Is there a loving but persuasive way to tell dad he's a bigot?
November 26, 2014 8:58 PM   Subscribe

My father is, and always has been, a loving, decent, supportive, honorable person. He's also always been crotchety, unworldly, domineering, and set in his ways. Is there a way to encourage him--without preaching and without being strident--to reflect on the ways his attitudes sometimes cross the border from "Sh*t My Dad Says" into less defensibly hateful/ignorant territory?

Some examples of what I mean, in more-or-less chronological order of how long I've noticed them. Some of these may be more benign/everyday than others, but I'm trying to list as wide a range of examples as I can think of:
    - He regularly uses the word "beaner"--especially to refer to landscapers--and he seems to take pleasure in using it. (He's careful not to use it in front of the people it actually refers to.)
    - He becomes noticeably cagey and irritable whenever he's in a non-majority-white environment. He avoids cities that are known for having large black populations, and overcautions me about safety whenever I visit them--usually avoiding the topic of race for as long as he can manage but he'll always end up saying something like "you know, [Town X] is a predominantly black town, so be careful. Not that I mean anything racial by that." (Er...come again, dad? O_o )
      Related examples: I lived in Oakland for six years; when he visited he commented, offhandedly, that the town is "80% black." (Actual percentage: 28%) When I was 24 I did a web site for a black photography exhibit on the South Side of Chicago; when I mentioned this to him he basically tried to forbid me from going to the gallery opening because he was convinced it was too dangerous.
    - He has little patience for TV roundtable discussions about the black community ("yeah, you've all been suffering for millions of years...") Whenever he watches college football he makes jokes about how black players have probably never "seen a classroom." (N.B. He doesn't express this in explicitly racial terms and it doesn't seem consciously racially motivated, but it's noticeable that he never makes these jokes about white players.)
    - When I told him anecdotes about being an Anglophone white dude in Korea he responded that "Koreans are white"--the idea being (I guess??) that anything that isn't black is white. When he visited me in Japan he kept commenting, with apparent surprise, that Japanese people "don't look Oriental."
    - Due to a series of ridiculous coincidences worthy of a Norman Lear sitcom, we had to walk through long stretches of the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade to get to a baseball game during his last visit. His first reaction was to mutter something about believing in individual expression and complain that "you never see a parade for the Marines"; later in the day he said something about how if he saw the "queers" coming through his neighborhood dressed like that he'd "mow them down with an M-16" (weird that his brain kept going to the military); then, that night, when we saw some parade stragglers on the train, he said that they were "what's wrong with this country today: too much freedom, not enough discipline," and asked me if I thought it was "normal behavior" (it wasn't clear if "it" referred to non-heteronormative sexuality or to the parade itself.) I tried to argue that the parade is as much a party as an advocacy event--that it's meant as a celebration of diversity and a momentary questioning of dualistic gender roles (forget the exact wording I used), that there are people in the LGBT community who would agree that it's too ostentatious, and that nobody was saying he had to like it--but none of this really seemed to sink in. (We were, admittedly, both pretty tired by the time this conversation wound down.)
For the most part these comments of his don't come across as elements of a deliberately thought-out political philosophy or belief system, and with the exception of the M-16 comment I'm not sure any of it really falls outside what a lot of people of his age and background (73, grew up in conservative Western Pennsylvania, although he did live in Chicago for 40 years) would feel about these topics. So despite the inflammatory thread title I don't think my dad is a "bigot," at least not in the sense that he would understand that term. It's more a case of him having had little social contact with people different from him, never having had any reason to think about what it feels like to live outside mainstream society, and reacting out of emotion to things that are unfamiliar to him, than of him literally "believing" this stuff.

