Racist symbols in a transracial family?
May 18, 2009 9:39 AM   Subscribe

My white nephew hangs out with Neo-Nazis. My kids are black. Help me deal with this family mess.

My husband's family lives in a suburban to semi-rural area of southeastern Pennsylvania. They're nice folks, all white, blue collar, Republicans. My brother-in-law is a lifelong member of the NRA (and a survivalist and organic farmer... go figure).

My husband and I are white, white collar Democrats on the left end of the spectrum. My kids, whom we adopted, are black. My husband's family was very supportive throughout the adoption and are great to me and to our kids. We usually don't talk politics with them.

But there's a new development, and since we'll be visiting the family this summer, I need to figure out what to do.

My nephew (son of the NRA guy) is in his early 20s and is a self-described country music-loving redneck who still lives with his parents. He's also my friend on Facebook (he friend-requested me). His Facebook photos feature lots of photos of big trucks in dirt, camping, friends, hunting, beer, and a few shots with confederate flags--this family has no connection to the South, by the way.

I could overlook the confederate flag photos, but there's another photo that's a big problem. The photo, which he took and posted, is of this: a bunch of white guys, all around late teens and early 20s, around a huge truck. The truck has a large confederate flag flying, and the guys are all doing the Hitler salute.

My husband emailed his brother to discuss details for our upcoming visit, and to ask about the photo. My brother-in-law wrote back and said he talked to his son. The confederate flag, according to my nephew via my brother-in-law, is just his way of standing up to yuppies and the man. Something like that.

In regards to the Nazi salute photo: my nephew says he's not in the picture himself, and he doesn't have any issues with our kids. And the picture is still up.

My husband doesn't love the explanation, but he feels like it's good enough--that we can go and stay with my brother-in-law, in the same house where my nephew lives. (The houses of the rest of the family won't accommodate the four of us and our dog.)

I feel differently. I would rather stay in a hotel even though it's expensive and there aren't a lot of good options nearby.

I feel like it's not my kids' job to educate the rest of the family--I don't want them hanging around racists with the idea that this will be good for the racists.

They are too young to understand the complexities of all this. They know about racism, but not Hitler or Nazis. And I'd like to keep it that way for a while. But also not have them idolizing their cousin with the big cool truck.

The short term question is this: do we stay with this family? The other question is this: what else can/should we do?

Email for this is racistfamily@gmail.com
posted by bluedaisy to Society & Culture (57 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
the "kid" is an adult. has your husband spoken to his nephew - not in an accusatory way, but in a "hey, tell me about these things" sort of way?
posted by nadawi at 9:47 AM on May 18, 2009

Maybe I'm paranoid, but I would be worried about the physical safety of my family in this situation. Chances are, the nephew's friends wouldn't do anything, but what if they did? What if they find out that they find out that the nephew's black cousins are staying at his place and burn a cross on the lawn, or throw a brick at a window, or something equally terrifying and dangerous? I would stay at the hotel, for safety's sake.
posted by amro at 9:50 AM on May 18, 2009

Best answer: This sort of thing can be difficult to deal with. I'm biracial and grew up with my white grandfather talking about how lazy Mexicans were one minute, and giving me kisses and telling me he loved me the next minute.

"Does grandpa not realize I'm half Mexican?" I'd ask myself. "Doesn't he realize I obviously wouldn't agree with his views on things?"

I figured out pretty quick, even as a kid, that someone's racist views are about some alien concept, not real people. I think a lot of people have this view, like, "Well, Harold from work is a really nice guy, but just go to the city and it's full of drug dealers and ignorant welfare moms!" Harold is a real person, and they'd never say anything bad to his face. The drug dealers and welfare moms, the people they classify with ugly slurs, are not real people. They don't exist, not in the white-panic caricature feared by a racist. They might say ugly things about these concepts that live in their head, and it's pretty shitty and inexcusable, but they generally wouldn't apply them to a cute little kid.

Doesn't mean I still didn't get an earful about the "other" lazy irresponsible jobless wife-beating Mexicans whenever I hung out with my beloved grandfather.

I'm not sure what I'd advise you to do. I can only say that I understood my grandfather was old-school and totally wrong and didn't really hate me, even at a young age, and I would have never wanted my mom to keep me from seeing him just because he said some stupid things. One person's personal experience.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:51 AM on May 18, 2009 [28 favorites]

Are you allowed to talk to 'the kid'? Seems that having an actual conversation about this out in the open is the best way to avoid things becoming seriously ugly due to the 'telephone effect'. Tone and intent can't necessarily be accurately gauged when transmitted through a 3rd party. That's bad for both sides of this equation. It also removes an opportunity for you to maybe educate this 'kid' and change his attitude and do some good in the world. I'd advocate for a direct discussion on neutral territory.
posted by spicynuts at 9:52 AM on May 18, 2009

It sounds like you care a lot about your kids to the point that you have raised them to feel comfortable to come to you with any problems. Unless you feel your kids' lives are in danger by staying with the nephew and his family, I think it would be a good experience for them. Most likely, the nephew would be detached and cordial.
posted by spec80 at 9:54 AM on May 18, 2009

I think you're overreacting. The fact that the kid has a confederate flag on his car and friends who do dumb things doesn't make him a Neo-Nazi. I would stay with the family, and take the opportunity to have a private talk with him about the importance of making sure your online profiles send the correct message about who you are as a person.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:56 AM on May 18, 2009 [10 favorites]

I would not stay with the family. The nephew knows he's doing something hurtful to you and your family, and he does not care. Why would you want to stay under the same roof with him? Just to save money? I think it would be better to spend the money, or not even go, then to be around that.

