Author: has written 5268 posts for this blog.

Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
Return to: Homepage | Blog Index

66 Responses

  1. akeeyu
    akeeyu December 14, 2010 at 11:18 am |
  2. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie December 14, 2010 at 11:21 am |

    Come to my house instead. Yeesh. I feel for you. I think you did very well.

    I would say, the most important thing in this situation is for you to take care of yourself and your emotional well-being. Leaving was a good idea because you removed yourself from an extremely unpleasant situation. You can’t change these people, and you can’t even explain anything to them! So all bets are off -do whatever YOU have to, if that means having earbuds in or reading or napping or doing a puzzle or something. I’m sorry this is so fraught. I’ve had similar experience, and it’s really, really hard.

  3. jgodsey
    jgodsey December 14, 2010 at 11:26 am |

    stop going. i took my narrow minded, bigoted, uneducated extended family for decades. then i just STOPPED catering to it. Instead i would join friends and their households.

  4. Anna
    Anna December 14, 2010 at 11:42 am |

    After a similar Thanksgiving experience, I’ve decided the following:
    If I’m at someone else’s house, I can leave. If they’re at mine, I’ve resolved to simply say, “We don’t talk like that about people in my house. We can either change the subject and enjoy the rest of this visit, or you can leave, but we won’t be having that conversation again here.” I don’t know if I’ll have the guts to follow through, but my ever-decreasing connection to my family members might make it easier.

  5. Blackdude
    Blackdude December 14, 2010 at 12:00 pm |

    I see…well, show them that you’re not happy with what they did Jill.

    I’m now curious though, how many caucasians face such kind of situations I wonder. Not that I’m assuming you’re caucasian.

  6. Lance
    Lance December 14, 2010 at 12:01 pm |

    I handle similar problems by living a thousand miles away, only visiting my family once a year, only staying for a couple of days, and slipping away to vent to my friends over text.

    You should definitely follow my example, as it’s clearly healthy.

  7. Emily WK
    Emily WK December 14, 2010 at 12:05 pm |

    Seconding (or thirding) to take time for yourself, text friends, etc. Is there any way you can convince a close friend to go with you, or have a friend who lives in your hometown come and be with you? That way you have someone you have to entertain (“Oh, sorry, Jane needs a ride home, we’ll be back in a bit”) AND someone you can make eye contact with and get some strength from when you feel like you have to bite your tongue.

  8. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac December 14, 2010 at 12:16 pm |

    One way (within the family) to get racist relatives to stop talking their crap in earshot, is to fix them with a gimlet eye and say, loud, clear voice “You know, that kind of talk makes me feel really uncomfortable, so please don’t do it.”

    For the first year anyway, keep the focus on your personal discomfort with what’s being said. The same kind of tone as someone pointing out to a foul-mouthed asshole that we don’t swear in front of the kids, or don’t tell that dirty joke in front of ME, young man – you know?

    Most people, racist or not, if they care about your feelings, will quit that kind of talk if they realise it genuinely makes you uncomfortable. Those that don’t, then look like assholes.

    (If there’s a general poison in the family atmosphere that means your feelings are regarded as unimportant, then yes, you should quit visiting family, holidays or not.)

    Once it’s been established, after a year or so, that in your presence racist comments/jokes aren’t allowed because they make youi feel uncomfortable then you may be able to start explaining WHY they make you feel uncomfortable – racism 101. But even if that doesn’t work, at least you still get to see your family without their making racist comments & expecting you to agree with them.

  9. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable December 14, 2010 at 12:25 pm |

    tinfoil hattie: I would say, the most important thing in this situation is for you to take care of yourself and your emotional well-being

    jgodsey: stop going. i took my narrow minded, bigoted, uneducated extended family for decades. then i just STOPPED catering to it. Instead i would join friends and their households. jgodsey

    I’m team-these people. My dad and mom are racist, but hear me out when I tell them why or drop the conversation, so it’s tolerable. My brother once told a gay friend of mine (serious trigger warning – it makes ME cry when I think about it too long and I’m het) that he didn’t need rights because he would die of AIDS anyway. I haven’t talked to him since and it’s been almost a year.

    The way I think about it is this: I’m healthier without that contact. Sharing a quarter of my genetic material (I wear it better) doesn’t mean I owe them peace of mind to live in their little bigoted world free from criticism. The tough part is when my parents guilt trip me about how “families forgive each other” and so on – to which you need to remember “families shouldn’t cause each other emotional distress.” I don’t owe my brother an apology – he owes my friend one. “If he really cared about the family” and so on and so forth, he’d suck it up. Not me. Him.

    That said, this Christmas dinner, when I see him for the first time, I’m gonna be hopped up on Xanax, so I’m probably the wrong person to ask, haha.

    Good luck – you’re not alone. I’m personally impressed that you stood up to your family, because it is definitely not easy to do.

  10. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin December 14, 2010 at 12:40 pm |

    I just remove myself from the situation. Seems as though you can either grin and bear it, or not even be present. I seriously doubt you can change anyone’s mind.

  11. JK
    JK December 14, 2010 at 12:47 pm |

    My grandma would grumble, “Why can’t they just speak American?” which, at some point led me to point out that her mother never learned English despite living here for at least fifty years. I don’t necessarily fault my great-grandmother, because she was essentially forced to live in a racial ghetto and not given resources to learn a language in her middle age, but the fact of the matter is she never learned and my grandmother needs to realize that she can’t hold everyone else to another standard. I did this, without fail, any time Grandma said that about someone who came into her orbit, and she has basically stopped.

    On the other hand, she still uses the word “colored” to describe African-Americans. In her mind, that is still the polite word to use, so I can’t fault her too much for not getting it.

    I love my grandmother, and see her on a weekly basis. It may be harder to change (or ignore) if these are people you don’t care for anyway, or if they only ever get negative feedback at the three holidays you celebrate together. You can’t necessarily change other people, you can only change your reactions to them.