Still, it's depressing to me, because I've always known my dad to be a caring and good-hearted guy--way more empathetic than any of his relatives. Yet he seems viscerally resentful of any discussion of minority experience, and he keeps coming back to these attitudes even though he's never seemed particularly invested in them. I'm wondering if anyone has dealt with anything similar with a loved one, and if there's a good way to illustrate that you can be a bigot without "being" a bigot--or to nudge his thinking, gently, about how some of the ideas he expresses can come across as hateful and paranoid even though he, personally, doesn't believe anything hateful or paranoid about them. At times it seems like he really wants to understand the other viewpoint, but at the same time he's so reflexively uncomfortable about it all that the whole thing feels beyond my diplomatic skills. The "structural inequality" argument seems too abstract to get the point across, and everything else seems too accusatory...

Any thoughts, as we head into this season of family togetherness? :-)
posted by urufu to Human Relations (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: P.S. If it matters, I'm a son, not a daughter.
posted by urufu at 8:59 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

He already knows.

He knows not to call people 'Beaners' to their face, because he knows it's wrong and not acceptable. He knows to add 'not that I mean anything racial' to sentences that are clearly racist.

He knows.

So, at this point, you can choose to argue with him some of the time or all of the time and try to get him to admit something he's already aware of but has chosen not to change about himself, or you can admit defeat and try to tune it out.

I flip flop back and forth between those two courses of action myself and it means sometimes I get up and leave the room when my Dad starts yelling at the news and sometimes I demonstrate that I can yell louder than him.

Literally the only positive change I can think of that arguing with him about this shit ever affected was that we convinced him that calling my sister-in-law's family 'chinamen' was not acceptable. And that was in the category of things he already really knew anyway, it just became more important that he exercise self-control at all times when my sister-in-law joined our family.

What sort of worked with my mother on some issues was just sort of non-committally offering the other point of view. "Well, I don't know, I mean, I get that, but at the same time, you have to think if they're willing to fight that hard to be allowed to be married, they might actually be honouring the whole idea of marriage a whole lot more than people who roll up in Vegas and marry some guy they met playing Craps, and no one tells those people they shouldn't get married." "Well, I don't know, I mean, I get that, but at the same time, you have to wonder -- if people have braved such horrible conditions to come here and try to make a better life for themselves, they must be escaping something truly awful and horrendous or they would't have taken that risk." But she was always way less committed to any negative ideas than my father was. Haven't ever managed to budge her on First Nations rights, though.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:24 PM on November 26, 2014 [29 favorites]

Yet he seems viscerally resentful of any discussion of minority experience, and he keeps coming back to these attitudes even though he's never seemed particularly invested in them.

I think it's possible to make nudges if you can tap into any experiences of exclusion or minority status in his past. I've pointed out to my dad, who has similar generational prejudices, that he grew up in a community that was treated as distinct and looked down upon, and that the people who he sees as 'others' who live on those same streets have more in common with his early experience. But I also think there's only so much you can do, and accept that you inherit (as best you can) the generosity but not the prejudice, and it's okay to make clear that the prejudice is not part of your identity and his legacy.

(What shut him up about gay people was being invited to a civil union ceremony and reception that was no different from any of the family weddings he'd attended. The stealth weapon for marriage equality was always going to be the buffet table.)
posted by holgate at 9:35 PM on November 26, 2014 [7 favorites]

My goal has evolved into working toward keeping people from saying that sort of shit in my presence. "Please don't use that word in front of me." "Please don't say those things in front of me." "You can think whatever you want, but please don't say those things in front of me." Repeat ad nauseum.

If he wants to have an actual conversation, he can do so in a respectful way. If he's being disrespectful, that's probably not a great time to have an actual conversation.
posted by jaguar at 9:43 PM on November 26, 2014 [24 favorites]

He says this shit to you because he has no-one else to say it to, and he loves you.

He knows you don't agree.

It's OK. You don't have to change him, or agree.
posted by Sportswriters at 9:47 PM on November 26, 2014 [8 favorites]

I recommend the Jay Smooth advice, ie "that thing you said was racist", not "you are racist".
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:51 PM on November 26, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm 50 so my dad and yours are likely in a similar cohort. My parents were divorced when I was 4 and my dad paid child support right on time, every month until my younger sister was eighteen. I remember asking him who "God" was when I was a kid and he said "Your God can be anyone, my God is a black woman". He also, way long ago, started Common Cause in Seattle.

