How Can I Deal With My Boyfriend’s Family’s Racism?

How Can I Deal With My Boyfriend’s Family’s Racism?

Hi Evan, I think you give some great, down-to-earth advice, and I could use some right now. First, let me give you some context. My boyfriend and I are both white, mid-twenties, and well-educated. I grew up in a diverse suburb of a mid-size city. He grew up in a fairly rural area, somewhat close to the small city in which we both live now.

To cut to the chase, his parents (particularly his mom) are racist and homophobic (though I am positive they only express these views amongst other white straight people). These are very common attitudes in the area where we are living now, but it makes me wildly uncomfortable. I believe that all people are equal and should always be treated that way and I believe that racist/homophobic jokes and comments contribute to system issues that are a threat to the well-being of those they are directed to.

I have only met the parent’s twice and both in very public settings. For the sake of my boyfriend have chosen to keep my thoughts to myself when certain comments have been made. Obviously, I am not going to start a confrontation when I have been invited to an event with all of my boyfriend’s family and friends, but I am concerned about when this happens in private. I will feel like I am not being true to myself if I do not make my views known, but I don’t want to hurt my boyfriend’s feelings. He loves his parents and accepts them for their flaws.

While I passionately argued my liberal point of view, I ultimately didn’t get anywhere. In fact, all I ever did was make everyone at the Thanksgiving table very uncomfortable.

I guess I ultimately have two questions. What is the appropriate way to deal with my discomfort with his parents because of these issues? And, should I be worried that the fact that my boyfriend doesn’t care about his parent’s prejudices is indicative of a much larger gap in our values?

Thanks, Cassie

Oh, Cassie. Your email hits home.

I am an argumentative liberal atheist.

I married into a family of non-argumentative Christian conservatives.

My in-laws and their extended family are lovely people – and I’m not just saying that because they’re reading this (Hi, Nana!) I’m saying this because they believe in God, family, and country, they are generous to the core, and they don’t have a bad bone in their bodies. They are Irish Catholics with a military background in a military town, and they have been indoctrinated with a set of beliefs and surrounded by other people with the same set of beliefs for their entire lives. A conservative worldview is all they know. Expecting them to embrace my liberalism would be like expecting them to speak Chinese when they’ve never met anyone from China.

In the six years I’ve been with my wife, there have probably been about five occasions where I decided to be like you and say, “I’m not being true to myself if I do not make my views known”. And guess what? While I passionately argued my liberal point of view, I ultimately didn’t get anywhere. In fact, all I ever did was make everyone at the Thanksgiving table very uncomfortable.

So now, I do my best to keep my mouth shut and keep the peace. Not because I want to – I honestly LOVE a well-informed and balanced debate between smart people – but because my experience has taught me that the downside of speaking my mind is significantly greater than the upside. I would suggest the same to you.

It’s easy to demonize people who think differently as “wrong”, but that kind of reflex rarely serves our higher purposes. When it comes to family (and marriage), it’s far more important to get along than to be “right”.

Are you empirically right that all racism is wrong? Well, you’re mostly right. Prejudice is, admittedly, dangerous. It’s wrong to assume all members of an individual group are the exact same way and to assign negative stereotypes without further inquiry.

At the same time, are there ANY stereotypes that are true? Are there ANY stereotypes that are funny? I’ll be the first to volunteer that there are.

I’m Jewish. Those things that you’ve heard about Jews, in general? They’re true. Both the good and the bad. Not every Jewish person everywhere in the world. But if you were to take a random sampling of the 14 million of us left on the planet, you’d certainly find a bunch of intelligent, neurotic, argumentative people who would much rather be lawyers than manual laborers.

Is there humor to be found there? I’ll say there is.

My wife’s family is Irish. They have fair skin, lots of children, and drink a hell of a lot more than any Jewish family I’ve ever seen. That is a stereotype, and, in this instance (not all instances), it’s true.

One of the ways I think the left has it wrong is insisting on political correctness at all times. Sure, it serves a valuable and higher purpose; we can all stand to be more sensitive. At the same time, wouldn’t you agree that being PC all the time is a bit humorless? I remember going to a comedy club with someone who was so PC that she couldn’t even enjoy herself. Literally any joke that played with a stereotype was offensive to her. Women. Men. Blacks. Mexicans. Old people. Young people. In a PC world, you can’t make any negative observations, lest you offend someone. Sorry, but I can’t ascribe to that worldview. And if a liberal guy like me thinks there’s room for the occasional joke, you can be sure that your boyfriend’s family is not going to take a scolding all that well.

