1. Miss Mayella

    My question is on a long-standing sensitive topic – offensive racial remarks. Although I’m sure there’s ample writing on handling this situation, I can’t seem to find anything that addresses the details of the scenario. My partner is one of four male siblings, all adults. Our family gatherings tend to be dinners at his mother’s home, compromised of my partner’s mother, his siblings, and their wives/fiancee, nine in total. My partner and I hold pointedly more liberal social and political views than most of the other couples, a difference which has been much noted by all. This can make for some discomfort, especially given that there are some pointed personality differences as well.

    At each of the last two family gatherings, as well as at a recent casual evening out with some friends, one of the brothers (with whom I have a tenuous relationship, at best) has made some unmistakably racist and homophobic comments. I do my best to absent myself from political discussions or other topics that aren’t well-suited to all of us gracefully enjoying one another’s company. However, these comments are deeply troubling to me, and I don’t care to be a part of a social function where such things are acceptable. It feels wrong not to object to comments like these, and I firmly believe that failure to object plays a significant role in perpetuating this behaviour.

    As much as I want to be the person who stands for something, in this situation I feel hemmed in. I’m a guest in the family’s home, I will need to be able to gracefully continue to be a guest in each of these families’ homes, probably for the rest of my life. I already feel like a disfavoured outsider, and offending someone – even someone offensive – isn’t going to win me anyone’s approval, and may cost what favour I do hold with other family members. I realize that approval “shouldn’t” matter, and that one has to bear some discomfort to stand up for her beliefs. But in this case, it can mean a lot of unhappiness, not just for myself, but for my partner, who is very close with his family. Is there some middle way to handle this that minimizes the backlash?
    Thank you in advance for your responses.

    • Jerry

      I’m a member of a racial minority as well. And I hold more liberal views (particularly when it comes to matters of sexuality) than many of my friends. My social circle — including family members and friends — and I have come to an understanding. They will keep any offensive views to themselves, and I will not call them out on any bigotry. (In one case, I told a senior family member that she was not to articulate any bigoted views in my presence. We argued a few times about it, but once she realized that I would stand up for my beliefs every time she said something offensive, she stopped. Same thing happened with an elder at church.) All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.

      But you probably want a solution that minimizes the damage to you and that is less confrontational. The only thing you might do is enlist your partner’s aid. If he is willing to stand up for what is right, it gives you cover as well.

      Good luck.

    • Winifred Rosenburg

      Are you a member of any of the groups they are teasing? If so and they know it you can say “what do you mean by that!?” or storm out of the room. If you are a member or closely connected to a member, you can say “perhaps you don’t know my brother is gay.” If you are not connected to the group at all, a glare is the way to go. (Courtesy of Miss Manners.)

  2. Country Girl

    Miss Mayella, I think you’ve made some good choices by slipping away from conversations in which you find yourself uncomfortable, or as you eloquently put it, aren’t well-suited to the enjoyment of each other’s company. I have fallen witness to many a debate on these sensitive topics and it rarely ends well for either party. 99 times out of 100 neither party effectively changes the other’s mind, and when strong feelings are involved, things can tend to get a little out of hand.

    It is generally accepted that, since this is your partner’s family, in most situations it falls to him to express both of your discomfort with recurring conversation topics. He can have a private chat with his family letting them know that, as a couple, you don’t appreciate racist and homophobic comments and ask that the topics not be brought up in your presence. If comments are still made in front of him, he can also at that time express his discomfort with the topic.

    While likely more effective coming from your partner, that is not to say that you cannot speak up if the situation arises. If addressed, just continue to keep it simple and non-confrontational. “Jan, this conversation is making me a little uncomfortable.” or “Jim, you know my views on this are different than your’s, let’s talk about something else. How are your daughters liking middle school?” Confrontation and lecturing rarely lead to agreement, but more typically lead to the immediate defense of one’s stated opinion. Refusing to engage in the conversation may be more effective at curtailing it. If the family respects and cares for you and your partner, they will want to minimize your discomfort.

  3. Vanna Keiler

    Hello Miss Mayella. I have endured similar scenarios within my own in-law social functions, whereby we differ considerably on political views. My advice to you, and what I also do, is not to say anything.

    I would allow that person to say what they want within the comfort and circle of their own family, and not offer your own views. In making comments such as those openly, this relative has displayed a clear lack of consideration for other people’s views or feelings. Perhaps the other family members are well aware of this fact and just let it go, for the sake of general peace. As you are an in-law, I would leave it be and just grin and bear it for the time being. If you are ever offered your opinion, you can state otherwise, but I would even recommend declining getting involved in this type of discussion, which just tends to prolong the agony and perhaps escalate the discussion to something even more painful to hear or bare. :)

  4. bmmcgreg

    Miss Mayella, I can completely relate to your situation. I have been in similar situations with my own family members, particularly my grandfather. He is very patriarchal, and attempts to speak up don’t really go very well. The way that I have learned to deal with these types of situations is to change the subject immediately and completely as soon as he says something that I find offensive. For example – he says [insert rascist comment here], and I react with, “so, what did you think about XYZ restaurant?” If he attempts to continue the conversation, I will just continue talking about the new topic in response until he gets the hint (or forgets). I do still feel some guilt over not being more active in standing up for my own beliefs and what I feel is deeply offensive. However, at least I am rejecting it in a small way by refusing to engage in the conversation. Other family members have expressed appreciation for my diverting the topic, as well.

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