And he was an asshole. I remember once when his friends were around and I was a small person and they were big people and they held a largish ball in one hand and I asked "how do you do that?" and they laugingly said you have to be a Wog to do that. When I grew my hair long as a young hippie kid he said he wasn't going to see me until I cut my hair. He gave me his books when he moved and in the marginalia of one he had notes about what to do "about the wetback problem". He was also quite violent and as a Marine and an amateur boxer that had fought for the national championship in his weight class he wasn't very good at mitigating his violent impulses.

When I got big enough so that hitting me might have some consequences there was a very sudden change. Now my dad was a victim of the world.

He couldn't manipulate me as he had formerly with violence so he had to find a new way. The new way was to attack my world view and portray himself as a victim.

I think it's more a question of his trying to manipulate you [and everyone he can] so in your circumstance urufu I would just listen to his nonsense and then move on. He won't stay in a subject or on a topic where he has no ability to manipulate.
posted by vapidave at 10:00 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Could you say to him "Dad, when you say these types of things it is really depressing to me, because I know how kind hearted you are. It's really surprising and sad when I hear you say things that are hurtful and mean about other people because I know you to be a good, kind man who wouldn't want to hurt someone. Why do you say stuff like that?"
posted by sockermom at 10:09 PM on November 26, 2014 [17 favorites]

Pretty much my entire family is like this.

My level of engagement depends on who it is, what our relationship is, and how egregious their statements/actions are.

For example my younger brother will throw around the N word every now and again. I NEVER ever ever let this slide and always straight up call him racist for doing that. It is my job as his older sister to always keep him in line on this issue.

Similarly, I have this one especially racist relative who will often make racist comments against groups whose members are my friends, coworkers, lovers, etc. And I will always say, "My boyfriend is Jewish" or "I worked for an Indian company and have been to India and have a lot of Indian friends" or whatever, in response to casual bigotry. Because, as I can tell you've noticed, it's easy to take the tack that it's OK to spout racist garbage as long as one is "among friends". Reminding people that we live in a diverse world, and the group in question isn't a far-away Other, is really important.

However, if it's an old person I know I'll never change, I tend not to do anything about it. My grandparents were on the wrong side of the Civil Rights movement and are prone to using the wrong word ("Orientals" is still a huge hurdle with them) and just generally talking about non-white people in an outmoded and politically incorrect way. I wish I could change this about them, but I'm not going to. I have several layers of contingency plans for what happens if I marry someone of a different race/religion/culture, and beyond that I just don't push it too much.
posted by Sara C. at 10:43 PM on November 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

I have similar issues with my father - more on the politics front though, with only marginal passive racism.

A big part of it is background. My dad grew up in small town Utah, graduated HS but never went to college, and has a six figure job now only by virtue of working his ass off for the last 40 years - he's a blue collar guy through and through who has reached success not through education, but blood, sweat and tears. I enjoy visiting him, but after about three days I get to the point that I just have to leave. He is politically as ignorant as anyone I've ever met - liberals are causing all the problems we have in America, Obama is a muslim, Obama has a plan to stay in office forever and enact martial law, minorities commit voter fraud in droves, minorities systematically abuse welfare... the list goes on and on.

I used to try the logic approach - when he'd say something that obviously wasn't true or real, I'd find evidence (that he would trust) that countered what he was saying. Not once did he say, "Gee son, I'm glad you showed this to me, I probably need to rethink my stance on this." It is always a non-acknowledging change of topic, and I rarely hear that argument again. At first I thought with enough time, I'd be able to counter all his arguments or opinions and never have to hear it again. I was wrong.

The problem is, when someone has spent a majority of their life thinking a certain way and they still live in an environment that condones or even promotes those beliefs, there are limited options on "changing" them. I even hesitate to use that word as I have never wished to "change" my dad - more to inform him. Once I realized that while I disagree with him, nearly everyone he comes in contact with probably agrees and supports him, I realized it was somewhat of a lost cause. At this point, I've gotten to the just-ignore-it strategy and it has kept me sane during visits for the past few years.