    You story confuses me a bit- it sounds as if only the oldest generation was saying the racist stuff, but you were the only one who disagreed with them? Do you have allies who are also there? Or is everyone there saying the racist stuff? If you have relatives who can be your allies, that should help. If the whole lot of them are awful, you can either resolve to leave, resolve not to go, or resolve to ignore it.

  12. gretel
    gretel December 14, 2010 at 12:57 pm |

    1) Go to the stereo, put on They Might Be Giants’s “Your Racist Friend.”

    2) Leave the room. Seriously. I’ve been there. You can change their minds for them. Just leave. Take care of yourself.

  13. "A reader"
    "A reader" December 14, 2010 at 12:59 pm |

    You story confuses me a bit- it sounds as if only the oldest generation was saying the racist stuff, but you were the only one who disagreed with them? Do you have allies who are also there? Or is everyone there saying the racist stuff? If you have relatives who can be your allies, that should help.

    Everyone else just listened and said nothing.

  14. Krisi
    Krisi December 14, 2010 at 1:04 pm |

    I feel for you. My solution was to cut that half of my family out of my life, period, for good. Short of that, you have a couple of options. The Keep-It-Short-And-Don’t-Engage option, which is probably the easiest. The similar Keep-It-Short-And-Point-Out-Offense option, which is more difficult, and the Eff-The-Dumb-Shit holidays with your friends option, which is a big winner in my mind. Whichever you go with, or variate on, remember to take care of yourself first.

  15. woodland sunflower
    woodland sunflower December 14, 2010 at 1:08 pm |

    Heh. I feel for ya. Members of my family, male sibs in particular, are not only racist, misogynistic and homophobic, they are proud of being racist, misogynistic and homophobic. I opted out going to family xmas 2 years ago, sending teenaged kids so they could enjoy their cousins. That was really hard on the older, gay kid. This time we’re all going but only for 3 days, and one of them is touring local attraction. Day 2, I have craft time for the women, who aren’t obnoxious. Day 3 is xmas itself.

    But if they start piling on the slurs and won’t stop, we’ll leave. I promised my elder kid this. We can do this because my spouse only wants to stay 1 day anyway, and is willing to drive 10 hours to get away early. That said, I felt I was a total failure for getting family members to stop with the racist talk last time on account of my tender feelings. I felt they should stop because they know better. They do know better, they just are entitled.

    They don’t care about libruls, or really about my feelings. My mom will probably keep them in line, and I’m cautiously optimistic, but yeah, stressful.

  16. jgoreham
    jgoreham December 14, 2010 at 1:18 pm |

    I’m sure this e-mail was written by me in the future because this is going to happen to me- I haven’t been home for Christmas in a few years, last time I was, my uncle told jokes about black people and it was unbearably unpleasant, I will never forget the nervous laughter that my favourite Auntie came up with. That time, I didn’t do anything and still regret it- if it happens again, it is my intention to follow Jesurgislac’s advice.

  17. Rita
    Rita December 14, 2010 at 1:20 pm |

    hm… I deal with this as well and I disagree with the “just don’t go” advice. I don’t get to see my family that often and they are VERY important to me, bigoted views or no. The older generation in particular just never learned any better (which I know is not an excuse for hatred, but I’m still not going to hate them back.)

    I want to see my family and when they are not being racist/sexist/generally awful, they are great – and they are my family . So when they make bigoted statements, I use the following techniques:

    1. Pretend not to understand – make them explain the “joke” or “logic” and then everyone becomes uncomfortable.

    2. Ignore – if they’re using something awful to get my attention, I completely ignore them and the whole conversation. If the conversation is about Obama being a terrorist, for instance, I’ll start inserting totally unrelated statements into the conversation as though that is what we are talking about: “I completely agree – Zimbabwe’s inflation rate is really a problem.” Throws people off enough to change the subject.

    3. Start to cry. Go ahead and let them see how their statements upset me.

    4. Challenge their theology (this will not be appropriate for everyone) – my family and I are all Christians, who hold the Bible in high regard. So I’ll pull out Biblical rebuttals: “That’s absolutely what Galatians means when it says, “You are all one in Christ Jesus” and when John writes about “every people, tribe, nation, and language.” This has actually been successful in making some family members reconsider – and change – their attitudes.

    5. Ultimately realize that I can pick my friends but I can’t pick my family. It is not my responsibility to change them or educate them. When I am with them I just want to enjoy being with them, not start an anti-bigotry campaign in my living room. When I leave I always resolve to be even more conscious of my own remaining racism, even more active in promoting equality and civil rights, and even more eager to raise my own children to be open, loving people.

  18. Cthandhs
    Cthandhs December 14, 2010 at 1:27 pm |

    I had a grandmother who was similarly unbearable, so I stopped going to the family get-togethers over the holidays. Instead, I stayed home and hosted gatherings for friends who didn’t have family to visit. When she died, a couple years back, I did not feel guilty about my absence for a minute. I did what is right for me. As a friend of mine likes to say “Friends are the Family you choose.”

  19. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte December 14, 2010 at 1:36 pm |

    Try to create distractions to keep them from having the opportunity. I often suggest card games, though I’ve had someone use the color of the cards as an occasion to make a racist joke.

  20. Nightsky
    Nightsky December 14, 2010 at 1:45 pm |

    JK: My grandma would grumble, “Why can’t they just speak American?” which, at some point led me to point out that her mother never learned English despite living here for at least fifty years. I don’t necessarily fault my great-grandmother, because she was essentially forced to live in a racial ghetto and not given resources to learn a language in her middle age, but the fact of the matter is she never learned and my grandmother needs to realize that she can’t hold everyone else to another standard. I did this, without fail, any time Grandma said that about someone who came into her orbit, and she has basically stopped.
    On the other hand, she still uses the word “colored” to describe African-Americans. In her mind, that is still the polite word to use, so I can’t fault her too much for not getting it.I love my grandmother, and see her on a weekly basis. It may be harder to change (or ignore) if these are people you don’t care for anyway, or if they only ever get negative feedback at the three holidays you celebrate together. You can’t necessarily change other people, you can only change your reactions to them.You story confuses me a bit- it sounds as if only the oldest generation was saying the racist stuff, but you were the only one who disagreed with them? Do you have allies who are also there? Or is everyone there saying the racist stuff? If you have relatives who can be your allies, that should help. If the whole lot of them are awful, you can either resolve to leave, resolve not to go, or resolve to ignore it.  

