#1125: “I’m stressed and embarrassed whenever I have to go places with my bigoted parents.”

Behind a cut for the casual fatphobia, racism, and misogyny of entitled white folks of a certain age. Update: People are sharing some of the specific slurs and types of comments their bigoted relatives say and asking how to challenge those things esp. in the comments, so I would counsel POC and other marginalized folks especially to be careful before clicking – y’all already know this stuff and maybe you don’t need it in your eyes while we white folks sort out our bullshit.

Dear Captain,

I (23 woman) am very temporarily living at home, so my problem can sort of be solved by waiting and moving out as I am planning, but it would be great to stop this problem for any future visits. My issue is that I feel incredibly uncomfortable/stressed/anxious going out in public with my parents due to any combo of their rude/racist/sexist/entitled comments they make to store employees or about strangers walking by.

For example (not said directly to them, but sometimes within overhearing distance): wow they’re fat/ugly/slow, so many Koreans, threatening an annoying kid, coughing while saying asshole when someone they don’t like walks by, etc

or yelling and almost crying on the phone talking to an employee.

or talking to an employee (at some store, tone escalating)

Cashier: Do you have a rewards card?
Mom: Well I do, but for some reason your system has it as my daughters name.
C: Well we only get names if you give them to us, so she must have signed up.
M: She didn’t. She doesn’t go to Storename.
C: We only can get names that are given to us, she must have signed up.
M: She didn’t. and why would she use the home phone number?
C: If that’s her name in our system, there is no other way for us to have gotten that unless she told us.
M: That’s what you said, but I’m telling you she didn’t. She had no reason to come to Storename! So I’m just wondering where it came from.
Me: Mom, I must have signed up at some point, it’s no big deal.
M: They only started doing this a few months ago, and you said you didn’t sign up, so how did they get it?
C: We could have only gotten it if she gave us her name.

That’s the gist, honestly went on longer in the same inane circle, we had finished paying and were just holding up the line behind us. The cashier had nothing else they could possibly say! The conversation started pretty level, but I don’t think my mom realizes her tone escalates until it feels like a big deal. She repeatedly *says* it’s not a big deal, but her actions say otherwise. I’m just standing here feeling like I can do nothing to escape this awkwardness.

Frankly, I am embarrassed and stressed out by these interactions. I am constantly on edge, I find myself noticing these people I worry my parents will talk about, I feel like I have to be overly smiley and apologetic to these employees because they have to deal with customers like this all day.

I told my mom I was stressed about it, and later overheard her whispering to my dad about how I said I was stressed and her tone definitely conveyed that she though it was ridiculous/she couldn’t believe it!

I don’t know what to do. I feel like I can’t police their actions in public, but trying to be honest is met with incredulity. I am just considering refusing to be with them in public. I still feel awful for everyone they interact with.

-Stressed in Public

Dear Stressed In Public,

My mom used to do the whole “Let me talk to your MANAGER” voice thing to berate retail employees when I was a little girl and I would stress-pee my pants. Usually a bastion of good manners, she had this very ugly way of speaking to service workers that implied that the brassieres that should have been on one rack were instead placed on the sale rack deliberately to deceive her. Good times. To all the former employees of the Auburn, Massachusetts Sears, I’m sorry for all the times I urinated on your carpets out of terror. Terror of what? I don’t even know. Just, raised voices ==> fear ==> pee.

Good news: I’m not five anymore and neither are you. So, Letter Writer, could you get comfortable raising your voice a little and intervening?

Good news/bad news: Your feelings of embarrassment and stress are very real and upsetting, but you are not the person who is most being harmed by what your parents are doing when they harass and bully people around them. They are at work, where they can’t leave, and they can’t say anything back if they want to keep their jobs. You are uniquely positioned to say something to help those people, and ***unless your very survival depends on it**** I think you have a responsibility to do something about it. Not a responsibility to stop it before it happens or fix it or change your parents (they are responsible for themselves), but a responsibility to not just let it keep happening over and over again in silence.

Let’s take the store card example. What if you raised your voice a little and said, Mom, Let’s drop it! We can go talk to the service desk, or call them or adjust it online when we get home.” Mom! Let’s pay and get out of here. You’re holding up the line.Mom, this person can’t help us, and it’s not her fault, let’s not yell at her, ok? Let’s just pay and sort it out later.” Also, if you can, de-escalate and pull her away from the conflict if you possibly can so that if she reacts badly it won’t get even worse for the target of her bullying.

It won’t change your mom’s mind about “being right.” And she might be a total jerk to this very same employee the very next time she’s there. But it might snap your mom out of it enough that she’ll stop. And it might help you to channel your stress in that moment into action. The employee can’t really fight back or stop it. You can.

Your mom clearly cares what you think, since she’s talking to your dad about it, so why not place the awkwardness you’re feeling back where it belongs?

With their more passing comments, try “Wow.” or Really? Dad! or “Dad, do you even hear yourself right now?” or Mom, I cannot believe that came out of your mouth!” “We do NOT talk about people’s bodies like that.Gross! If you are going to say racist stuff, I am going to go home, see you there.”  Raise your voice. Make it awkward and boring for them to do this stuff in front of you. Make them know that you will call this out every single time from now on.

There is probably a bigger talk that’s like “Mom, Dad, you have to be nicer to people who work retail. You just do. They have hard jobs. They want you to be happy with their service. They aren’t your enemies. You are so rude to them sometimes, it completely embarrasses me! Do you want to end up in one of those Permit Patty or Sidewalk Susie YouTube videos? ‘Cause that’s what you sound like!” 

Many bigots and bullies think that everyone in their families and workplaces secretly agrees with them and are just hiding what they really think because of “political correctness.” Many others try to use the social contract of ‘civility’ as camouflage, like, they can say and do whatever they want but if you call them out on it you are the one being rude or mean. It can be a double-form of bullying – bullying the people in the marginalized group but also bullying witnesses by basically daring you to “be uncivil” (and invite reprisals) by speaking up and challenging them.

My Grampa Oscar (RIP) used to send horrifying and racist emails from the Rancid Old Man Internet™ to our entire family, allllllll our elected officials, and local news media. If I replied (copying all the same people) to methodically debunk whatever it was, I would get tons of heat from the family – “Why are you antagonizing him?” Sorry fam, I wasn’t the one who just casually advocated building concentration camps for Muslim people because of 9/11, and also why do I have to do all the “antagonizing” all by myself? Family: “He’s an old man!” Me: He’s an old man who fought Nazis up one side of the world and down the other and he literally knows everything about how this kind of hateful ideology spreads and corrupts, making him an old man who should know better. (While I’m issuing apologies, sorry to all the Massachusetts congressional and media interns who got CC’d on these exchanges between 1998-2011. I used to like to imagine that y’all had a binder somewhere of this old man and his mean uncivil granddaughter, duking it out between our AOL addresses.)

Here’s the secret, though: My Grampa cared what I thought. He cared a lot. It super-bothered him that I wouldn’t go along with him, that I wouldn’t tell him he was brilliant, that I didn’t validate his “superior” knowledge of world affairs. He loved me a lot and he was proud of me (about most things) and it bothered him into his grave that he couldn’t convince me to sign off on his gross Fox News talking points. And over time, when I was like “Oh Grampa, let’s not talk about politics, we have so little time left and I don’t want to spend it debunking your crap” he would literally wail at me in frustration. He wanted my agreement and my good opinion and my compliance and, while he had my love always, as long as he advocated for hatred and bigotry he could. not. have. those. things.

One of the things I could reliably use against my Grampa that you might be able to use against your parents are the things they taught us in better times when they acted like better people. “But, you taught me not to say those kinds of things.” “You taught me to be kind to people.” “You taught me that everyone is equal and worthy.” “You taught me that if I don’t have something nice to say to someone I shouldn’t say anything.” “You taught me that all human beings are valuable and deserve kindness and safety.” “You taught me that everybody is the same and deserves respect, this isn’t like you, I know you are better than this!”  

They’ll say “I didn’t mean you should talk like that to ME” or “I didn’t mean Those People” and you’ll say “but of course you did, the Golden Rule is about everyone.” And their faces will turn red and maybe it will be embarrassment or maybe it will be anger that they take out on you and I’m sorry for that if it goes that way.

Your parents probably won’t change their minds or their behavior when you aren’t around, but I’ll say it again: They notice and care what you think. They want you to agree with them. They want you to think they are good people. They want you to be a reflection of them. They want you to comply with them and support their points of view in public. They probably don’t care as much about not stressing you out in public as they do about wanting to look good in your eyes. You can use that, even if it’s just to shame them into pretending to be better.

Back to practicalities:

1. Practice speaking up in the moment. It won’t feel good, it will feel scary and weird, but you aren’t a kid who can be sent to your room without supper anymore. It doesn’t ever feel easier but it becomes easier with practice. And it is the best tool you, as a person who shares your parents race and class status, has for assigning consequences to bigoted remarks. Make it socially expensive and awkward for them to behave like that around you.

2. Talk to your parents about what you are observing. “Mom, Dad, I’ve noticed some troubling stuff lately when we’re out together, you both say some things that really aren’t kind [give a recent example or two]. What’s going on there? That’s not how you brought me up to behave.” 

Listen to their defenses and then say something like “Ok, well, I respect you a lot, which is why I brought this up with you directly. I don’t want us to fight all the time, but I also don’t want to just be silent when it happens – it’s so rude and stressful for me and the poor people who are just trying to do their jobs – and if you can’t figure out how to put a lid on it I don’t know how much I’ll want to go places with you.” 

3. Enforce the boundaries. You’re at the store with a parent and they say or act rude? “Ugh, [Parent], we talked about this. Please leave this person alone.” 

If they won’t cool it, leave, even if it’s to go sit by the car. And stay home the next time they ask you to go somewhere. Give them less of your time and attention.

4. Think in terms of baby steps. Catching themselves about to say something, muttering under their breath, a pointed “I could say something but MISS SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR is here so I WON’T,” stony silence, making ugly faces while they tamp down their ugly thoughts in front of you, “I guess I gotta behave myself because SOME PEOPLE won’t give FAMILY a BREAK,” calling you a snowflake, etc. etc. are what victory looks like here.

Stay firm. If they say mean stuff about you, try agreeing with them to remove the teeth- “Yes, I’m very sensitive and might melt like a delicate snowflake out of embarrassment if I see my Dad say something racist to the waiter again! Let’s not risk it!” 

Converting hearts & minds is great and hopefully the long-term plan, but it’s not the only thing that matters. Getting bigots to stop harming people in the moment is important even if the hearts and minds stay withered and small.

P.S. I’ve gotten a bunch of emails from people who are like “I live with bigots but I am literally dependent on them for survival/housing/health care needs and if I antagonize them I might die.” 

In these cases, I think you speak up the best you can when you can, and forgive yourself for when you can’t. Sometimes the best you can do is to live to fight another day. You’re the best judge of what you can and cannot risk.

I also think you organize online and find other people who are doing good work in your community and in the world, so that you’re not alone with these people all day and night. You may not ever convince your folks, so, if you decide that they are lost causes, what work can you do? Do that. There’s more than enough human rights defense work to go around right now, you don’t have to throw yourself down an impossible emotional black hole for the revolution. Can’t convince them? Out-organize them. Out-vote them. Out-number them where it counts.

But if it’s not about survival? It’s just a little stress and discomfort and some raised voices and the risk of some people falling in your esteem or thinking you are hard to get along with? It’s celebrating holidays in a different way, seeing less of people you wish you could count on to be better? In those cases I think a lot of bigots have mistaken silence for compliance for way too long, and that a whole lot of us can endure some awkward family dinners or car rides or shopping trips if we have to, like, “yep, I’m really unreasonable and hard to get along with about these topics so you should stop saying horrible stuff where I can hear it or I might literally explode from being so dang sensitive! Thanks for noticing/Bless your heart!” This is literally the least that we can do.

And we can do it. It takes resolve and practice and having each other’s backs, the way the Letter Writer is about to have the backs of a whole lot of service industry folks who can’t escape from her terrible parents.

318 thoughts on “#1125: “I’m stressed and embarrassed whenever I have to go places with my bigoted parents.”

  1. I live only a couple of miles from the Auburn Sears, so if you want me to go apologize t9 the building, I will.

    1. Hey, former neighbor!

      Don’t bring your black light to the women’s clothing dept., is all I’m saying.

      Eat some Friendly’s for me, maybe?

