How do you deal with racism and racist relatives?
June 3, 2020 1:36 PM   Subscribe

So, I ask about this in part because I want to move to another country. In general, I've never had to deal with racism. I'm white, and I would be moving to a place that is white as well, I doubt people could tell where I was from. The only way they could find out is if I told them. The other part is that I have a racist homophobic father, and some relatives from his side, that say some wild things about other people who are different.

Anyway, whenever I think about moving to another country sometimes it worries me to be seen as an outsider or that someone might say something. It is for the most part an irrational fear of mine. People like that are all around, the only way to ever avoid them was to never leave home, I can't do that I'd miss out on a lot of things out there on the world, and it seems dumb to miss out on them just because some people can't get over themselves and their misguided beliefs about what is different to them.

On the other hand, I find that it causes me anguish when I hear people being actively racist. It is very difficult for me to accept that people can hold these beliefs and think that it is alright. My father, for instance, told me today that the protests were not an issue of racism; that the statistics say there is more black on black crime, black on white crime than the other way around. He argues that this is the result of being stuck at home with the pandemic and while that is partly true cops have frequently shot black people all the time. This argument went on for a while; at the end of it he asked me if I thought that the protesters were right about black people being victimized. I don't know what impression he had that made him think I would think something different about that.

Anyway, I don't hate my father or dislike him or anything. I think he is a closeted racist, but at the very least he keeps it to himself and within the family. That is still inexcusable and I do not condone it but there is little I can do.

As a matter of fact, that sort of thinking upsets me a lot. I always argue against these things he says, hoping that he might one day stop thinking this way. However, sometimes it feels pointless and it is exhausting.

So what do you do when someone is racist? What do you do if they are racist at you? How do you live with the fact that some people are racist and that there is little that anyone can do to get them out of that mentality?

All those things greatly upset me, and I call them out whenever I can; it is still impossible to go anywhere and expect to avoid this. I would really like to hear people's opinions on the matter.
posted by Tarsonis10 to Human Relations (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I feel like I've sent people this same thread on twitter about 500 times today, but in short:

Don't waste your anti-racist energy on converting your dad or any other racist. Spend your time, energy, and money supporting BIPOC in your community that are doing the work. Find out what they need and help them get it.

That's what you can do.

Forget converting the racists. They're a lost cause.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:45 PM on June 3, 2020 [9 favorites]

I cultivate the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

I don't talk to the worst offenders much. When I do speak with them, we exchange small talk or innocuous subjects. If they bring something up, I change the subject to a different innocuous topic. I only engage when I think there's a chance I can actually make a point they'll hear.

This does mean that I just let some things go. Futile self-destruction is not useful and does not advance any cause.
posted by Ahniya at 1:53 PM on June 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have no idea if it's the right thing to do, what follows is only my own anecdotal way of handling it.

My FIL is casually racist, in an if you ask him outright he'd say he totally understands, then says the most racist things as if they're fact using all the dog whistles & making up some of his own. I've taken to just leaving when he does it. I stand up, in the middle of the meal, restaurant, family party whatever thank my hosts & my husband & I leave.

I know I can't stop him being racist, but I can stop him thinking everyone agrees with him & to think before he speaks.

It's taken 2 years of me outstubborning him & quietly & politely walking out of everything from a baptism to my own birthday dinner, but I think he's finally but what is happening now & what I was doing together & realizing why I'm doing it. This weekend was my MIL's birthday & the first time we've seen them since Covid 19 hit. He literally stopped mid sentence when he realized where he was going with something he was saying & changed the subject and his wife thanked him for not ruining her lunch.

So yeah, not sure if it's the best method & while I'd love to go nuclear on him & burn all the bridges, he's my very non confrontational husbands father & my husband asked me not to. This is the compromise we reached & Mr wwax has had my back every single time.

Good luck.
posted by wwax at 2:07 PM on June 3, 2020 [32 favorites]

"So what do you do when someone is racist? What do you do if they are racist at you? How do you live with the fact that some people are racist and that there is little that anyone can do to get them out of that mentality?"

as a white person—who aspires to be an ally—my personal understanding of racism and my response to it has changed significantly throughout my life. i suspect it will continue to do so.

the only advice i have is to educate yourself: read people of color. listen to people of color.
posted by Time To Sharpen Our Knives at 2:31 PM on June 3, 2020

If there are reasons you can't disengage from the person, you can still draw a boundary line on the topic/approach. Tell them you refuse to talk to them when they're saying such things--and stick by that. You really have to stick by it, because they will test you. You need to be prepared to walk out of Mom's birthday dinner, whatever, because you understand that opposing racism is more important than a family event. Don't engage, just leave/hang up.
posted by praemunire at 2:44 PM on June 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Okay, is that what I'm reading:

1. You have a racist family, and you hate hearing racism, and you are also embarrassed.
2. You don't want people to know your family is racist and you don't want to be around racism.
3. So you are thinking about moving to a different mostly white country... but you are worried you will be perceived as an outsider, which is to say... you are worried people will talk about you the way your racist dad talks about people of color.