    *nods enthusiastically* This is exactly my strategy. Bigotry in my parents’ generation is largely expressed in the form of sweeping statements about “those people”. Find counterexamples, and offer them up calmly.
    Real example from this year’s Thanksgiving for me:
    Mom: there’s no non-Muslim religious violence.
    Me: Abortion clinic bombings. (side note: parents are conservatives of the older, more libertarian school, and are not *remotely* fundigelical–are, in fact, pro-choice.)
    Dad: That’s true…

    Counterexamples, in my experience, WORK. My parents were casually homophobic when I was younger, but they now have no particular problem with gays and are even sorta-mostly-pro-equality. The difference, IMHO, can be laid *entirely* at the feet of a high school chum of mine, whom they adored: polite, respectful of elders, neatly dressed, well-read, witty, gay.) Get them thinking about why they have different standards. Plant those seeds. Sow them not just in the person you’re having the actual discussion with but in everyone who’s listening: the silent ones who *might* be on the bigot’s side, but might also not have any particular opinion on the matter, be undecided, or be cheering on the inside as you stick your neck out for the Forces of Light.

  21. Ens
    Ens December 14, 2010 at 1:51 pm |

    You story confuses me a bit- it sounds as if only the oldest generation was saying the racist stuff, but you were the only one who disagreed with them? Do you have allies who are also there? Or is everyone there saying the racist stuff? If you have relatives who can be your allies, that should help. If the whole lot of them are awful, you can either resolve to leave, resolve not to go, or resolve to ignore it.

    There’s a pattern where the entire family is racist, but the younger generations have learned from changing societal values that they must keep their more overt racism to themselves in polite company (even if they believe it’s not “really” racist — when people override this instinct it leads people to say “I’m not a racist, but [racist statement]“). Older generations in some places might not have picked up this filter, or not picked it up to the same degree that the younger generations are comfortable with.

  22. Lygypsy
    Lygypsy December 14, 2010 at 2:17 pm |

    The rule I live by with my disgusting bigot family members is this: “You won’t lower me to your level”. They *want* confrontation if they can’t get your agreement. They *want* you to be upset, because people like this think that’s funny. So, don’t give it to them. Don’t engage. You’ve tried that; it didn’t work. Just leave. And, if they want to know why you’re leaving say, “I’d like to enjoy my holiday.”

  23. nobody
    nobody December 14, 2010 at 2:18 pm |

    I’m going with not having a conversation with my brother ever again. I’ll sit in a room with him and if social glue pleasantries are necessary, I’ll go there. But I just won’t have conversations with the guy. And if overt hate breaks out again and it isn’t quelled by a short remark from me, I’m going to walk. I’ve decided I can’t just put up with it anymore, and I have friends in town and they don’t have huge places but at least they’ve got floors.

  24. Kate
    Kate December 14, 2010 at 2:30 pm |

    This is a very difficult situation and therefore a good question to pose. Even though there are several great suggestions here, I wanted to offer my two cents because personally, I would have a great deal of difficultly cutting my family out of my life even when they say things that I find offensive. So excuse me if I reiterate what other people have already said.

    First, I would explain simply that they comments are offensive to ME. They are your family and as such should at the very least care about YOU. So even if you haven’t changed their mind about saying racist things or having a racist attitude, they should at least check what they say as to not to offend YOU.

    Secondly, depending on how open-minded you think these people are, I might try to explain WHY what they said was offensive. The first commenter posted a link to a video by Jay Smooth that explains when having this conversation to focus on what they said and not who they are, meaning don’t just yell, “I think you are a racist”, but try to explain why what they said could be construed as racist. When you start throwing accusations around, people just tend to get angry and shut their minds to what you have to say. But when you can explain logically and respectfully why something sounds offensive, people are more apt to listen (sometimes).

    I once read a blog entry about explaining to men why saying sexist things was not okay, and due to my previous work situation, it really hit home with me. It basically said there are men in the world who really truly believe that violence against women is okay. And though the men in my life were not in that group, every time they made a sexist joke in public or to a complete stranger, they could be talking to a man who goes home and beats his wife or thinks rape is okay. And their joke has just condoned his behavior. I’ve since gotten a new job, and therefore have not been able to use this argument, but it really resonated with me. I think that people often have difficultly seeing what great impact some insensitive words can have until you compare it with something that even they can agree with is wrong. Similarly with a racist comment or joke, people are condoning the behavior of those who feel that violence against people of color is acceptable, which it is not.

    Best of luck with your family. I hope at least with whatever solution that you choose that you have a happy holiday season.

  25. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. December 14, 2010 at 2:35 pm |

    Well, I married someone who wasn’t white which helped, but my extended family loves to tell bigoted jokes. Now they just limit them to things that they don’t think are racist or things that are homophobic. While we were having dinner over the holidays my step uncle? I guess told a horrible homophobic joke and I responded with: “Yes, all gay people are ______, all black people are _____, all latina/latino people _____, (lots more examples), and all straight white people are assholes. I think that covers all the hateful stereotypes, can we move on?” And then I asked someone a question and changed the conversation.

  26. bhuesca
    bhuesca December 14, 2010 at 2:58 pm |

    Ok, my advice is cruel, but here’s how my parents explained it to me when particular, much older relatives used words which were racist/swears/offensive – “they used that in their time, and we’re going to be respectful of them because they’re our elders, but what they’re saying isn’t right — and we’ll discuss it in the car on the way home.” Granted – this was kind of an ‘they’re much older and don’t have long to live and the racism was of the dated, “coloreds” type and the swears wouldn’t even have made George Carlin’s list…but still, the “ignore if born before the first world war” did seem to save a lot of people’s nerves.

