So, I keep running across this, and don’t know how to handle it: person a talks about subject x, and then gets sick of talking about it and sets boundary of ‘stop talking to me about this’. which is fine, except often this is right after person A said something racist or ableist or sexist or fatphobic while discussing said topic. Is it okay to call them out on this, even though they set a boundary that they’re done with the topic?
realsocialskills said:
I think it depends a lot on the situation, and the particular relationship you’re talking about.
Relationships and obligations are complicated, and so is the question of what is and is not an ok boundary.
One thing I’d say is that if you’re calling someone out a lot in a friendship, there’s probably something going wrong. Calling people on things is generally a somewhat hostile act. I don’t mean that pejoratively, sometimes it’s absolutely vital to be hostile. But if you’re finding that you’re frequently angry with a friend because of their attitudes towards marginalized groups, and that you usually strongly want to address this forcefully, it might be worth reconsidering whether you actually like them enough to have that kind of relationship. Particularly if this has been going on for a long time and things haven’t gotten better. It might be time to create some distance; you might be realizing that you don’t actually want to be that close to them.
If most of your interactions with someone end up being attempts to correct their worldview, you probably don’t actually like them that much. And close friendships need to be between people who like and respect one another in a deep way.
Friends can and do criticize one another and point out ways we’re going wrong. Everyone is wrong about something important that hurts people, and friends can really help one another to figure this out and be right about more things. But this is a respectful and mutual process between equals, not something that happens where one person transforms another. It’s also something that needs to happen consensually.
It also might be worth naming it explicitly, even if it isn’t a close relationship. For instance:
  • Bob: Cars cars cars cars. Long rant about cars. And also trucks.
  • James: Cars! Cars cars trucks cars. Wheels.
  • Bob: Wheels. And also axels. Women who think they can drive big trucks are such r@$%@$%s. Argh, sick of cars now. Let’s talk about something else.
  • James: Ok, we don’t have to talk about cars anymore, but that comment was really sexist and ableist and I’d appreciate it if you stopped saying things like that around me.

In this case, James is respecting the Bill’s decision to drop the subject, but still addressing the offensive comment.

  • James explicitly says that he’s willing to stop talking about cars
  • And then he does, in fact, stop talking about cars. 
  • But he doesn’t let the hateful comments go, either
  • But he also doesn’t start an argument about the content or continue an argument about cars
  • Eg, James doesn’t say anything like “Bob, why do you have to be so sexist about that? My sister’s way better at driving than you’ll ever be. That’s why she wins the truck races and you totaled your car last month.”

James also isn’t necessarily trying to fix Bob or to make him see the error of his ways. He’s objecting, and asserting a boundary. 

If it’s a closer relationship, the conversation might be more like:

  • Bob: Wheels. And also axels. Women who think they can drive big trucks are such r@$%@$%s. Argh, sick of cars now. Let’s talk about something else.
  • James: It really bothers me when you say things like that. Those comments are sexist and ableist, and I know things like that hurt people.
  • Bob: What’s the big deal? Isn’t it just an expression?
  • James then attempts to explain why it’s a big deal

When people are open to this kind of conversation, explaining things can be really good. If they’re not open to this kind of conversation, trying to force them to have it is likely to hurt you and unlikely to change them. If they’re not willing to engage these issues, all you can really do is set a boundary about how they behave around you.