First of all, moving to a different country won't eliminate racism, and it might not limit your exposure to racism, and to your racist father. If you don't want exposure to your racist dad, you'll have to limit contact with him or learn how to set very solid boundaries around these issues and topics. But your dad will still be your dad, whether you're in your home town or halfway around the world.

And those white people in a different country? They can be super racist too. It just sometimes manifests differently in different countries.

It's great to live in new places, but it's not the solution to your dad's racism. Go for it, but because you want to, not because of him.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:04 PM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm white, and I would be moving to a place that is white as well, I doubt people could tell where I was from.

That the U.S. has "white" at all is a significant advance over our historical discrimination against the Irish, the Poles, the Italians, the Slavs, etc. You might check on the culture you’re thinking of moving into and see what they use to separate people into tribes.

Anyway, whenever I think about moving to another country sometimes it worries me to be seen as an outsider or that someone might say something. It is for the most part an irrational fear of mine.

You’ll never be able to change the fact that your formative years were spent in another culture. You will always be an outsider to some degree.

Having grown up as a member of the dominant class in the U.S. I’ve found that the racist encounters I’ve had don’t bother me very much. I think the people involved are idiots, but the knowledge that if I were on my home ground I could do the same shit with impunity helps a lot. Coming into a racist system as an adult is very different than being born into one.

That said it can still be very annoying. For example I know a mixed married couple in Japan that does all of their legal documents with only the (Japanese) wife’s name on them. It smooths things out a lot.

In my current situation I’m both obviously an outsider and relatively wealthy. Rich foreigners are tolerated by most cultures, but I don’t know that anyone really likes them. I’m trying to get past that, but race and class are pretty basic to a lot of people’s view of the world.

TL;DR If you move to a different culture you will be an outsider. Sometimes you’ll be discriminated against but that’s not the end of the world.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:54 PM on June 3, 2020

Just one thing to be clear. I'm not moving because my father is racist, no not all. I'm moving because I want to live elsewhere. I want to go to Canada, and yes I've done my research. I was also born in a place where things are very US centric, I know Canada is not the same, but I've informed myself about it extensively, and I am sure that it is the place for me to go. With that said, I am under no illusion that Canada is as rosy as some people want to make it out to be, I know there is racism, especially towards the First Nations. That's something that has worried me regardless of where I go but I doubt I will have a difficult time integrating however. Like I said before people probably wouldn't know where I am from unless they asked me.

However, it does worry me from time to time, as to what happened if I ever experienced racism or discrimination, it has never happened to me before, but it upsets me a lot when seeing it in action, especially when it is directed with malice.
posted by Tarsonis10 at 4:24 PM on June 3, 2020

I like to say “that’s racist” when people say a racist thing near me. “That sounds really racist” “Wow that’s a racist thing to say” Then just move on from the conversation. Return the awkwardness of the social fault to sender.

Canada is many places. Are you thinking of Toronto? Halifax? Edmonton? People are different all over. When we lived in rural New Brunswick we were always the people from away; small communities are going to take much longer to accept newcomers than the big cities, this is true all over. But most Canadians are used to immigrants of surprisingly diverse kinds, and many small cities have largeish immigrant communities.

Anyway it seems like you are still thinking through this move and feeling tentative. What would make it an easy decision? What would make you change your mind?

I feel like you might consider extending your embarrassment and fear of being subjected to racist behavior, which doesn’t seem to have actually happened to you, into empathy and action on behalf of those for whom it is a real and constant danger in their lives. Protect yourself by working to protect others.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 5:44 PM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

can outmatch a Chinese or Indian student on math,

About that comment, it was a stupid thing to say. I was a very immature person when I was thinking about that, and I wanted to force my way into university no matter the cost. I apologize if that offended anyone, I never meant it as a racist remark, although I can see why that is wrong to believe or say.
posted by Tarsonis10 at 6:07 PM on June 3, 2020

It sounds like you are conflating two things: discrimination against outsiders and racism. These can overlap, but they are fundamentally quite different. As you yourself note, if you are a white American, and you move to Canada, no one will be able to tell by looking at you that you aren't local, even if you might face discrimination or negative stereotyping from some people once they do find out. People who are victims of racism can't fly under the radar like that and may experience negative stereotyping a hundred times just by walking down the street without even interacting with people. But that's only one difference. The whole of Canadian society isn't set up in a way that disadvantages Americans at every step. There aren't hundreds of years of anti-American sentiment, laws, and actions underpinning the weight of modern Canadian interactions. Your family hasn't been historically disadvantaged by being denied money, influence, and access in Canadian society.

I agree with rather be jorting that it would be great for you to use this frustration you are feeling with your father as an impetus to spend some time learning more about racism yourself to start with.
posted by lollusc at 6:08 PM on June 3, 2020 [6 favorites]

I apologize if that offended anyone, I never meant it as a racist remark, although I can see why that is wrong to believe or say.

So, first thing about racism for us white people, if someone points out that we were racist, we have to apologize for being racist, not faux-pologize "if that offended anyone." That generally translates as "I'm sorry you misunderstood me, but you're the one at fault for reading me incorrectly." We have to take responsibility for it, because we have to start with understanding our own place in it all.