  27. bhuesca
    bhuesca December 14, 2010 at 2:59 pm |

    oops I didn’t finish my thought from my comment above! I meant that it’s cruel because you’re basically counting on the problem lessening as the older generation passes away first, in general.

  28. Vail
    Vail December 14, 2010 at 3:17 pm |

    You could try the Love and Logic method. Just look at them and say “I love you to much to argue, lets change the subject.”

  29. Mike Crichton
    Mike Crichton December 14, 2010 at 3:59 pm |

    I usually start be pretending to agree with them, and then one-upping their prejudiced beliefs with other ones that I’m pretty sure they don’t have, and keep doing so until they get the point. This usually happens some time before “and let’s gas the untermenschen too!”, said in a mocking tone of voice.
    For some reason they get all offended. I don’t know if this actually changes their racist/homophobic/whateverist beliefs, but at least they stop expressing them around me.

  30. Anne
    Anne December 14, 2010 at 4:26 pm |

    Blackdude: I see…well, show them that you’re not happy with what they did Jill.I’m now curious though, how many caucasians face such kind of situations I wonder. Not that I’m assuming you’re caucasian.  

    Wow, quite a few of us, apparently! I can say though I’m not glad I’m not the only one. My family says mildly (if that’s possible) racist things–I.E. they tend to overlook their own privilege or claim to not have it entirely, and say “all black people” type of things, though they don’t follow that up with the WORST things I hear–which, honestly, makes it harder for ME to deal with (though not better than the worse comparison, either), because they tend to have more intricate justifications of their ignorance.

    (Though I’m not “caucasian”–I think that’s a better description of peoples from the caucasus region (if they choose to identify as such) than as a catch-all term for white peeps–I’m of all western European descent–haha, not trying to be too picky or anything, as that is still used as a word for all white people, I just don’t personally identify with it.)

    For me, I tend to leave the room. The most predominantly racist member of my family is my step-dad, so I have to deal with it if I want to ever see my mom (though that’s decreasing…), and my extended family on my mom’s side. They’re also extremely catholic, homophobic, anti-atheist slut-shaming victim-blaming et ceteras, but I tend to just argue with them about it (and win) instead of not engaging. Not only do I like arguing, but I have logic and reason and empathy and morality on my side, so there’s that.

  31. Emeryn
    Emeryn December 14, 2010 at 4:54 pm |

    My husband’s family, on his mother’s side, is incredibly racist/homophobic/asshole. They use the n-word proudly. One of his cousins is a lesbian, and at family get togethers, HER OWN SISTER tells her to bring food in “all new containers, so we don’t catch AIDS” (direct quote). They cautioned my brother-in-law about moving to Los Angeles because “they got every kind of Asian out there” (again, direct quote). They all whine about “the war on Christmas”.

    My husband warned me about them before he brought me over to meet the in-laws. I am a bisexual athiest of Japanese-American descent. I take after my French-Canadian mother, so I don’t really “look” Japanese. My family has never practiced any traditions of any sort.

    Nevertheless, when I went to meet them the first time, I wore a kimono and bowed politely instead of shaking their hands. One of them remembered that she’d overheard my husband mention that his crush (me) had finally gotten single. She asked me why my last relationship shattered. My (truthful) reply?

    “She decided she wasn’t really a lesbian and dumped me for a guy.”

    Half of them will not speak to my husband or myself, which we count as a win. The rest of them avoid polarizing subjects around us, as they’ve realized that I have a Low Bullshit Tolerance and am Incredibly Liberal.

  32. Chelsey Worth
    Chelsey Worth December 14, 2010 at 4:57 pm |

    I’m fortunate enough to have family members that don’t make a habit of putting their racist/sexist/homophobic/xenophobic tendencies on display for the whole family to see, but they come out every once in a while. My grandfather and uncle are the worst offenders, but if they are ignored or challenged they usually stop. I have a friend who has parents who are virulently homophobic and judgmental in general, and it really affects her. I feel really fortunate to have the family I have.

  33. GallingGalla
    GallingGalla December 14, 2010 at 5:01 pm |

    I got my mom to stop making fatphobic comments to me by asking her point blank “Why are you so threatened by the fact that [woman she made a snide remark to me about] is fat?” She (my mom) couldn’t answer that question.

    I got my dad to stop commenting on the weight of waitresses by telling him point-blank, in a calm but firm tone, that I don’t want to hear remarks like that from him.

    Getting my dad to stop saying racist things has been a tougher nut to crack. I’ve tried to argue logic with him, but he yeses me and says the same thing a few minutes later. I’ve recently had some luck with questioning him and forcing him to justify his racism openly to me, and he’s ramped down those statements, though he hasn’t stopped entirely.

    Both of my parents had some modicum of respect for my opinion and knew / know (my mother is deceased) that I’d call them on their racist and other *ist stuff. If your relatives are proud of their racism, there isn’t much you can do to change their behavior. In that case, I’d agree with previous comments that perhaps not going home for the holidays might be the best thing to do.

  34. catfood
    catfood December 14, 2010 at 5:07 pm |

    Hey, what Kate said in #24.

    I really liked (and agreed with) the approach of not labeling the speaker as racist. What’s the point of that? Lots of people are racists. It’s really hard not to be somewhat racist when you’re on the high end of the privilege stack. Calling someone a racist is usually not helpful.

    What is helpful (sometimes) is showing someone how particular speech or behavior has racist effects. This isn’t playing games. It’s one thing to say, “That thing you said is really racist, and here’s why.” It’s very different to say, “You’re a racist because you said that thing, and here’s why.”