I suppose this is a long-winded way of saying, at a certain point there is no concrete way to change someones deep seated personal beliefs. Despite being a relatively smart man, my dad will go to his grave believing those things and I've just had to become okay with that.
posted by _DB_ at 11:21 PM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

"Dad, that's not okay."


"X is not okay because Y"


"No. They're people. Referring to them as X is not okay because Y."


"No, because (repeat)."

actual conversation I had tonight with my 65 year old neighbour (not my dad so maybe different dynamics apply). It might be useful for you to think about changing behaviour and not thinking--one (hopefully) leads to the other. It might not be useful for you. YMMV.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:11 AM on November 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Could you say to him "Dad, when you say these types of things it is really depressing to me, because I know how kind hearted you are. It's really surprising and sad when I hear you say things that are hurtful and mean about other people because I know you to be a good, kind man who wouldn't want to hurt someone. Why do you say stuff like that?""

I think what you, as the kid, want to say what will be effective in changing the dad are two different things.

It's worth a shot I suppose.
posted by vapidave at 12:39 AM on November 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: jacquilynne: He knows not to call people 'Beaners' to their face, because he knows it's wrong and not acceptable.

That's definitely true. But I guess my instinctive response would be to think there's a difference between knowing something is wrong and unacceptable and actually understanding why something is wrong and unacceptable--i.e. if somebody lives in total isolation from the race debate, it's not totally inconceivable why he might experience the taboos and controversies as just more random TV strangers telling him what to do, nor why it might not occur to him that other people have experiences of the race divide that differ fundamentally, and radically, from his (and that not everyone can "opt out" of thinking about race as easily as he can.) I guess that's why I keep hoping I can help change his thinking just by distinguishing what (if anything) is valid in his concerns from all the paranoia and prejudice he ladles over it: for example, I'll acknowledge that it probably is unwise for me to walk around certain areas of New Orleans or Baltimore; but then I'll add that it's possible to research those cities and know which areas to avoid, and that the whole "black=>dangerous" equation is a simplification of why those places are unsafe for me--that "black=>dangerous" results from, and reinforces, a long history of systematic disenfranchisement, transgenerational poverty, discriminatory housing practices, gentrification, outsourcing, decades-long disinvestment in urban renewal, antagonistic police practices, etc., etc., etc., and that there are more nuanced ways of thinking about these subjects than just "don't go near any city with too many black people."

Admittedly, though, he never really seems to grasp why that distinction is important. And I think that's less because he's an incurable racist than because he just doesn't care very much about these issues to begin with.

That's the other thing: I think my post probably (unavoidably?) gives the impression that these prejudices are a huge part of my dad's personality and his worldview. But he doesn't actually make these comments all that terribly often, and my hunch is he just doesn't spend much time thinking about race and politics, period. That is, I think he's probably more a case of suburban insularity and fearfulness being the midwife of bigotry than the other way around--that he values peace and security so much more highly than everything else in life that social change and political controversies just feel like a nuisance to him. It's not malicious; it's just ornery. But it ends up making him sound like a racist anyway. So yeah, maybe sockermom's idea of talking about how it bothers me and asking why he seems to enjoy saying mean-spirited things is the way to go.

holgate: I think it's possible to make nudges if you can tap into any experiences of exclusion or minority status in his past.

Yeah, that was my first instinct too, but there's really just nothing to work with there. My dad is white, male, Episcopalian, financially comfortable, college-educated, 5'11", midwestern, and right-handed. There's nothing about him--that I know of, anyway--that has ever not been in the majority in any significant way. Oh well.


Thanks for the advice, everyone! Happy Thanksgiving!
posted by urufu at 4:04 AM on November 27, 2014

Yeah, at his age, there's not a lot you can do, worse, the filter's getting thinner and soon it will be non-existent.

Your father being in the privileged class his whole life AND being able to enjoy that privilege for half of his life, then to watch it erode away as other folks assumed their rightful place in our society, he sees himself as superior and in some ways a victim.

