BY NATASIA LANGFELDER
What do you do when 95% of your family is embarrassingly racist and your girlfriend is non-white? I’d like to begin a conversation about their overt racism (which they see as “jokes”, but it’s beyond offensive) without starting a war. They know not to say anything about my girlfriend’s nationality, but they insult every other group! It makes us so angry.
Sensitive in Seattle
Hey SIS, I think almost all of us can sympathize with this dilemma. It sounds to me like even though your family is calling these statements jokes, there’s a hint of truth that comes through and is making you and your girlfriend crazy. And it totally should! Even though we live in an age where everyone is telling us that political correctness is killing comedy, all too often off-color jokes are just a convenient way to disguise racism.
Here’s a quick lesson in how not to handle this. Once upon a time, a very young Hot Femme went home with her white girlfriend for Thanksgiving. At the dinner table, two family members were talking about their Latina cleaning ladies and laughing at them; their accents, their attractiveness level, everything. I totally lost it and cursed everyone out…like graphically. I also lost any sympathy anyone would have had for me by not acting like a lady, or whatever. The lesson here is to never lose your cool, because once you do no one will listen to what you are trying to say. If I was you, here’s how I would proceed:
1. Approach a few of the most emotionally intelligent members of your family one-on-one. Maybe that’s your mom, aunt, cousin, uncle- and explain to them that this is something that’s really bothering you. Don’t point fingers, but do mention some specific instances that back up your feelings. Chances are this news will travel through the family grapevine and the offending parties will soften their behavior when you’re around.
2. The next time someone says something offensive and says “just kidding” just say something along the lines of “I know that’s a joke and I don’t want to ruin everyone’s good time, but racial jokes make me uncomfortable.” If they press you just laugh and say “If you said that joke in front of a [insert targeted ethnicity] person, you would make them uncomfortable. So you need to rethink if it’s a ‘joke’ you want to tell at all.” If the person doesn’t stop, leave the gathering. It doesn’t need to be an angry dramatic exit, simply state that you aren’t comfortable participating in this conversation and you’re going home to watch The L Word. If you keep everything smiles and honey, it will be hard for people to come at you with serious vinegar. Chances are only a few of your family members really even enjoy the ‘jokes’ and the rest are just going with the flow because they don’t want to speak up and make things awkward.
While I don’t think that will stop your family from making jokes entirely, if you stick with it eventually they will stop doing it in front of you, if for no other reason then they don’t want you to leave. Will they call you sensitive and too politically correct? Yes, but who cares! You’re being awesome. Last bit of advice, don’t even bother bringing your girlfriend into this. Make it about your feelings so no one can displace any hurt or anger onto her. I hope this helped! Let us all know how it goes.
Have a question? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org