  35. ipens
    ipens December 14, 2010 at 5:28 pm |

    I would second the posters who say to at least start with telling your family members that these comments make you uncomfortable. Members of my family also fall into that brand of casual racism that isn’t entirely unthinking but is what happens when you come from a place steeped in racism and never bothered to examine your own. I don’t think I win any hearts and minds by telling people that I’m made uncomfortable by certain things (I don’t think I lose them either), but over time I noticed that my family members became more careful about what they’d say around me. And, maybe I did win something. If they know that someone finds what they’re saying to be unacceptable – someone who looks like them and was born in the same place and had the same kind of upbringing – then maybe it emphasizes that not being racist is something that even they can do. And, it also serves as a good reminder for me that I still have work to do.

    Then again, a few months ago, my uncle decided to start parroting Fox News at me and saying all sorts of horrible things about me, my values, etc. I shut it down with a, “I’m not here to argue. I’m trying to visit with Grandma.” I was still highly upset and left soon after, and I think he got a bit of a talking-to from her about driving away a seldom seem grandchild. Now he avoids speaking to me and I avoid speaking to him, and that works best for all of us. If this fragile detente were to fail over the upcoming holidays, I don’t know what I’d do. Probably walk out and let the social disapproval (over unseemly behavior, if nothing else) from the rest of my family do whatever it could to “fix” things.

  36. Julie
    Julie December 14, 2010 at 6:56 pm |

    I try to just let it go. My parents are right wing to the extreme (although my dad is FAR worse than my mom). My dad brought up gay marriage and I flat out told him it was not a good topic for us to discuss and when he insisted, I told him I thought his argument was horrible and bigoted. Surprisingly, he let it go. If it’s not terribly offensive, we (my sisters and I and our significant others) just ignore it and then talk afterwards about how ignorant our family is. If it’s bad, someone will say something and my dad gets all huffy and then we all get over it. I did go giggle with my mom after my dad tried to convince us that fox news is not slanted to the right. Even my very right wing mother was like WTF? I also agree with Amanda- it’s much easier to avoid these sorts of conversations when you are in the middle of a game. We try to stay with games like Apples to Apples, which is fun and rarely controversial. Anytime we think the political talk from my dad might start, we break out a game. If it’s my extended family, I just remove myself from the room.

  37. Marle
    Marle December 14, 2010 at 7:41 pm |

    My dad’s family doesn’t ever say anything about race, but my mom will say the weirdest racist things. One time we saw a black man wearing a bizarre multi-colored hoodie, and my mom turns to me and says “black people really have a sense of style, don’t they.” In an approving tone, not sarcastic at all. I just stared at her, no idea what to say.

  38. April
    April December 14, 2010 at 8:32 pm |

    My family isn’t so bad, but my neighbors are the worst. We live in a townhouse complex in the outer suburbs and everyone knows each other, so we have social gatherings pretty frequently, which means I get to hear all kinds of ridiculous things come out of their mouths. Since they’re my mom’s friends (and one of them, our landlords), I don’t let myself get too mean, but I try to take what they’ve said and relate it to another story they may be able to relate to.

    For example, when my landlord and one of the neighbors were referring to Somalian immigrant mothers who used her daycare where she worked as “towelheads” who just wanted free, new stuff for their kids and it started a “let’s rip on immigrants because they’re different!!” conversation, I kind of shrugged off that remark and mentioned a story about a woman I met recently who had immigrated from Russia about 15 years ago, and how she said she was confused that there wasn’t any gold furniture in the airport. “See, a lot of people have misconceptions about what life is like in the US at first, and our government social programs can be confusing to navigate. Funny how different it is here, huh?”

    It didn’t work perfectly, but it took the conversation away from the “let’s gripe about how ridiculous people who are browner than us and wear weird stuff on their heads and don’t have much money are” to “see, everyone has different experiences and expectations and they aren’t all freeloaders.” It fizzled quickly after and went back to the standard immature conversation topics that usually abound, like poop, how gross tofu must taste (since no one there’s tried it), and sexual innuendo.

    Good luck. I’m getting less and less patient with dealing with stuff like that as I get older… hopefully it won’t be too difficult.

  39. April
    April December 14, 2010 at 8:36 pm |

    Hah, Julie, we tried Apples to Apples with my grandma, who is very conservative. Every time an adjective that was in any way negative came up, it was “Someone should have had OBAMA for “arrogant.” Etc. I just ignored it… sometimes you just can’t win. ;)

  40. Athenia
    Athenia December 14, 2010 at 9:01 pm |

    Choose your battles.

    When my grandma says that I should teach my neighbors English, I let it go.

    When my Dad’s cousin, complains about young African American men can’t speak “English”, she feels the wrath of the university English education.

  41. Angela
    Angela December 14, 2010 at 10:48 pm |

    I second Rita’s advice:

    Rita: hm…
    1. Pretend not to understand – make them explain the “joke” or “logic” and then everyone becomes uncomfortable.

    3. Start to cry. Go ahead and let them see how their statements upset me.
    4. Challenge their theology (this will not be appropriate for everyone) – my family and I are all Christians, who hold the Bible in high regard. So I’ll pull out Biblical rebuttals: “That’s absolutely what Galatians means when it says, “You are all one in Christ Jesus” and when John writes about “every people, tribe, nation, and language.”

    I understand when people say “Just don’t go,” but I love my family too much to not see them, even if they’re occasionally kind of homphobic (in an unthinking way, fortunately, rather than virulent and proud). I’d also add

    -do they know any “exceptions”? Do they make homphobic/racist statements, but have gay/non-white acquaintances? I look my family right in the eye and say “I think [X] would be really upset to hear you say that.” Not sure if it’s convinced anybody, but it’s shut down a few conversations.

  42. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable December 14, 2010 at 11:09 pm |

    Angela: but I love my family too much to not see them,

    I love my family too, but I hate their actions. Also, if my family is okay with not seeing me, does that mean they don’t love me as much as you love your family? I don’t think you meant to be offensive, but you should probably know the implication you made here.