For your kids, I would simply explain that people are allowed to believe whatever they want to believe, but that does not mean that you have to surround yourself those people. And then I would use the nephew as an example: He is a racist. That's his choice, but there's no requirement to be around him.

For the nephew, I'd lay it out pretty clearly: He has a confederate flag and Nazis on his Facebook. Your family chooses to not be around that, and chooses not to expose your children to racists.
posted by Houstonian at 9:57 AM on May 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

Nothing ramps up awkward family drama so much as staying at someone's house and feeling trapped in constant-interaction. Regardless of the issue (racism, religious differences, personality clashes, whatever), I think a hotel room is usually a good way to handle spending time with family members without going nuts. Same goes for renting a car rather than relying on family for rides/borrowing a car. I find that staying with family can make even small problems worse because everyone feels like they "have to" get along... right up until something triggers a huge argument. A hotel room means that you can go into family interactions knowing that even if you have a hard conversation or two during the day, you can all go back to your own space for the night, cool off, and have a better day tomorrow.

So, I'm not saying that it would be dangerous or bad for you and your family to stay with these relatives on this trip. I do, however, think, that it could be both less stressing AND more productive, if you spent time with the relatives but didn't stay at their house.

As for what else to do, if I were you, I'd contact the nephew directly (or speak to him in person on the trip). If he's an adult, then he--not his dad--should be the one to answer for his racist photos and attitude. That he got in touch with you (not the other way around) indicates to me that he's interested in having some kind of relationship with you, which means you have the right to discuss all of this with him directly.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:58 AM on May 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

I really like everyone in my family, and I stay in hotels when I go to visit them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:08 AM on May 18, 2009 [7 favorites]

It sounds like your nephew hangs out with assholes, but they are not necessarily neo-Nazis. Your nephew is still young and is likely "experimenting." Besides, before the era of FB, would you ever have known of this behaviour? There are a lot of things young, aggressive men do (visiting strip clubs, for example) that are kind of gross if you are confronted by it.

If he's friendly to your sons, there shouldn't be a problem. It sounds like the family likes you enough to host you and your dog. Maybe their attitudes will change over time.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:18 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Regardless of the issue (racism, religious differences, personality clashes, whatever), I think a hotel room is usually a good way to handle spending time with family members without going nuts. Same goes for renting a car rather than relying on family for rides/borrowing a car.

Yeah, this is a good point. It sounds like your family is not very close with these in-laws, so staying in their house might not be a good idea just because it's weird to stay with random people that you don't know very well. I actually think you probably won't have any problems with the nephew specifically (there are a lot of people who are racist around their friends but don't have trouble keeping their ugly views to themselves around people who don't share them) but I agree with Meg_Murry that staying by yourself will help avoid conflicts and awkwardness in general.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:20 AM on May 18, 2009

This could be a learning experience for all involved - you and husband, nephew and kids.

Having said that -- staying with them seems like you are giving yourself fewer options and I'm one for always having more options rather than less. Visit and stay at a hotel.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:27 AM on May 18, 2009

Just out of curiosity, bluedaisy, how old are your kids?
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:41 AM on May 18, 2009

I think you should stay with them.

It sounds to me like you are way, way too label-obsessed. You have everyone divided up into these nice little categories (race, white/blue collar, D/R, NRA, organic farmer, survivalist, country-music loving, redneck, etc.). It seems like you then ascribe to people beliefs based on your label that you have given to them. For instance, what probative fact do you get from the fact your nephew likes country music? Apparently you think it tells you something about him likely to be a racist. Is your nephew supposed to more of a racist because his dad is in the NRA?

You have specific words from your nephew saying that he has no issues with your or your children, and you do not know anything personally that this individual has ever done that is racist. Instead you are making assumptions that he is racist because of some grand-arc narrative in your mind that has divided the world up that NRA/survivalist/Republican/country-music/redneck must be an Evil Racist. It may be he is just a kid who does stupid things occasionally.

Maybe you should judge people based on who they are instead of labels and traits and beliefs you ascribe to them based on their labels... after all, that's what is wrong with racists anyhow.

You certainly should not ostracize your own family and refuse to stay with them based on your assumptions.
posted by dios at 10:42 AM on May 18, 2009 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Visiting Lancaster/Chester/Berks county, huh?

I'm from there and went to school with people who behaved very similarly to what you are describing. At one point during my youth, there was actually a cross burning on the front yard of the only black family in town. It was done by a kid with documented mental problems, not the Confederate-flag displaying rednecks.

I doubt you'd have anything to worry about from the nephew, but getting a hotel is just a good idea. Juliet Banana's description of racism is very similar to what I witnessed growing up there.
posted by Loto at 10:44 AM on May 18, 2009

Where are you staying, Chester County? Berks?

People from outside the area find it hard to believe when I tell them how steep the cultural drop off is once you leave Philadelphia, I mean you'll be 40 minutes outside the city and there's all these dudes crusing around in the pickups with the rebel flags trailing off the back.

