Is debating/trying to change the mind of racist/bigots worth it or a lost cause?

Yeah, and I read both of the studies instead of stopping as soon as I found something that backed up my previously held beliefs.*

From the second link:

So it isn’t one study, it is hundreds.

But keep it up, 'cause feeling self-righteous is wayyyyy more important than actually finding out what works. It is almost like people don’t want to know that things can get better.


*Actually, I have read more than those two. But I had them handy.

Here is the story of an extreme right politician who used to blame the Jews for what he perceived as the decline of the Hungarian society and who discovered he himself had Jewish roots. Nowadays he lives in Israel, where he promotes tolerance and peaceful human interaction. In his opinion, racism is a projection of people’s inner fears and largely stems from a sense of personal insecurity.

That dude has some serious balls. I mean that’s just straight up badass.

No, it’s not a lost cause, but it’s only really useful if it’s a personal conversation or you already have rapport with them.

I’m generally against arguing with reactionaries in public spaces, because reactionaries in general are incredibly good at using the (classical) Liberal love of free speech, and their desire to “debunk the message” to covertly spread propaganda and generally use tactics to spread their message without engaging any real points. It’s to easy and effective to present in bad faith. And as these ideas proliferate, people use these argumentation styles to spread these messages and exploitative debate styles without even necessarily being consciously aware of it.

That said, there is use for public critique of these ideas, but they usually have to be long-form articles, videos, or journalism. Things like real time (or forum) debate are more prone to exploitation.

Well, I can proudly admit to changing two people on the subject of accepting gay people, one by asking the question “Do you think two same sex people can have the same relationship as two opposite sex people?”

However, that’s two out of about a hundred or more.

Here’s a AMA on Reddit with Daryl Davis about how he goes about it. He basically says to just talk to people.

It’s worth it. You can change some minds. Moreover, it’s not a binary thing, there’s a spectrum. You can help people shift in a helpful direction. You might persuade somebody that even if X people are inferior, you still shouldn’t be a jerk about it, or mistreat them. Sometimes you make people think that sharing their attitudes in a particular space, such as the workplace, is going to be a problem, and they hide what they think – that’s better than nothing. Sometimes your voice becomes one of those ones that gradually builds up in a person’s accumulated life experience, and gets them to rethink things.

What does “worth it” mean? Considering how little you have to invest and how big the payoff is for those times you have a significant effect, we can place the bar pretty low.

Besides, when you never start the conversation, you don’t get to learn anything from it either.

One might also consider the story of Michael Weisser and Larry Trapp. Gentle persistence and kindness can prevail in some cases.

I see why it’s hard as bigots usually tend to see themselves as being ‘educated’ and those they offend are just ‘easily offended’

Nobody is the villain of their own story.

Debating a racist will never change their mind. What changes their mind is actually getting to know people that are the kind they are prejudiced against. It goes from “Not Harry. He’s different. Not like the other ones.” to “Maybe they aren’t so bad.” to “I was a fool”.

If it were true that you don’t change minds, we wouldn’t be looking at a country where we have marriage equality. We wouldn’t be looking at a country where we are on the path to legalizing marijuana.

However, you can’t attack people as racists or bigots and expect them to do anything than dig their heels in.

A person’s mind can be changed, no matter how dug in they are in their opinions.

This book, Not By The Sword , tells the story of how a cantor and his family, from Lincoln, Nebraska, helped a Klansmen work out of his bigotry.

I read the book, and met Mr Weisser at a rally here in Topeka, back in the early nineties. That rally has a one paragraph mention in the book.

Psst - post #28. Mr Weisser is a FOAF but I have not personally met the gentleman.

It depends.

I have worked with or been around some older people who are pretty much set in their ways and things wont change until they are gone.

Now some younger people it might be due to some traumatic experience and its possible.

While people can and do change their mind, it is rare without some sort of outside change in their life. Debating will almost never do the trick. The reason Society’s attitudes change is not because people change their mind (although that does help); it’s because, frankly, old people die and their ideas die with them. This is the main negative between extreme extensions of Lifespan. It will keep bad old ideas around longer.


I want to mention that, however, there are cases when people make the conscious effort to ditch harmful prejudices. Also, when old people die not only their ideas die with them but also their memory vanishes and that’s how historical mistakes tend to get repeated in a cyclical fashion.

People can definitely be persuaded to change their minds, but I don’t think debating is the most successful way to go about it. In debates, people usually pick a side, and then try to win. It’s not a conducive atmosphere to admitting you were wrong about something.

Persuading someone works best if you can convince them that a particular cause is in their interest. If you’re trying to say, “I am A, you are B, now I want you to become A, like me, for my cause’s sake,” that will most likely not work.

This is why a lot of political lecturing by the hardcore activists on both sides doesn’t work. It often comes out as, “I am good, you are bad, now VOTE FOR ME!”

I think in some cases the bigotry stems from a lack of knowledge and experience. I saw an interview with a wedding planner during one of the gay marriage controversies. This woman was freaking out, almost in tears. Because she thought that gay weddings would typically
involve nudity and public sex acts and she didn’t want to have to watch that. But the government was going to force her to cater these sex party orgy weddings in order to stay in business.

At first I laughed, but then I realized that this woman honestly and completely believed this. And I thought that if I were her and I truly believed that the government was going to force my party business to cater sex parties in the name of equal rights, I’d be freaking out,too. And I might even feel that people that advocated for civil rights were out to get me.

But if this woman had more depth of experience in her life, she might realize how little difference there is between a loving gay couple and a loving straight couple. And how wrong her perceptions were.

But I don’t think that I, as an individual, could talk her out of her position. Because there are too many right wing outlets whose mission is to keep her mind in the place where it is. Because it’s to their political advantage. And I think that’s the crux of the problem