  43. Mike
    Mike December 14, 2010 at 11:52 pm |

    Well, I take advantage of the fact that my racist relatives have a taste for good scotch by drinking as much of their Johnny Walker as possible and making cruel sarcastic remarks every time they say crazy racist and conservative shit. But that might not be an applicable solution for everyone.

  44. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers December 15, 2010 at 12:19 am |

    My racist relatives are dead.

    It hurts, because I loved them, but in some ways I’m glad they died in 2001, because they were already the kind of people who listened to Rush Limbaugh, and the degree to which this country has polarized in the last ten years and the degree to which I like to argue, I don’t even want to imagine what visits to my grandparents’ would have turned into. I wish they had lived to see my biological children — they loved my older children, who are technically my stepkids, but my baby girl is essentially visually a clone of me and mentally a clone of my mother, and they would have been over the moon with her, and my little son is really physical and wild and my grandfather would have really loved to do sports with him, because there is no other member of my side of the family that ever had the slightest interest in playing ball. But I’m glad they died before the right wing hate machine dragged them into the same pit the rest of the right has fallen into, because I wouldn’t have wanted to come to hate them.

    What I used to do, before they died, was I argued with them. Because I like to argue. And my grandmother, for all her “You’re wrong, you’re wrong, I don’t want to hear it, you’re wrong,” liked to argue too. And I honed some of my rhetorical skills arguing against points like “Gays adopting children is bad for children” or “The blacks on welfare ruined Brooklyn” or whatever other bullshit my grandma was spouting that day. I did boycott their Thanksgiving dinners when they refused to let my brother bring his boyfriend to Thanksgiving, since I’d always been expected to bring my boyfriend when I had one, and it was homophobic and I told them, I wouldn’t accept them mistreating my brother in any way. But most of the time, I argued.

    To be fair, though, my parents had my back. My dad doesn’t like confrontation and my mom doesn’t think arguing is fun, so my mom might try to break it up or redirect the conversation and my dad wouldn’t step in unless he saw an opportunity to do it in a funny way, but my dad and mom are both former hippies and almost as far left as I am, and my dad loves to argue just like I do (he used to have his mother, my other grandmother, call him over to her house when the Jehovah’s Witnesses would come by, because *my* mother wouldn’t let him invite them into our house for coffee so he could argue with them, so he had to have his mother do it or he wouldn’t get a chance to argue with the JWs), so I never felt like it was me against my entire family. I don’t know what I would have done if my parents had gone along with my grandparents’ attitudes.

  45. David
    David December 15, 2010 at 12:52 am |

    I suppose my experience relates to mean family but comes from a nonpolitical direction.

    One of my aunts and my grandfather were unrelenting jerks toward my dad. My entire family has been politically left wing, but again, similar politics doesn’t mean solidarity. For whatever reason (perceived slights, resentment, whatever) they didn’t get along. I won’t forgive them for their treatment of him. I think the clincher for me, in any situation with family is that I don’t tolerate mistreatment of other family members. Thus for me maltreatment of a gay brother or lesbian sister in the family would be enough for me to want to cut off relations with the offending family member.

    Incidentally, my conservative uncle was a nice guy and treated the rest of the family well. He never talked much about his politics and I don’t really know much more about them other than he was a self identified conservative. It would have been interesting to ask his opinion on some things – not to agree with his positions – but maybe to make him feel more welcome to at least have that kind of conversation in a civil way.

  46. Unree
    Unree December 15, 2010 at 4:04 am |

    My version of the problem comes from my partner’s relatives more than mine. (My family has other issues.) What do people do about that? My partner doesn’t know how to cope with it either, but he is freer to express himself. I think. On the plus side, racist noise from a family that is not mine comes from a distance. I don’t feel personally included when Uncle Asshole says ugly things. Still, it’s a struggle.

  47. teedub
    teedub December 15, 2010 at 1:42 pm |

    I’m going through something similar with my father and step-mother; they’re born-again religious fundies. For literally the past 20 years (since being born again) they have pushed, preached, criticized, and dismissed me and my beliefs. There is quite a bit of negative history to begin with and these words and actions do not help. I’ve argued with reason and logic, tried ignoring, gently asked for them to cut it out, all to no avail.
    I reached my limit during the last phone conversation in which he…ahem…advised that I was going to hell if I didn’t start going to church and I should be going to church since I have so much time off due to being unemployed.
    They are visiting my area this week and asked to meet for dinner with me, my sister and her kids. I decided this time to set up some boundaries before the event and called to ask my step-mother for a “no god talk” dinner. My reason was I’d like to have one conversation/dinner with them that didn’t result in an argument and it’s been proven we are incapable of talking about religion without arguing. That request did not go over very well at all. She employed the “but what does preaching actually mean” and “it’s part of every aspect of our lives and we can’t just not talk about it” and so on. After more than 30 minutes of this, I finally ended with the thought that if there way someone in my life that I cared about and wanted to keep them in my life, I would respect their request to not talk about something that always results in an argument and hurt feelings….basically “don’t be a jerk”.
    I’ve decided that I will attend the dinner (mostly to see my niece and nephew) but if they start the god talk, I’m getting up from the table and leaving. My mental health is more important that their need to evangelize.
    It’s incredibly comforting to read everyone’s advice to take care of myself and leave if necessary.

  48. Niki
    Niki December 15, 2010 at 2:42 pm |

    Rita: Ultimately realize that I can pick my friends but I can’t pick my family. It is not my responsibility to change them or educate them. When I am with them I just want to enjoy being with them, not start an anti-bigotry campaign in my living room.   (Quote this comment?)

    I think that’s a crucial point. A lot of people here are saying “just don’t go” but unfortunately that sounds like a really sad option for me and many people including, I assume, the LW since s/he cared enough to write in and ask for advice. We can’t all just turn our backs on our family because of racist or otherwise ignorant remarks, and if it really is a case of “deal with it or don’t go,” well, then we need advice on how to deal with it, right?

