I'm Not Racist, but... I think my friend is.
June 2, 2011 6:43 PM   Subscribe

Help me figure out how to deal with a racist anti-Semetic casual acquaintance who I pretty much have to see weekly through Mah Jongg.

This is a corollary to this question. One of the main reasons I didn't like this lady was that she would make these off the wall anti-Semetic (in front of another of our friends who is Jewish) and racist comments. For the sake of the Mah Jongg group, I decided to wait her out to see if she would get interested in some other hobby and leave the group. That worked for about six months but now she's back and still spouting racist crap. This week's gem: black people smell. I was too flabbergasted by it to say anything - I just kind of stared at her open mouthed. None of the other Mah Jongg ladies said anything.

The thing is, I think she knows that she's racist and doesn't care. She mentioned that she was in a book club in her previous city and was about to be kicked out for her comments on the book The Help. This says to me that she doesn't really care what people think and she's happy to continue to voice her "opinions". I also don't know if giving her positive examples to counter her notions would help as most of her statements are based on what she said was her experiences growing up in south Louisiana during integration.

What should I do? Get her kicked out of Mah Jongg? Try to educate her that what she's saying is deeply offensive to a lot of people and racist? Tell her to avoid topics such as race, ethnicity and religion and stick to cracks, bams and dots?
posted by Leezie to Human Relations (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Kick her out. She admits she has no desire to change. Many other people in the past have probably tried to educate her, and obviously did not succeed.
posted by funnyinternetmemereference at 6:50 PM on June 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

I also don't know if giving her positive examples to counter her notions would help as most of her statements are based on what she said was her experiences growing up in south Louisiana during integration.

"You do not reason a man out of something he was not reasoned into."

Try to educate her that what she's saying is deeply offensive to a lot of people and racist?

The point is that it's offensive to you. It detracts from your enjoyment of the game. It's so profoundly obnoxious that it makes you dread an event that you normally look forward to.

I don't see much point in trying to educate her. Just tell her to shut up with that shit -- or however this is said in mah-johnng circles -- because it really, really bothers you.
posted by jason's_planet at 6:54 PM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

First thing is to tell her, in a friendly tone, that you would appreciate it if she left all talk about any particular group of people at home. Tell her that her comments are making everyone have less fun, and for the sake of the group she should put a lid on it. I suggest this instead of a real confrontation because it's a lot more likely to produce results if you don't "call her out" but rather try to work with her.

If it persists, it's time to get a little more hardline. Tell her that there's talk of her being kicked to the curb unless she can curb her comments, so it's a choice between shelving the racism or shelving her mah jongg hobby. And have the wherewithal to follow through with it.
posted by Willie0248 at 6:56 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Confer with the rest of the group, explain your concerns, and try to get consensus on kicking out the racist. If consensus is achieved, kick her out. If consensus is not achieved, but if some members clearly share your concerns (and if it won't involve too much drama), try to split into two groups: those for whom racist remarks are tolerable, and those for whom they aren't.

Positive examples will probably get you nowhere: in my experience, they'll be viewed as nothing more than exceptions to a rule.
posted by matlock expressway at 7:06 PM on June 2, 2011 [7 favorites]

Tell her she's offensive--and tell her every time. I have a racist neighbor who's had almost 70 years of thinking she's being cute when she is at her most obnoxious. She hasn't appreciated the yelling I've started to do to fight back.
posted by dragonplayer at 7:11 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

De-specifying this, the problem is as follows:

You made an unwise decision in the past.
You now have to live with that decision forever.

Does that clear up the conundrum? Hopefully, it does.

Extrapolating the implications:

If you agree that you don't have to live with this forever, then you have to decide if you want the outcome to include the Racist, or exclude the Racist.

If the latter, it merely means gathering a majority of the players on your side, and meeting without inviting the Racist.

If the former, then it means providing behavior guidelines to the Racist, along with the expected sanctions. She can keep her racism, but it has to be practiced in the privacy of her life outside mah jongg. She can throw darts at pictures of Barak Obama at home, but at mah jongg, 'nigger' isn't allowed in the conversation, nor variants thereof.

Personally, I would rise to the defense of my jewish friend in the group so immediately that the lady would be lucky to get to the end of an anti-semitic statement standing.

Once (if) you have decided that she is going to be given a chance, I recommend she gets one. She's already had her free bite. No more. You have no obligation to care for her sensibilities if she is not caring for yours. Stop the game, put away the pieces, send her out, tell her why, take the hit. Try and arrange a game with better people for next week. If you can't find any, find a new hobby. Life sucks. You may be a girl, but this is 'man up' territory. Aggression just may be appropriate for a change.

Coffee with Hitler isn't much fun.
posted by FauxScot at 7:11 PM on June 2, 2011

Best answer: Definitely speak up. Every time she makes a racist comment let her know politely and in no uncertain terms that her language is not acceptable.