  2. “Don’t say your racist nonsense around me” is a strategy I’ve seen in action! My dad’s aunt, awesome career woman when that was not common at all, in addition to being a badass 102-year-old, also has some pretty awful opinions. My dad and his siblings dealt with her with this strategy. They would also leave, taking all the grand-nieces and -nephews away with them, if she ever said anything in their hearing. Result: I never heard these types of things from her, although I know for a fact that she still feels this way. Yay for that many fewer shitty words being let loose in the world. Small victories.

    1. My uncle once said something horribly racist in front of me and my siblings. My dad stopped him mid-sentence and said, “We don’t say things like that, and we especially don’t say things like that in front of the kids.” No apologies, no nothing but a straightforward statement of fact. I was young enough I was scared of speaking up but old enough to know what was being said was wrong and as I’ve gotten older I love how clearly Dad showed me how to handle it.

    2. Sweet! Yes, I have also had success in doing this. They may still be racist, but they are not abusive in front of me.

  3. My mom is incredibly hard on waitstaff. She says it’s because she was a waitress and has high expectations but I have witnessed her making waitstaff cry on too many occasions to not say something now. I actually walked out of a restaurant with my kids (her grandkids) and left her there when she ignored my requests for her to stop being rude to the waitress (at a Friendly’s actually!). She has been better since, though I do have to remind her every once in a while.

    1. I was a waitress for seven years (started at a Friendly’s) and I wasn’t a great one and never, ever once did someone being rude to me get them better service. Never was it necessary. It’s just bullying. It’s just your mom saying “I’m not a waitress anymore and you are so I’m going to make you put up with all my bullshit.” Good on you for leaving.

      1. You know, my parents are perfectly kind to service workers unless something goes wrong and then are not great and it’s very embarrassing. I picked up on this trait when I was younger before I realized what I had learned and I grew up. I think they are people who (being black and having been in Jim Crow) were getting some revenge for being dismissed by service workers and growing up into having very successful careers. It’s a shame because we really should uplift in that situation, but I follow the advice here and if they act a fool I call them out now. They have basically stopped doing it in front of me, which is more or less all I can do, really.

        1. That really is a shame 😦 We always like to think that people who have suffered now know better and won’t perpetuate it, and it breaks my heart a bit every time I see someone go down the revenge path instead. I’m glad they’ve stopped doing it in front of you. Small victories are still victories.

          1. “We always like to think that people who have suffered now know better and won’t perpetuate it”

            I had to break myself of this thinking (local example: Black churches in Prince George’s County opposing marriage equality), because it robs people of their agency. Their agency to be assholes, but – nonetheless.

            People aren’t perfect deterministic machines. But the good news is that they can be convinced.

        2. I have a tendency to point out that when my mom does this (it’s rare now, thankfully, but I remember wanting to hide under the table as a teen) that she is getting upset at the person with the LEAST power in the entire situation and the only person there whose livelihood is entirely dependent on being able to please her. “If you want to make a complaint, fine, but make it to somebody with power and figure out where the problem actually happened.” It slows her down just enough and usually the thought of having to explain the whole situation vs. just get mad makes her realize it’s not really a big enough deal to get worked up over.

          1. The one that grinds my gears is the companies that put their employees in that situation intentionally. I’ve been in a few customer service situations where I could NOT get anything done by being polite and reasonable because the company did not empower front-line customer service to what was needed to help me if I was being polite and reasonable, including escalating my problem to someone who actually COULD help. Only when I got loud and unreasonable was I moved up the ladder to someone who could fix my problem. (It crops up most when I travel — managers materialize in overbooked hotels when I start shouting in their lobby and suddenly the room I booked IS available after all! My unfixable screwed up airline booking was suddenly fixable when I burst into angry tears at the desk and snarl at them about how I’ve been awake for 28 hours! I suspect many other problems could also be fixed by losing my temper but I can only bring myself to do it when the alternative involves sleeping on the floor in an airport.)

            Once or twice I’ve gotten away with “Look, I know this isn’t your fault and I also know the only way we’re going to get anything done here is if I get angry. So can we pretend I’ve shouted at you and you send me to the person you send shouty people to, and we’ll call it good?” But usually not.

          2. Yeah I do this too with my dad and sometimes it works well. “Dad, she’s probably not even authorized to do xyz.” And when I have an issue or complaint myself I’ll word it like that as well. Like, “Hi, unfortunately this happened, do you know who I need to speak with?” Or, I’ll give feedback in that way too, I’ll ask if there is an online customer service thing for feedback or I’ll just mention my feedback to them in a polite way, “if your manager is asking for feedback today, I had xyz issue.”

            Actually another piece of this for me can be explaining the process. Like if my dad expresses an issue I’ll guess why that is and try to shift the conversation like, “Daaad, they probably don’t get deliveries on Mondays!” Even if I’m wrong, it’s empathizing with the worker and gives them a chance to be like, “yeah that thing works like this actually.” My dad likes to learn how stuff like that works so it’s a good defusing tactic.

        3. My mum is like this too, she can be polite as long as everything goes right, but the minute a staff member doesn’t immediately understand what she wants, she becomes awful. And I too picked up some fleas of this kind of behaviour from her that I had to unlearn. I didn’t even realise I was acting like her until one time a friend reacted shocked to something I’d done and pointed out how rude it was.

          1. Oh my goodness, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one! The weeds in my particular mental garden were from my dad, who’s generally pretty jovial, but get pissy and rude the instant something is not the way he expected it to be. A friend called me out on a trip when I would get mad when things didn’t go my way. I got embarrassed and chilled, and eventually realized how much more stressful getting pissy was than just rolling with the punches when it wasn’t a big deal and being politely insistent when it was.

            But man, it makes it twice as stressful to be around my dad, because it stresses me out so much more to hear him be pissy when I’ve actively worked myself away from that behavior. There’s my shadow self, how embarrassing! I also know that all those lovely scripts I used to talk myself out of that behavior won’t make a dent in his thinking. I might have to give some new ones a try to make a dent in the behavior though.

          2. @mountains-are-cool It sounds like we have very similar fathers. It’s hard for me to speak up in the moment when he starts to throw a tantrum (unsurprisingly, this is a trigger for my anxiety). Sometimes, now that I’m an adult, I deal with it simply by just walking away; when he’s been rude to employees, I’ve slipped back afterwards to apologize or leave a bigger tip. I’m working on better in-the-moment strategies.

    2. Good on you. It may not change her mind (and may only slightly impact her behavior) but more importantly: your kids see it.

    3. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to all of the waitstaff who have had to undergo the torment of serving one of my sisters – let’s call her Gail the Pseudo Gourmet, or GPG for short. GPG is always – and I do mean always – second guessing the ingredients in a dish, e.g., “Those aren’t fresh mushrooms – they’re canned”; or “My salsa verde doesn’t look like this. This isn’t real salsa verde.” And she always does it in what she pretends to believe is a quiet voice, but of course her disdain is plain for all to see, and in case it isn’t, she makes sure it’s reflected in the tip. She leaves nasty Yelp reviews too – including because of things like “My salsa verde doesn’t look like this.”

      So this is all very rude,

      This isn’t bullying in the conventional sense, but it can have real-world consequences, what with the disdain, the tip (or lack thereof) or Yelp review. It’s really rude and unnecessary. And at least half the time GPG’s wrong (because yes, real salsa verde can indeed look like that). And in any case, why is the realness of the salsa verde or the canned-ness of the mushrooms the fault of the server?

      1. Ugh yeah these people have a ripple effect. I work in the kitchen and often I’m back there getting yelled at because this lady sent her food back 3x and is unreasonable. But if I say “clearly this guest is ridiculous,” I’ll generally get shat on.

        This past weekend some guy ordered his eggs underdone, his toast well done (but it turned out he meant almost burnt so we had to redo it bc the server just said well done) and some other mod like no this extra that. He sent 2 of the items back on his plate. I had other orders to fill in a timely manner (we get pressured to have all food up in a certain time frame at brunch otherwise the floor manager starts nagging us) so I just asked my boss if he wouldn’t mind recooking the stuff for me and luckily he did. But depending on who’s managing you can really get backed up and then told off a lot when food keeps on getting sent back like this.

    4. JenniferP raises an excellent point here, which is that in addition to it being objectively horrible to treat service people poorly, it also…DOESN’T WORK. My mother gets “a tone” whenever something goes wrong (especially at airports) that embarrasses me and just guarantees whoever we need to help us will not. All of Jennifer’s advice is great (intervening is effective!), but I have also had some success preempting this:

      1)Fix it yourself: If we are together and something goes wrong–seat needs to be changed, waitress brought the wrong order, our hotel room doesn’t have enough towels–I offer to be the one to fix it. Yes, this is work, but it is SO MUCH LESS work than watching my mother be rude to people whose help we need. Offering to fix the problem myself isn’t always an option, but it when it is it goes so much better (and, hey, the problem usually gets fixed a lot faster).

      2) X is more important than being right: I repeat this a lot when these situations arise if there’s no way to totally take over the process from my mother. I will pull her aside (in advance, preferably), remind her she wants X thing and if she wants to get it she has to be nice to this person she’s dealing with or she won’t get what she wants.

      It’s not foolproof (so sorry, NYPL librarian just doing your job), but it helps and makes me feel less complicit. Now my parents say things like “Oh, Emdashing’s so good at these things. We raised a competent child!” And, well, I suppose they did, it just didn’t happen quite like they are imagining. 😉

      1. Those are some fantastic suggestions, especially #1 (but that might be because my own parents would rather die on a molehill than ever give up being Right so #2 would be a pipe dream for me.)

        Your first tip reminds me of a very special trip. My mother’s side, populated mostly by drama llamas, decided a cruise was a great idea for a family reunion. And it was … right up until we’re checking in for boarding as a group and the clerk cheerfully informs aunt #1 that she’s been upgraded! Cue complete, multi-llama meltdown as they’d CHOSEN the rooms they wanted and the cruise CAN’T move aunt #1 and the whole trip is RUINED. Granted, aunt #1 does have a medical issue and needed to be near others but they couldn’t calmly say that to the clerk. DH and I looked at each other, looked at the shell-shocked clerk who’s being attacked for simply communicating normally good news, and pushed the llamas aside enough to get to her and ask if WE could have the upgraded room and put aunt #1 back in her old room. A few silent clicks later and all was resolved. And that’s how DH and I paid the lowest room rates possible for a super gorgeous balcony room AND were one floor and half a ship away from the rest of the family and could never get the cruise-provided walkie-talkies to work. It was a great trip.

      2. Both very good tips. One of the very few civility battles I ever quasi-won with my mother was regarding the treatment of people on the phone, and it was mainly by deploying your point 2.

        ‘Could you maybe not be mean to this person, they work in the CUSTOMER COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT OF A CALL CENTER, they 100% would prefer to be working just about any other job on earth and probably hate the company they represent more than you do’ didn’t make a dent. ‘They’re more likely to find ways to help you if you’re polite’ eventually sunk in.

    5. Funny, my sister was a waitress for a long time (also started at Friendly’s!) and she taught me the exact opposite. To treat servers with respect and kindness and always leave a decent tip. In fact, she once called our father out for being rude to a waitress and though he didn’t admit she was right, he left the waitress a >50% tip.

      You can tell a lot from a person from how they treat those they consider their inferiors.

    6. Friendly’s was where I had my only waitressing job, as a teenager. My first week a customer was so mean to inept me, lecturing me on how she had been a Friendly’s waitress for years and how I was Not Up to Snuff. I didn’t learn anything from the lecture; I just wanted to cry. Her husband must have seen that in my face, because he left me a 100 percent tip. I’ll always remember that silent act of kindness. And I always tip 20 percent at minimum when I go out because damn, that job is hard and some customers are terrible.

      1. Were you at Friendly’s when they made you wear the giant buttons that said “If I don’t ask you about soup, it’s FREE!” so you had to approach all your tables like “Hello, Soup! Would you like some soup?”


        1. I’m sure it was an awful experience, but the idea is making me laugh very hard, brightening an unpleasant workday. Thank you, Soup – er, Captain.

        2. Oh, SOUP no! It was probably after my time. I avoided all Friendly’s for a decade after I quit the job.

          The ice cream brought me back, though.

    7. My siblings and I used to muse about all the spit in our food from our parents being rude to waiters. As a child, it grossed me out but also comforted me to think there’s justice in the world. As an adult, I wonder if the (relative) “freedom” service workers have to not do a good job is what bothers people so much. They turn themselves into rage monsters whenever they are confronted with the fact that they don’t have ultimate control over another human being.

      I’ve also only ever seen white people act like this.