I'd let 75% of the stuff go, saving your strength for the most egregious remarks. Even then, I'd be more cajoling than hectoring. "Really Dad, that Archie Bunker schtick is getting old."

My FIL, when he was alive, used to say the most outrageous stuff, mostly to tease me. My favorite one was, "Did you ever notice how it's always black people who win on The Price Is Right?" I'd just say, "Bo, even YOU don't believe that shit."

You love him, and he is who he is. It doesn't reflect on you at all. Honest.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:53 AM on November 27, 2014 [8 favorites]

When I was younger I used to really yell at my dad when he would make racist jokes. Then for a long time, I felt resigned and ignored it because I thought he's old, I can't change him, he wasn't exhibiting deep malice and he makes fun of everything anyway. These days, I always quietly call him on it. I've been telling him to quit being ignorant because racists are ignorant.
posted by gt2 at 6:06 AM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a close relative like this. 71 years old, tasteless jokes galore and believes all the stereotypes about anybody who isn't white. I used to freak out when he made these types of comments at family dinners and he would laugh in a "Ooh! Someone's offended!" sort of way, which only made me rage harder.

Now, I just cut him off. I say something like "You can be as racist as you want when I'm not here, but you will respect me enough to cut that shit out when I am here. Do you understand?" And he has gotten a lot better the last few years. Lucky for me, the rest of the family is on board, so if he looks to them for backup, he's not getting it.
posted by futureisunwritten at 6:38 AM on November 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

TV discussions about anything social justice make me want to kick in the screen. Sanctimonious talking heads are annoying.
How does your dad act towards people--does he pay the gardeners decently, tip the valet parking attendants, etc.? I don't think how people talk counts as much as how they act.
I think you're trying to explain people and their causes to him in long-winded, well-reasoned, jargon-laden paragraphs, and his conversational style is shorter, more colorful, and punchier. You explain about advocacy and parades as celebrations and diversity and on and on.
I think your differences have more to do with your conversational styles and means of expression, and that instead of having long discussions, you may be happier doing stuff with him that doesn't require him to adapt to our world view. Go to a shooting range, an action movie, watch Band of Brothers, have a BBQ that's just for fun, not for vegan or free-range or craft-brewed. Look at old pictures and get him to talk more and you to listen more. He's not going to be around forever.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:08 AM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I guess you could tell him laughingly that he sounds like Archie Bunker. Or say "Well, there goes ever introducing you to my friends, Archie." Let him know he's embarrassing you and himself, that it's not the shared joke he thinks it is.
posted by discopolo at 8:30 AM on November 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here is what the United Nations has to say about difficult conversations.
posted by Xurando at 8:47 AM on November 27, 2014

This article is specifically about Ferguson. However it's very relevant to all different kinds of bigotry as we all head into Thanksgiving dinner:

Dear White Allies, Please Stop Unfriending Other White People Over Ferguson.

... You’re a socially conscious white person? You don’t share *their* views?
It’s disappointing to hear your friends say racist things?
You don’t wanna talk to them? I hear you. I really do.
But if you don’t speak to “them” who will?

posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:33 AM on November 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think about this a lot: why do people change? When do they change? Is it right to assume that some people will never change, and then to just write them off and essentially wait for them to die?

I personally think that it's wrong to give up on people, but at the same time we have to give ourselves permission to fail because we are all trying to do a lot of different kinds of good, and we have limited time and attention to give. Also, it's not easy to do what you're hoping to do, and it's not the kind of thing where more effort necessarily leads to more success, so it's completely understandable that a lot of people just don't see any point in trying.

Here are two ideas about this kind of effort that I think are important:

1) If you talk to him, don't expect him to immediately say, "Hey, you're right!". Thoughtful people -- and all people are thoughtful if given a chance -- take some time to consider whatever new information you give them, and to come to their own conclusions. You have to give the information, be careful not to pressure or judge, and treat your audience (your Dad) as an intelligent entity who will insist on thinking things through before accepting any new ways.

