My Hate-Speech Rude Awakening

I just came back from an instant-messaging conversation with an anti-Semite, and boy are my fingers tired.

Actually, it’s a lot more of me than those digits that are feeling fatigue. The discussion, which began with my outreach some months ago to an individual going by the Facebook moniker that—loosely translated from Irish Gaelic — means “proud exile” — resulted in a defeat, with me coming out of it feeling deflated and sad. My objective was to convince this person not to post hate speech online. I offered him examples of his bigotry. Mostly he denied disseminating them. He angrily rejected my assertions.

I learned a few things from this dialogue. First, I learned that my Proud Exile, whom I had blogged about previously with regard to the information he has revealed about himself publicly — which includes the trauma of losing a child — is set in his ways. He will not change. He is old. He resides in an assisted-living facility. He shares a computer with other people. He is not going to stop being prejudiced just because I ask him to stop.

Second, I learned that my Proud Exile may not be fully in command of his faculties. He operates various fake profiles on Facebook that he refers to as his “friends” and denies he is behind them … even though they all have been banned from commenting on the FB pages of various major Israeli news media sites, including the Times of Israel’s. He cannot see that claims he has made in the past—which range from blaming Jews for being expelled from various countries throughout history to railing against the sweet ceremonial wine used during the Jewish holidays—are horribly offensive and anti-Semitic. He does not renounce them. He will not. He is, sadly, deluded.

Third: I learned that although I couldn’t convince this individual not to be intolerant, I would not stop attempting to do so through dialogue with other in the future. While this most recent try was a fail on my part, it was not a disaster. I talked to someone. We had a verbal exchange. We parried, chatted. Sometimes it was even cordial. It didn’t end successfully, but in the end I let him know that he should think about what he writes … and how hurtful his words can be. I suggested that he think about how offended he is when bigots post hurtful comments and then think about his reactions.

It may make an impact or it may not. In any case, it was something. It was an encounter. I tried to make a change for the better. It didn’t help, but at least I tried. Perhaps my future forays into this area will be better. Perhaps the experience of speaking to the Proud Exile will help me going forward.

It certainly aided me in looking back. For I know now that some people cannot be fixed, no matter how hard you push. You just have to leave them be. It’s not always the case, yet we have to stand apart from folks who don’t want assistance. It’s their choice, after all.

And it’s ours to continue working on augmenting everyone else. That’s the best we can do.

That’s the best option we have when confronted with those who hate.

About the Author
Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek and has interviewed innumerable people—including two Auschwitz survivors whose story may be heard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website. His views and opinions are his own.
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