      1. I think for older people, too, there’s some lack of understanding that things are not How They Were. Like, if you go in a shoe store and there’s one person on the floor, helping another customer, there probably aren’t two or three more in the back working in the stockroom until they get more customers. Most places keep the bare minimum scheduled, but that wasn’t how businesses used to do things, and I think some folks think they still do.

        Which is not to say some folks aren’t genuinely bad at customer service/service jobs, because they are. Just that I can’t remember, for example, the last time I saw a fast food place that had enough people on-staff even at lunch rush for each register to be running, two people to run completed orders to the registers/out to the dining room/to the drive-thru window, etc. It’s not that the people aren’t willing to do the jobs, either, it’s that the employers simply aren’t hiring.

        Ditto to your last point, too.

    8. I waited tables for 20 years and I also have high expectations. Doesn’t mean I will be rude to staff if the service is bad. Just means I won’t be going back. And unless it’s an egregious offense (like I hear a server using racist language or something), I’ll probably still tip.

  4. LW, not going out in public with your parents isn’t the worst choice you could make. Especially if you’re dependent on them for a ride home. If you have your own car or if there’s reliable public transit where you live, then you can leave at any time. If you don’t and there isn’t, then they can strand you, and they know it, and they might.

    1. My parents used to do this thing where they kept adding errands or stops we had to make, even when I told them I had to be home by certain time. I dealt with it by saving a few taxi numbers in my phone and keeping cab fare on me. This was before Uber/Lyft, but that would work too. Once they realized I was willing to pay to get away from them and go home, it stopped that.

      1. I didn’t realize until I saw this comment that THAT’S why I have so much dread, dating back to childhood, of going anywhere in a car with my parents – because I’m trapped and have no idea when I’m going to be able to get home and no control over where we’re going!

        I wish my younger self had had the presence of mind to carry taxi fare and the phone number of a taxi company.

  5. My gramma was like this. Loud, rude, bigotted, antagonistic. Took advantage of those in a lesser positoin of powe, used the “I’m old so it’s OK” excuse. Ugh. It’s super hard to feel that tug-of-war between wantiing to get along with family but wanting to stop offensive behavior. Like OP’s mom, my Gramma could really get on an almost unstoppable ran, either right to a person’s face or within their earshot. What worked for me was the use of the nonsequitor. It might look like this:

    Gram: You know the doctor they gave me is another one of those Arabs!
    Me: I saw she wears purple scrubs- I thought the doctors all wore green!

    Gram: How come every time we eat here we always get that Mexicali waitress?
    Me: Ooh! The chicken parmesan is on special today!

    And whenever I could, I also loved subtely pointing out how hypocritical she was actually being:

    Gram: Why can’t these people learn English?
    Me: Gram, you took Polish classes for six weeks and barely learned the alphabet.

    Gram: Those Indian women look so weird that red dot jammed in their foreheads.
    Me: You thnk that’s weird, you should see my nipple piercing. (She spat her coffee out on that one).

    I hope you’re able to get out of that house soon, LW. BEing around these kind of people is exhausting!

    1. GreenDoor, I really like your advice for nonsequitors when the goal is to change the subject or make the conversation more comfortable. What would you advise for people who are trying to express solidarity to the victims of behavior like your Gram’s?

      1. I have this question as well, esp. since the listing of the slurs/bigoted statements is so detailed. Thank you, GreenDoor!

        1. My thought would be to answer as though the person said something nice and you’re enthusiastically agreeing. Such as:

          Gram: You know the doctor they gave me is another one of those Arabs!
          You: Yes, isn’t it brilliant that so many doctors are willing to come over here and help out our health service? I don’t know how we’d manage without them!

          Gram: How come every time we eat here we always get that Mexicali waitress?
          You: [tones of enthusiasm] Oooh, we’ve got her again? She’s such a good waitress, isn’t she?

          1. I really love this approach! Everyone has a different personal style, and it’s important to find a way to respond to stuff like this that feels manageable without having to become a totally different (better, totally assertive, totally fearless) person first. “Enthusiastically oblivious” fits right in with my personal style. =)

          2. I have done this, and can testify to it’s efficacy. It’s triply satisfying, because the bigoted person can’t figure out if you’re doing it on purpose. And they are frustrated because they (usually) aren’t willing to explain what they really meant. And they hate having inadvertently given a compliment.

            Extra bonus points if you call the waitress by name when you talk about how awesome she is.

            It’s like an hour of aversion therapy in one short comment.

          3. I use this on my mom! She’s a body shamer, mostly comments about fat women’s clothing to me, her fat daughter. She says “can you believe what she’s wearing?” and I say “I know! Animal prints are having a moment right now and it’s so fun!” My favorite was when she said “Ugh, leggings aren’t pants” and I came back with “No….they’re better.” And later on we were shopping and she bought a pair of leggings for herself!

          4. I actually do this and have been quite effective. I started young with my southern grandmother. She was from the mountains of West Virginia and her father was a coal mining. She divorced her forced-to-marry husband at 18 and moved north. – just to give context of the level of ingrained racism that existed with her). When she would say racist things, I would say things like

            “hey ya know Jim Crow laws still existed in the 60s and lots of really awful murders happened then” or

            “Can you even imagine what it would be like to move to a new country? And where they are from, it is likely they were running from something truly awful.”

            And then there were times when I would just spout out facts randomly and without any racial or bigoted context like

            “Hey, did you ever hear of Birmingham!? That wasn’t even that long ago, and people who were alive then are still alive today! Can you imagine something like that happening in living memory – and it wasn’t even one of the worst things!” Or

            “Yeah that guy just walked in, sat in prayer for 40 minutes, and then shot everyone just because he didn’t like their skin color. Could you IMAGINE what kind of person would do something like that? It is so sick!” OR

            I use “Ya know that Central and South America have had THE WORST serial killers of all time? Their countries are so corrupt and the people are beaten down so heavily they serial killers were allowed to prey on children for decades!”

            All of this works for me every time. I can’t explain why, really. It works on my parents, my friends, my co-workers, and everyone that I have come into contact with. I guess maybe because it adds non-confrontational context to their bigotry. It takes bigotry outside of its abstract and distanced thinking and humanizes it. Everyone struggled (my grandmother was forced to marry at 13 or my coworker was fired from her last job because the boss was a misogynist, or Grandfather’s parents abandoned him and his brother to the streets of Philly during the depression). My grandmother over the years cooled down so much on the ideas that its ok to discriminate against any population of people and that it is OK to not agree fundamentally with other people’s choices (her nephew turned out gay) but it is not OK to force your own beliefs on others. Live and let live – and cause no harm! (her words before she passed)

          5. I have done this! I call it the Pollyanna ploy, because it requires determined enthusiasm. You act so pleased that it stops them in their tracks, because they can’t very well say, “Hey, quit turning my racist comment into a compliment!”

          6. My maternal grandmother was a vicious, racist, MEAN woman. I remember eating lunch with her in the teeny lunch room of her new assisted living place, with my father (her son-in-law). She bitched loudly about all of the “colored” people working there, about how all the residents there had white hair (so did she), and then proceeded to bitch loudly about the food (I thought it was really yummy). She finally spat out, “This is just cruel, I’d rather be burned at the stake!”. I looked at her calmly and said, “Well, Granny, I think it’s against the laws of Texas, but I’ll see what I can do.”

            My Dad choked on his sweet potato while stifling his laughter, and good old bitter Granny’s jaw dropped and she just looked blankly at me. I’d NEVER been anything but sweet and I’d never reacted to her nastiness before.

            She never spoke like that around me again.

            I suspect that I wouldn’t have minded burning her at the stake.

        2. I can only speak as one person in customer service (retail) but I know that I notice when family members are trying to de-escalate the situation or, in the case of kids with very little power, look really embarrassed. Maybe it’s because I have my own ‘grams’ in my family but I certainly don’t take attempts to distract with agreement of the bigot’s words. Just the opposite, I realize they know their family member’s wrong but also know that confronting them won’t do a blessed thing except escalate. I appreciate the relatives doing what they can and it doesn’t have to be explicit. We understand.

      2. What about “That’s racist/don’t be racist.” Or even a more broad “don’t be mean.” or “that’s not true/that’s a stereotype.” Then non-sequitor, so they hopefully don’t have time to reply or re-state their views.

        I’m not Indian (or white), so maybe I’m over-stepping, but I don’t love the idea of agreeing that a bindi is “weird”, though non-sequitor to something that makes Gram spit out coffee is amazing.

        Re “Why can’t these people learn English?” — I might reply with something like “why don’t YOU learn another language”. Acknowledging that another language is difficult to learn is fine, but it might also be nice to put out there the idea that English isn’t the ultimate of languages or that we should all strive to learn it (as I sit here, writing in English).

        1. Maybe “it took you at least five or six years [from birth] to learn to speak English, so cut them some slack”? I was also thinking “how do you know they aren’t trying?” but that kind of buys into the idea that they *should* be learning English, when it’s really up to them to decide whether to do that or not (to the extent the resources to learn English are even available to them).

          1. Completely beside the point, but I had a coworker whose native language was Spanish assure me that I’d be able to pick up Spanish in no time. “Spanish is easy, I speak it since I was a baby!” was his pitch, ha.

            But as for actual responses to “why won’t/can’t they learn English?” I’ve had success with “English is one of the most difficult languages to learn as an adult. Half of it doesn’t make sense!” and then derailing into discussing all the bonkers English “rules”, homonyms, etc…

        2. I live in Canada so my response, if I’m in a position to make it, is usually “how’s your Ojibwe?”

          1. I’m in Ontario, and I’ve had people complain about the ‘poor English’ in conference calls with our Montreal office. On more than one occasion I’ve sweetly asked the Ontario person if their French is strong enough that they could run the meeting in it – after all, we’re a bilingual country, right?

          2. Yes! I ask the same but with Cherokee. And since I do speak a second language and have a degree in foreign language education, most of my relatives know now if they argue with me about it, they’re going to get a lecture on second language learning and acquisition, which they really don’t want, because I can happily talk about it for hours.

        3. I prefer “don’t be mean” to “don’t be racist” or “that’s a stereotype.”

          I just think it’s more effective. People who are racist or prejudiced or applying stereotypes get defensive about it, and defensive people don’t listen.
          But people who are mean are easier to shame a bit.

          Plus it focuses on their behavior, not the underlying attitude. And they can quickly change their tone of voice, but they won’t/can’t quickly change the underlying attitude.

        4. I have found bigots to be very aligned with the belief that they are victims of the highest order, and claiming they are somehow a persecutor (i.e. being mean or racist) just loops in you into the Victim-Persecutor-Savior triangle. I find those interactions horribly draining so I don’t find that strategy helpful. But if you have the capacity for that, go for it.

          A lot of the strategies already listed I have found helpful (and I love DrSarah’s strategy of reframing! I’m stealing that for sure). I’m also fan of the ABF (active b*tch face) combined with “wow, that’s one way to think.” It’s subtle, but it conveys to them and other’s around you that you’re judging them. Hard.

          Also, my Nan was also awful to servers. So as soon as we got to a restaurant and were assigned a waitress, I’d sneak off to “the bathroom” and slip our server $20 and say this was in addition to the 20% tip they would receive and apologize profusely ahead of time. But this requires a certain amount of financial resources.

          1. Oooh, I like the facial expression idea. It’s another good way to signal disapproval when verbal call out isn’t possible or isn’t working.

        5. Re: “Why don’t they speak English?”

          I’ve had good results with “His/her English is better than my Spanish/Korean/Farsi/whatever the ‘offending’ language is.” Saying it in a chipper tone usually stops the conversation dead in its tracks. It’s also always true.

          1. I am a Toastmaster — a public speaking club. We’re in a major university town, and often get international students. They inevitably apologize for their English, to which I always reply, “Your English is far better than my (insert language here).”

            We had a Mongolian member for two semesters who was in a club in Ulan Bator. His club all did their speeches in English! Most people join to get past their fear of public speaking; his club members were all doing that *in a foreign language.* Impressive.

        6. I’ve tried the “that’s not true/that’s a stereotype” thing with a family member who complains about “the Chinese”, and the reply I get is a long description of all their negative history with Chinese businesses, ‘facts’ that I can’t verify or dispute on the spot about poor business practices, etc.

          I’m finding it’s more effective to fall back on the “you say no nice things you get no Daughter Time” and ignore the comments completely (since they’re not said in front of me and a Chinese person at the same time). But I wish I had a way to refute all their ‘evidence’ with anything more than “well, maybe that was your experience but does that mean everyone in that very big country is like that?” 😦

          1. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a person who resents Chinese people really and truly HAS had some bad experiences in Chinese businesses, because contempt is the hardest attitude to hide, and people react to it. But it’s probably way too hard to explain to your family member that the Chinese cashier likely was responding in kind to their own rudeness, so you should stick to what works for you.