I've found that being the first one to speak up can be really hard but it also breaks the ice and allows other people to loosen their tongues. If one person tells her she's being a jerk other people will know that what she's saying isn't a universal feeling within the group and can be more comfortable speaking their minds. I've been in more than one group where this kind of situation has happened and very often when one person starts telling the rude bore that they are acting unacceptably the others will stand up too.

As much as it would be gratifying to shoot this lady down, I think you should take the high road with your chastisement. Don't insult her, just be polite and let her know that those kinds of attitudes are not welcome, appreciated, or allowed.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:41 PM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

"I BEG your pardon!"

"That's offensive, please don't repeat it."

"Don't use that term in my presence."

"That sort of language is not welcome in my home. If you use it again, I will have to ask you to leave."

"That's extremely offensive. You can apologize or you can leave, and I don't want to hear anything else like it."

Calmly (but with intensity if you feel intense). Politely. But quite firmly. And if she says, "Oh, lighten up!" or any nonsense like that, just repeat, "That's offensive and I don't care to hear it." Don't argue with her about whether it's offensive or whether you have no sense of humor or whether she has a right to be an asshole. Just keep repeating that some version of, "That's offensive, I don't want to hear it again."

If you're at someone else's home or some public place, you should be prepared that if she does it a second time (or third, I don't know what her frequency is), YOU will leave. "I'm sorry, I don't care to subject myself to racist comments and I'm uncomfortable listening to this kind of talk. I will see you all next time; I hope our topics of conversation will be different."

If you refuse to tolerate it and calmly but firmly call her out on it every time, she'll either quit the comments or quit the group.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:49 PM on June 2, 2011 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I was too flabbergasted by it to say anything

Next time, you say: "Does anyone here think that's an appropriate thing to say? I don't."
posted by hermitosis at 7:59 PM on June 2, 2011 [7 favorites]

A very direct, cold "Don't be a racist" has worked for me.
posted by birdbone at 8:01 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Miss Manners has this opinion. Basically, don't engage. I also rather like hermitosis' response, but I'm not sure I'd have the nerve for it.
posted by sweetkid at 8:03 PM on June 2, 2011

I tried googling and don't entirely understand what mah jongg is. So if the culture of that makes a difference, I hope you or someone will clarify.

But as I see it, basically, okay, you're playing a game with some friends and you don't like talking with or being around this racist broad. Stop playing with her.

You can't logic someone out of strongly felt, emotionally based beliefs. I even doubt you'll be able to get her to STFU, since she presumably doesn't see anything wrong with or weird about what she's saying, but I guess you could give it a shot: "It bothers me when you say things like that. Please stop."
posted by J. Wilson at 8:10 PM on June 2, 2011

@J. Wilson: Mah-jongg is a table game of strategy, often involving gambling, of Chinese background but now of course spread more widely; I think, ironically, that a lot of Jewish women have taken to playing it.

Think of it as essentially equivalent to a game of bridge or poker, but with a Chinese veneer. For the purposes of this question, the details of the game or associated culture aren't a big deal.
posted by andrewesque at 8:27 PM on June 2, 2011

Best answer: Make this a mantra when she starts flapping her lips:

"Stop being racist, it's obnoxious and makes you a shitty person."

"Stop being racist, it's obnoxious and makes you a shitty person."

"Stop being racist, it's obnoxious and makes you a shitty person."

"Stop being racist, it's obnoxious and makes you a shitty person."
posted by tumid dahlia at 10:25 PM on June 2, 2011

For many years I was the captain and organizer of a recreational soccer team. Every once in a while, we'd end up with a player who was a jerk- yelled at teammates, constantly complained to the refs, wouldn't sub out when told, hogged the ball, etc...
I had no qualms about kicking the jerk off the team- I mean, it's supposed to be fun, and one nasty person can ruin the fun for everyone else. Usually it could be done diplomatically, as there were 4 seasons a year so they just wouldn't be invited to participate when the next season came around. Unfortunately, you probably won't have this option unless you prompt a reorganization- switching days or locations, perhaps?

If I were you, next time she makes a racist/anti-Semitic comment I'd say something like "hey, that's racist and you say stuff like that frequently. It offends me and spoils the fun of the game for me." If she does it again, either kick her out of the group (if you're the organizer), consult the others and see if they support kicking her out of the group, or start your own group and don't invite her to join. She already got herself kicked out of a book club for being a jerk so I don't really foresee her changing her ways.
posted by emd3737 at 11:40 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Tell her to avoid topics such as race, ethnicity and religion

I disagree with all the comments saying that you should just boot this person out of the group - "being racist" is NOT an innate thing that this person will never get over. It is a learned behavior, and the only issue is whether this person will choose to modify that behavior.