He’s tolerant of things he can’t change. You’re actually being intolerant – which is hard to hear, when the thing you’re not tolerating is racism.

Listen, I know I took this on a big tangent. I know that your issue with your potential in laws is not simply about the occasional iffy joke from an otherwise cool mother-in-law. This is about your comfort level with rural people who are unlike you, and, in your mind, not as evolved.

Alas, you’ve already answered your own question:

Your boyfriend loves his parents and accepts them for their flaws. The fact that he does is a sign of his maturity, not a gap in your values.

He’s tolerant of things he can’t change. You’re actually being intolerant – which is hard to hear, when the thing you’re not tolerating is racism.

But it’s true. There’s not going to be some new PC girlfriend who makes his family change on a dime. So you have two choices: get so upset about biting your tongue a few times a year that you break up with your boyfriend, or smile and nod and talk about TV, football, and the weather when you’re around your in-laws. That’s what I do, and while it’s not as substantive as my normal conversations, at least no one goes home feeling angry.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    nathan

    Here’s the thing. There’s a difference between people in their own racial/ethnic group making jokes about themselves, and outsiders making the same jokes. Furthermore, racism isn’t the same as prejudice. Racism has multiple layers. Individual hatred and bias, as well as institutional and systemic patterns of oppression. Homophobia plays out a little differently, but is no less problematic. Reducing attempts to call out how these jokes play into larger patterns of suffering as simply “PC” behavior is dismissive. It sort of amazes me how many liberal folks have adopted a term – PC – that was the hallmark of 1980s/90s conservative activism to suppress efforts to address racism, sexism, heterosexism and the like. Furthermore, the idea that someone is “humorless” because they don’t participate or remain silent in the face of such “humor” is rot. There are endless forms of humor, and no one thinks everything is funny.
     
    With that said, I think part of the problem here is the way in which this kind of thing get approached. If you get pissed and start flying off the handle at your partner’s family because of some racist joke, then certainly, all you get is uncomfortable misery. Entering into this kind of situation as argument never works. I’ve been like Evan with extended family and it’s always a flop when approached as a conflict you must “win.” However, my own experience is that when I’m able to respond more calmly, by saying something like “my experience is different,” sharing some of that different view/experience, and then saying I don’t find the joke funny – well, sometimes there’s a little shift. And sometimes, we just have an exchange and then move on. I think you have to be under no illusions that you’ll “change” anyone, but sometimes you might have an impact anyway. If you actually maintain an attitude that the person or people on the “other side” are people like you.
     
    The other thing I’ve learned is that you have to recognize when to step in and risk upsetting things in the short term, and when to stay quiet. The person who is always leaping on every joke or offensive comment – that’s the humorless one. And the person who is likely to be rejected by the partner’s family. You have to pick your battles. You have to know when you have the energy and patience to engage, and when you don’t. That’s really key.
     
    In the end, I think for the OP some of this boils down to how much time she spends with the BF’s family. If they end up spending much more time together, there’s something really phoney about about always staying silent. You’re keeping a false peace, at the expense of yourself. If you see each other once or twice a year, it’s probably ok to mostly suck it up. Although again, if you have your wits about you, and don’t engage as an enemy of the other person, you never know what will come. However, if you see each other more regularly, then it’s kind of sick to stay silent. In the case of seeing the family more regularly, what good are your values if you stuff them whenever potential conflict arises?

  2. 2
    BGirl81

    I have to agree that there is a hell of a lot of humor to be found in all our little cultural quirks!  I am half-Jewish and half-Italian and my boyfriend is Irish.  A few weeks ago we went to a family get-together and his 86 year old, hard-of-hearing grandmother was asking me about my background.  Here it is, in all it’s glory:
    Grandma: MICHAEL TELLS ME THAT YOU’RE A JEW.
    *complete silence as all conversation stops*
    Me: Yes, on my mother’s side.  My father is Italian. Can you guess which side throws better parties? 
    Grandma:  WELL THAT’S VERY NICE.  IT’S NEVER A BAD IDEA TO MARRY A FRUGAL WOMAN.  MICHAEL, SHE’LL MAKE A NICE WIFE FOR YOU.  
    *Grandma fires up a Marlboro Light*
    Everyone else in the room looked like they wanted to take a long walk off a short plank, but I couldn’t stop laughing.  Once they saw that I wasn’t offended, everyone relaxed and had a good laugh along with me.  I may have to marry this dude, if only to make sure I don’t miss out on any further opportunities to hang with Grandma!

