They Accused Me of Bigotry for Criticizing a Podcast. What to Do?

And other questions for Persuasion's advice columnist

They accused me of bigotry for criticizing a podcast host. This podcast has three hosts, and one keeps telling stories unrelated to the show’s theme. I remarked on this in a Facebook group associated with the podcast, and some people accused me of being a misogynist and a racist because this host is a woman of color. But if either of the other hosts—a white man and a white woman—had strayed from the subject as much, I’d have said the same thing. How do I defend myself?

Ah, but that’s the trick, dear letter-writer: You don’t defend yourself. You can’t! The whole point of calling you a misogynist racist in this context is that it forces you into an impossible position. The only way out is to somehow prove that you’re not what you’ve been accused of, which you cannot do, seeing as the allegation is both unfalsifiable and also a Kafka trap (i.e., whatever you say to defend yourself will be held up as proof of guilt). “You say you’re not a witch? HA! That is just what a witch would say.”

The people accusing you of racist misogyny aren’t telling you anything meaningful or true about yourself. They don’t know you! They’re just trying to distract you, and to steer the conversation away from an idea that they have decided is too dangerous or difficult to engage with on its merits. It’s a derailment tactic and a power play—one best dealt with by not letting yourself be dragged into a fruitless and stupid debate about your character and motivations. If you feel the need to respond at all, you can say, “I’m here to discuss the show, not to defend myself against fabricated charges of bad intent.” Engage with the people worth engaging with. Ignore the trolls.


Need advice? Send your questions to Kat at persuasion.advice@gmail.com. We will, of course, preserve your anonymity.


I’m worried about my super-progressive friends and colleagues judging me for following the wrong kind of people on Twitter. These include “heterodox thinkers” and journalists who have fallen out of favor with the woke left—the kind that could bring me accusations of wrongthink. Should I chill out? Or create an alternate Twitter account?

I’m going to go with “chill out,” especially now, when there’s no reason not to. You really don’t want to get into the crazy-making habit of curtailing your behavior for fear of an imagined down-the-line catastrophe that may never happen. Even if there weren’t some kind of principle at stake, it’s just no way to live. But also, there are principles at stake! Not just freedom of association and expression, but charity and generosity and faith in the decency of human beings. Just as you don’t want people to assume the worst about you based on your Twitter follows, you oughtn’t assume without good reason that they’re a bunch of censorious creeps. Give your friends a chance to show you who they are, for better or worse. Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised when your concerns turn out to be unfounded. But if not, it’s still better to know the unpleasant truth because it allows you to make an informed decision based on facts rather than nebulous fears.


Need advice? Send your questions to Kat at persuasion.advice@gmail.com. We will, of course, preserve your anonymity.


I’m in a bind about embracing my ethnocultural background and maintaining curiosity in other cultures. In the current social and political climate, can I enjoy my European heritage? Must I be ashamed? Also, can I learn the dance of a non-European culture, for example, without fearing accusations of cultural appropriation? Must all this be done in private now? It’s all very disheartening.

If you spend all your time staring into the abyss of appropriation controversies online, it’s easy to convince yourself that sharing across cultural boundaries has become a taboo. But if you peel yourself off Twitter and go to any location where culture is on offer (or was, before the pandemic)—be it a tango dance studio, or a Mexican restaurant, or your Pakistani friend’s wedding—you should realize pretty much immediately that the Very Online perspective on culture is a bunch of hot baloney. And this is as true for the weirdo right-wingers screeching nonsense about “white genocide” as it is for the social justice warriors having a fit about whether a white character in the videogame Animal Crossing has misappropriated an afro-puff hairdo. As long as “embracing my ethnocultural background” isn’t code for promoting a Nazi ethnostate, you can enjoy your European heritage as much as you like. (I, for one, like to celebrate my Scandinavian roots at this time of year by baking traditional Finnish korvapuusti, which would themselves never have existed if not for the Finns’ cultural appropriation of Eastern spices. Whee!) 

As long as you are genuine in your interest and respectful (as in, normal and polite) in your engagement, you can explore any culture you want, and be welcomed with open arms. And while the too-online gatekeepers are tearing each other to pieces over problematic prom dresses or racist hairdos, you can be enriching your life with all the art, literature, cuisine, fashion and fusion fare that our lovely and interconnected planet has to offer.