9/09/2008

A little light banter on racism

We have a bit of a problem in the Prufrock household, or rather, with the extended family of one of the household's members :::cough:::, not me, :::cough::: . Said members of one's family have an itsy bitsy issue of being massively racist. Of course they preface or follow nearly every epithet with "I'm not racist, but...", which is one of biggest pet peeves right up there with, "I'm not racist, some of my best friends are black/Asian/Latino!"

Up to this stage, our mutual reaction is to tense up and glance nervously at one another, which I know is a copout. My life's philosophy is to fight very few battles, so I don't ever speak up despite how much their behaviour disgusts me. However, now that we have a small parrot residing with us who mimics every single thing we say, regular utterances of vile, racist terms is unacceptable. The thought of my daughter saying "Paki" (their favourite racist term - used to describe anyone of Asian descent) makes me feel ill.

My in-laws view me as a snobby, domineering, career-focused, far too liberal person, so I have no doubt at all that I will shoulder the blame when The Dude speaks with them about this issue. Whatever. I'm not very happy that our tenuous relationship will suffer further, but at the cost of my daughter's well-being it's a very necessary sacrifice.

I'm curious if others have had this problem, with your own families, or that of your partner's. If so, what did you do? What would you do? This is such a make it or break it situation for me, and if they are not willing to make an effort to watch what they say around P, they won't see P. The ease with which these words and vitriol spill out from their mouths is disturbing, but all the more worrisome is the fact that they would not view what they are saying as problematic. I don't want my daughter to grow up around people who think displaying such hatred and ignorance is ok.

I have a fair amount to say on the issue of racism in this country versus that of the US, but my battery is dying and some breastfeeding programme is about to come on so all of that will need to wait. Until then - what say you?

18 comments:

nutsinmay said...

I say you are completely right. Until P is old enough to understand why the things her relations say are Not Good Things, even if she does love them (the relations, that is, not the things they say), she shouldn't be around them while they say Not Good Things.

Do not get into a fight about it. State your position calmly, and with no emotional words. Say, I can't let P hear you saying those things as she repeats everything. So unless you can not say those things, I have to keep P away from you. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

I suggest this because it worked on my family. I come from a mixed race, mixed religions family with a thick interlarding of homosexuality. The white straight Catholics were occasionally vile about the Jewish lesbians, for example, and my Dad, who has black SIBLINGS, FFS, would come up with the most ludicrous crap about Afro-Caribbean people. I would shout and yell and get into arguments. Oooooh, yes. May was a lesbian, Jewish, black, communist hag-troll for a few months. Mostly because I made them feel thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Eventually I got fed up and I took to saying, 'If you're going to say things like that about my cousin/ aunt/ neighbour, I can't talk to you.' And then I'd get up and walk out of the room. They now stop each other from saying those things - 'Don't upset May and ruin the visit!' they say. It's not as good as 'because these are shitty things to say' but it's a start.

Anyway, I am still a very slightly lesbian Jewish black communist hag-troll, and proud of it.

Tash said...

I think you come right out and say: "I find these things really offensive. If you feel the need to use these terms, I ask that you do it when weepea is asleep. If you do it in front of her, I will have to remove her from the situation (read: leave) because I do not want her using this language."

We almost came to this discussion. FIL shit.a.brick when he found out where we were moving, and 98% of his tirade had to do with the color of our current neighbors. I told my husband that if he dared say anything, even vague and cryptic about our neighborhood or neighbors in front of her, I would ask him to leave. He did not quite a 180 when he actually met some of our neighbors, but has decided to keep his mouth shut on this issue.

He's been such an asshole about Maddy that we actually haven't seen him much lately, so maybe the whole thing is a small blessing?

That's so tough. I think it's also good to reiterate good behavior when you can. It may come out in different ways, not necessarily skin color, but people being bald, or missing limbs, or being different sizes or having green hair or whatever. And you keep stressing that everyone's different and that's why we're interesting. It would be perfectly delicious if one day she called them on their bile.

DD said...