  3. 3
    marymary

    Tell them your great great grandfather was [insert racial target here]

  4. 4
    Julia

    People have a right to their opinions, which are largely shaped by their environment, however, everyone know hatred of a group based on the way they look is unacceptable. I have heard many experts say you should not argue with racists, you should simply state that you do not accept their language and they should respect that and not discuss such things around you. Being silent and taking it is bull, I have done this to members of my own family and they respect my boundaries.

  5. 5
    brown_eyes

    Out of topic here, but I find it interesting how some Americans say they are half German and half Italian, or whatever. It’s weird because it’s usually people who weren’t born in these places, don’t speak these languages or have a passport from these places. I mean, if you speak English, and you live in the United States, and your passport says American, that’s what you are, right?

  6. 6
    J

    Isn’t there a middle ground between starting an in-your-face debate and stating simply , in response to a racist comment, ‘I haven’t found that to be true’ and letting the subject drop or otherwise making it known that you aren’t trying to change their mind, but you dont agree with what they said? I’m all for not making people uncomfortable, but that also includes extending the same courtesy to myself.

  7. 7
    Sunflower

    People are products of their era and environment.  My mother doesn’t have a cruel bone in her body and is socially kind to everyone.  Born in 1932, she is very unevolved.  She will use what is considered today as racist names.   We explain to her that her language isn’t appropriate, and even after she acknowledges and agrees, one will still slip by every once in a while.  We’ve just learned to consider the source, bite our tongues and change the subject.    

  8. 8
    Lydia

    I’m sorry, but I find this offensive. And this is precisely how ignorance and racism continues to be passed on from one generation to the next, when nobody decides to take a stand and decides to be complicit through silence. Most of the time when people make jokes about people of other races or ethnicities, especially people in the majority as racism does have a power dynamic, there are usually very insidious beliefs behind them. And I don’t buy the “they’re really not bad people, they’re just old” excuse. There are many elderly people who aren’t ignorant about race and culture. I don’t think she should break up, but sometimes the boat needs to be rocked and while it may be uncomfortable it’s better to say “don’t talk that way around me”. As a black woman who dates interracially, I’ve done this with my own family, and they know there are certain things not to say around me or they will get corrected. Some battles are worth fighting.

  9. 9
    Selena

    @BGirl 81,
     
    LOVED your story! And your attitude. Thanks for sharing. :)

  10. 10
    Cat5

    I agree with Lydia @ #8.  I come from a family with a lot of white supremecists and aryan nation members, and trust me…family reunions are very uncomfortable for me.  I do not keep the peace so to speak by tacitly agreeing with them by ignoring their racist and sexist comments.  Nor do I engage them in an argument.   I just calmly say, “I know that I can not change what you believe, but I would appreciate it if you did not talk like that in front of me.”  I take a lot of crap about  being the “liberal, overly educated and overly opinionated broad in the family,” but generally speaking, they don’t talk in front of me like that anymore, and I rarely visit so they don’t have any real opportuity anymore.

  11. 11
    Karmic Equation

    I’m a big believer in unintended consequences. I know people’s hearts are in the right places, but sometimes negative things result from good intentions.

    Affirmative action was supposed to help people of color get into jobs and schools to help diversity and grant those folks opportunity they might not otherwise have had, but the unintended message is that they weren’t good enough to do what the white man does without help. Over time, that unintended message becomes offensive to both those who can excel without help and those who were displaced because of the help. Not exactly sure of the cure, but it’s a reality.

    White folks who are offended by racism expressed by their own race towards others, again, have their hearts in the right places. However they may be unintentionally taking away the voices of those who were the target of the racism. I’m Chinese, and if someone makes an off-color joke in front of me and a non-Chinese person corrects them when I say nothing, you’re either taking away my voice or making a big deal out of something that didn’t bother me…In other words, you’re telling me that you know better than me. Not the message that was intended.

    In case you didn’t know, many Chinese people, particularly those who emigrated to America, as opposed to those who were born here, can be racist towards whites and blacks. An aunt of mine had the craziest notions about black people. Chinese folks can say very cruel things about obese folks too. I’m sure there are homosexual Chinese, but I’ve never met one, so they’re very much in the closet still, probably due to in-culture shaming.