I come from a blue collar family that is big into guns, a lot of NRA members, way right end of the political spectrum, etc. They're not exactly the most enlightened bunch but they would never condone an act of racial hatred against a child in their home. Most neocons are actually not complete psychopaths, regardless of what a good dose of Fox News may leave you believing. They're just a pain in the ass when it comes to dinner table politics.

Yes, PA is home to a lot of race hate groups, and the nephew may even be involved in one, but I can't imagine the rest of the family lining up behind such insanity as willfully hurting a child.
posted by The Straightener at 10:50 AM on May 18, 2009

When (or if, really) your nephew says something or does something to you or around you that shows that he's racist, then you have cause to react as you're reacting. But simply assuming off these pictures that he's actually racist doesn't do you (or him) any good. I understand being protective of your kids, but interrogating your nephew's family about this stuff will only make you into the bad guy. Go stay with them, don't talk politics, and observe your nephew; keep the number of the local hotel handy. Really, though, he'll probably be around very little if he's like the 20 year-olds I know who live with their parents.
posted by incessant at 10:51 AM on May 18, 2009

I agree that a hotel is probably a good idea for a number of reasons, but this:

> Maybe I'm paranoid, but I would be worried about the physical safety of my family in this situation.

...is just nuts. For pete's sake, the nephew may be acting out in jerkish ways, but that doesn't make him a lynch mob, or even necessarily a racist. (While I think dios is going overboard in the opposite direction, he's got a point about the labeling; country music?? My first years in NYC, my best friend's favorite kind of music was country, and he was black.) Yes, Confederate flags are a dumb way of "standing up to yuppies and the man," but I'll bet most of us did dumb things when we were young that would embarrass us now. Give these people the benefit of the doubt—they're family, after all. And I hope you and your kids have a great visit.
posted by languagehat at 10:53 AM on May 18, 2009

But there's a new development, and since we'll be visiting the family this summer, I need to figure out what to do.

Why has nobody suggested not visiting them?

My position, if I were in your shoes, would be that I would not visit them until they manage to get their family straightened out to my satisfaction --- why in the world would I take my ethnic minority child into an environment where racism/genocide is considered cute and funny?

Seriously, fuck 'em. Don't visit.
posted by jayder at 10:54 AM on May 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

i understand what everyone is saying about staying at the hotel - but personally i disagree.

i might stay at a hotel if the family was annoying - but this is different. i would face this straight down. dont run from racism - confront it.

what is the message to your children if you choose to tip-toe around this?
posted by Flood at 10:54 AM on May 18, 2009

seconding jayder's suggestion above.

you don't have to be a jerk about it, either. you can just "come down with a flu" at the last minute. or pick the malady of your choice.

or you can be honest, and say that seeing pictures of your nephew doing a hitler salute is highly disturbing.

but you haven't made it clear WHY you have to visit THIS summer.
posted by deejay jaydee at 11:02 AM on May 18, 2009

How old are your kids? And how do you know your nephew is racist?

You're facebook friends with the nephew. Send him a message and talk to him directly. See if you can find out what he actually thinks. I would guess he's inconsiderate and rebellious, but wouldn't actually hold any ill-will towards you or your kids.

If you're worried about exposing your kids to your nephew, just don't go. If you convince yourself they're not in any real danger, then stay with the family.

But also not have them idolizing their cousin with the big cool truck.

What's wrong with this? If he's a good guy to your kids and drives a big, cool truck then let them like him. Maybe later they'll find out the negative things about him, and it'll be a useful learning opportunity for them to see that people are very complex with good and bad sides and can't often be simplified and grouped.
posted by losvedir at 11:05 AM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

I knew quite a few people like this from my days in SC. Rebel flags next to power of pride stickers on lifted toyota trucks. To a man-child, they were ignorant types looking to fit in with other ignorant types and their racism was a weird 'stick it to the P.C. libruls' type nonsense. They were not usually associated with hard core cross burning types or actual neo-nazis. Mostly they're harmless hot air, unless drunk with their buddies, and when called on their stupidity fall back on the old "just jokin around, lighten up" excuses. Hell I had one guy quote a chris rock sketch as justification for using racial slurs once... ugh.

If he fits that mold, and it sounds like he does, you and your family would be perfectly safe other than possibly hearing some verbal unpleasantness slip out. But with family all around I'd guess that would be at a minimum too.

If you feel strongly about it then do what makes you feel comfortable. But there may be some fallout of from changing plans - "you're staying 20 miles away cause my son is a racist? He ain't no racist!" - or something.
posted by anti social order at 11:06 AM on May 18, 2009

Best answer: When I was younger I might have given your nephew a chance. If I knew that he was a good guy overall and maybe just playing around with the symbols of racism. Back then I was a lot more optimistic about how quickly racism was dying and about how much power it still had.

I middle aged now and I don't have the time for people like your nephew. Maybe he's a neo nazi. Maybe he not a racist but thinks it's cool to get drunk and flash a National Socialist gang sign. I wouldn't hang out with him in either case. One other thing we know about him. He wants to present himself as a racist. He chose to put the pictures on Facebook.

