Or, The Art of the Graceful Exit.
Poking around this website and reading comments, I have seen any number of people make comments or even diaries that are offensive or derogatory to some group of oppressed people. Sometimes they even make offensive comments in diaries related to issues of oppression. This being a progressive site, well meaning people then jump in to censor or punish such behavior. This is not always the most effective way to handle such encounters, whether online or off.
Often such insensitive or even oppressive language or behavior is unintentional. Often it is subconscious. By directly confronting someone who is displaying oppressive, dominating or bullying tendencies in an aggressive fashion, you are leaving them only two emotional options: complete submission to you, or fighting you. Most people will respond angrily, and they will then attempt to justify their perhaps unintentional behavior to themselves.
Congratulations. You've just achieved the opposite of your desired outcome. You have helped turn a subconscious bigot into a conscious bigot, even if just a little bit. There are better ways of interrupting oppression and helping others attain a less hierarchical world view.
There are better ways of handling the situation when you observe oppressive, dominating, or bullying behaviors or speech. One method that was taught to me by an old lover and spiritual mentor is to assume the best case, this was unintentional behavior by an otherwise conscious and egalitarian individual. So, instead of attacking them for being a bigot and perhaps making things worse, you can give them a graceful exit that leads in the desired direction.
I've done it myself and seen it work. You just say something along the lines of "I know you didn't mean it that way, but some people might be offended by what you just said/did. When you say x, people of y are going to feel z, and here's why." Then you try to get them to empathize, explain how those words or actions could hurt another human being. Because you are not directly accusing them of wrongdoing and attacking them for it, that empathy can really sink in. They will be more able to put themselves in the others shoes and then distance themselves from the oppressive behavior.
You are their friend, and you are casually letting them know they made an unintentional faux pas. Now, instead of having to fight you to defend themselves, they feel included in this new way of thinking. They have a friend here looking out for them, helping ensure they don't offend others. This allows otherwise conscious and egalitarian minded individuals (meaning, almost all of us) a graceful exit. They will be much more likely to apologize, or at the least, they won't comment in an angry and defensive fashion, attempting to justify the behavior or belittle you for calling them out on it.
You are also defeating oppression on a deeper level, by refusing to play dominance games. You aren't trying to dominate the other person into humbling themselves and apologizing for their faults. You are reaching out with friendly advice for a stranger, about how not to offend the locals. You, personally, aren't offended because you know it was unintentional. But others might not take it that way.
This helps defeat even the small minority of people who were actively and consciously trying to oppress someone. They wanted a fight and they didn't get one! They got a friendly chat instead. This will disrupt their oppressive behavior because they are not receiving their intended payoff. Obviously, the better you are at letting go of your own hurt and engaging them as a potential friend, the better this technique will work.
I know that it is hard to let go of hurt feelings because it isn't just this one time. It's a lifetime of these little barbs. Slights, major and minor. Mockery, insults, even physical brutality. Oppression is an ugly thing. I know this because I have studied it and talked to people about it, not because I have really felt it myself. As a white male born into the American middle class (hippie parents or no), reasonably fit and good at sports, of average height and (ahem) slightly above average looks, I haven't really felt it.
In fact, if anything, my natural home is on the other side of the dominance and oppression game. But I did grow up with hippie parents, the intellectual sort of hippie who talked about being "non-hierarchical." And I grew up sheltered. I was always in gifted programs through middle school, you don't generally find bullies there. Still, growing up, I was always part of the privileged class that gets to consider themselves the standard by which others are measured, even if I wasn't aware of it.
When I did begin to find out first hand how very hierarchical the world is, it was a bit like finding out that Santa Claus wasn't real, only worse. So I became an activist, fighting oppression and hierarchy. I think maybe I did some good in that part of my life, going to demonstrations, union meetings, rallies and picket lines. I cooked a lot of food and handed it out in public to hungry people. The system really hates that for some reason.
It was Nutmeg, my Rainbow Family Goddess, who dragged me off to Hawaii for two years and taught me how to see the oppressor as "us" not "them," how to see the oppressor in myself and see that I am the victim of my own oppression, and how, if we want to overcome oppression, we can't fight it, we have to love right through it to the real person underneath the mask of oppression.
So anyway, try it out. It works pretty well, online or in person, in my experience. I try to do it. Sometimes I get angry and forget and try to punish or insult someone who is, in my opinion, being oppressive or bullying. But then I usually feel guilty, and I remember there's a better way. Because I try not to be hierarchical and I try not to participate in oppression, but I'm human and I slip up and say something insensitive from time to time, and in those times, I would love a friendly reminder instead of an attack. It's a simple application of the golden rule, really.