    As well, I’m also a believer of it takes two to get offended: the person who means to offend and the person who decides to take offense. Sometimes people can just be thoughtless, have little to no experience with other races, or just too old to care, like BGirl81‘s grandma. Those people don’t mean any harm, so don’t make a big deal about their unintentional racism. But the people who are truly racist? Dissassociate from them if you can. And speak up if you want to. But you alone can’t change them, perhaps their behaviors around you, but not their belief system.

  12. 12
    Kathleen

    My Irish dad used to say some horrible racist things until I brought home my black fiancee whom I married while we were visiting 
    Love the grandma story GGirl81!!!!  Hilarious 

  13. 13
    Kiki

    I am fully with Evan on this one.
    The in-laws are a very delicate territory. You have a better chance of changing your boyfriend/husband than his parents (zero and sub-zero, respectively).

  14. 14
    Gina

    I agree with what Nathan wrote. I have been in these types if situations before and the comments/jokes were about blacks (I’m black) and it made me very uncomfortable. If I did not address it, they felt it was okay and would continue to disrespect me by making racist jokes or comments that, I guess to them, were harmless and in good fun. I don’t think that one has to get into a big debate with these types of people, but if the situation makes you uncomfortable, I don’t see why keeping silent about it should be an option either. What’s wrong with saying, “I respect your right to feel as you do about a particular group of people, but I just wanted to let you know that I do not feel that way and when you make jokes or negative comments about them, I feel uncomfortable.” 

  15. 15
    Shaukat

    Nathan puts it very well I believe. I should also add that the situation changes quite a bit depending on the nature of the stereotypes and whether the main import of the joke is irony and/or satire. For example, the stereotypes invoked by Evan above are all largely positive–no one would hold it against anyone for preferring to be a lawyer over a manual labourer, or for being an intellectual, argumentative, or even a bit neurotic. And the Irish people I know hold their drinking abilities up as a badge of honor. However, it’s completely different when one invokes negative stereotypes which historically have been used to oppress and marginalize or dehumanize target groups–for example, by referring to Jews as greedy financiers or to Arabs as terrorists, etc.
     @Karmic Equation
    I often agree with your comments but disagree with your premise above completely. No one is silencing you or second guessing you if they speak up against an anti-Chinese racist joke or comment before you or while you remain silent. The reason being that non-Asians have every right to be offended by Anti-Asian racist comments/jokes irrespective of whether a number of Asians are ok with it, just as non-gays have the right (some would argue the obligation) to speak out against homophobia irrespective of whether certain gays have a problem with it not. Your argument above is a dubious version of stand-point theory, which posits that a certain view point automatically has validity if members of marginalized/historically oppressed groups are behind said views.
    I should add that a non-Asian especially has an obligation to speak out against an overtly racist comment/joke if they don’t know you, and therefore cannot possibly know your reasons for remaining silent (ie, fear, embarrassment, internalized oppression?) It reminds me of an episode of the British Office when David Brent felt justified to go on making racist jokes so long as the one African American in the office smiled or laughed along.  
     

  16. 16
    Goldie

    It depends upon what exactly the OP means by her bf’s parents’ racist comments. Is it a “a Jew and a Polack walk into a bar” type of thing, or a “wish we could reinstate slavery” kind of thing? The first, I can live with (I am 3/4 Ashkenazi and 1/4 Polish, FTR), the second, I would cut my losses and run. Especially if the boyfriend doesn’t seem to object to that stuff all that much. My dad was an outspoken conservative in the last ten years of his life, and sometimes the things that would come out of his mouth… all I can say is oy. Well I came up with a new rule for family holiday dinners – no politics at dinner table. I had no problem telling my dad to change the subject if he went too far. How come the OP’s boyfriend cannot do the same (assuming his mom really does go THAT far)?
     
    BGirl81, I have a similar story from when my new next door neighbors invited me and my then BF to their housewarming/graduation party. BF and I were in the basement talking to the wife’s dad. Wife is from a large, loud, outspoken, Italian family… god I miss those guys. (they bought a house in a better area and moved.) Somehow the conversation turned to divorce arrangements and I said that, during my own divorce, I only asked for the kids and left everything else up to my husband; I told him I wouldn’t even ask him for child support (which he gave me anyway). Well my neighbor’s dad was outraged.
     
    Dad: “What do you mean you didn’t ask for child support? Are you Jewish?”
    Me: “yea…”
    Dad: “THEN ACT LIKE A JEW!!”
     