          2. I’ve accepted that I can’t change my bigoted family members’ minds, and focused on stopping the rants and the bad behaviour, at least in front of me. I’ve had good luck with turning criticism straight back to them using their personal stories, like this:

            Dad: “[insert bigoted stereotype or insult here]”
            Me: “That corrupt roofer/builder guy who did your drive so badly was white. Remember how he ended up in jail for multiple frauds and thefts and tax fraud? Most criminals in this country are white and you know it. Knock it off.”
            Me2: “Remember when you were in the army, and you and the other guys in your unit [insert stupid/violent/bad behaviour here]? Yeah. Shut up, Dad.”
            Me3: “Before you learned to drive, you used to drive lorries for that company that had dozens of drivers and only one driving licence. Remember how the boss had you all memorise OneDriver’s licence details so you could all lie to the police when you got pulled over? You have no room to talk. Knock it off.”

            I think it works partly by showing up Dad’s hypocrisy (and completely avoiding Bigot’s Bullshit arguments) and partly because these are shared family stories and fond memories: it shifts the emotional tone. I can make these kind of comments with a fond but judgemental eyeroll and end them with a joke and a shared laugh.

            I pair that with zero tolerance for Dad persisting with Bigotry. I don’t argue the points, I just say “That’s bigotry./You’re being a bigot./Stop saying (or doing) bigoted bullshit./You’re still wrong./Shouting at me won’t make you right.”

            I WILL raise my voice. I WILL persist to the point that I am shaking with rage. I WILL tell Dad to STFU/stop the car/I’m leaving. I WILL NOT TOLERATE, BACK DOWN, GO ALONG TO GET ALONG, KEEP THE PEACE, OR APOLOGISE. If that means Dad sulks at me and leaves it all unresolved and poisoning the air between us, fine. I can’t change his mind, and I don’t want to win or show off my allyship; I want to STOP THE BIGOTED BEHAVIOUR.

            (I also pair it with hugging my Dad every time I see him, and ending every conversation with “Thanks, Dad. I love you.” Positive reinforcement is important, as is valuing their positive attributes. A positive, rewarding relationship always carries a possibility that this is something you could lose. Which makes it all the more impactful on the one or two occasions that he’s said something so bad that I have slammed a door on him and stormed off without that last hug.)

            I chose to accept my choices weren’t good: [1] feel bad, ashamed of Dad and ashamed of myself or [2] feel bad, ashamed of my Dad, and proud of myself for standing up to him. There is no feel good and proud of Dad option, because the only one who can stop Dad being a bigot is Dad, and that’s beyond my control. So I picked the less-bad option (for me; other choices are available and also valid).

        7. My grandfather could be breathtakingly racist. My sister used to say, calmly, “Grandpa, your racism is showing.”

          It didn’t stop him from actually being racist, but it did remind him to keep his racist opinions to himself.

        8. I had success one time (the bigot went pruny-faced and looked mad, but shut her piehole) with “Oh, English is just the worst language to learn, isn’t it? So many exceptions, and sounds that are rare in most other languages–and the spelling, don’t get me started on the spelling! No wonder people can live here for years and not learn it. Isn’t it great how you can have your phone translate what people say these days? Like Star Trek!” and that’s when she turned to somebody else and loudly changed the subject.

          Caveat: Am soft-looking mildly daffy-sounding middle-aged white lady.

          1. I’m fond of this technique too, and I can always throw in the fact that my degree is in English. People tend to shut their pie-holes about “Why can’t they just learn English?” when an English major sticks her oar into the conversation. 😀

            And I’m also a soft- and nerdy-looking middle-aged white lady. I’ll weaponize that shit in half a heartbeat. 🙂

          2. Fellow soft-looking mildly daffy-sounding middle-aged white lady who teaches ESL. I can testify that this works.

          3. The late humorist Sam Levenson once recounted the time a government official (can’t remember which department, might have been the Census Bureau) came to his father’s place of business and asked him if his father could speak English. Levenson replied with “I’d better interpret for him.” Fact was, his father understood English quite well and could speak it, too — but he refused to do it on command.

            His reasoning: “Why should I speak English? Let them learn Yiddish! How could they live here all this time and not speak Yiddish???”

            (This was New York back in the 1920s, so he had a point.)

        9. When I’ve called out racist remarks with “That’s racist,” I’ve frequently heard “No it’s not; YOU’RE the one being racist by pointing it out!” *facepalm* I don’t know what to do in that situation beyond the phrases already suggested here.

          My dad used to often mock a stereotypical Asian accent. I told him repeatedly to stop because it was offensive (he of course pulled the “It’s not racist; YOU’RE racist” crap on me), and I finally snapped and yelled at him that it WAS racist, I was tired of hearing it, and to never do it again, and I stormed out. He stopped. I’m sure I didn’t change his opinion at all, but at least I don’t hear it anymore. Tellingly, I noticed he never did this behavior in public, only in front of me–he absolutely knows it’s inappropriate and was mad that I took away his only sounding board.

          On a related note, I also am stuck living at home for financial reasons, so I tend to not be in the house or stick to my room when I’m at home, especially when he’s watching an old show or movie that has a racist caricature in it. His excuse is “Remember when it was made.” Yeah, old doesn’t equal okay; it was offensive then, too.

      3. TyphoidMary, honestly, this was my struggle (I was a teenager for much of this). If I challenged her bigotry by specifically saying, “That’s racist, that’s discriminatory” or anything like that, she’d turn her wrath on me. In public. And then I’d be forced to get seriously disrespectful to my elders (something I was raised was strictly forbidden) in order to stick up for a stranger or back down and look like I support her viewpoint.

        I was still a dependent teenager at the time much of this occurred. Sometimes all I could do was quietly whsiper to the person, “I’m so sorry for her attitude!” or something along those lines. Now that I”m an adult, believe me, I’m that person further down the line that will speak up in front of the whole crowd. I think a lot of it goes back to what the Captain said about assessing your level of risk in the situation.

      4. For my racist father, I like “I bet they’re saying the same about you!” Really, it doesn’t even need to make that much sense. The idea to communicate is “I can see why you’re not very likable” and “I align with whoever you’re insulting more than you.”

        RacistFather: Those (insert Other here) are so rude and have no idea how to behave in public!
        Me: I bet they’re saying the same about you!

        RacistFather: I can’t stand the way (insert Other here) smell…
        Me: I bet they’re saying the same about you!

        RacistFather: Why would you want to live on this side of town? There are so many (insert Others here)!
        Me: I bet they’re saying the same about you!

        RacistFather: God! Look at that (insert Other here)! Can you imagine living like that?
        Me: I bet they’re saying the same about you!

        and so on.. Drives him nuts.

    2. Good on you, GreenDoor! I especially love the piercing one… I don’t have any piercings, but maybe I could hypothetically “acquire” some specifically to derail nasty comments. Thanks for the idea!

    3. One time my dad complained about my great-grandmother (my mother’s grandma) never learning English very well. She was a German immigrant, and when I say they were dirt poor…they were dirt. poor.

      Dad: You’re mom’s people never did learn English the way they should have.
      Me: Well they didn’t get beyond grade school in Germany. They should’ve just stayed there and you could’ve married someone else.


      1. My dad was relatively rational in terms of politics, but he had a few unexamined prejudices, and one of them was the “people just need to speak English!” thing. Pointing out that “so-and-so IS speaking English, they just have an accent you need to practice understanding better” somehow didn’t resonate. Neither, more frustratingly, did pointing out that his OWN GRANDPARENTS lived in the US for more than half their lives and never learned any English themselves (“well, they didn’t work in customer service, so they didn’t need to!” would be his reply).

        1. I am a professional language teacher with a Master’s of Education in second language acquisition. The entire field would be *agog* to hear your father’s brilliant, no-fail, apparently two-week-long method to native-level linguistic and cultural competence. We could stop publishing all these journals and arguing about theory and doing research and tearing our hair out over the best ways to teach and motivate learners (and we’d probably also make a shitload of money, considering how much students who have the means are willing to pay to live abroad just to learn English). It’s downright shocking that all these educated, experienced professionals have been screwing up so badly when the answer was staring us in the face: just ask gmg22’s dad, he clearly knows all about how simple and easy it is to learn a completely new language!
          …I should really stop doing that, one of these days I’m going to die of sarcasm poisoning.

          1. Ouch. Well, I put the story out there (though now I wish I hadn’t), so I guess I asked for this. You can’t ask my dad, because he is dead, but trust me when I say this was an argument I had with him plenty of times.

          2. Hey gmg, I think whingedrinking believes you about the argument and is agreeing that your dad’s plan for Instant English Learning For Immigrants (except, you know, his grandparents) is a bullshit idea.

          3. Thanks, Captain. Understood and agreed. However, I feel like I just left my deceased dad open to character assassination by telling a story about one of his failings, which I don’t believe defined him as a person even if I felt on very solid ground pushing back and trying to make him think about it. I don’t know whether you would be OK with deleting this whole portion of the thread — if so, great, if you’d rather not in the name of transparency/open discussion, I understand that too.

          4. I’m so sorry; I didn’t mean to come across as attacking you or suggesting that your father sucked as a person. I was trying to agree with you humourously and I overdid the sarcasm (I was shooting for “sardonic” and wound up at “blistering”). In retrospect I should have reined it in more.

    4. I wish I could own this response/observation but alas, I can’t remember the source (maybe Tumblr?) But re: the “I’m old so it’s OK” excuse. Basically what this means is that they have lived through the last 70-80-90 YEARS of social justice and civil rights movements, and they have *epically failed* to learn one. single. thing. That’s not an excuse. That’s an admission of callous and willful ignorance.

      1. Wow, I’ve never thought of it that way, but that’s a powerful perspective!

        I’m blessed that my parents aren’t racist or homophobic or carriers of any of the other “isms.” My mom can get short and curt with salespeople, but I pointed it out to her awhile back, and she’s much better now. She will even sometimes ask me if she did okay in certain situations like that.

        My dad is a Fox News afflicted angry old man, but that doesn’t seem to have changed how he talks to or about people, or how he behaves in a public situation. He’s still very polite, and almost old fashionably courtly to people who work with the public. It’s a real disconnect, and it makes all of us scratch our heads.

        1. When I was four or five years old (so while JFK was president), my grandmother started to say, “I saw the cutest little n****r baby” well, I don’t know what the rest of the sentence was, because my mom, who in general was soft-spoken and polite to a fault, interrupted her and said, “I just want you to know that if you ever say that word in front of either of my children again, that will be the last time you see my children.” And my dad stood there nodding his head, and my grandmother never said that word again in front of me or my brother.

          It was absolutely clear that she didn’t see anything wrong with using that word (which was much more commonly used by white people back in those days) and she went to her death convinced of her superiority over everyone with darker skin, but it was possible to change the behavior. My parents just had to make the consequences bad enough and she stopped.

          I will never forget that, and I remind myself of it when I have to deal with racism (etc.) in my life. Basically, my hardline rule for anyone I am not dealing with in a customer service role is “not where I can hear it or see it, if you want to her or see me.” It works. It’s hard and it can be risky, but it does work.

        2. Yup. That whole “they’re old, things aren’t like they used to be” excuse is starting to wear pretty thin. Someone who turns seventy this year would have been born in 1948, which means they were twenty when MLK was shot and twenty-one when the Stonewall riots happened; they weren’t born and raised in the Victoria era where they might plausibly claim some kind of ignorance.

      2. Both of my old, white, southern parents are shining examples of old =/= stuck in the 50’s (or whatever era, for them that was their childhood/teen years) for exactly that reason. My dad in particular will go on tirades about how it’s not. that. hard. to be told “actually, that word is offensive/a slur, you should say X instead” and just go “oh gosh, I didn’t know, thank you.” All of this “tee hee, how can anyone possibly keep track of these things?” is utter BS to him. You don’t have to be reminded that Z is a slur, that’s not something you forget and need to break a “habit” of. Be an adult and conduct yourself civilly.

        You can imagine all of the various words he’s learned and then had to unlearn from a variety of sources of varying reliability about terms for different POC groups. And yet at 75 he manages to be perfectly respectful when describing people.

        1. Your parents sound wonderful. Reading these comments is making it depressingly clear that there are far too many clones of my mother out there, so this post was a breath of fresh air.

