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How do I deal with a racist family member?
Happy New Year, readers! Even though most of us held remote or scaled back versions of our usual gatherings, the holiday season always turns the spotlight on families and relationships. At the same time, current events have prompted many of us to examine our own views on race and equity. Naturally, this leads to paying closer attention to the views of those closest to us. Family.
So what do you do when one of your relatives makes a racist comment? Or, even more difficult, what about that family member who has always held racist views, but hasn’t ever been called out on it?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but here are a few suggestions to get you started.
“I can’t believe you just said that.” This direct approach can work if the person actually knows that their comment is not ok. It also can work well to shut down racist “jokes” as well as a simple, “Not funny.”
Older relatives can be trickier. In many families it is not culturally ok to call out an elder, regardless of the offense. In this case you might try getting another family member to intervene, say Grandma having a talk in private with Grandpa about why what he said is offensive. Who is that person likely to listen to? Taking a gentle approach is not necessarily weak; sometimes we feel like all-out social justice warrior is the only position to take. But considering your audience and the best way to possibly change that person’s thinking is the real goal here.
Engage the person in a meaningful conversation, if possible. This can be done at a later time so that it’s not confrontational and the relative doesn’t shut down defensively in front of a crowd (or worse, escalate). Open the discussion by repeating what they said, explaining that you disagree, and ask them why they feel that way. Starting at a point of “we disagree” can allow the person to listen and learn rather than defend. You’re unlikely to change someone’s mind by simply attacking, even when you are right.
Set limits. There is nothing wrong with a rule that there will be no racist comments in your home. Your house, your rules.
Avoid. This one is difficult and a last resort, but sometimes there are people in our lives who are toxic for any number of reasons. It’s ok to not be around them.
Of course, there’s no easy answer when you’re dealing with someone you love and yet disagree with. Try different approaches and see what works. If you have success stories to share please let me know!!
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