    I thought it was hilarious, but my Irish/German bf was mortified… I still crack up when I think of it. I did not find it offensive at all.

  17. 17
    Karmic Equation

    @Shaukat

    I either tune out or avoid people who make mean racist/sexist jokes. Usually folks who are truly racist have other issues of character.

    On the other side of that coin, I don’t like people who are two-faced. As much as we hate overt racists, they show you who they are, and you can choose to avoid them.

    There are people who’ll be polite to your face and then stab you in the back as you walk away. My Chinese coworkers in the Chinese restaurant, for example, or even my own mom and dad and extended family.

    I’m more concerned about the people who hide their prejudices behind PC’ness than the overt racists. I’m not trying to be inflammatory, but I do believe that the KKK operated like that. One face for the public and another one behind the white sheets. You can’t avoid them because you don’t know who they are.

  18. 18
    Julia

    @Karmic
     
    Its interesting, as a white with an entirely white family, I understand what you are saying. I have family members who would never say something racist to someone of a different race but when they are with their people (other whites) that’s when their true colors show. I have an uncle who has badgered me about living in the city, he says things like everyone gets shot because “they” are all savages and thugs. I live in a majority black city, I know what “they” he is talking about. I first tried to argue with him then I finally said “I don’t share your view about people from different races and it makes me extremely uncomfortable when you make these statements. Please refrain speaking like this when I am in your presence.” He stopped. That is why I maintain you can show people that their hatred in not welcome in your company and unless they really want to make their son’s girlfriend uncomfortable, they will mind what they say around her.

  19. 19
    BeenThruTheWars

    I’ve been in this situation many times over the years. I’m in it now, in that my husband’s friends have their moments where they are disgustingly racist, particularly against blacks. I’ve developed a policy: if we are in public, I will pleasantly but pointedly change the subject. “So Mark, I hear you got a promotion, congratulations!” is a perfect way to derail disparaging garbage-talk. If we are at their homes, I will excuse myself and go to the bathroom or any other room to get away from the talk before I say something I’ll regret later. 90% of the time by the time I return, they’ve moved on past it. When they speak that way in OUR home, I look them in the eye and say pleasantly, “When we’re in my home, I won’t tolerate that kind of talk. So let’s change the subject, please.” It’s worked for me. In my bleeding heart of hearts, I would rather leap on racist or homophobic talk in all settings, get up on my soapbox and smite the ignorant, but as Evan points out, it’s like talking to a wall. So I do what I can where it’s appropriate (my turf) and find socially acceptable ways to absent myself or turn the conversational tide without bludgeoning people elsewhere.

  20. 20
    J

    Lots of good responses here. Warms my heart.

  21. 21
    SAL9000

    I’m not gonna trust “Cassie” and her description of the situation. To many liberals not supporting gay marriage is “homophobic” and criticizing/not liking Obama is “racist.” Liberals are all too cocked and loaded to validate their world view by causing trouble with others without thinking about the situation first. Well, as noted in the piece, it seldom goes well. I also have to SMH at the white homophobic/racist anecdotes. Newsflash, other communities in the US are as homophobic and racist (and usually more so) than whites. Black? Chinese? Indian? C’mon, people, you need more friends than other white liberals, and then maybe you’ll lighten up a bit on this topic. Relatively few in the US (and the world) tow the white liberal PC line.

  22. 22
    Ruby

    Far too many people think it’s okay to make racist, anti-gay, anti-semitic, comments and jokes, but it isn’t okay no matter who does it or what their ethnic background is. I’ve had other whites use the n-word to me thinking that because I’m also white, it’s I share their beliefs or won’t mind. Just because I’m not a member of a certain minority group, doesn’t mean that sort of talk is not offensive to me.
     
    Cassie has said that that when she has met the boyfriend’s parents in public, she has kept her views to herself, but I agree with those who say that by simply telling the parents that she isn’t comfortable with that sort of language and doesn’t share their views, she’s letting them know where she stands without trying to change them or getting into an argument. It’s impossible to just walk away in those settings, more so if she begins to visit them in a private setting.
     
    People like SAL9000 are often quick to label those who are offended by bigotry as over-sensitive. BTW, I have many minority friends and am Jewish myself, which is yet another reason those kinds of comments are so offensive to me.

  23. 23
    Fusee

    There is a big difference between a harmless joke and discrimation. Passivity is a huge part of the problem. Standing up for what is right is a human duty even if it feels uncomfortable.
     