        2. I recently had a really great conversation with my 71-year-old mother about what “cis” means and why some people identify as nonbinary, and how if you’re not sure of someone’s gender identity and aren’t in a position to ask, “they” is always a good bet.

          My mother has had trans and gender non-conforming friends for longer than I’ve been alive, but she’s not herself queer, not online anywhere but Facebook, and mostly socializes with other older people from her church, so she just hasn’t been exposed to a lot of stuff, so when she can, she asks for explanations of things she doesn’t understand, and she listens.

          And then a month and a half later I had a complete shitshow of a trans 101 conversation with a straight male acquaintance in his thirties that involved an impressive amount of misgendering and bullshit completely untrue “scientific” opinions, and him using his age as an excuse for not understanding all this supposedly new-fangled thinking.

          And the first conversation made me have a LOT less patience for the second conversation, because age has nothing to do with whether or not someone is capable of treating other people with respect.

        3. Your point reminds me of some white YouTuber who got chewed out because in a livestream, he used the N word. He “defended” himself by saying he wasn’t directly calling anyone that, it just slipped out as a curse word when he was frustrated. I mean…maybe if spewing racist invective is a way one blows off steam, that kind of says something about the prejudices one carries with one? Just saying.

          1. Ugh. I know I probably have some words buried deep in my brain as the “words only to use for the strongest of emotions in the most nasty of cases” because I heard them growing up and haven’t had the occasion to think critically about them. I’m sure we all do.

            But if something akin to the N-word slipped out while I was in an extremely emotional state I imagine I would be completely horrified. And while “omg, it just slipped out while I wasn’t in my right mind” is a reason, the follow up is “I’m aghast it’s even in my vocabulary, I’m so sorry.”

      3. Yes. My mother is 87, which isn’t young by anyone’s standards. That means she was old enough to participate in the Civil Rights movement, but it also means that I was a two-year-old left with a babysitter for the March on Washington in 1965. My parents weren’t old, weren’t even middle-aged, in the 1960s, and neither are the people who are claiming their age as an excuse. Even the 102-year-old, who wasn’t young then, had plenty of time to see what was going on.

      4. I love this. It’s like with the Me Too movement: feminism isn’t new. It wasn’t new in the 70s. It was not new in the 1920s. I’d argue it was not new when Elizabeth the First took the throne, nor when Hatshepsut ruled as a Pharaoh. The fact that racism is bad is also not new.

        “Women are people and must be treated as such” and “All people are equal regardless of ethnic heritage” are not crazy newfangled ideas that those awful millenials invented just to trip up poor boomers. I’ve had it with giving people the benefit of the doubt. It’s not that you’re old, it’s not that you were just ‘raised that way’. You know better, and you CHOOSE to do the wrong thing.

        I think that’s going to be my go-to.

        Parent: *says snide racist, sexist, or body-shaming remark*
        Me: “You know better than to say something like that.

        Even if they well and truly believe that they are RIGHT and I am WRONG, it’s at least a reminder that they should know better than to think they can talk like that and everyone will just go along to get along. I’m so tired of going along to get along.

      5. I don’t see myself having a chance to say it (thankfully), so please someone else use the comeback: “Wow, you could have gotten in on the Civil Rights movement on the ground floor!”

      6. Yeah, that argument is meaningless in my book My 84-year-old father stopped talking to a friend of forty years standing several years ago after ripping the guy a new one for being a racist jerk.* He gets it, so can other people, and if they don’t, then that tells me they aren’t willing to try showing empathy.

        *Friend and dad have since reconciled after friend apologized and admitted he’d been an ass, and has since behaved much better.

      7. Author Jim C. Hines has pointed out on at least one occasion that Mr. Rogers (of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood) and the then-head of the KKK were products of the exact same time, so clearly it’s not the time someone is a product of that decides how much of an asshole they are.

    5. I shut down my bigoted uncle’s concern-trolling against transgender people by casually pointing out that he probably didn’t want to make the “genders only align with one God-given anatomy” argument to the girl with three nipples. After recovering his ability to breathe, he hasn’t bothered me with that bullshit since.

      Nothing halts a mean relative quite like uncomfortable truths about a person’s nipples.

  6. Ugh LW, I know what you are going through. My dad can be pretty obnoxious to wait staff, although it’s not racist it’s just…obnoxious.

    One time I took them to my very favorite place, where (as a treat to me) I ate once a month. It was me, my mom and dad, and a couple they knew from their high school days.

    My dad complained at every turn, and the steak was not cooked to his liking, which he complained about loudly. “I’m paying for this!” So I said just send it back, it’s fine. And he did, but he was a complete dick about it – instead of just, I wanted medium rare and this is well done, can you take it back? He was all, “I’m spending a lot of money and this is wrong, etc.”

    Anyway, we finished up and mom and dad walked out. Behind them was Nice Couple from high school and I said, “I am so sorry you had to sit through that.” And they were nice about it. I looked at the check and dad had left FIVE DOLLARS on a 300 dollar tab. So I flagged the waiter and ran a tip on my credit card. When I got outside and dad asked what took me so long, I said so: “A decent tip is 20%, and you were really hard on the server, so I paid a tip over your five bucks. This is my neighborhood place, I’m not going to stiff them.”

    He was MORTIFIED and made some shitty noises, but he never did it again (in front of me, anyway).

    Your parents are separate people from you, and their actions are not yours. It’s okay to treat them that way (‘What was that all about?”) and try to make up for crappy behavior when you can (“Oh I thought what you said was rude so I apologized for being a bad table. Ready to go now?”).

    You can do it. Good luck!

    1. $5 on a $300 tab? Ugh, your father. Good on you for doing right by the waiter. I’m sure they’re still singing your praises.

      1. Thanks, I hope so. It was so embarrassing because that little place had meaning to me, I knew everyone there, etc. and here’s my dad making me look bad. “I’m a regular and my Dad’s an ass so I brought him here!” Ugh.

        1. I’m pretty sure all of this bad behavior is about power. People who feel powerless in other situations like to jerk the leashes of anyone they find they have some power over, the people in any kind of service industries. And they certainly do know you can not speak up to them for fear of losing your job. I worked for years in doctor’s offices and people found just as much to complain about there. Not treatment necessarily, but the long waits for everything. Many insisted they should be pushed to the front of the line.

          After ten years I had to flee. My tongue had been bitten to shreds and I was never a good tongue biter at any point in life.

        2. Was he extra harsh /because/ it’s your place? I realized, after enough interactions, that my father would amp up his bad behavior when he was in my ‘territory.’ It got to the point where I just ordered in when they were visiting because he WOULD make any restaurant visit absolutely miserable. I really think it was about him not being able to handle that his daughter had her own things that weren’t his and so asserting his dominance. We’re estranged now so it’s no longer an issue but it made impending visits their own nightmare.

    2. My parents are like this, and I just survived their first visit to MyCity. I swear there was a constant balancing act of “Which restaurants can I take them to that I like, but not that I like SO MUCH that I’ll be bummed if I can never go back there out of embarrassment?” They behaved remarkably well, FWIW.

      1. OMG this. I am currently trying to do the analysis of which restaurants can I go to with her where I’ll get a special diet meal that I actually like, but it’s not such a favourite of mine that she can make me too embarrassed to go back.

    3. Good for you. This is such a good example of what CA said – these parents care SO MUCH about what we think of them. Whether they get angry or sad or just stand there sputtering, it’s because they want us to think they’re awesome (even if that means deciding that our silence = agreement).

      If it is safe to do so, it is vital to put cracks in that delusion. “My kids don’t like my behavior” is, to many, a BFD.

    4. Ugh. For the longest time I would strategically “forget” my purse in the ladies room, discover the oversight once everyone else was in the car, run in to get my purse, and then slip an appropriate tip to the waitstaff. And then one time I forgot to forget my purse, and had to outright say “Dad that’s a shockingly low tip. You know waiters don’t get paid even minimum wage right? That lady had to put up with your rudeness all night and now you are STEALING from her.” And then I took cash out of my purse and handed it to the server in front of him. He was furious and yelled at me the entire car ride home and kept yelling through the bathroom door while I brushed my teeth and pissed and got ready for bed. Ugh. But he’s always left a reasonable tip since then.

    5. My mom and I had a lot of discussions about appropriate tipping when I was younger (and a server). Nowadays if I’m with her she’ll ask me to check her tip to make sure it’s not jerky. As the awesome Sars once said, ‘ten percent of the total, double it, done’.

      It’s equally ridiculous when you’re talking about the difference between and 13-dollar charge and a 14-dollar charge. I know there are many folks for whom that one dollar has to stretch, but rounding up has never hurt me. I can still remember how delighted I was whenever I got a ‘good’ tip and wasn’t expecting it. It’s a day-changer!

  7. Sustained cheering. To me the most important takeaway is: there’s always something you can do. It doesn’t have to be directed to people on whom you literally depend for your life (if that is your situation). Something beats nothing, it all adds up, even if it’s small-time volunteering for a useful local organization. Even if what you can do seems small and inconsequential, it beats nothing, and will make you feel a little bit better. So do what you can. We’re living in the kind of times where you don’t want to be on the sidelines.

  8. LW, are there any other family members you can enlist? Siblings or cousins? Aunts and uncles? Friends of your parents?

    My mom doesn’t listen to me. By which I don’t mean “she doesn’t obey” but literally, she carries on as if I’d said nothing.
    So all the “that’s racist mom” and “stop being misogynist around me” in the world doesn’t help.

    However, when a bigoted remark is simultaneously called out by me AND my cousin (who is mom’s favourite) (and in fairness, a pretty awesome cousin) it has a dramatic impact that isn’t dismissed in the same way under that veil of “what daughters say doesn’t matter”.

    This is in addition to the captain’s suggestions, and not to say that you should make your parents someone elses’ problem, just that strength in numbers is a thing.

    1. I agree with this to a certain extent. I don’t see my parents in person much (no surprise there!) but I shame them on social media when they post anything remotely bigoted or from anyone who is. Having others see me calling them out makes it get deleted very quickly.

  9. Dan Savage likes to remind us that the only leverage we have with ill behaved relations is their desire for our company.

    My parents grew up in a hideously racist time and place and it poisoned their world view.

    I wound up living with them briefly after a divorce with my then very young (pre-verbal) daughter.

    My dad used the n word in front of us. This was a fairly regular occurrence in my childhood and I was not having it for my kid.

    A sample script: “if that word ever emerges from my daughter’s mouth, I’ll know exactly where she learned it, and you’ll never see either of us again”.

    Don’t think my voice didn’t tremble and don’t think I wasn’t scared to death I’d wind up on the street with my baby.

    But? My mom actually did get better and my dad? Well, I have not changed his mind but I have never ever had to listen to that garbage since and it was 30 years ago.

    1. My grandmother put her foot down on my grandfather the same way. She was raising me in their household due to my mom’s divorce and financial problems. Grandma was an old school southern lady where the man is the king of the household and all that. But on this issue? Oh no, she wasn’t having it. She absolutely ruled the roost on certain issues and The Moral High Ground was one of them. Where she took a fierce moral stance, her husband would eventually comply. With much bitching, foot stomping, glaring, huffing, puffing, and going out the back door to his shop for hours at a time. But she eventually got her way. She said no racist language in her home, ever again, and he stopped. I shudder to think how many decades of it she had put up with until then. And I thank her for seeing the light of a different future for her grandchild.

      You did good. You did right. One daughter protected by the women in her life from the darkness of poisoned language, to a protective mama bear who protected her daughter. Thank you.

      1. What a lovely thing to say, thank you. I think I’d liked to have known your Grandma.

    2. I sat opposite my adult nephew at a family party and refused to listen to him telling me how wonderful a certain newly elected President was. I said this is a family party, not a political platform; hasn’t it been lovely weather recently. He pushed back; I told him I would leave if he carried on. He stopped.

      That was 2 years ago. I have not been invited to any family parties since then, and general invitations issued to my mother don’t get passed on to me, so I can’t go to the event or apologise for my absence.

      The best way I have found to deal with this is to regard it as a result.

      So, just to say, sometimes relations don’t care whether we are there or not.

      1. Your nephew reminds me of friends of my husband who dropped us after I reprimanded their child for _literally throwing rocks at people_. (Yes, he was doing it right in front of his parents.)

        Sometimes people self-select out of your company because you won’t let them get away with being garbage people. And that is more important to them than having friends/family.

        In both cases, I would argue that they’ve done us a favor, whether they intended to or not

        1. Intellectually I know this is true. Emotionally I wonder why I still care.

          The best I can do is not let them know that I care. 🙂

      2. As someone coming to terms with the fact that my family does not care about me except when I am an agreeable audience to them, I feel for you, cathy. I’m sorry your family has made these choices, but I think you have 100% the right attitude.