Why should your children have to deal with his crap?
posted by rdr at 11:10 AM on May 18, 2009 [8 favorites]

So, story time. In high school, there were a group of slightly gothy, fairly intelligent, creative white dudes that went around acting like neo-nazis. Swastikas drawn on notebooks, Hitler salutes in the class photo. I'm not sure where these attitudes came from (our school was actually very diverse and accepting generally), though they were all into German heavy metal and this was right after Columbine, so the school had been giving them a hard time--I think they may have thought, in a very facile way, that they were sticking it to "the man." Being one of a few Jewish kids in the school, I was pretty skeeved out by it, and I remember having discussions wwith a few of them where I tried to argue that they were acting offensively, but it didn't really get me anywhere.

Eight years later, and thanks to facebook I've discovered that the ringleader of this group is married to a black woman. From all appearances, it looks like a happy, healthy marriage.

Which isn't to excuse this behavior, of course, but just to say that people can do stupid things when they're young and surrounded by groups of people who also encourage really dumb groupthink. That doesn't mean that these are particularly deeply held beliefs, or that these individuals don't have the potential to change.

But segregating your kids from them because you don't want them to serve as an example and not talking to the people involved directly isn't the way to do this. Your nephew is an adult, and your facebook friend, for chrissake. Send him a message directly. Say "Hey, nephew, that's not cool. Can you tell me a little bit more why you're hanging around with a bunch of people who seem to be racists? I don't want to expose my kids to any hatespeech." And let him explain himself to you. And confront that shit directly. Avoiding them and keeping your kids away is just going to make you Yuppie Aunt bluedaisy, who has a stick up her butt. But actually confronting people and carrying on a respectful discourse has the potential to cause some positive change--not for the good of "a bunch of racists", but for the good of your family. That's what these people are, whether they're different from you or not.

And I think dios is kind of right--you sound very hung up on labels. There's some classism inherent in the way you're discussing all of this that seems to ignore the individuals involved. I mean, more than anything, this is really what matters: "My kids, whom we adopted, are black. My husband's family was very supportive throughout the adoption and are great to me and to our kids."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:10 AM on May 18, 2009 [5 favorites]

Oh, and also, it seems curious that you don't want to have your children learn about Hitler or the Nazis. There are tons of children's books that deal with these subjects in respectful ways. Shielding them from the ugliness of humanity sounds a little naive to me.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:13 AM on May 18, 2009

On further thought, I'll change my mind and say you should get a hotel room. Based on the comments above that suggest that these people will be looked down upon because of the county they live in and their other beliefs, it seems to me that the hotel is the way to go. Because your irrational fear for your safety will be assuaged if you stay there, and then your extended family will be spared the stinging condescension of being looked down upon by their own extended family they are allowing to stay under their roof.
posted by dios at 11:14 AM on May 18, 2009

I am from PA. I know these people. I grew up with them. They were my friends! They drove big-ass trucks, had rifle racks in the back and had their confederate flags.

When I was in high school, a friend of mine and I would do the Hitler salute after the Pledge of Allegiance every day.

This much I know is true:

I am now 33 years old and it wasn't until recently that I completely understood the symbolism behind the confederate flag. Same with the Hitler thing. I didn't understand the gravity and horribleness behind that man. At the time I was being a jerk and trying to be funny - without thinking what it all really meant. I cringe now when I think of my behavior. I never harbored any racist thoughts, actions or ill will toward anyone, I was just thinking I was being silly - without understanding what it all meant.

My two cents - I'd give the benefit of the doubt to my nephew and ask him and maybe tell him why his actions and behavior is so not cool. Maybe he doesn't understand what the confederate flag means or what Hitler was all about and maybe he doesn't understand why that would be so hurtful toward others.
posted by Sassyfras at 11:19 AM on May 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Don't stay with them. I don't care if the nephew is actually harmless or misguided or whatever (and this is an adult who doesn't see a problem with being associated with neo-nazis, not acceptable).

But by staying with them I worry that you're teaching your kids that they have to put up with being the targets of bigotry. These are kids. If your kids were 18+ it would be different. But it sounds like they're in their formative years. What do you want them to learn? I think that if I were you, I would want them to learn that they are as good as anybody else, as deserving of respect as anyone else, and that their parents, of all people, wouldn't purposely bring them into a situation where they'd be exposed to degradation. They are *entitled* to eschew bigots and bigotry, and they have to learn that from youl

Sure, the nephew might grow out of this and be a decent human being. I hope so. And when he does, he can come to you and apologize and take steps to build a real relationship.

Otherwise I also fear the situation you're establishing is one where your kids learn that they have to tolerate hatred for the sake of family, and your nephew/brother-in-law learn that they have to tolerate black people for the sake of family.
posted by Salamandrous at 11:29 AM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Wherever you end up staying, I think you owe it to yourself, your kids, and even your nephew to speak to him about it directly. I agree that he's an adult, and should have to understand the consquences of his actions directly. You may decide that he's just rather young, dumb, and oddly sheltered and that being around you and your children has the potential to be a perspective broadening experience. Or you may decide that your nephew just isn't someone you want to spend any time around at all. Either way, if you've talked to him personally, you'll be basing your decision on what to do next as much on facts and as little on fear as possible.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:34 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would remove said nephew from your facebook friends list. I think all of this is a non issue that started because you were reading too much into some internet photos.
He and his friends are sound like they are hardly neo-nazis.