A relationship with someone like this is the only way to help them modify their behavior. She needs contact with people who disagree with her statements, especially the kind of people about which she says offensive things, to have the chance to recognize them as people too. If you're going to go that route, talk to the Jewish member(s) of your group, or anyone else this woman's talking about, and make sure they're willing to try and help her with this.
posted by dubold at 1:29 AM on June 3, 2011

Tell her, "You don't care what people think? Well you're a person, why should I care what you think?"
posted by Obscure Reference at 3:43 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would call her out on these comments. I'd mention how incredibly rude and ignorant you think her comments are but I'd really try to contain any anger as much as possible.

Bemusement as to how she could possibly think that way would be my chosen method of mentioning this to her in the first instance. I think a 'seriously?' would not be out of line here. If she becomes defensive when questioned then that's the time to supply her with facts about how out of touch she is with the reality of other people's lives. If she says that she's entitled to her beliefs then, as above, you should remind her that her opinions are just that and that many other people have different opinions, so why are hers so important?

If, after confronting her this way, her presence remains intolerable to you, you'll have to decide if you want to confer with the other members of the group to see if they'll back you up in telling her that she's no longer welcome. Or you'll have to leave.
posted by h00py at 5:37 AM on June 3, 2011

The range of responses suggest to me that it would be fine to handle it however you want; any of your suggestions would be appropriate. I would be tempted to be abrasive. "Would you shut the hell up? Save that racist crap for someone who wants to hear it." Has the advantages the other methods have of serving notice that this, unchecked, will build to an either-or situation, with the added benefit that she might be so stunned/hurt/humilated/whatever that she quits again to avoid the possibility of another confrontation.
posted by troywestfield at 6:08 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Assuming it's a casual acquaintance/friend, my usual tack is to let the person keep putting their foot in their mouth. I make sure not to agree with them, and if the person tries to pull me into it I'm ready to disagree even if it initiates conflict: "No, I think the law in Arizona is wrong," "Yes, of course the Holocaust really happened," etc. But I don't lecture them on how they need to change this aspect of themselves. Because on that level, they're not going to listen to me.

Sometimes if they say something truly insulting that hits close to home, I'll say, "You know, my boyfriend is Muslim" (or whatever as pertains to the situation).

Now, if it's a close friend or family member and I think there will be repercussions from their beliefs, then I will go into lecture mode. Again, I try to make it personal (because if there are going to be consequences, it probably is personal already). But this doesn't seem to be your situation.
posted by Sara C. at 7:00 AM on June 3, 2011

Are you trying to enjoy your group, or "save" this person. Because they lead to different tactics.

In the former, just get the group to agree to kick her out. In the later, give up, because it won't work.

It's a liberal fantasy that if we could just "educate" everyone, bigoty would disappear. She won't suddenly see the light. Even if she doesn't try to "educate" you (yes, she might think you're the one who needs help), at best she'll just shut up for a while to avoid being kicked out.
posted by spaltavian at 9:26 AM on June 3, 2011

I have had very good luck with something I once heard said to a stranger who'd made a few terribly racist comments directed at a group of people near her, loudly and in general, within the confines of a streetcar: "Ma'am, you have the right to your opinion, but not everyone want to hear it. Please keep to yourself." I have now used that a dozen times, loud firm and clear in private and in groups, and have never once had a response beyond stunned silence from the relative/bigot at large/boor and then the resuming of the general din/conversation from those around. I've alternated between "Please keep to yourself" and "Please keep those comments/that kind of talk to yourself" depending on whether I want the person to check themselves out or to check back in but with a different approach, but either way, it's worked.
posted by peagood at 11:49 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

"I was too flabbergasted by it to say anything - I just kind of stared at her open mouthed."

By the way, you need to rehearse these scenarios in your head and practice what you're going to say when flabbergasted. You marked many good options above. You know that last time you were so shocked you couldn't speak, so rehearse in your head how, when confronted with something similar, you will react and what words you will say. So that when the confrontation actually happens, your brain already knows exactly what words it's looking for.

It turns out a shocked and offended "I BEG your pardon!" is what comes out of my personal mouth when I'm flabbergasted. I sound like it's 1870, but that's okay, it gets the point across, and I can usually collect myself enough to say something more to the point once I've expressed my initial shock and offense.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:33 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't waste your time trying to change her views if anything it will make you one of "them". This really is up to the group. Are you the only one bothered? Then you might have to decide if you like the group enough to put up with her. If she is bothering everyone* then kick her out.

*Don't be surprised if some people actually agree with her but just might not be as vocal as her. Your definition of "racist comments" might be the one out of line with the group. Lots of people put up pleasant facades to keep peace.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 8:05 PM on June 3, 2011

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