    What makes it delicate for the Letter Writer is the fact that it’s not her family, coworkers, or acquaintances that are offensive, but the family of her boyfriend. Any reaction that she may have will have an impact on her relationship to her boyfriend and his relationship to his parents.
     
    I’d sugges to first make sure that her boyfriend does not share his parents’ views. At all. It does not have to involve comments about his parents, but careful observations on how he interacts with populations usually prejudiced. If he is fine, and simply choose to not rock the boat with his parents, then I think that the Letter Writer‘s behavior should match her usual behavior when such offenses occur, but in a more gentle way. Is she an ally to minorities? Does she tend to voice her opinion if her family or coworkers are offensive? If not, then why doing so with her boyfriend’s parents? If yes, then her having integrity should encourage her to continue being an ally when witnessing hate talk from her boyfriend’s parents. However, since the relationship is completely connected to her boyfriend, she’d have to navigate this situaiton gently, and always take her boyfriend’s feelings into consideration and ultimately defer to him he is uncomfortable.
     
    I fully agree with BeenThruTheWars @19: no need to have convoluted arguments or trying to change people. Being non-engaging, changing topic, and when appropriate politely but assertively asking to refrain from hate talk when in one’s presence is perfectly suitable. Also, sharing one’s positive experience with groups that are usually victim of oppression is a good step towards a world where there will be less discrimation.

  24. 24
    Goldie

    Aw SAL9000, I bet you’re a hoot at Thanksgiving table. You want better anecdotes? In my comment above, “reinstate slavery” was an actual comment made multiple times at an actual party. It was, in its entirety,  “reinstate slavery and then sell them all to China”. half the people at the party thought it was a great joke. The rest of us sat there with our jaws hanging open.
     
    Here’s another, since we’re on a dating advice site. This was the first piece of dating advice I received after separating from my husband. I went to a bar with a group of old friends, first time I met with them after becoming single. This dude, from my group of friends, tells me to make sure I do not ever sleep with a black guy, because after that, no white man will want me. I decide to humor him and ask: “How are the white guys going to find out who I slept with?” He told me “Trust me, news travel fast”. I never saw him again and plan on keeping it that way. No arguments, nothing, I just don’t feel like hanging out with that guy anymore.
     
    I have many stories like this. Quite a few of them coming from my fellow immigrants, you’re right on that one. Doesn’t make it any better. To you, this may sound okay. To me, it’s so far over the line, it’s not even in the same universe with the goddamn line. This is not how human beings treat each other. If relatively few agree with me on this, so be it, I’m not going to change.

  25. 25
    Peter 51

    I have a Muslim South East Asian sister in law and my ex-wife has a Hindu sister in law.  My children thought the word cousin included all brown skinned children when they were very small.  The Hindus in the family (there are many!) on the whole look for the positive and find it.  Occasional racism from an individual is that individual’s problem.  The Muslims on the whole look for slights that might be racist and find them.  More generally, Afro-Caribbean campaign groups find institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police while black Africans outperform all other immigrant groups in education and employment, Ghanaians and Ugandans topping the pile (1 in 8 Brits is an immigrant, 60% of the Inner London population was born outside the UK).  In a British dating situation, expressing anti racist views firmly, once, to your in-laws/friends should put racist remarks off the agenda for good.  It’s worked for me in discussions about my nephew and nieces.  It’s better not to however because frankly hearing honestly held views is better; certainly if they are not directly personal.
    I’m Welsh.  I have been at the receiving end of personally targeted ethnically offensive remarks myself.  In fact, the Welsh, Australians, Yanks (yep, you all down there in Alabama – you’re a Yank.) and Canadians seem to be the only groups left to target with jokes but then, since GW Bush, there’s been Texas where real men use guns.  And did you see The Lone Ranger?  Not a film for a date with a white American.
    Ironically, Russians of my acquaintance have complained about being the target of ethnic remarks in the UK.  They are on the whole the most racist white culture I know of and do not blush about their own opinions of other ethnicities.
    Why do all these discussions default to gay?

  26. 26
    LaFoi

    Love and Fear cannot co-exist simultaneously. Racial hatred is based on fear.
    While I find this thread positive, looking forward, I hope that our globalized world is rapidly making this discussion a thing of the past.
    I have noticed that as we mix and marry outside our own backgrounds more, our tolerance and love of the ‘other’ increases in society. I remember an advertising campaign when I lived in Mexico, ‘Mezclar es bueno’ – Mixing is good. And I think it’s true. The more we get to know people from all walks of life, the more our fear of the unknown disappears and love has space to grow.