I mean, we're racist, you and I. Maybe not as openly as your father, but we were born and raised in it and it permeates absolutely every aspect of our lives. To find a way to deal with others' racism usually starts with examining your own racism, and reading and listening to POC. The more you learn about your own relationship with racism, the more you'll be able to deal with your father in ways that won't pain you--and will stop exhausting you, too.
posted by tzikeh at 6:23 PM on June 3, 2020 [30 favorites]

hey. It sucks a whole bunch to get called out. It happened to me, and I decided that the next time I saw it happen I would say something. This is it - this is my journey:

I got upset at getting told that what I said was racist. What I understood, what I felt, is that I was being called a racist. It took me a bit to get sorted. I had many feelings, I was embarrassed. And then I felt bad. I had made other people feel bad. I eventually realized that what I said was racist, and my intentions, well, I realized if my intentions were to be decent, then I needed to listen. Really listen and understand. Even now I feel ashamed at my mistake.

You made a mistake - and you can memail me if you want to talk about it.

Note: there is a whole conversation about performing this sort of thing - so please no cookies or favorites or anything.
posted by zenon at 12:33 AM on June 4, 2020

I apologize if that offended anyone,

OK so I really don't want this to be a pile on because this stuff is incredibly hard and it sounds like you are fairly young and trying to learn. But. The phrasing "If I offended anyone" is not good. There is no "if" and the feeling described wasn't really offended IMO. Rather be jorting has already told you how she felt about it so you can apologise directly to her for making a comment that induced that feeling.

It's a really natural response to use that kind of distancing language to avoid thinking about the harm you have caused but to make a genuine apology it's important to properly acknowledge what you're apologising for. I have trained myself to review and reword any apology I write or practice in my head beforehand. I say "I'm sorry" rather than "I apologise" and I try to as fully as possible acknowledge what has happened and strip out the excuses and the self defense. So for example "I apologise that you were kept waiting, the bus was late" becomes "I'm really sorry I was late and you had to wait so long"

To return to your original ask, my family are also not great on equality issues. I do debate with them as and when things come up in conversation because partly because I don't want to be agreeing by silence and partly because I believe I am making small bits of progress. But parents are especially hard. They raised us, they remember when we believed in santa and the tooth fairy, they often to some extent still think of us as kids. Often they will not take our opinions as seriously as they would another adult and we will not work miracles overnight. Viewpoints around race and racism are often very deeply entrenched and people do not want to examine them as they don't want to discover their own racism. It is far more comfortable to them to believe that they are not racist, that society is not racists and all these troubles are somehow the fault of the victims.

Keep having the debates (as long as they aren't endangering your mental health). Keep things civil and call out the actions/phrases rather than the intent as that makes people less likely to double-down e.g. "what you said sounded really racist" rather than "You are racist for saying that". But remember that you are not your family and you are not responsible for or in control of their views.
posted by *becca* at 4:51 AM on June 4, 2020

Anyway, whenever I think about moving to another country sometimes it worries me to be seen as an outsider or that someone might say something. It is for the most part an irrational fear of mine.

Also on this point I think one thing that will surprise you if you do emigrate is how much you won't be seen as "an immigrant" once you have arrived. People who have racist views about immigrants or are unwilling to accept outsiders often mentally classify and white people from rich countries are often seen by them as "not the same" as the "bad" immigrants (people who are brown or from poorer countries). People may actually complain to you about problems caused by "all these immigrants" even while knowing you are have immigrated to your country and then brush you off as "Oh but you're different" if you point it out.
posted by *becca* at 5:18 AM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ok, once again I am deeply sorry about what I said. No, not every Chinese student or Indian student is a math genius. That is a dumb belief and a stupid stereotype. I was blaming Chinese and Indian students for my own shortcomings. I know that this is wrong and I will not repeat it again.

Like I said, I intensely regret that I perpetuated that nonsense.

rather be jorting, I do not know if you'll see this or not, but I am sorry to have disrespected you. Believe me when I say that I never wanted to have my personal issues cause distress on other people. I dislike it when other people do that to me, I'm just sorry that I did not think through on how my words could hurt other people.

At any rate, I sent a personal apology as well.
posted by Tarsonis10 at 9:16 AM on June 4, 2020

My go-to when people say racist or anti-immigrant things around me is "I'm not the right audience for that" or, less formally, "I'm not here for that." I'll answer if they ask why not, but usually they know even if they're pretending not to.

Also I just wander off. There's usually a less racist and more interesting conversation to be had elsewhere, with different people.
posted by inexorably_forward at 12:45 AM on June 5, 2020

In general, I've never had to deal with racism.
To magnify what's being said, you actually deal with racism every day in the sense that you have been the beneficiary of racist, white supremacist systems since before you were born. So have I — a lot of the privilege you and I enjoy comes from being white in a white supremacist system. So one thing you could do is to do some reading about how racism isn't isolated acts, but rather a systemic issue.
posted by Tehhund at 5:27 AM on June 6, 2020

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