That said -- since it has happened you should just do whatever makes you feel most comfortable at this point. Stay at a hotel or whatever you feel like doing.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:36 AM on May 18, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, all, for the input. I especially appreciate the comments from the people of color here who have dealt with racism, as well as from the people who are familiar with the culture of the area.

I mentioned the country music and redneck thing because that's how my nephew describes himself, and because I think it partly explains the confederate flag thing. I have lived in the rural south, so I'm familiar with the flag as a supposed cultural (rather than racist) symbol, but it's a bit stranger to see it in Pennsylvania.

My kids are very young. They don't know about Hitler and Nazis because they are tiny! There's no sheltering going on. Quite the contrary--I suspect my kids know a lot more about racism than white kids their age.

We can't and won't cancel this vacation, because it'd mean my kids not seeing their grandparents. I'm not going to deprive my kids of their grandparents because of their cousin.

I probably won't get in touch directly with my nephew. Yes, he friended me on Facebook, but really I doubt I've ever had more than a two or three minute conversation with him--he's always been pretty quiet, unlike his sister and cousins. But my husband might contact him directly since he's know him so much longer.

I'm still thinking this through and appreciate (most of) your comments.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:39 AM on May 18, 2009

The facebook pic is a red herring here I think. He friended you, but kids these days (man I hate saying that... I'm 30!) don't really mean anything about it. It's a popularity contest -- the more friends you have, the better. The actual people behind those friends aren't really all that consequential. The picture is for his friends, it's not for you. It's not something he'd go out of the way to show you, or any "adult", but its just a dumb day out with his friends he caught on camera. I've got pictures of my friends doing really dumb shit when we were that age, and I'm not a thief, an alcoholic, a druggie, a lesbian (not that there's anything wrong with it, of course), a wanna-be porn star, or even a really really bad driver, but i've got pics of friends doing all these things and more. Some are even on facebook (but I know how to restrict permissions so that the moms of my friends and my coworkers don't see them!). You cannot read anything concrete into the pics on facebook, except that (a) he's a dumb kid, and (b) doesn't know how to setup groups on facebook. Sure, it may be a sign that perhaps thats what he's into. But it's sure as hell not proof.

That being said -- stay in a hotel. Because now that's it in your mind, if something bad did happen, you'd never forgive yourself.
posted by cgg at 12:00 PM on May 18, 2009

Best answer: I am sorry I did not have time to read this entire thread. And I do not mean to sound alarmist. However, Pennsylvania is one of the major centers of white power in the country. Keystone State Skinheads (KSS), now known as Keystone United, is regarded in the White "Racialist" community as the group other racist groups should emulate.

The confederate flag sets off a warning sign in my head-- this part of the political spectrum no longer really refers to neocons, Republicans, or Libertarians. White "Racialisits" are far more radical and dangerous. KSS in particular has been active lately in Philly due to the deaths of cops in several high-profile cases.

A couple of signs to look for on his Facebook page are the numbers 14/88. They numbers represent phrases about the preservation of the white race (14) and Heil Hitler (H is the 8th letter in the alphabet.) Acronyms to look for are NA, NS, BOK, and WP.

Your nephew might be involved in some loose fashion with these guys, or he might not.

My concern is that his buddies would use your visit to make a statement-- plaster the neighborhood with flyers most likely. The nephew might be an ok kid, but his friends might do things he can't control.

(Only the KKK burns crosses, or "lights" them, as they say. The KKK aren't as active as the Keystone bunch, for they differ on points of religion and politics.)

Me-mail me if you'd like me to look at his page and see what he might be up to.

Whatever the case, don't freak out about your nephew or the visit. But you need to bite the bullet and stay in a hotel because it makes family visits go a lot more smoothly.

Finally, I would seriously not engage the nephew in a conversation. There is nothing to be gained and it'll just cause strain for you with your nominal hosts, his parents.
posted by vincele at 12:05 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think you should communicate directly with your nephew. Spend some time thinking about these symbols and why they are so offensive, and tell him why you feel so uncomfortable with his choice of companions. Ask him to tell you about himself, his friends, and his beliefs. Tell him you don't feel physically safe around people who affiliate themselves with Nazi and racist symbols. Try not to confront, but to listen, and try to trust that the light of day will help him see what he's doing. Depending on your talk with your nephew, decide where you'll stay.

he doesn't have any issues with our kids. That is, in and of itself, racist.

You may not want to educate, but you knew what your family is like, and you chose to bring non-white children in to it. If you want a relationship with the family, I think you'll have to do some education. Crummy situation. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 12:23 PM on May 18, 2009

Three more quick points:

Confederate flag means the fight for states rights to "racialists." It's also a symbol of a nation, the Confederacy, that did race relations right. That's why you'll see it used by people in PA, NJ, and the Northwest.

Also, on the point of education..."racialists" will see your visit as an opportunity to educate you, or use you to educate others. The education street runs both ways.

Third, don't "unfriend" him. He hasn't done anything to you-- in fact he reached out to you. Maybe he's not so terribly committed to these ideas. At the very least, it gives you a chance to monitor what he's up to. You might as well know what he and fellow travelers are thinking, for your own safety in the future, and for your own understanding of this growing and repugnant movement. Closing one's eyes to offensive opinions doesn't help us to combat them in the long run.
posted by vincele at 12:29 PM on May 18, 2009

Every time I see a confederate flag, all I think is "racist".