  27. 27
    Sparkling Emerald

    When my son was an infant, my family members started throwing racial slurs around in front of my baby, and I slammed my hand on the table and told them that they weren’t ever to talk that way in front of my child EVER.  So they shut-up and complied, but they were MY family.  Obviously, I couldn’t censor the rest of the world or say anything to the in-laws.  As my son grew older, we would discuss racist remarks heard on TV, or by others, and basically, his take away from these talks, was that we couldn’t change how other people think, but that in our home, this talk was unacceptable. One of his little 8 year old friends made a very racist remark to both of us. (not a joke, an ugly racist remark)   Since he was only 8, and I figured this was a by product of his upbringing, I just firmly told him that his remark was inappropriate, and that we don’t talk that way in our house.  My son was not as kind as I was.  (He basically ripped his little friend a new one)  Eventually, I said to my son, “Ok, that’s enough, we can move on to another topic now” but I was smiling to myself.
    I think EMK’s advice in this case is pretty good (don’t know if the family was making mild jokes playing on racial stereotypes or they were full blown klansmen)  but I do think if a couple has children, clashing values on that sort of thing can be a problem.

  28. 28
    Goldie

    Peter 51
     
    “Ironically, Russians of my acquaintance have complained about being the target of ethnic remarks in the UK.  They are on the whole the most racist white culture I know of and do not blush about their own opinions of other ethnicities.”
     
    In the US, both are true. I’ve heard some crazy racist drivel from my, what’s the word? compatriots? Then again I saw a great deal of Anti-Semitism around me, growing up in Russia. Many of the Russian smaller towns are pretty much 90% ethnically Russian, so people in them grow up wary of anyone who looks different. Many of them had never seen anyone that’s not white before coming to Europe or America. So yeah, a lot of us pretty much suck in that regard. And at the same time, I’ve heard some interesting stuff from some of the local population, and I’m not even an ethnic Russian. It was especially bad on match.com when I had an account there two years ago. People would email me asking if I like vodka for breakfast, or if I’m a KGB spy… I replied to that one, “no I’m a software developer”… and would actually expect a date. The worst guy was actually very sweet and nice. We had a good phone conversation, when all of a sudden he says “I LOVE Eastern European women” (okay red flag already – why do you love or not love people you’ve never met just based on their country of origin?) He then goes on to explain why. “They are so grateful, so appreciative of all the little things that American women grew up with and take for granted.” Um no dude, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life thanking you on my knees for every happy meal you buy me… next.
     
    I found people in the academia to be the least racist group, at least in my location (Midwest). College profs all have immigrant colleagues, who come with impressive credentials; many are in interracial marriages or relationships, or have friends and colleagues that are. They are in no way afraid of dating an immigrant. Of course they have multitudes of other hangups… don’t we all. But they are completely color blind in my experience.
     
    PS. Your extended family sounds awesome. Very good for the kids to be exposed to so many different cultures growing up!

  29. 29
    Cassie

    Thanks so much for replying to my question Evan! I think it somehow helps to have someone say that it is OK to “get along” rather than to “be right. Ultimately, I really do just want to get along with them. I guess I just have to accept that I will feel awkward and hope that I am right that they will be polite enough to keep certain thoughts to themselves if they encounter my own friends and family who do not fall into the straight, white, middle-class box. As to the thread in this discussion about “jokes,” I am not painfully “PC.” I can laugh at a joke and I can generally tell when a joke is genuinely meant to be amusing. Its when those jokes take on a nasty undertone that I get uncomfortable. I still have to work out whether or not I want to let them know that kind of talk makes me uncomfortable, but I think this has helped resolved me not to be tempted to get into any kind of lecture or argument. 

  30. 30
    David T

    Cassie, if you are going to see these people more than once a year absolutely should tell them what makes you uncomfortable, because it will poison your interactions with them if you have to constantly suppress what is on your mind.

    Julia 4 said it well.  Just tell them you don’t agree with certain perspectives they have and there is no point in debating so as a courtesy please avoid that topic. The cliche is not to discuss politics at family gatherings. There is some merit to that and I think this is an even more sensitive topic. Tell them you respectfully agree to disagree and ask them to respect your comfort boundaries.

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