        1. Thank you. I am sorry you have a similar situation to deal with; conditional love really isn’t love at all, is it?

      3. I can relate cathy, a similar thing happened to me. Back in 2011-12 I used to get in Facebook debates with my Fox News-loving uncle. I was always very polite, but I refuted his hateful rhetoric with facts and attempts to engage his compassionate side. After Obama was re-elected he blocked me and his own daughter because we voted for Obama, stopped sending holiday cards, and we didn’t speak again until shortly before he passed away last year.

        Sometimes people choose their views or their hate over their family. It sucks, but it doesn’t mean you have to silently endorse their hateful views (unless you’re reliant on that person, in which case you’ve got to do what you need to do to get by).

        1. I am sorry to hear that. Fortunately I am independent of my whole family, but I really feel for anyone who isn’t.

      4. It was incredibly painful to realize that some of my relatives loved their privilege more than they loved me and my children. I’m sorry that you have had to deal with that and hope that you have a chosen family to support you.

        1. Yes, it is painful. Very. I hadn’t considered it irt privilege; that is worth thinking about; thank you.

          I have my daughter who is not as emotionally engaged with my extended family as I am, fortunately. And I have a few good friends; some of them very supportive.

        2. “some of my relatives loved their privilege more than they loved me and my children”

          This is a really valuable way to frame it, thank you.

  10. I have a similar dynamic with my Father to the Captain’s Grandfather. He wants me to agree with him SO bad and it just kills him that I don’t. We’ve had a ton of huge fights, during which he always says hurtful stuff. But by far our biggest screaming match was when I told him I didn’t want to argue with him about politics anymore. (this hilariously ended with me explaining to him that yes, Fox news was “mainstream” because pretty much everyone has cable, wtf? #2009) Bonus phone calls about writing me out of the will for being a Democrat. So I am well versed in the ways of the angry racist entitled parent.

    Is there something about your parents lives that is making them feel like they need to put down every person around them to make themselves feel good? Is this a new thing that has escalated or an old thing that is starting to bother you?

    If it is new, and escalating, you might check in with them regarding any health status changes? Are they on new medications? Have they gotten a check up lately? Depending on their age, changes in behavior where they start being a real jerk to random strangers can be a sign that something might be wrong. I have noticed also some blood pressure medications seem to make executive function/short term memory harder for my parents.

    Or it could just be stress. I have found that while my father’s views still generally suck, his overt ass-holery is directly proportionate to the amount of stress he is under. The holidays are the worst, or when we’re traveling because managing my Mom’s disabilities through these things is a big challenge. Lately he has been much calmer, and I no longer feel the urge to rescue every retail/restaurant worker from him.

    Are there ways you can help your parents just be more positive in general? Do they see their friends? do they have a good quality of life? It could be anything from modeling a more positive outlook, encouraging them to join a book club, turning off fox news every time you see it, giving them a gift card for yoga and a massage. Is there something at the core here that is making them feel shitty so they have to project their shittiness onto the strangers around them?

    I know that sometimes people are just jerks, but, I also think sometimes people are jerks because they feel bad, or insecure or whatever. And while generally i don’t think it’s our job to psychoanalyze and therapy racists out of racism, I think when it is your family sometimes that is a better path than just arguing. (Still definitely argue!)

    1. I find that my best fights are the ones that just happen when I trust my instincts.

      I vividly remember driving to get gas for a rental car in Indiana when someone cut me off. My dad lost his mind and started screaming about the “N-word bitch” being “blind” etc. etc. THE WINDOWS WERE DOWN. I screamed over him, “shut your f-ing mouth right goddamn now!” He was stunned into silence. “If you EVER say anything like that EVER AGAIN, I will NEVER drive with you again.” He shut his mouth and hasn’t done that again.

      One of the last times my parents were overtly racist in front of me was when they were saying something disparaging about “the Muslims” and “Arabs.” I straight up called them racist to their faces and told them to knock it off. They got upset and said that I couldn’t call them racist. So I told them that they should stop saying racist things if they don’t want to be called racist. They then pulled the, “our house, our rules!” nonsense and I told them that I would happily never visit again if that was the case. Since then, they have never pulled that card and rarely make racist comments.

      At this point, whenever they bring up some garbage like Fox News, the “war on Christmas,” etc., I just shut it down. I am confrontational by nature, which I got from them, so they know they will never win. (And at this point, they know I am like a needle-width away from never speaking to them again for this behavior and others.)

      My parents have made my sister their medical proxy and power of attorney because we fight so much. (It’s kinda funny because I’m a doc and guess who my sister is going to be asking for advice…) I will not tolerate their horrible behaviors anymore nor will I be complicit.

      I understand where you are going with your comment, but ultimately there is nothing you can do to change your family. My parents used to be great – my dad is a freaking immigrant (fortunately for him, a white, cis-gender, English-speaking man from an “acceptable” country)! We lived overseas! Do unto others! “People are people everywhere!” As they have aged, they have converted into Trump-supporting, Fox News watching assholes (add on finding God again in Catholicism for my mom). They are allowing their fear to turn them into small-minded -ism people. The most you can do is speak up so they know they do not have one ally.

      1. Specifically for the “war on Christmas” thing, if they’re from a denomination that observes Advent (which Catholicism is) you can point out that people are disrespecting the liturgical calendar by putting up Christmas decorations before it’s even Advent.

        (I know that’s nowhere near the biggest problem to be addressed here, but just adding to the collection of tools in this thread.)

        1. I love derailing War On Christmas rants by pointing out that the ranter is waging war on Advent. Oh, they don’t know what that is? Headshake, tch tch. “Oh, some churches just don’t know their own history.” Sigh.

          They never know what to do with that…

          1. I like to say, with a completely straight face, that I was raised in a faith tradition in which Advent is viewed as a time for optimistic but sober reflection, a time that calls on us to remember that the Christ Child was born into the humblest of circumstances, in a society where his people were oppressed by a decadent, worldly culture, and that his birth brought together the highest and the lowest in the manifestation of God’s infinite, unconditional love for all of humanity.
            All of that is true – I *was* raised in a church that taught that, so the fact that I don’t actually believe in God any more is a moot point. Whatever gets white Christians to shut up for ten minutes about there not being any reindeer on their Starbucks cups.

          2. I’m not Christian and never was, but have occasionally derailed with something like “I refuse to worship Mammon. Our lives shouldn’t be dedicated to how much money Visa/Macy’s/Amazon can squeeze out of us for things that nobody actually needs.”

            This is unlikely to *convince* anyone, but neither the “war on Christmas” types nor the less-hostile “but everyone should get Christmas presents” types want to be accused of worshiping one of the Big Bads of their religious training. I should try to come up with a version of this that does more to address the “but reindeer on my disposable paper coffee cup!” people.

          3. @whingedrinking: that is awesome and I will have to memorize it! (I was raised in a similar faith tradition, but left the church long enough ago that I can’t extemporize that sort of script any more.)

  11. It can make a difference when they know you disagree with them and will call them out on it.
    I am the blue sheep in my family, and more than once I have heard a bit of a conversation that stopped mid-sentence when I walked around the corner.

    1. Oh yes – I’ve been there too, with the ranting coming to a complete halt when they realize I’m within earshot. And I’m okay with that.

      No pro-Fox, no gay bashing, no tree-hugging complaints (especially since that is my field of work). My parents know my boundaries and that I will WALK AWAY and CAB TO THE AIRPORT if they don’t respect those boundaries.

  12. It super frustrates me that all the people who say *ist stuff are typically the first people to get offended if they perceive someone as being rude (much less OFFENSIVE!) to THEM.

    I’ve tried couching *ist call-outs with them being rude, with the hope that ‘rude’ doesn’t trigger their “that’s PC bullsht” knee jerk reaction.

    1. “You probably didn’t mean it this way, but that thing you said can sound pretty *ist” also works well with the sort of person who’s likely to go “I didn’t mean it like THAT” when called out. It gives them the opportunity to save face so they can apologize without feeling like they’re conceding anything about their internal character. (It only works with people who will take that out and then actually try to do better, of course.)

    2. Try “mean”–it speaks to other people’s feelings, where as “-ist” and even “rude” speak to arbitrary rules imposed by judgey outsiders.

      I think you don’t even need someone present to hear the meanness, for it to qualify as mean.

      1. That’s a good idea; sometimes just the choice of word can make people stop and think. Thanks!

        1. and it might be better than “mean,” just because it will make them less defensive.

      2. The ever-excellent Caitlin Moran goes with “That was…rude.”. Like, call people out for their prejudicies and isms and they can defend it as ‘political’ or ‘just my upbringing’ or ‘how it is’ and can find a point of argument regardless, but calling someone (in her context, especially a British person) ‘rude’ cuts all that out from under them. We don’t *care* about the politics or upbringing, you were just rude.

    3. Yes, use their standards and sensitivities against them! If they hates bad manners, call their *ism rude. If they thinks they’re progressive, call their *ism conservative. “Wow, it’s unlike you to be so _____” keeps the conversation about their attitude and behaviour.

  13. Cap’n, this came at a really well-timed moment for me. For my own sanity I have been taking a step back from right-wing-opinion-having family members, or certainly from arguing politics with them — though it has in some cases really just led to me spending less time with these folks, which is sad in its own way if understandable. But your story about your grandpa reminded me of my uncle. (Well, and also made me think with gratitude of his father, my grandpa, also a WWII vet and someone with whom I always enjoyed talking about the world.) My uncle sadly doesn’t have a thought in his head these days that Sean Hannity didn’t put there … but he still always wants to talk politics with me, and I realize that it is indeed because he cares what I think. I am reconsidering whether I should at least try to do something with that sometimes, even if it means frustrating and fruitless conversations. (In the past year in our extended family, unfortunately such conversations have led to one flat-out estrangement, so this isn’t a small consideration, but the stakes are sufficient that that may be worth the risk.)

    1. I read somewhere once that an adult child, who was mystified by the Foxification of his once-reasonable parents, was at their house for a visit. While they were out of the room, he put a parental block on that particular channel. They didn’t understand why they couldn’t access it anymore, had no idea how to undo it, and wouldn’t call their provider for help (whether they were too proud or it didn’t occur to them as a possibility, I don’t know Maybe they just thought their channel lineup had changed). A while later, without the daily dose of toxins, reasonableness returned.

      1. I noticed the same thing with my mother. After my father passed away she became close friends for a while with a horribly toxic long-term family friend who was a far-right-wing Fox News devotee. After a few months of hanging out with him she went from a fairly centrist person who didn’t follow politics and voted for both Democrats and Republicans, to a True Believer who picked fights and made all kinds of racist, sexist, classist, and paranoid comments while baking holiday cookies. Weirdly, though she didn’t usually care what I thought about things, she was desperate to get me to agree with her toxic attitudes. Fortunately for us (and everyone else she interacts with) she had a falling-out with that friend soon after, stopped watching Fox, and morphed into a vocal Hillary supporter by the next year.

        So yeah, I’ve seen firsthand how toxic and damaging Fox is, and how quickly someone can recover once they stop drinking the kool-aid!

        1. It’s amazing how quickly it can have an effect and how fast it fades.

          My mom’s main catalyst was her mother (my grandma) passing away when I was in high school. They had always fought and never reconciled, which is an obvious problem my mom has never dealt with. Around this time, she found religion (Catholic) and started to embrace ideas that pushed her over into right-wing stuff right when I was in college and really becoming more “left” (equal rights, pro-choice, why can’t we all love each other?, etc.).

          It wasn’t until my Grandpa had a stroke and moved in with my parents that they started to watch Fox News. I don’t think he really watched it prior to the stroke, but he was immobile and had to watch something, so that was the channel that dominated the house. My dad spends the most time with Grandpa by watching TV together (my mom does too but not as much – she does a lot of the cooking, etc.). We disagreed on a lot of things prior to Fox News, but this ongoing brainwashing is when I could see the most change. The things they say are almost always direct quotes from Fox News. And the way they argue (ignoring logic/facts, yelling over you, pouting when you disagree) has become exactly what they see on Fox.

          So I agree, watching Fox News is toxic and it can turn otherwise normal people into these Trump-supporters. I wish I could get them to stop (and I like the parental block idea below!).

      2. first time I’ve ever wished my parents were less tech savvy … sadly they not only would figure it out but would get great pleasure ranting about how ‘the liberals’ are blocking ‘the truth’ …. but it would be nice …

      3. This is genius, and might have a broader application…Someone must develop a method of hacking into people’s cable boxes and installing channel blocks remotely. If they could interfere in the election, surely hackers could accomplish the de-Foxification of the U.S.?