I wouldn't want my kids staying with somebody whose proud of that kind of thing, even if the children were Caucasian.

Like a few others here, over the years I've lost all the patience I ever had with this kind of ignorance. Pride in being a redneck is largely what's gotten this country in the state of affairs we're in now, and it would suit me just fine if they'd all just move to Texas or Georgia and go head and secede.

Sorry to editorialize so much, but I'd stay in a hotel if I were you.
posted by imjustsaying at 12:37 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you have any good sense and desire to be apart of a family, you'll ignore everything vincele just said (despite the fact you marked it a best answer). Having such sneering condescension and viewing your own family members as some sort of potentially dangerous criminal based on various factors as if you are a sociologist instead of a close member of a family is a horrible example to set for your children (if that is in fact who you are so worried about here). Your treating your own nephew as if he would kill your kids based on some stupid photo on Facebook. Moreover, you are giving credence to the idea that this area of the state is a place full of nascent racists ready to burn crosses as soon as you get there. That's as revoltingly narrow-minded and judgmental as the mindset of which assume your nephew believes.
posted by dios at 12:41 PM on May 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

And it really, really looks like you are allowing your nephew's facebook photos somehow bleed over into assumptions about his parents too. Which, coming full circle to your description of them, is not surprising.

I notice how you said you will not deprive your kids of their grandparents. But what of their relationship to their aunt and uncle?
posted by dios at 12:43 PM on May 18, 2009

The other thing to consider is that one day, at some point between the ages of 17 and 24, one of your kids will very likely also go through a colossal fucktard phase.

I agree with dios in so far as you appear to be ascribing motive without any evidence to back that up. The wikipedia article points out that some people fly it as a "'country music flag' without any political or racial connotation" at all. While you find the flag objectionable, not everyone - not even all black people - feels the same way.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:49 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Dios, you are reading all sorts of things into stuff I haven't said at all. I have not said I think my nephew will be violent towards my kids. I want my kids to have relationships with all of their family--it's only my nephew about whom I have concerns. I mentioned the other things about the family only for context.

And again let me be clear: it's the Hitler salute photo that has me concerned.

DarlingBri, I was pretty clear that my objections weren't to the flag itself, but to the Nazi Salute. Please find me some black people who think that's fine and dandy.

I do suspect the people who are dismissing my concerns here are white people who haven't ever dealt with racism. I'd be interested to know if I'm wrong.

Thanks again to the rest of you! Vincele, I appreciated the info on hate groups in PA.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:56 PM on May 18, 2009

revoltingly narrow-minded and judgmental

I think it's ok to be judgmental of anyone who is giving a Hitler salute, or who photos of friends who are doing that. Look, the guy is trying to portray himself as a racist. Why bend over backwards finding excuses for his behavior?

Sure, he's "young" (although, in mid-20s, not so young). How old does a person have to be, to be held accountable for their actions, and judged by their beliefs?

And why is it better, or more acceptable, if it's just a Facebook thing? What if he had these photos framed on his wall at home -- still ok?

Maybe these are just his friends, and not him. So, it's ok? What if they come by for a visit -- still ok?

I don't know where you will draw the line for your family, but I don't think a parent needs to feel bad about protecting their children. I wouldn't feel good about being around someone like this, and would not bring children (of any race) around someone like this. Unfortunately, the children will have their entire lives to learn about ugliness. There's no need to hasten that inevitability.
posted by Houstonian at 1:23 PM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Mod note: few comments removed - metatalk is around the corner, don't start fights here please.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:46 PM on May 18, 2009

Dios, not all families are equal. Not everyone gets along. Some families have interpersonal relations that are downright vicious or dysfunctional. You may be blessed with a loving family, but not everyone is. Some people have reason to worry about or loathe relatives.

Knowing what the nephew's Facebook page could mean, given the strength of the WN movement in Southeast PA, is not the same as making sweeping judgments about the inhabitants of a state.

In response to imjustsaying, Texas is not a "redneck" magnet. The majority is ethnically diverse. The overwhelming majority has no intentions to secede. Governor Perry intended to drum up publicity for political reasons with those statements. He knew he would get attention. He did.
posted by vincele at 1:57 PM on May 18, 2009

Sorry, this has sort of stuck with me, and I should have mentioned it in my previous comment. I'm curious as to why the brother's immediate reaction wasn't "Oh my god, I am so mortified that my son would do that!" I get that it's really awful to embrace racist ideology, but it seems almost worse to make excuses for it--"he doesn't really mean it... he wasn't in the photo... he just doesn't like yuppies..."

Anyway, since someone mentioned that you might be hindering your kids' relationship with their aunt and uncle, and your follow-up indicates that you want them to have a relationship, I just wonder... what kind of uncle makes excuses for ideology and symbolism that mean hatred and violence toward his niece or nephew? I guess all I mean is, when you ask what you can do, I'd think about talking to the brother about this some more. The more I think about the situation, the less focused I am on the individual nephew, and the more curious I am about the family as a whole.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:58 PM on May 18, 2009 [6 favorites]

In regards to the Nazi salute photo: my nephew says he's not in the picture himself, and he doesn't have any issues with our kids. And the picture is still up.