    My family’s not too bad but my mom has some really antiquated ideas about gays. Not hateful ideas, just ignorant – she thinks that telling a gay man he is womanly is complimenting him because he really just wants to be a chick, and has said before that gay men and lesbians could be happy in relationships together since a “gay man is like a woman and a lesbian is like a man so they could be attracted to each other!” She really confuses sexual orientation with gender identity and has occasionally wondered if my brother might be gay because he’s artsy.

    When I’m up for it I’ll challenge her on this stuff but sometimes I just can’t stomach it. So on those days I just ignore her and try to change the subject. I’m not going to start an anti-ignorance campaign with my family. And I think it’s important to know when to pick your battles. If my mom and I are having a one-on-one conversation about sexuality and she says something like “all gay men are girly-men who want to be emasculated,” I might challenge her on that and say that actually, many gay men would consider that really offensive. But if we’re having dinner with ten people and my uncle makes a racist joke, I’ll simply bite my tongue, sit there and not crack a smile – I don’t have to challenge his behaviour but I don’t have to play along and laugh guiltily, either.

  49. Lauren
    Lauren December 15, 2010 at 5:57 pm |

    After spending the first 19 years of my life just sitting quietly, I have just recently started calling out my dad on his racist comments/jokes. A lot of people here are saying stop going to family events/just leave, but I know in my situation that is not an option (parents are still paying my college tuition and rent). Now that I’ve started talking to him about it, he seems to have cut back, or at least prefaces his comments with “Now someone is probably going to call me racist for this, but…” so at least he’s thinking about it. I’ve also gotten my mom on my side a bit, and she’ll tell him to stop, or that something isn’t funny. It really helps having her – someone he actually takes seriously – pointing it out too so it’s not just his daughter. I would suggest – particularly if not being present is not an option – finding an ally in your family. A sibling or cousin or aunt or whatever it maybe. If age gap is potentially a source of lack of taking you seriously, think if maybe one of your older relatives could help you out.

  50. jennifer
    jennifer December 15, 2010 at 7:01 pm |

    this doesn’t work for all hateful jokes but i generally
    a) ask them to explain the joke or comment.
    b) don’t laugh and then say really calmly “you know lately i’ve started feeling really gross about making fun of people for things that they can’t control”.

  51. Sara Anderson
    Sara Anderson December 16, 2010 at 11:35 am |

    I live in an overwhelmingly white area where even mentioning race is considered real real impolite, which has kept me in the dark about a lot of stuff for most of my life, and means we rarely get much conversation that either centers on the subject or lets people make incidentally-related casually-racist comments.

    There’s been a weird development on that front lately; a white friend of my parents’ recently married a Thai woman, and seems to think that if he’s married to her, saying racist shit is just harmless teasing.

  52. Cannoneo
    Cannoneo December 16, 2010 at 12:48 pm |

    I think a lot of this advice is specific to the kind of family you have and your relationships within it.
    For me, betraying emotions or trying to claim that I’m personally offended would just confirm their stereotype of the sappy liberal (like the caricatures Mike Judge does in his cartoons). And to be honest, I think feeling personally wounded on behalf of other people is often a form of vanity. I do not begrudge the directly attacked people any reaction they might have, up to and including violence. But for me, I feel I have a duty to remain composed so I can use the best counter-strategy I can think up. Focusing on my own feelings feels to me selfish and anyway wouldn’t work.
    For the racists in my family, I prefer jeering condescension and sarcasm. I use a tone and a type of response that lets them know that their racism puts them outside of mainstream, successful society. I mention specific people of color I know who are more intelligent, hard-working, successful, religious, and patriotic than they are. The manager at my work, the guy I went to high school with now fighting in Iraq, etc.
    If they respond with “well some of them are okay,” I say yeah, and some of our kind suck, hopefully with an example that lets them know they are in that category themselves.
    But rather than being directly insulting, I’m willing to make it seem like a form of affection, with the hint that I find having crazy backwards relatives amusing. Sometimes I have even told them that I enjoy sharing stories about them with minority friends. It’s important to let them know that their comments make them an easily referenced cultural *type.* Shoe on the other foot etc.
    But still they always have comebacks. The goal is not to win the battle but the war. I think sending signals of imperturbability and condescension is a longer-term more successful strategy than crying, leaving, or lecturing. I think attitudes change when people get the message that they are on the losing team.
    I admit this is much harder to do, and even dangerous, if you are low in the power-hierarchy of your own family.

  53. Lemmy C
    Lemmy C December 16, 2010 at 1:40 pm |

    I put things like this in context.

    There was a story recently about a pair of twin girls from Kansas, who’d spent most of their teen years being raped by their brother and, later, their father, while their mother sat by in vodka-soaked stupor. They finally got out, their relatives are in prison, they are getting help.

    But they, essentially, have no family. Even in their healing, they are going to have to re-start any family tree they want to be part of.

    My family, at its worse, is better than their family at its best. Racist remarks and other political/cultural dissonances are nothing in the context of abusive situations like this. The incidental homophobia of a relative once a year is less painful than the violence of bullying in schools.

    American society has based itself on the disruption of family and community ties: we are expected to move away, to become autonomous, to work for companies and organizations instead of with family and neighbors. The organic ties of family and community have become very fragile and tenuous, and it takes more than my discomfort with the chauvinism and generally feckless bigotries of everyday life to get me to loosen those ties even more.

  54. unclesmedley
    unclesmedley December 16, 2010 at 2:05 pm |

    Rita: “The older generation in particular just never learned any better.
    I want to see my family and when they are not being racist/sexist/generally awful, they are great … when they make bigoted statements, I:
    1. Pretend not to understand … then everyone becomes uncomfortable.
    2. Ignore … Throws people off enough to change the subject.
    3. Start to cry.
    4. Challenge their theology
    5. Ultimately realize that … I can’t pick my family.  