2) Anyone can change. Humans are generally rational, and when they resist change, they have important reasons for not doing so. Your dad calling people "beaners" could be a way for him to reach out for some connection with you (in case you have some kind of common perspective on life, since most of the people he knows who would also use the word "beaners" are likely far away), or feel important (setting himself apart and above them). If you can find out what the underlying function of his "beliefs" are, maybe you can help those needs be filled another way -- maybe he can connect with you or someone else around something else, or maybe there's a new way he can have a position of importance, or maybe he can find a way to be content without being important. Once that happens, he may be more open to new information.

Finally, you may have seen some earlier Metafilter posts about research showing that getting people to clearly elucidate their beliefs can sometimes show them the weaknesses in their reasoning. I can't look that up right now, but if you can just ask him to explain his beliefs (and it sounds like you can do that without putting him on the defensive), maybe this will help.

I think it might have been similar to this study referenced in this article.

I hope, really really hope, you follow up this post. As I said, I'm quite interested in this kind of thing, and since you seem so patient and hopeful, and caring, I'd love to hear how things go with you and him.
posted by amtho at 9:52 AM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

The only way, and I mean, the only way, to deal with something like this is to make it personal. "You know, dad, my friend Carlos is Mexican. Here is a great thing he did for me that really helped me, your son!" I have used this with my grandmother, who had similar opinions about different groups of people.
posted by corb at 10:04 AM on November 27, 2014

Whatever approach you end up taking, don't fall into the trap of assuming that he's too old to change. My father was a George Wallace / Barry Goldwater supporter in middle age, but became more and more sympathetic to issues of social justice and equality as the years went on. He changed from someone who would use racial epithets with casual abandon to someone who would say, "I really don't like to hear that." I had never directly tried to change his mind on these things, but I didn't hide my disagreements either. FIMO is a good approach with family. Old people can be full of surprises, some of them delightful.
posted by Corvid at 11:29 AM on November 27, 2014

He knows.

He may be able to shift his values enough to abandon his bigoted notions, but I doubt that he could be coerced into it. I respectfully suggest that it's not your job to insist. However, you can explain to him that you find certain specific remarks offensive, and ask him not to use them when he comes to visit with you. It may be helpful if you say the actual words, rather than characterize them. You may legitimately reserve the prerogative to make the rules of demeanor in your own home.

You probably wouldn't be able to assert this prerogative while you are in his house, because it's his house, and goose sauce is good for the gander, too. As you can see, this tack has lots of loopholes (walking down the street, at the movies, and so on), so being specific will help you to establish a line of communication, and a base from which you can complain without being shrill.

It would be good to try and avoid thinking of him as a bigot, because the term is stark, and doesn't readily allow for the positive qualities he possesses, or for his being the basically decent man you know him to be. Yeah, the M-16 remark was over the top. It deserves a simple "Good lord, dad, you can't mean that." Not all things will, or need, to be resolved.

I faced a similar situation with RedBud's father, also a decent man. My solution was as I described above. He was flexible enough to respect my views, and in my presence avoided blatantly racist terms. In other areas, his bigotry informed his politics, so I had little leverage that way, and we came to terms with one another in other ways, mostly by not trying to deal with one another's political views with too fine a resolution.
posted by mule98J at 12:35 PM on November 27, 2014

He already knows he's a bigot -- but you can tell him that his racist comments and jokes make you feel uncomfortable. That'll probably have more effect on him than telling him he's wrong. if you go this route, tell him privately, and as a favor that he save that talk for when you're not around.

You might think that's not firm and disapproving enough, but I wouldn't agree. It's a pretty big deal to tell a parent, "this thing that you do is bothering me, and I'm asking you not to do it in my presence." And it's a big deal to a parent to hear the request.
posted by wryly at 1:18 PM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I find the question and answers very interesting, because my mother is like that.
No easy solution there, I think. With my mother I think it is a form of attention seeking.