      4. “They didn’t understand why they couldn’t access it anymore, had no idea how to undo it, and wouldn’t call their provider for help (whether they were too proud or it didn’t occur to them as a possibility, I don’t know Maybe they just thought their channel lineup had changed”

        I want to believe they were too racist to call support because they were afraid it was an offshore call center. They stay blocked, a PoC doesn’t have to talk to them. Win-win!

      5. My parents used to have Fox on 24-7. I happened to be visiting during the Ebola crisis, and the talking heads on Fox were arguing about it developing airborne transmission and we need to block people coming to the U.S. from those countries, etc., etc. I blew my stack and said that they were fear mongering and trying to get people riled up because Ebola wasn’t going to suddenly develop airborne transmission. He said, in kind of a snotty tone, “Oh, and what makes you know that?” Big mistake, as I work in science. “Science! Saying Ebola could suddenly change its mode of transmission is like saying people could suddenly wake up with wings–IT’S NOT THAT SIMPLE.” Then I went into virus length, rate of mutation (Ebola’s is very low), and ended with saying that the AIDS virus mutates like crazy, which is why there’s no vaccine for it, so if ANY virus was going to become air borne, it would be HIV and that hasn’t happened in over 30 years. And if we really want to keep Ebola from coming here, we need to get over there and stop the epidemic. He mumbled some stuff, and then, miracle of miracles, someone from the CDC was being interviewed and said the exact same thing. The Fox hosts kept trying to go back to Air borne! Travel bans! and the CDC guy was shooting them down right and left. He also said that the way to keep Ebola from spreading around the world was to stop it where it was, not prevent people from traveling. There was very little Fox news on in my dad’s house after that. And his sanity returned.

  14. THIS! How timely and relevant. My adopted-sister tried to fix my Mom up with a nice man who was looking for a friend/companion and possible a romantic partner… and as adopto-sis described him, and talked about how he was a doctor, wealthy, a widower, had grown kids… but as SOON as sister went through his heroic tale of moving to Canada… you could SEE her eyes dart and shift and she attempted to ask “polite” questions about his culture and heritage. As soon as Mom found out where he was from, she was immediately disinterested, and tried to change the subject. Adopted-sister pressed for an explanation as to WHY, when she was clearly interested before she found out which country he was born in. Sister kept pressing, because sister just didn’t get it. Mom started stammering, and then the racist slurs came out in rapid succession under he breath, and asked for us to “drop it.” Our table was instantly sooooo silent and awkward… for far too long. They both stared at me imploringly, and I just enjoyed the awkwardness for what it was… sister saw a little bit of who our Mom really is… and my Mom sat uncomfortably in her privilege-shame. Happy Birthday Mom. You got served a slice of humble-pie for your birthday.

    So many awesome scripts in this post, and one of the more excellent posts if I do say so myself! I appreciate the disclaimer as we all work together to check ourselves. Excellent advice, and more importantly – excellent question!

  15. Timely and relevant for me, too. My Trump loving parents are coming to visit and stay with us (what was I thinking…) in about a month and I’m already on high alert for them to say shitty racist things around my child/my friends. I’m sorry so many of us have similarly ideologically situated family members, but it’s nice not to be alone in this one.

    1. Oh, I meant to say: I tried the “You raised me to be a feminist and to question authority” response early on when my mom and I were arguing about whether Trump was good for women (ahhhhhhhhhhhscreamingintothevoidforever) and got, “And I’m sorry I did!” So yeah. Good times.

      1. Good response for “And I’m sorry I did!” is “Well, I’m not, and you did, so *cut it out*.”

      2. I got that as well! And comments about how much they did wrong raising me as I was their first and they were too poor to send me to good schools so that awful public school system brainwashed me.

        Amazingly we don’t talk anymore.

        When they did last visit we actually had a decent enough time. DH and I don’t have a TV (if you do it can always ‘have problems’ during that week) so they were cutoff from their news intake and I simply couldn’t get off of work the full length of their visit so there were a couple days in the middle that gave me a respite.

        It was still incredibly stressful so you have my full sympathies.

  16. When marriage equality happened in my state, I was joyfully squeeing with friends – and my father wrote:

    “I must have been a terrible parent, for you to think this isn’t wrong.”

    Yeah. On a public post, where most of the people reading are not cishet folks.

    I walked away, took several deep breaths, and replied that he hadn’t been a terrible parent, as he’d taught me that other people were worthy of respect, that their lives were as real as my own, and that while we had our own religious beliefs, we respected everyone else’s right to make different choices. That said, the man who raised me would not have written homophobic things in a public forum, and there wasn’t going to be any more of that going forward.

    When he tried to double down, he got a polite “No, you have your own space if you’re determined to continue this” and I deleted it and blocked him – temporarily – when he wouldn’t step back.

    In the course of the following private conversation, he learned that even though I hadn’t attended services in years, I’d resigned my religious membership specifically because of its homophobic attitudes, and what he’d taught me about being known by the company one kept; that I loved him, and I wouldn’t tacitly condone what he said by leaving it unchallenged – he’d taught me about that, too.

    This did not lead to puppies and rainbows. It was a very difficult talk; family dynamics don’t have protocol for calling things out, and he had never made the mental switch from “child who defers” to “fellow adult whose good opinion is influenced by behaviour”. BUT it has caused shockwaves through the rest of the family: arguments are not automatically the End of Everything!

  17. “Thanka for noticing/bless your heart”


    I LOVE this line

    My story is just a variation on the theme of both the LW and your gramps except with the horrifying extra layer of WTF that my dad is both Muslim and came to this country as a war refugee in his youth and yet he somehow still believes the right wing miasma of bullshit. Because he's super special and not like other refugees or other muslims and of course the literal fascists and nazis will treat him better than anyone else who shares his color and religion because magical fucking thinking. Anyway, I've always tried fighting the battle to change his heart and mind in private but after reading this I am gonna try switching gears to the strategy you gave LW.

    1. Because he’s super special and not like other refugees… and of course the literal fascists and nazis will treat him better than anyone else who shares his color and… because magical fucking thinking

      I see my estranged father has more family out there. It’s not the only reason we’re estranged but it certainly is a contributing factor.

      1. I am legitimately amazed that there can be three such adult men in this world like this, because this is ALSO my father, and we’re more estranged than he realizes.

        1. The only reason we’re not all the way estranged is because I found the children of narcissists boards shortly after leaving for college and learned to grey-rock the fuck out of them back when that strategy was known as medium-chill.

    2. Yep, my most strident bigoted relative is my dad. And he’s racist against people like him without acknowledging his own ethnicity. It is most bizarre and sad.

      I definitely challenge him whenever he says racist or misogynist or whatever stuff. He doesn’t say much anymore because he does want me to visit. Also, I make sure groceries are delivered to his place regularly, so in some ways, he’s become my dependent, and he doesn’t want to cause me to cut ties.

      I encourage him to reminisce and share stories of his youth rather than talking about current events. That’s usually a good topic change.

    3. Is your dad my dad, Saira? UGHHHH. He voted for Bush post-9/11! Later, he made “jokes” about how Obama was a secret Muslim and that if we were elected, the White House would become “the Brown House.”

      My response? “Bet your white Republican friends say that about you behind your back, eh, Dad?”

      He shut the hell up with that crap after that.

      1. “Bet your white Republican friends say that about you behind your back, eh, Dad?”

        OMG that is the most perfect response ever. I’m stealing that for the next phone call with dad

    4. Because he’s super special and not like other refugees or other muslims and of course the literal fascists and nazis will treat him better than anyone else who shares his color and religion because magical fucking thinking.

      I once lost my temper at someone like this and snapped, “How’s that working out for you, Serena Joy?” but it was before the Handmaid’s Tale was televised so I don’t think they got it.

  18. I use, verbatim, the scripts my parents used to correct me when I was a child.

    Relative: [Says inappropriate thing]
    Me: *gasp* “What inappropriate language. You know better. I am leaving this [room, table, house] while you think about what you said. And we won’t be able to have any more fun together until you’ve apologized. If you need help figuring out why you shouldn’t say that word, I’m happy to help, but you need to ask me nicely.”

    … And then you have to leave. It may not change their world view and they may not actually apologize, but they’ll think twice before trying anything at Thanksgiving because they KNOW you will get up and leave.

    1. Be the Designated Adult. I have also had much success with this approach. I use the exact same scolding tone, and repeat all her favorite phrases, the same way she did to me when I was a child:

      “You are allowed to be angry, but you are NOT allowed to act ugly to other people because you are angry!”

      “[First and Middle name]! No Ma’am!! We do NOT use that word in this household.”

      “Pretty is as pretty does, and you’re acting pretty ugly right now.”

      “Hey, Mrs. Bossy Britches, you just worry about your self.”

      “You can get glad in the same pants you got mad in.”

      “Young lady, you need a mouth-full of soap!”

      “Their life isn’t any of your business.”

      “Because I said so, that’s why.”

      “I dare you to test me on this.”

      “Not another word.”

      My own kids are in the 20-25 year age range right now, and I’m noticing how many of their friends are struggling with parents who are just not taking that step from seeing them as “children I have power over” to recognizing them as “fellow adult,” and likewise see their criticisms as “whiny teenaged angst carryover” rather than “shaming from a peer.” The jolt of addressing a parent by their given name as a response to their bad behavior, scolding them just like a parent would a child, seems to work especially well for breaking that mental barrier down. Don’t let them have the authority of Mother or Father when they’re behaving in deplorable ways; don’t offer the presumed endearment that belongs to the titles of Mom or Dad. Remove the more respectful forms of address to make it clear to them that their status in your eyes can easily be demoted to equal their behavior.

      1. Ooohhh I am SO going to use the first name-middle name approach next time I have to do this!

      2. OMG – I definitely have to try this with my Dad. I’m his youngest child, and he still acts like I’m 16, complete with hoping that I’ll grow out of my youthful naivete and idealism. I’m 49. He’s also very susceptible to authoritative women, since his mother was one of the most naturally dominant women I’ve ever seen.

        He developed Fox Geezer Syndrome years back when Mom started watching Fox (paranoid schizophrenia and Fox are a terrible, terrible mix). He’s mellowed a little since she moved into assisted living without him, but still doesn’t question his basic assumptions about how the world works. If he weren’t tech savvy, I’d be very tempted to try the parental blocker of Fox on him.

  19. There is a Saki story in which a character laments that his family reads his mail and nothing he does can make them stop. Another character chimes in that clearly he hasn’t tried hard enough– if he threw himself on the dining room table and wailed like a baby every time he found an opened envelope, they’d stop. It’s a favorite bit of mine because it reminds me that I could always escalate.

    1. Good old Saki. I still fondly remember how one of my favorite parts of getting a new English-lit textbook was finding the Saki story.

  20. My mom remarried when I was in my 20s. They were together for 20 years. It was an abusive relationship, and the ugliness became louder, more frequent, and more dysfunctional as the years went by. I remember the first holiday I spent with them as a couple. My mom asked me to decorate the tree while they ran an errand, and when they came back, he made a jerk comment. I was having none of that and prepared to be done and walk away. My mom pleaded with me to just let it go. I did. Big mistake. Spent most of those years on visits trapped while they wrangled in public because we’d traveled together to the restaurant, trapped in the house filled with screaming and slamming doors. I talked to them individually more than once about this, but both could not get beyond blaming the other, My visits became rarer and shorter; I started staying the weekend only if I could stay in a tent or someplace else not their house; I had an exit strategy from public venues during visits. But I did not speak up publicly at any point in the midst of a brawl to tell them to knock it off, or that it wasn’t okay to behave this way/say those things.

    The longer you go on NOT speaking up, the harder it is to start. But it is worth doing and usually gets easier with practice. Learn to advocate for yourself in the moment. Or advocate for someone else, if that’s an easier starting point. Baby steps are okay. Mistakes are okay. Pay attention to what other people do to interrupt or prevent someone being terrible and learn from those examples. Even if you’ve always just wilted silently with embarrassment, it is possible to respond differently moving forward.

  21. Humour can be effective, too. A funny comment can cut through that crap and make the sales persons experience so much better. Its very hard to keep being an asshole by the side of a lighthearted companion. With the card, just a laugh to the cashier and oh computers are so funny! The card works right?! Hahahaha oh the computer isn’t as smart as you mom! I’m not suggesting that with the passer by stuff. But transactions yeah. Subversion in humour can be fun.