My FIL is a huge (literally) bigot and he feels he's intitled to use every derogatory term out there whenever we are in public, and he does it loudly since he doesn't care what others think.

Be that as it may, Mr. DD does not tolerate it in front of our son and has made it clear. His dad has defended himself by saying, "He'll hear it sooner or later," to which Mr. DD replies, "It can be later b/c he doesn't have to hear it from his Grandpa."

Your husband can use that approach: grandparents should be there to spoil their grandchildren, not to push their agenda on or to promote intolerance.

Jenn said...

My family holds nothing back so when someone says somthing offensive in anyway, they are called on it immediately, we fight, we work it out.

Reminds me of the time my uncle's (by marriage) parents said to my sister than Cancun would be nice if it weren't for all those dirty Mexicans. Yeah. She went off on them and stormed out. I don't think we saw them again.

Nic said...

I have been worried about this with my FIL as well, who thinks nothing of using choice words to describe anyone who is not exactly the same as him. Fortunately he has not used any of those words in front of Ant, but I would definitely take the approach you suggest - you say those words in front of my child and you do not get to spend time with him anymore.

Eva said...

Good for you for speaking up (or better yet, getting your husband to). I guess I'm pretty lucky we have not had to deal with that with either family, but I'd like to think I would speak up if we did.

wheelsonthebus said...

My FIL is rather homophobic. But he knows well enough how to talk the right talk. Which is good, given that BOTH his sons did theater in college.

Meg said...

T didn't speak to his father for 7 years at one stage due to this exact issue.

We both take this stuff incredibly seriously. But it is hard. My step-kids live in the "deep north" of australia and I've heard them spin a few shockers about indigenous people and Japanese tourists since they've been up there. It's hard to know what to say - I just tell them I don't want to hear anything like that being said, and I think they've gotten the message.

T finds this hard, his politics are important to him.

Kristi said...

My in-laws (specifically my FIL) and my own extended family to a lesser degree are racist. Luckily, we have the good fortune of rarely seeing my in-laws, however we see my family all the time. I have no problem calling my own family members out with "I find that really offensive" when they get started. I realize this is different because you're dealing with an in-law situation, but what about having your husband make the comment for the sake of P. After all, she's his daughter too, and since it's his family making the comments, I think the responsibility falls on him.

There! Problem solved! ;)

elizasmom said...

Both sets of my in-laws (they're divorced and remarried) are more conservative than me, and I've dealt with the prejudiced comments in different ways.

Even though my FIL is in some ways more ardently conservative and will talk your ear off about same if given a chance, he (and his wife) also believe in courtesy, and so they will be polite and not say anything rude — we've rarely had to say anything. I also cut them more slack about occasional ignorant comments because that same courtesy makes them somewhat open to interacting with the populations about whom they might otherwise be saying rude things, and they actually seem to learn from those interactions. At my wedding, I had the mind-bending experience of watching my FIL and my high school best friend, who is a shaven-headed African-American lesbian, engaged in a long discussion about ice cream, the awesomeness of which apparently bridged the great divide between them.

My MIL, on the other hand, is none of these things, and I have NO problem calling her out. She has no courtesy, and her views are unthinkingly held and mean-spirited. She has made hideous comments about gay people, which I've told her in no uncertain terms were unacceptable. I took great joy in her discomfort when she crashed a birthday party for me (she thinks we're friends) which was attended by one of my other lesbian friends, who was at the time very much in the new stages of a relationship, with all the hand-holding and nuzzling it entailed.

Which is to say that I think that some people definitely need calling out. If you can tell they're not open to being influenced in gentler ways like my FIL and his wife to actually moderate their views, then at least you need to do what you can to control the way they express those views.

Of course, with openness and tolerance being values you teach at home, I bet P will realize soon enough that those are mean things to say and she shouldn't say them.

Betty M said...

I have been lucky in not having this problem. My own family is a multi faith, multi race and multi nationality hotch potch my parents and all their siblings having married outside their own country. This has made them all pretty receptive to different cultures etc. Fil is an arse but not so far racist/homophobic.

