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The Top 10 Most Offensive Publicly Reported Comments of 2008: Based on your votes earlier this month.

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After a significant review of media reports, and input from our readers, we announce our list of the Top Ten most offensive publicly reported comments of the year, with tips on how to respond to several of the comments.

Reading a list of offensive comments one after another can be jarring. But the good news is that for every one of these comments, there are a range of healthy, constructive responses. We encourage everyone who respects diversity to take more initiative in responding to comments whenever we can. It’s not always easy, but the impact will be felt.

Top Ten Most Offensive Comments, from 10 down to 1:
10. “Running on a national ticket months after your child was born? Let alone a son who has Downs Syndrome and therefore under the best of circumstances is going to need every last bit of attention. How can one possibly be an involved and nurturing parent while campaigning in such a heated race? ...Running for VP is not much different from putting her child up for adoption for a few months.”  - Hanna Ingber Win on Vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. link  Our suggested response

9. “Maybe that’s a way of killing them” – Senator John McCain responding to a report that exports of cigarettes to Iran have increased dramatically. link Our suggested response

8. “This is not a man who sees America as you and I see America. We see America as a force for good in this world. We see an America of exceptionalism... Our opponent is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country.” – Vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Presidential candidate Barack Obama. link

7. “I don’t trust Obama. I’ve read about him. He’s not... he’s an Arab.”
– Minnesota resident Gayle Quinnell at a John McCain campaign appearance.  link link  Our suggested response

6. “Who are Israelis? They are responsible for usurping houses, territory, farmlands and business. They are combatants at the disposal of Zionist operatives. A Muslim nation cannot remain indifferent vis-à-vis such people who are stooges at the service of the arch-foes of the Muslim world...It is incorrect, irrational, pointless and nonsense to say that we are friend of Israeli people.” - Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. link

5. “Iron my shirt!” – Radio personalities at a Hillary Clinton Presidential campaign rally in New Hampshire. link  Our suggested response

4. “I'm opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage. <Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?> Oh , I do.”  - Pastor Rick Warren on his support for California’s Proposition 8. link

3. “Assassinate Obama!” – Idaho school children on a bus. link

2. "Old people... should just die" and "know when it's time to move over and leave the future for the young." - Roseanne Barr on John McCain's presidential run. link link

1. “All the hunters gather up, there’s a n----- in the White House.” – Buck Burnette, former UT football player. link  Our suggested response

Honorable Mention
Unable to stop at 10, we offer a few additional insensitive comments that did not receive enough votes to make it into the top ten.

11. “That boy's finger does not need to be on the button.” - US Rep Geoff Davis on Presidential candidate Barack Obama. link

12. “You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them... And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” – Presidential candidate Barack Obama. link

13. “Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans – White Americans – is weakening.” – Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. link

14. “C.H.A.N.G.E. - Come Help A N----- Get Elected.” – Marianna, Florida teacher Greg Howard, to his students. link

How would you respond?
We're interested in your feedback. You may also enter another publicly reported offensive comment from 2008 with link:
Why recount a list of offensive comments?Comments like these don’t exist in a vacuum. They usually are accompanied by actions that at the very least exclude, and often directly discriminate. Many times people of conscience don’t know how to respond to insensitive comments. We believe it’s important to address this year’s most offensive comments before they settle into our national subconscious.

The constitution guarantees our right to say almost anything. We provide tools for those who choose to balance that right with a desire to be respectful. We hope the list will spur people to think about how they can respond to similar comments they may hear.

The list of comments was compiled by the authors over the course of the year. Earlier this month, visitors to the website were invited to identify which comments they considered to be the most offensive, and to submit additional publicly reported comments.

As you read the comments, we want to encourage you to think about how you would respond to them. Because in the heat of the moment, most of us don’t really know what to say. And when we don’t respond, the silence often is interpreted as agreement. So it’s not about demonizing the people who made the comments. We offer a range of suggested responses to several of the top ten comments designed to open up a dialogue.

We have identified five different types of possible responses to the comments, corresponding to basic human interaction styles.

Thought-provoking responses are questions that cause the speaker to think about what was just said. “What is your experience with that?” and “What led you to say that?” are some thought-provoking questions that can de-escalate the situation and sometimes lead to a constructive conversation.

Personal statements about one’s own experiences and feelings related to the comment are often very powerful. Sharing personal experiences and feelings makes an argument less likely to occur. “I am extremely upset about what you said” and “I feel really sad when I hear that kind of comment” are examples of personal responses.

Informative brief facts can also be helpful, if the person who made the comment seems interested.

A Light satirical comment or rhetorical question is another option, when the setting or time doesn’t allow for a more in-depth exchange. Light responses allow you to say something when otherwise you might say nothing at all.

Authoritative statements that require respectful behavior are appropriate for parents and others in leadership positions. “That language is disrespectful and I don’t want to hear you say that again” is an example of an authoritative response to an insensitive comment.

In offering suggested responses, we want to stress the importance of tone of voice, intonation, and the words emphasized. More important than what you say is how you say it. If your how is off, many of these suggested responses can come off as snappy comebacks or gotcha’s, and can get you into trouble. The key is to using most of these responses is to be curious.

More detail on the five types of responses can be found in the book Navigating Diversity.