Hi Captain Awkward,
I want to preface my email by saying that I really love my mom. I really do. We had a great relationship when I was growing up and we still do, for the most part. Generally she is an accepting, loving, level-headed person, albeit gullible at times.
She is a Christian and a Republican. There is nothing wrong with that. People are allowed to have their own political and religious views as they see fit, in my opinion. That’s part of being an adult. She knows I do not have the same views as her politically or religiously, though, and she claims to respect that.
However, she sends me these incredibly racist/anti-Obama/anti-Liberal/anti-Muslim/anti-poor person/anti-Mexican/anti-gay/etc. email forwards all of the time. Normally I try to ignore them because I don’t want to cause a rift in the family, but it’s gotten pretty unbearable. I have asked her several times to not send me emails of that nature and she always stops for a while, but then starts up again a few months later. For the record, she never mentions any of these emails when we talk on the phone or in person. It’s like she has a secretly hateful side or something.
If I were to advise someone else, I’d probably tell them to block emails or send a sharp reply, but I can’t seem to give myself the same advice. I only get to see my parents a few times per year (they live a few hundred miles away, but I have no car and I’m poor, so it’s hard to get down there to visit), so every bit of contact from them is like a gift to me and blocking would make me feel terrible. And like I said before, I don’t want to cause a rift in the family by starting a fight.
But these hate-spewing emails make me sad; sad that there are such hate in the world, and sad that my own mother would spread it (and perhaps sad that my mother is not the loving angel I’ve made her out to be in my mind…). There have been several times where I’ve started an angry reply, only to stop myself and walk away.
With election season coming up, they’ve been coming again in a fairly steady flow. It’s gotten to the point where I get agitated if I see an email from my mom in my inbox.
What would you advise I do about this? Block her email? Ignore the emails? Delete them? Refute them with facts? Remind her that she’s supposed to “love thy neighbor”? Something else?
Thanks in advance,
I had the exact same problem with my Grampa. It made me so sad, because he was one of the people who encouraged me to travel and be curious and to NOT be racist. Then he got old and spent all his time in front of Angry And Unbalanced News and forwarding eye-assaulting e-newsletters full of animated .gifs of weeping eagles and many fonts. Sometimes he composed his own lurid and completely fact-free tales about how Planned Parenthood volunteers go door-to-door canvassing for pregnant women and trying to “sell” them on their awesome and profitable abortion-schemes, written from the point of view of the fetus who a) could understand adult speech and b) was definitely going to grow up to be a fighter pilot or The Doctor Who Cures Cancer. Sometimes he included an evil (Insert Your Reviled Ethnic Group)-scheme to stop good white Christian women from breeding in order to skew demographics in “their” favor, foiled by this brave tiny soldier!
I tried everything, including asking him directly not to send me political emails anymore and refuting the emails point-by-point. I sent him to Snopes.com. I sent him to Factcheck.org. I sent him to IsBarackObamaAMuslim.com. I recommended books by my former teachers and mentors, John Esposito and Amira Sonbol (Official Badass). I told him that I loved him but his insistence on forcing his politics on me in this way was poisoning our relationship. I tried the Jay Smooth approach, but it didn’t work. He died before Yo, Is This Racist? came out. Maybe it’s for the best. There was no way I was going to cut the old man off; I loved him fiercely despite his wack-ass views on religion and politics.
Here’s the only thing that worked:
I made a filter with key words like Muslim, Obama (see also: O-bummer, O-bomber), Mohammed, jihad, socialist, birth certificate, abortion, 9/11, immigration, “illegals,” “states rights,” etc. Anything that pinged the dogwhistle filter would be filtered out of my inbox. I could look at it when and if I felt like it.
Of course initially I checked the filter all the time, which defeated the purpose, but over time I checked it maybe once/month. My blood pressure fell accordingly. I also called my Grampa and emailed him regularly about nonpolitical things, so we had a non-awful stream of communication going.
Initially he balked when he didn’t get the attention and response he was hoping for. “Did you get my email? Why didn’t you answer my email?” Because, you see, he would try to trick me and mix personal stuff with awful stuff.
At which point I would check the filter and respond to everything in the emails that wasn’t political and ignore the rest. And man, it burned to let that stuff go unchallenged, but eventually he slowed down with it and we were able to keep the subject to non-hateful things.
So that’s my recommendation: Filter, Ignore, Delete the emails. Talk to your mom about the interests you share and affirm your love for her. If she tries to steer the conversation toward politics, say, “Mom, I really don’t want to discuss this with you. It always gets so ugly, and I just want to enjoy our time together.” Believe me, if I thought saying “Mom, I really think you’re wrong about this, can I explain from the heart why I think so?” or “Mom, could you tell me what appeals to you about those ideas? I really want to understand where you are coming from!” would help one tiny bit, I would recommend it. Save your sanity points – you don’t have to fight every fight every time.
You guys all know where the “hide story” and “hide user” buttons are on Facebook, right? Let me know if I need to include a quick tutorial to get y’all through the next month or so.