Listen, it couldn't be clearer: these people do not give a rat's ass about your concerns, or the feelings of your kids. If they cared at all, the son would have immediately removed the photo and would have offered you an abject apology over the phone or in a note. Instead, the photo is still up. These are people that do not deserve a visit from you, and I think it would be awful for you to take your kids into that snake nest. Seriously, your kids do not deserve to be around creeps who don't take stuff like this seriously.
posted by jayder at 1:59 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I probably won't get in touch directly with my nephew. Yes, he friended me on Facebook, but really I doubt I've ever had more than a two or three minute conversation with him--he's always been pretty quiet, unlike his sister and cousins.

I just can't believe you are willing to pass up a chance to maybe HELP this kid by talking to him and saving the rest of us who have to live in this world, including your kids, from one more bigot. You haven't had more than two minute convo with him but you wanted to paint him a Nazi for one facebook pic? Is someone in your family going to take the time to talk to him about why that one pic is wrong? Anyone? Why not you? Help this kid..maybe he's save-able. Then you won't have to wonder next time you are invited.
posted by spicynuts at 2:27 PM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think that (a) you or your husband need to talk to Redneck Boy directly, and (b) stay in a hotel if that conversation doesn't go too well.

Honestly, Redneck Boy sounds like a teenager to me rather than an adult. He's hanging out with the "cool kids" (and "cool" there sounds like it's cool to hate black people, in the Juliet Banana-cited "other" kind of way), and going along with what the "cool kids" do. He may very well not have anything against your kids, or even black people in general, but doesn't mind going along with the groupthink in public. Which still isn't great and not exactly comfort-making if his friends tool over one night while you're visiting. And that's why I cite the hotel. If this kid was around your kids by himself on someone else's territory I wouldn't be that worried, but I would be worried about the guys who really do buy into this crap showing up on the kid's turf.

I'm not sure if Redneck Boy gets this distinction. Unfortunately he's in his 20's so it's harder to excuse "kid" behavior. But he doesn't exactly sound too mentally grown up to me either. But either way, book a hotel, and someone should have a talk with him about what might happen if his hater friends decide to stop by during the visit.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:16 PM on May 18, 2009

Just wanted to chime and nth the recommendations to talk to your nephew, who is legally a man now whether he likes it or not, directly and make your assessments based on that. I also wanted to say that while the "salute" is completely unacceptable, to be careful typecasting people based on their big trucks/guns/country music, etc.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 3:28 PM on May 18, 2009

I'd be interested to know if I'm wrong.

You're wrong. Glad I could clear that up for you.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:27 PM on May 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

i was having a conversation with the NRA loving, conservative, lower middle class guy that i buy my liquor from here in oklahoma. we got on the topic of racism when he was carrying my beer out - i said something about encountering confederate flags in oregon and washington - and he laughed sadly and said "well, that's certainly not heritage".

stars and bars south of the mason dixon - there's a sort of ingrained thing your working with there - stars and bars in the north - those are being done for a specific reason and if it's just to "piss off the man", well, it's logic that at the very list doesn't hold water.

maybe when you or your husband talk to him (because, really, that's what needs to happen) - ask him for his explanations and then maybe ask how he'd explain the flag and the nazi salute to his nephews who sit on your knee when you look at facebook. all the adults can be nuanced enough to see all the good intentions and good upbringing of the "kid", but to those who look up to him - has he considered what he's doing and how it will look to them? like the girl with the racist grandfather suggested, it's probably a hate of strangers, not family and he might not even realize that it's hurtful to his family. if it pisses you and your husband off, then mission succeeded - you guys are the type of people he's looking to piss off (those who voted for obama, those against the war, those lie-bral type people). he might not be so cool with potentially deeply hurting 2 young kids that idolize him.
posted by nadawi at 7:06 PM on May 18, 2009

I do suspect the people who are dismissing my concerns here are white people who haven't ever dealt with racism. I'd be interested to know if I'm wrong.

bluedaisy, like I said, I was one of the few Jewish kids at school dealing with exactly this type of neo-Nazi prejudice. And, if your kids' ages are still 4 and 6, as reflected in your other post, they really aren't too young to learn about the Holocaust. There are some good book suggestions on this page: holocaust teaching resources center.

I want my kids to have relationships with all of their family--it's only my nephew about whom I have concerns.

Again, I reiterate that you should really really talk to your nephew directly, especially if he's the person in question that you have concerns about. Talking to him (another adult) will give you a much more fair and accurate reading of the situation. It's feasible that he's a racist pig, but that's not going to come out through a discussion through the grapevine with his dad. Talking to him directly will also help you do damage control with the rest of the family--because, if you find that you have to stay elsewhere, at least you have your conversation with him to refer back on.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:07 PM on May 18, 2009

Whoops, the page I linked to lists specifically to books for older kids. There's a list of picture books for young readers on the topic here. Again, I think it's important for even young children to have a real sense of the actual historic context for racism and hatespeech--but maybe I'm off about that. Regardless, in NJ at least, students are required to have a unit on the Holocaust every year beginning in first grade, so it might be better, if you want to discuss this with your kids in a particular way, to introduce the subject yourself.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:23 PM on May 18, 2009

I'd like to echo Meg_Murray and Jayder who noted the problem isn't really about the nephew, it's abut the uncle and aunt's tolerance of what goes on under their roof.