I think your husband just has to tell them that if they behave like this around her you will just need to leave. They will take it better from him I would think. Its not like you are asking them to see the error of their ways - although they should - just moderate their language. They wouldn't get away with saying that stuff at work and if they can do it there they can do it when they visit.

hairyfarmerfamily said...

It's hard to challenge bigoted friends and family on your own account without sounding self-righteous, but I think it's easier to do on behalf of a child. My mum is getting increasingly right wing as she gets older, and we had a bit of a barney about her infuriating rivers-of-blood parrotting not so long ago. Hubby has friends who use perjorative language that makes me utterly cringe, even though I'm fully aware they intend it jocularly. I don't laugh. I sometimes protest.

But the thing is, neither do I really bang on and preach, because I would feel hypocritical. You see, I'm conscious that I have my own prejudices, too. I genuinely don't care what colour, sexuality or creed anyone is - but I have a deep and abiding distrust of gypsies.

I shall explain myself. I'm a fair chunk Romany myself. My great-grandmother was a Smith, and married a Smith, and my mother and I both have (or had! Hello grey!) exceedingly dark hair. It's not the racial aspect which has formed this blind-spot of dislike - Romany history is romantic and fascinating, and I would dearly love to get my paws on a genuine old caravan. But their behaviour locally consists of such blatant continual thieving and appalling violence that they are a fly in an otherwise pleasant community ointment, and a burglarious scourge to farmers in particular. I am aware that I should keep an open mind, that they are Not All The Same, but I find myself hearing the accent and immediately closing up and becoming suspicious.

However. I don't think I would voice my opinions to my child. I have no wish to indoctrinate him, even subtly. It's a bit academic to be honest: Harry will pick up the prevailing attitude as soon as he gets to the local schools, and he will also see Hubby's reaction when gypsies drive onto our yard. But I feel that he can sort his own ideas out - my main concern is to ensure that he grows up knowing full well that he has been born no better and no worse than every other soul on this earth, and that he should expect to be treated, and to treat others, according to behaviour. Not accordingly to what colour they are, how rich they are, or who they are drawn to love. Or even how likely they are to live in a mobile home on a campsite that the local constabulary are too nervous to venture onto.
I expect this noble parental teaching to hold good right up until they nick his first bicycle...!

hairyfarmerfamily said...

Oh, and May's family make me gurgle. I have a vision of the white straight Catholics taking cover behind an upturned sofa, whilst the Jewish lesbians are returning fire from behind the dining table.

Harry is shaping up very P.C., by the way. His absolute favourite toy at playgroup is the lurid pink pram, in which customarily resides the asian baby doll, which he pats.

OvaGirl said...

It sounds like you are doing all the right things P.

Helen said...

Line in the sand time, babe. Line in the sand. I'm hardcore on the non-racist terms, and even have had huge battles with Angus over it, as he occasionally drops in one or two references that I go mental over, even when he does the "I'm not racist, honest" retort.

Don't care. There are a few things important to me in my life, things that I will battle for. Hot water is one of them. The need to have a box of kleenex and a clock in every single room. And the fact that no racist term of any kind ever gets used around me or my babies.

It's going to suck hard, but this (along with hot water) is a battle worth having.

fisher queen said...

I did the same thing with my father in law. I just told my husband that if his dad made one more comment, I wouldn't let the Bear come over anymore. That seemed to do it.

Isabel said...

My parents are racist, even thought they are immigrants to the US and my mother is not white. When they say something I don't want my baby repeating, I call them on it. But I don't avoid them (well, I see them for less than one week a year, maybe I do avoid them). I'm direct. I say "That is racist" or "That is a rude, unkind thing to say." They usually laugh, or explain how they are different than I am. I say call them on it and the comments will start to dwindle. I'm an optimist.

Caro said...

I so hear you on this one. my in-laws are from Yorkshire and have the same views as a lot of people in that part of the world. I tend to call them on it but I'm hoping that S will do it more as T gets older. Maybe that's a discussion we need to have...