All in the Family


Dear Dharma, 

I read your page all the time, and quite enjoy it, though I would guess I am older than the majority of your fans.  I do have a question and hope you can help!

My father and stepmother live in a distant city, and I only get to see them on occasion.  We are not extremely close, but certainly not estranged; it is mainly distance that keeps us from more regular get-togethers.  The problem is that while they are both educated and well-mannered people, they think nothing of throwing in what I consider wildly inappropriate racial comments into our conversations.

They are from a generation where their society was totally white, and those sort of comments were accepted, but they have not moved along with the times.  It really makes me uncomfortable, and I want to say something, but I don’t want to make it into an issue that ruins the few times we do have together.

Please tell me how I can raise this issue without being confrontational!

Archie Bunker’s Son

Dear Bunker’s Son,

The way to raise the issue without being confrontational is to raise the issue without being confrontational.

The next time either one of them makes an inappropriate racial comment, for you to say something like, “Oh wow, guys, you know people don’t talk like that anymore, right?  It makes me reeeeeaaaally uncomfortable to hear you say those things!” would not be confrontational at all, but would call attention to their language.

Chances are they will laugh you off the first time, but that’s okay.  It’s going to take more than one comment to turn this situation around.  They’ve been doing this their whole lives, and back in the old days, it was bizarrely, unthinkably common and acceptable.

The second time they do the same thing, simply remove yourself from the situation. Just get up calmly and say you’ll be back in a few minutes once this conversation is over.

You’ve pointed out to them that it’s so not cool to talk that way. You’ve let them know it makes you uncomfortable and still they persist.  By leaving the room and removing yourself from the conversation, you are reinforcing your standpoint by saying “I understand I can’t make you speak or think differently, especially in your own home… but I can control what it is I listen to.”

And then repeat as needed.  It shouldn’t take too many times before they pick up on the pattern.

See, the thing here, what it always comes down to, is that you can’t control other people’s behaviour. You can only control your own, right?  Once you embrace this way of thinking, you will feel such a burden lifted from you – it’s so hard to change other people’s crappy behaviour, and now you don’t have to!  You only have to change your reaction to it.

If this side of your family doesn’t have any cultural sensitivity or the desire to be at all PC, they should at least care about how they make you feel.  They, too, should be concerned about not ruining the few times you have together, non?



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  • Timbo says:

    I have to admit, I found this kind of funny – but only because I can relate.

    My grandpa used to do the same thing – he’d just causally refer to people of other ethnicities with words that today we would call racial slurs. The thing is, in his day, that’s not what they were – not to him anyway. He didn’t dislike anyone of different ethnicity, he just grew up using those words, and to him they had no stigma or racism attached to them.

    I recently had a ‘debate’ (maybe more of an argument) with my Mother about those words, and about how, in my opinion, it doesn’t matter what you mean by it, using a word that has racist roots and is offensive to that group is insensitive and wrong, whether you personally believe it’s wrong or not doesn’t matter. It is not ‘just a word’.

    I can’t remember how it ended, but I made it really clear that for ME those words were not acceptable and that I didn’t think it was okay to use them. I don’t think the context can justify them no matter what. I don’t think we’ll be having that discussion again.

    As for grandpa… Well, he just went along as he was (despite cringing family members) until he passed, which in his defense was over twenty years ago, so who knows if time and information would have adjusted his thinking.

    Good luck!

    PS – Remember the episode where Archie’s in the hospital and needs a transfusion and is all upset because they might give him blood from someone who isn’t white? I think that one’s my favourite! Never has a show so brilliantly pointed out how stupid and ridiculous racism really is.

    • Dharma says:

      Thanks for sharing your similar experiences – it’s always great to hear from readers who can relate…

      Yup, All in the Family had some real gems!

Whether you agree with Dharma or think she missed the mark on this one, leave a Comment!

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