You know your family better than anyone here, but I'd like to address the pitfalls of dialogue and engaging the nephew. Doing so might anger other family members, especially his parents, who you said have different political views than your own.

See the situation from their perspective: they assuaged your concerns and they told you their kid is harmless. Plus they offered you hospitality. By interrogating or seeking to enlighten their child, even if he's in his 20s, you risk straining your friendly relations with them, especially since the nephew is essentially a stranger to you.

He's an adult, he might be a sweet, harmless guy. But this situation involves the well-being of your very young children. As you say, protecting them is your priority. By avoiding confrontation or “dialogue” with the nephew, at the very least, you preserve the purpose of the trip, for your children and their grandmother to spend time together in a happy setting.

Not surprisingly the advice in this thread echoes the current thinking in conflict resolution circles: dialogue as panacea.

That belief is patently false. Or to put a finer point on it, dialogue sometimes escalates conflict. If one party turns violent, feels threatened, has sympathetic allies in his parents, or identifies strongly with a hate group.

Even more important, as I said above, the nephew might see dialogue as a way to educate you for your “mistaken beliefs” about race. If he has white power values, he's going to see you as a race traitor. But that's not what this comment is primarily about.

Dialogue-as-panacea comments here see education for the nephew as the possible if not likely benefit. Yet you indicate that neither the nephew nor his parents believe they need education. I would not be surprised if they thought an attempt at dialogue about race as condescending and presumptuous.

Finally, I’d argue that even if you talk to the guy, you might not learn much about him. It’s not as if there is a coherent redneck, anti-yuppie ideology. He may, as it seems, be trying to keep his politics separate from his relationship to you. Really, how he presents himself on Facebook probably gives you more insight into his thinking, common sense and social life than a conversation would. At the very least you’ll learn whether he’s a harmless Larry-the-Cable Guy-style redneck or involved in something more sinister.

There might be a time for dialogue, but this is not it.

To preserve family peace and to protect your children, dialogue in this situation is akin to poking at a hornet’s nest and could very well lead to ill-will and anger that reverberates beyond your nuclear family and that of aunt, uncle and nephew. All of this plus the potential danger of dialogue backfiring and your family becoming a call for action for the nephew and his comrades.

Sorry for the length. I sympathize with your situation and wish yoiu the best of luck.
posted by vincele at 4:14 AM on May 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

Most people tend to steer away from conflict at any sign of trouble, which is the smart thing to do normally. I don't think this is really a sign of trouble. Take the family vacation and have fun. See your relatives. If something negative comes up, use it as a teaching experience for your kids. Teach them about forgiveness and dealing with negativity in a positive way. Your kids sound a bit young for World History so I can understand not trying to lay the heavy stuff on them yet.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:35 AM on May 19, 2009

Damn time zones always leave me late to threads. Nthing the teen-fucktard thoughts, a recent appreciation for the differences 'tween adults and late-teens, early-20-somethings--thanks to my nephews and nieces. They're all doing absurdly well, but there are such vast differences 'tween them and adults in how they approach things, how much they think about things, broader-level awareness of various things. These kids all had great upbringings, superbly educated parents, got to travel a lot, were exposed to all sortsa facets of life, etc.,
etc., etc.

Funny story: they went to see a play w. Patrick Stewart in the lead, my nephew about 12 goes to the bathroom, comes out perplexed, not distressed, "Mom, why was a man in the bathroom wearing women's clothing?" Cue the talk about transvestites.

None of them have related things in a racist or similarly ugly realm, but it's hard to say how much there is a difference in thinking, understanding awareness 'tween them and adults.

My perspective aside, it is impossible to see the loss in trying to engage your nephew in a conversation and share your adult thoughts. The thoughts read like he is so offensive that it is out of the question and/or deemed a lost cause. If he responds, "Oh, wow! Yeah, that was me being really young and stupid," datsa good. "If there is no response or a hostile one, it is perhaps a conversation for you and his father.

I have dealt with all sortsa kids in that age range, those more like my sisters' and those more like your nephew. It's really, really common that they are really happy when an adult engages them in conversation, listens to them, shares constructive observations. "Cool! This person gives me the time of day, listens and shares good, caring thoughts."

FWIW, and hopefully not out of line, seems like the favorited comments have been the ones that have most supported a view that supports the concerns (which do seem excessive) you related, this is maybe more seeking validation than being open.

Operationally, dunno how much of a gray area this is, what thoughts and studies are out there, but as tiny as your kids are, it's challenging to have a sense that it will register or have any effect on them if--if--the kid should be so out of line as to spout ugliness.
posted by ambient2 at 6:28 AM on May 19, 2009

There might be a time for dialogue, but this is not it.

Bingo. Vincele's comment is right on target. I see a real possibility that any attempt to "dialogue" with the nephew would be viewed as an attack on him as a decent person --- after all, you'll be going into this with the deep conviction that you are right and he is wrong, and he will sense that. If I were in your shoes, dissociating myself and my family from him would be the only workable solution. Someone who thinks genocide is a joke is not someone with whom you can have a rational discussion.
posted by jayder at 10:36 AM on May 19, 2009

« Older What jazz concert in NYC should I give my mom...   |   What are those circles in Fenway Park? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.