Responding to Everyday Racism and Sexism in Family Conversations

My family had a get together recently in honor of my grandma’s birthday, and while it was a lot of fun, I had some family members that made problematic comments that I just did not know how to respond to. I know that this is a problem that many people face, so here’s some examples of these comments and why they are an issue. Often, we feel uncomfortable when we hear something that we know is somehow wrong, but we might not know why it’s wrong. Hopefully explaining why these examples from my own family are an issue can be helpful to you in deciding how to respond when you hear something similar at your next family gathering.

Comments that family members don’t realize are racist

A family member that is over the age of 80 explained to me that growing up, her family never used the n-word to refer to the Black community within her town. She said that the word just wasn’t used in her house. Then she proceeded to repeat the word over and over again because “of course we called Brazil nuts n***** toes, because that’s what they looked like.” Her original point was that her family was not racist, which could be proven by the fact that they didn’t use the n-word, which was commonly used in the area she grew up in at that time. Yet even today, she didn’t understand that just using the word in a story, not aimed at a specific person in a derogatory manner, is inherently offensive.

Comments that family members don’t realize are sexist/hetero-normative

A couple of aunts and uncles asked my younger brother who’s a junior in high school about college, “What do you want to major in? Girls?” This is problematic in a couple of ways. First, it assumes he’s interested in girls. I don’t even know what his sexual orientation is for sure, so extended family members that he rarely talks to have no way of knowing. In their minds, however, being heterosexual is the only option. Their question also evokes the idea that it is okay for those who identify as straight men to play the field or sleep around, which is not the case when it comes to those who identify as women. I think some of my family still believes that women go to college to get their “MRS” degree, but men go to college to party or “shop around” before settling down later on in life.

These are just a few examples that I had room to discuss here, I could go on and on, but I think that racist and sexist comments are likely the two categories people come across at family gatherings most often. I love my family, they are extremely supportive of me and continue to love each other even in situations that their religiously conservative lives have not prepared them for. However, they do tend to have a narrow point of view, and responding to family member’s problematic comments can especially be hard. That’s part of why I wanted to post about this. I would love feedback on what some good ways to respond are, because I feel like if I voice my opinion in these situations, my family will stop taking me seriously. lucilleontheball’s post from last Thanksgiving may be helpful to you, but for me personally it is more helpful for discussions with co-workers or acquaintances than family. So, help me out with political discourse within my family, comment away!

Featured image: CC Pixabay Clker-Free-Vector-Images

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