Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bianca Knows Best ... and Helps a Woman Deal with a Racist In-law

Posted By on Tue, Feb 23, 2010 at 2:39 PM

Dear Bianca,

My husband’s mother is a racist. Every time I join his family for a holiday get-together or Sunday night dinner (a regular ritual in his family), his mom can’t refrain from making some comment against black people.

Granted, she’s from a generation that grew up when racism was more acceptable, but this is 2010. I thought people of every age had moved past making blatant racist remarks in front of others. Guess I was just naive.

For the past few years, I’ve just put up with her ignorant comments. I quietly fume and wait until my husband and I get into our car to say anything. My husband isn’t pleased with his mother’s behavior either, but he’s learned to tolerate it. I really want to tell the woman that she’s an ignorant redneck bigot the next time she makes an inappropriate comment. My husband’s sister has impressionable young kids.

Should I speak up or let this woman continue to make racist remarks?

— Fed Up

Dear Fed Up,

I grew up in a smallish Arkansas town with a majority white population. Though many residents wouldn’t consider themselves racist, it wasn’t at all unusual to hear someone throw the n-word around or blame the town’s tiny crime problem on the few black people who lived there.

Such sentiments were so ingrained — especially in my parents’ generation and older generations — that people often didn’t even realize they were being racist. Your mother-in-law may have been raised in a similar environment, but that’s no excuse for her behavior.

It's possible that no one in her family has ever spoken up about her comments. It sounds like your husband and his siblings have simply learned to tolerate it. I think you have a responsibility to let her know that you won’t stand for such remarks in your presence.

Be gentle. She is your mother-in-law, and you’re stuck with her for a while, so don’t call her out at the family dinner table. Pull her aside and calmly tell her that you don’t feel comfortable when she makes insulting comments about people of other races. Explain that you fear perpetuating such sentiment might influence her grandchildren. You probably won't change her beliefs, but maybe you can get her to shut her trap in front of others. Maybe.

Got a problem? E-mail Bianca at bphillips@memphisflyer.com.

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