She will make the most blatant racist remarks, full of prejudice and intolerance, against Jews, foreigners, refugees, illegal immigrants, basically anyone not a German speaking European (we live in Austria).
With her I noticed it comes most strongly when she is depressed, feels lonely and scared, or threatened.

I tend to ignore it a lot of the time, when we are alone, instead of arguing against it. Instead I try cheer her up and change the topic. She knows very well I do not agree with her views, and on some occasions I have felt she does it to test if I still love her, like a child misbehaving.
When my son (6yrs) is there as well, however, I do try to make a stand as I do not want him to think it is ok to use the German version of the N word or spout xenophobic rubbish or make derogatory remarks about Jewish people. Sometimes then she just says: I get it, you don't want him to get tainted by his gran, and is offended.

I definitely find it very depressing, as I think it gets worse the older she gets (she is now 75), and another trigger beside age and loneliness was my father divorcing her about 10 years ago, and then when he died 4 years ago it became worse again - as long as he was around, she never dared voice these opinions.
posted by 15L06 at 1:30 PM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

OK, I'll be the loose cannon here.

Crack on immigrants. I hope a few million more come. They'll teach the locals how to stand up and fight. (For what, son? For wages, justice, unions, and dignity, Dad. You always said those are worth fighting for.).
Crack on Black people.
I just LOVE to see these kids standing up to the animals in blue. Don't you, Dad?
Crack on gays.
Remember when the 'queers' kicked the shit out of the cops in NY? Stonewall, they called it. 1971. Dad, I wish we'd been there. You would have LOVED it.

This it the approach I always took with my late pop, who was a little subtler than yours -- but not much. By being passionate about some things, and appealing to his better nature -- not his Sunday school nature, but his deep sense of justice and fairness and hatred for bullies -- I put him a position. At one point he roared "HELL YES FOR WOMEN WHO NEED AN ABORTION."

YMMV. But you can at least try this w/o screaming at each other.
posted by LonnieK at 6:30 PM on November 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: They'll teach the locals how to stand up and fight. (For what, son? For wages, justice, unions, and dignity, Dad. You always said those are worth fighting for.)

Ha, excellent! If only my dad had ever said those things were worth fighting for.

That's why this is so frustrating: he doesn't really feel these things for political reasons; he feels them (as best I can tell) as a sort of involuntary emotional reaction to things that make him uncomfortable. He doesn't associate "beaners" with the illegal immigration debate (he doesn't even seem particularly upset about immigration); he associates them with this vague haze of things in society that he doesn't understand and would prefer not to have to think about.

Likewise, the M-16 gaffe--I honestly don't think that was about any deep-seated opposition to the "LGBT agenda." (It certainly wasn't about gay marriage specifically.) I think it was about him being annoyed that the trains were crowded and people were making noise (being a suburbanite, he doesn't have to deal with public transportation very much), and expressing that annoyance in the worst way he possibly could. I think 15L06 has the right idea--that it's more a tantrum than a thought. So I guess the real question is why trivial inconvenience would lead to that kind of hate speech.

Still, you made me laugh out loud, LonnieK, and I owe you a drumstick for that!
posted by urufu at 7:05 PM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

My advice would be to link it to actual individual people. I find a lot of older/elderly people have a negative attitude to groups ("the black", "the gays", etc as they see them) because these groups are different and seem strange and monolithic. That can be threatening. Conversely, the more individual persons-who-happen-to-be-gay/black/Hispanic/whatever they know, the less the "big strange group" freaks them out and triggers their defence mechanisms.

I would also not worry too much about using outdated terms for groups, unless those terms are themselves actually offensive, as I find that's the hardest habit for people to change. A beloved older relative still says "China-man" and "young coloured man", but in exactly the same way she'd identify someone as unusually tall or a redhead, and she is incapable of being genuinely racist because--and this carries weight with older people--racism is rude. It's rude and ignorant and unfair.

Similar to some of the above, I would also suggest saying something like "Dad, it bothers me when you say things like that because it makes you sound prejudiced, and I know you're more intelligent/compassionate than that."
posted by sarahkeebs at 7:55 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

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