Ask the Femme: How to deal with a racist family

424461_10100417028538265_858367179_nBY NATASIA LANGFELDER

Our resident Hot Femme In The City is back to solve all of lesbian life’s toughest problems. Need some help? Email Femme.

Hi Femme,

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 can sympathize with this dilemma. I have a loud Puerto Rican family and when it comes to jokes, no group is safe. That being said, at the end of the day, I know they aren’t trying to be malicious or even serious. It sounds to me like even though your family is calling these statements jokes, there’s a hint of truth that comes through and it’s making you and your gf crazy. And it totally should!

First, 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 cursed everyone out…graphically. I also lost any sympathy anyone would have had for me by acting that way.


Here’s how I would proceed:

1. Approach a few of the most sensitive members of your family one-on-one. Maybe that’s your mom, aunt, cousin, uncle, whoever — and explain 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 will slip through the family grapevine and the offending parties will soften their behaviour — at the very least, when you’re around.

Alice and Tasha of The L Word

(Photo: ShowTime via Photobucket)

2. You can help open your family’s eyes without attacking them. The next time someone says something offensive and they’re “just kidding,” say something along the lines of, “I don’t want to ruin everyone’s good time, but racial jokes make me uncomfortable.” If they press you just laugh and say, “Try saying that joke in front of a [insert targeted ethnicity] person.” 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 the conversation and you’re going home to watch reruns of “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. While you might not think this will stop your family from making the ‘jokes,’ if you stick with it, eventually they will at the very least stop doing it in front of you, if for no other reason then they don’t want you to leave. Might they call you sensitive and too politically correct? Maybe, but who cares! You’re being awesome and racism — no matter what someone’s says about their intentions — is never, ever cool.

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 feelings onto her.

I hope this helped! Let us all know how it goes.

Hot Femme

Natasia Langfelder is just a girl, writing about girls in New York City. Read more of her work at Hot Femme in the City.

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