    Wow… no wonder you don’t see them that often. You’re obnoxious and, dare I say, intolerant. The point that you’re missing is that their intent is not to hurt anybody’s feelings. They’re elderly and oblivious, and your response is to be rude and condescending. Grin and bear them as they most certainly do you, and try to get over yourself…

  55. Jenn
    Jenn December 17, 2010 at 12:26 am |

    Stop going. I live with my grandmother and no matter how many times she asks me, I refuse to go visit my family at any time of the year (not just holidays). They’re not family to me – for reasons other than their racism, sexism, etc. She ~doesn’t understand~ why I don’t go (“You’re just *difficult* Jenn!”). I’ve tried explaining it to her – it goes in one ear and out the other.

  56. Angela
    Angela December 17, 2010 at 12:45 am |

    PrettyAmiable:
    I love my family too, but I hate their actions. Also, if my family is okay with not seeing me, does that mean they don’t love me as much as you love your family? I don’t think you meant to be offensive, but you should probably know the implication you made here.  

    That’s certainly not what I intended to suggest; my word choice was hasty, and thanks for alerting me to the implications of it.

  57. This Week in Diversity: Surviving the Holidays « the open book

    [...] starting out at Feministe, where a poster asks for advice on dealing with racist relatives during the holidays. There’s a wealth of advice and shared experiences in the comments. Whether you need the [...]

  58. wondering
    wondering December 18, 2010 at 4:48 pm |

    OMG, this is my grandfather. One time, a long time ago, he was cheated by an Indian and he has harboured a grudge against all non-white people ever since. I used to argue with him about it, but his blood pressure is now dangerously high and gets worse when he is upset. Gramma has asked me to stop, and I have. It’s a terrible choice: accept his racism or trigger a heart attack?

    We were just visiting last week and made some more racist remarks, which got my Nigel angry. I actually had to ask him to stop challenging grandpa because grandpa was getting so upset. I felt like a terrible collaborator but I don’t want us to cause his death either. :-(

  59. Guide to Surviving the Holidays with Racist Family Members « Bursting At The Seams

    [...] reading this post on Feministe I decided I need to write up a blog post about the subject. This is post is framed [...]

  60. Christa
    Christa December 19, 2010 at 6:20 pm |

    I think comments like this are really immobilizing. Just because the situation could be worse doesn’t mean that the situation isn’t fucked up and not worth fighting. Its like if I were to say “black people used to be slaves, stop complaining about racism, it could be so much worse!” We need to fight oppression where we are at, if that means advocating for a family member that is being sexually or emotionally abused then great, if that means pushing your family members to have better race politics (or just stop staying fucked up things) then that is great too. Obviously I also think fighting oppression in the wider sphere is important too, but not everyone has the time and energy for that.

    I started to write a comment about suggestions and reflections from what other folks posted…but it got really long so I just decided to write my own blog post about it:
    http://burstingattheseamsblog.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/guide-to-surviving-the-holidays-with-racist-family-members/

  61. RitaF
    RitaF December 20, 2010 at 5:45 am |

    Rita’s comment earlier was wonderful and on point.
    I’d like to add that if racist comments bother you enough to know more and post, it means you should be actively working with other antiracists, if you’re white, connect with other white antiracists that have similar experiences than you. Join an organization, a support network. It will offer you the support to be able to apply what you learned. But more importantly, a systemic problem is not solved with the actions of individuals alone. Tortuous family dinners have been the maturing ground of many organizers like myself, we learn how to approach people, how to teach, set boundaries, grow become effective, and ultimately affect others’ changes as we change ourselves. Stay humble. We are all learning.

    We need to continue to organize!

    Happy, happy, pro-equality, pro-learning, pro-growth holidays!

  62. LIE Links | Love Isn't Enough - on raising a family in a colorstruck world

    [...] Feministe Feedback: Dealing with racist relatives during the holidays [Feministe] [...]

  63. Stepping_Razor
    Stepping_Razor December 23, 2010 at 3:34 pm |

    I think showing your family love is more important than being “right”. If it isn’t your job to educate them, why get mad about their ignorance/racism? I’d laugh at them and eat up. If I felt like it, I would hold their comments up to intellectual scrutiny. They probably wouldn’t like that.

    Example:

    Racist/Bigoted Relative (RBR): “Person X is gay, and doesn’t deserve any rights, because he’ll be dead of AIDS in a year.”

    Reply: “By the way you’re pouring gravy on that Ham, you’ll die of a coronary in two years. Maybe you don’t deserve any rights. Where do we draw the line? One year or two?”

  64. Betty
    Betty December 27, 2010 at 11:53 am |

    Last xmas during the Olympics my family and I were watching the skating and my dad made some comment about the men being faggy. I told him that was offensive, he told me not to be so sensitive. Later, I spoke to my mother and explained why the comment upset me and why it was offensive, and if you couldn’t say it in front of gay people, or their allies, (they don’t know I’m bi, but they do know I have a lot of gay friends) you shouldn’t say it in your home (I told her to replace “faggy” with the N word and she got the message). I’m pretty sure she spoke to my dad because I haven’t heard a word like it since.

    Find allies, and make them help you out if they have more influence with your bigoted-comment making relatives.

  65. Helen
    Helen December 28, 2010 at 5:33 pm |

    This Christmas, my racist BIL, who was already not too pleased with the fact that my husband’s brother is in a committed relationship with a Lebanese muslim woman, learned that (as everyone else already knew) that Husband’s Bro was OMG CONVERTING TO ISLAM OMG OMG OMG.
    Yes there was shouting. And HE WILL NEVER BE ALLOWED INTO BIL’S HOUSE AGAIN.
    Unfortunately, SIL and her brother don’t get on well, so there may not be much solidarity there. And even then there are limits to how far a woman with a brain injury, unable to work, can go against a bullying husband. It’ll be up to the rest of us to show solidarity to them next time they visit.

  66. Tj
    Tj January 2, 2011 at 12:29 am |

    @ Stepping_Razor
    OMgosh that is awesome! I laughed so hard when I read that, definitely the best way of dealing with wierdos like that!

Comments are closed.

The commenting period has expired for this post. If you wish to re-open the discussion, please do so in the latest Open Thread.