiter headed off to the bar.

“I wanted red wine,” Larry said.

“What?” Chad asked. “It’s 100 degrees outside, and we’re having Asian food.”

“Don’t they have a merlot or something?” Larry asked.

Chad sighed. “I’m sure they do.” He flagged down the hostess and told her to add a glass of merlot to their drink order.

“Who’s your waiter?” she asked. “You’re sort of in the server neutral zone.”

“I didn’t get his name,” Chad said and looked around to see if he saw the guy. Chad thought of a quick way to describe him. “He’s looks Jew-y.”

“That’s Daniel,” the hostess said.

“Could you have Daniel bring a glass of merlot as well?” Chad asked.

The hostess nodded and headed off.

Jonah was sitting beside Chad and put his hand on Chad’s forearm. “I know you’ve had a little bit to drink, but that was offensive,” he said.

Chad leaned across the table. “Larry, it’s perfectly fine for you to drink red wine. Even though we’re having Vietnamese food. And even though it’s a thousand degrees outside. Merlot goes with everything.” He sat back and smiled at Jonah. “Satisfied?”

“That wasn’t what I was referring to,” Jonah said.

Chad’s husband Tyler interjected. “You called the waiter ‘Jew-y’.”

“I was describing his look,” Chad said. “He has short black hair, olive skin, a beard. He looks like he’s Jewish.”

“But you didn’t use that term, and you shouldn’t stereotype people that way,” Tyler said.

“The hostess knew immediately who I was talking about.” Chad felt light-headed from the alcohol, and even though he wasn’t thinking clearly, he wasn’t about to let up. “I’m gonna text Nathan and ask him if he thinks it’s offensive.”

“You’re making this worse,” Tyler said.

Chad got out his phone and started texting. Tyler reached over for him to stop.

“Please don’t text your best friend, who happens to be Jewish, and ask him his view on the term “Jew-y.”

Chad put down his phone and took a deep breathe. He’d been with Tyler long enough to know that Tyler was right about these things.

“I’m sorry that term offended you,” Chad said to Jonah.

COMMENTARY: In this week’s Grey Matters, Chad provides a great example of what not to do. We’ll take a look at this story in detail, and we’ll focus on one error he committed – A “micro-aggression.” A microaggression is a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other nondominant group that unconsciously reinforces a stereotype and/or is unintentional.

Chad committed a host of sins in this story, but only one is technically a microaggression.

His first offense was the way he treated Larry’s preference for red wine. Chad shouldn’t have mocked Larry for wanting merlot, but that wasn’t a micro-aggression because red wine drinkers are not a minority or nondominant group.

His next mistake was describing the waiter using a term that is itself offensive.  This is not a microaggression because the comment wasn’t subtle. The term “Jew-y” is just plain offensive. Not quite like the “n” word, but the same sort of thing.

The microaggression existed where Chad described the waiter as Jewish-looking. This comment is based on a stereotype that all Jews look the same.

Let’s consider a different example.

QUESTION: If the waiter had been Asian and Chad had described the waiter as “Vietnamese-looking,” would this have been ok?

ANSWER: No. Not all Asian people are Vietnamese, and it would have been wrong for Chad to assume that, even when they’re in a Vietnamese restaurant.

There are several more lessons to learn from this story.

  • How do you react if someone offends you?

Jonah handled the situation appropriately. He told Chad in a calm and direct manner that he did not appreciate the use of that term. He didn’t make a big deal of it because he realized that Chad was drunk and not intentional in his offense.

  • How should you react if someone tells you they’re offended?

If someone says they’re offended by something, then it’s important to accept and respect their feelings, but Chad went off the rails. He should never have tried to justify his use of the term “Jew-y.” He should have just accepted the comment and apologized.

  • There are no “get-out-of-jail free cards” on discrimination! The fact that Chad’s best friend is Jewish doesn’t matter. It’s about the same thing as declaring, “I’m not racist, but…”

The moral of the story – If you commit a microagression, stop and offer a sincere apology for YOUR mistake. Do not suggest the other person is just overly sensitive.

And we can talk about Chad’s obvious drinking problem in a future Grey Matters.