Hearts and Minds

The actions over last weekend by Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville showed the world what many people already knew. Hateful people do not just exist behind keyboards and nursing homes in the deep parts of the South that people in New York roll their eyes at. Hate and racism, and white supremacy exist everywhere, and many white people (myself included) know people who either share those views, or sympathize with the people who spout them.

In the wake of Charlotesville, it's been reinforced that it is the job of people with privilege to educate and change the views of Nazis and white supremacists. Instead of this education falling to people of color and Jewish people, who spend their lives educating white Christians and fearing for their safety, the work can and must be done by other white Christians.

But what's the best way to change hearts and minds and bring people over to the right side of history?

At the risk of sounding like a daytime talk show host, I have a few tips to make your point convincingly, and maybe change the minds of the white Christians you interact with, or are related to. I'm no expert, and I've never convinced a Nazi to abandon their post, but I've changed some hearts and minds in my day, so I'm just going to share what worked best for me.

1. Don't Yell, Don't Get Angry

No, you shouldn't have to be polite with someone who's beliefs threaten your friends and fellow humans right to exist. Yes, the statements they are making are heinous and probably enrage you. But take it from me, who got into a shouting match with a relative, about Hillary Clinton at a funeral in 2007: your anger won't help your case.

Sometimes, people want to bait you to see how angry you will get. It's fun for them. And that's fine. We all have hobbies. But if you stay calm, stick to your guns, and speak calmly in the face of total ignorance, you will seem more convincing than anyone who is screaming at you.

2. Ask Questions

If I'm in a discussion with someone, and they say something widely off-base and offensive, I've noticed it helps to ask them what makes them say that. Even if there's hundreds of problems with their statement, if I can understand why they're making that remark, it can help me zero in on where they can be convinced. Are they resisting my viewpoint because of an emotion? Because of incorrect information? Personal experience? Learning about any one of those helps me tailor my arguments to fit that person.

In a discussion about the death penalty, I learned a friend had lost a relative to murder. I made a very different argument with this friend than I made with an old boss, who felt that some crimes were heinous enough to deserve death. Probing deeper into statements you disagree with is one way to find foothold for a convincing argument.

3. Debate for the Readers

This one is Facebook or Large Group Specific. Sometimes you KNOW that you're not going to convince the person that you're talking with. It sucks but it's not always a reason to give up. Sometimes you're not in this debate to convince the person you're talking with, you're debating to convince the people silently reading along.

Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley knew they would never convince the other to their viewpoints. But they debated anyway, so that people watching could hear their arguments. If your arguments are good, you could convince some people who otherwise wouldn't agree with you or care about the issue.

4. Try Everything

In a debate about transgender rights, I stooped to an argument that may be considered problematic in LGBTQ circles. I had tried everything else, reasoned analysis, thought out arguments, and every single idea my friends and family had given me. It was this odd and slightly problematic argument that eventually convinced the person I was arguing with.

Try it all! Send articles, but also send your own thoughts, no matter how poorly formed they may be. Send a stand up comedy routine. Send pictures. Talk on the phone, over email, over snapchat. Try it all. You'll never know what will end up working.

5. Play the Long Con

This is the most important one of all. You are NEVER going to convince someone in one argument. I'm proud to have brought several people over to my way of thinking, and it took a long time. A lot of times, it took stepping away from the issue for a bit, and having conversations that didn't revolve around politics or opinions.

Again, I'm no expert. But I've seen what works on the people I know, and I've seen what worked for Megan Phelps-Roper and Derek Black. It took years. It took many conversations. It took marginalized people putting themselves in danger and subjective themselves to abuse.

The people in your life are probably not as far to the right as the granddaughter of Fred Phelps and the son of a prominent white nationalist. That means it should be even easier to start the conversation now. I assure you, many more heinous things will happen before you are able to convince people. But start the process today, because too much time has passed already, and white Christians do not need any more reasons to act.