  22. I just want to say, as a former congressional intern and legislative staffer in former State, I just want to tell you: THANK YOU for emailing back to refute Grandpa Oscar! You have no idea. YOU HAVE NO IDEA.

    And yes, I absolutely would have kept a binder of that! To make my cold, hard, awful slog through the worst of the rancid subconscious of humanity that is spewed toward legislators on the reg who are supposed to Do Something About It, just slightly less cold, awful, and rancid.

    Thank you.

  23. I’m going to be visiting my parents in 24 hours and this article was exactly what I needed to read (mostly because of my father; my mother has her flaws but her opinions on politics are sound). I’ve been biting my tongue about my dad’s bizarre classism (he grew up poor! why does he have so little empathy now!) and atrocious views about police brutality for a long time, mostly because I get incoherent and angry when I try to argue with him and I worry that that undermines my point. But the only thing that’ll make it easier is practice, and I have to believe that he isn’t a lost cause.

    1. SERIOUSLY!?! How does that happen? How did my dad go from poor kid and then 60s-70s hippie to NRA republican guy? I don’t get it.

      My dad. Your dad. All (most) the dads in their generation apparently.

        1. I think it’s more than that, though that is a huge part. Many people, if exposed to that kind of media, will simply turn it off or find some way to tune it out or drown it out.

          But people in certain states of vulnerability may listen instead when they normally wouldn’t. And aging and the changes and fears that go with it produce the right kind of vulnerability. The best targets of that type are aging white men — their world has been their oyster all their lives and they have been accustomed to deference and ordering people around. Old age hits, they have no one to order around anymore, no one to supply them with enforced deference, AND they have all the normal fears of aging and decrepitude on top of that to contend with. They feel powerless, and never having learned to cope with that (because they didn’t have to), they seize on the handiest thing that makes them feel powerful instead of powerless — and a rage high, lots of anger, makes the person feel very powerful indeed.

          So they can get addicted to that feeling quite quickly, and act very much like an addict if challenged on their use of their drug of choice.

          What’s more, more and more parents of young children are willing to protect their children from toxic grandparents. More and more parents of young children are refusing the idea that their children are dolls to be used as adults see fit, including embittered grandparents wanting to use them as therapy dolls of various sorts. We’ve got a hell of a lot of people of grandparent age who still think that the younger generations exist to serve what the elders want, and an increasing population of parents who are refusing that narrative and insisting their children are people, not sub-human chattel. Which means we’ve got a whole lot of people out there who think they did everything they were supposed to do in order to earn permanent subordinates to boss around down the generations, only to have the generations up and leave that toxic hell. Such people also make good targets for the kind of media we’re talking about, no matter their previous beliefs.

      1. My (white) dad was born during the depression, grew up during WWII, fought in the Korean War, voted Republican during my entire childhood, and is now living in a retirement community. He dropped by for a visit today and ended up telling me how frustrated he is by the two Trump supporters in his group of friends. This is just to tell you that there is hope. My Republican-all-his-life Dad is now a progressive Democrat who supports Medicare for all, supports the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and spends time every week mentoring poor kids who attend the local STEM magnet school.

        1. You could be describing mine except for the ending attitudes — mine is meaner and more bigoted than ever.

          And that underlines the critical point — there is a choice there. Fox News and mean, angry talk radio can brainwash people, but most of those people have the power to change the channel or turn it off or put in headphones or earplugs or otherwise not listen. It’s those who do choose to listen who get brainwashed.

          Some years ago I started an effort to remove exposure to advertising (which can include ads for meanie media outlets) from my life. There are a few remaining things where I allow ads, such as on small indie sites. But on most things, I either pay for an ad-free version, or I simply do without that resource. It’s…very peaceful. Now when I’m exposed to advertising, like hotel cable when on business travel, I find myself wondering how anyone can tolerate how obviously the channels are each geared around providing the least-effort filler with the lowest content that they can get away with and still deliver eyeballs for all the advertising.

          You know how the Captain says it’s worth giving yourself the gift of consuming media only by women for six months? Try the 6 months of no advertising, if you’re able, or at least as little as you can. You likely won’t ever want to go back.

    2. If it’s any help, his bizarre and atrocious views are *meant* to make you incoherent and angry, so part of disrupting this pattern in your family can come from engaging objectively with what he’s saying rather than losing yourself in the intended emotional response. When you have the capacity, maybe try asking “What makes you say that?” over and over again until he actually admits something you can both work with?

      1. That’s a good idea, yeah – slowing the conversation down and getting him to explain *his* side rather than trying to get my side out as fast as I can physically manage. That would probably also help combat his sense that I’m ~young and don’t know what I’m talking about, to be honest.

        1. If you really want to stop the conversation, laugh in his face after he says something egregiously wrong and bad and absurd, and follow up with a simple statement of the facts. It doesn’t feel good to do – every time I’ve done it it’s been a bitter angry laugh that comes from somewhere deep inside that I don’t want to be, and feels a little like giving up to let out. BUT, every time I’ve done it the person I’m arguing with, typically but not always my dad, stops short at the laugh and doesn’t continue to go on about how, for example, the current president is not a racist or corporations were overtaxed in the US before the GOP tax scam passed (even though 15 seconds earlier he’d been on about how both parties are equally bought – by whom? Oh right, corporations & the people that own them)

          The reason that is feels like giving up is that you have to concede that you’re not going to convince them by getting your side out. Not with all the speed in the world, not with the most perfectly flawless argument ever conceived. They want to believe the things they believe. But, since they care about you, seeing your utter disregard for what they just said is a bucket of cold water on saying those things. Arguing with them, at least for my dad, activates their feeling that they still need to educate you. You’re young, you just have your facts wrong, once you see this or understand that, you’ll come around. I’ve been hearing that for well onto fifteen years now, he refuses to hear that I actually have different values than him, or any of the facts that contradict what he thinks. But when I laugh in face, it stops the attempts at “education”, which is sometimes a victory. Hopefully for you there’s a teachable moment there too.

          Solidarity and Jedi hugs.

  24. This reminded me of how my brother recently told me “everyone in the family is afraid of you” with regard to my feminism and general willingness to call out people’s bullshit even if they are a blood relation.

    I looked him dead in the eye and I was like GOOD, I CULTIVATE THAT.

    This is not to be like “oh Jiggs, what a hero of the people”, but to let you know that it’s *okay* to let your relatives have all their feelings about who you are and what you stand for. And you can still have relationships with them! In fact, those relationships will often be better because you’re not constantly swallowing piles of incoherent rage and embarrassment. (They will certainly be better FOR YOU, and we are all Team You.)

    Let them live in being afraid to offend you.

    Let them live in being mad that you challenge them.

    Let them live in the discomfort of being called out.

    In the words of CA, if that’s what’s happening, you’ve successfully returned the awkward to sender. Mission accomplished.

    1. ^ This is truth and pure freaking gold.

      My mom recently told me that my father was afraid of me — my response to her was that I’d been afraid of him for eighteen years, and I didn’t have a problem with the tables being turned.

      1. *takes notes from Jiggs and Virtue*

        “Good… I… cultivate… that… let them… live… in discomfort…”

        *clicks pencil a couple more times*

        “I had to be… afraid of him… umpteen years… he can… suck it up… buttercup”

    2. This is me with my in-laws. The nice thing is that because they are *so* sensitive to other people’s opinions and ‘Preserving Niceties’ that I barely had to lift an eyebrow before they started self-editing very carefully in front of the Mouthy Elitist Socialist SJW Spoilsport that their (lesbian, genderqueer) daughter had the nerve to marry. It has had the knock-on effect of making them much more careful of what they say around my wife too, which makes her life much better because historically they would bait her endlessly ‘for fun’ with vicious ‘-ist’ comments of all kinds.

      This post is very timely for me as well because we are waiting on what I suspect will be a terminal diagnosis for my father-in-law, and given that we now live on the other side of the world, travelling to see them means long stays with family members (we can’t afford to pay for a hotel and we know anyone in that area who isn’t a family member). My wife will be going back for an extended visit soon, and I will go at Christmas and/or for his funeral. Having to spend a lot of time with them where there’s little opportunity for escape and everyone is stressed and hurting is a recipe for disaster. Having these phrases in our pockets will be very useful.

      I really wish humans were better at being humane.

    3. Reading this I could almost hear a little click of something sliding back into place.
      I’m this person in my family and they always spin it as being my problem. I know that sometimes it really is – I need to learn how to disengage when they do small things that personally annoy me, instead of getting into an argument. But many other times, my father would say something really patronizing (like calling women of all ages “darling”, even total strangers and even after I told him how it feels to be on the other side of this dynamic) or more rarely just racist and stupid things, and when I call him out I’m blamed for creating drama/being sensitive/controlling/whatever. He also loves to explain my emotions to me instead of addressing the point (dadsplaining should be a word!) My mom doesn’t make these comments herself but she sides with my dad most of the time and says he’s afraid of me. Your comment made me feel better about being the troublemaker, so thank you!

      1. He’s not afraid of you. That’s a stupid and manipulative lie on her part. If he were afraid of you, he’d be avoiding you and he’d stop saying those things in your presence.

        Your mother is invoking an old canard that there is no difference between a woman who is not a complete doormat and a woman who is an ax murderer. The slightest trace of spine is equated to being a terrifying danger to life and limb. It’s supposed to make you shameful and compliant. Don’t let it. Toss it right back at her — “Don’t be so silly. I’m not going to listen to that kind of fake drama,” and hang up or end the visit.

    4. I discovered that my extended family now gives me the kind of deference that I before thought they only gave to old racist uncles. The “it’s not worth arguing with her” kind of deference. I wasn’t embarrassed, I was elated*. It meant that Fox news was turned off when I walked into the room. I meant that I didn’t deal with slurs around religion, race, or gender. It was magical.

      *After a bit. At first, I thought “Wow, maybe my family turned off Fox on their own. Maybe they’re realizing how damaging their beliefs have been. Then I found out from my sister, nope- still as terrible as ever, they just decided not to do it in front of me. There were family conversations. I was sad that it wasn’t the win state, but I’ll take the draw state. My poor sister stuck extremely close to me so she didn’t have to hear it, haven’t not yet reached the “not worth arguing about it” state yet.

  25. Recent conversation with my mom.
    Mom: blah blah blah pacific island i just visited was disovered…
    Me: Mom it wasn’t discovered then, the Native people knew it was there
    Mom: I mean when it was settled
    Me: Again mom, there were already Native people living there
    Mom: I mean when it was drawn on maps
    me: Archaeologists and anthropologists have some amazing maps drawn by Pacific Islanders that go back thousands of years
    Mom: OKAY FINE I MEAN WHEN WHITE EUROPEANS FIRST GOT THERE. Why won’t you leave me alone?
    Me: All the words we use to talk about history and frame historical discussions tend to be super racist, huh?

    Dad, 2 hours later on the phone: What did you say to your mother? She’s been ranting all day about you

    And then a week later I tried super hard to explain to my dad that bisexuality is not the same thing as polyamory.

    I find I keep my sanity by a constant string of texts to my sister.

    Go forth friends – and keep fighting the good fight!

    1. “I find I keep my sanity by a constant string of texts to my sister.”

      …you too, huh?

    2. My mom is an interesting mix of really liberal politics and a few jarring unexamined prejudices, and we had quite the go-round a few years ago along these lines. She attended nursing school in the 1960s adjacent to the University of Vermont campus … where every year the (all-white) fraternities would throw a big annual BLACKFACE COMPETITION. I hadn’t been aware of this history, and when I read about it and asked in fascinated horror if she remembered it, she enthusiastically said oh yes, that was so fun! Boy, did we get into it. I didn’t want to let it go because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and I wanted her to fully understand how very much this did NOT jibe with her strong self-image as a proud Woodstock-era social justice warrior etc. (She kept saying “but it was celebrating Southern heritage!” which shows you how dangerous can be our Northern mix of unearned superiority complex and ignorance about matters of institutional racism.) The encouraging thing was that the argument eventually bore fruit — I just had to wait a little while for it to sink in. She raised the issue again more recently and basically said wow, it’s hard to give up nostalgic good feelings but we were so uneducated about what that was really about, weren’t we?

      1. Wow! that’s..that’s really amazing. I mean we’re still dealing with it with certain mascots etc. I had a mini version of that recently. I have these pictures of me and my sister dressed up for Halloween when we were really young. I love the picture because my grandma made the costumes and my sister’s lopsided grin and me sticking my tongue out…I showed it to some people out of nostalgia and all they could see was…wow…you actually wore native american costumes!?! The most perfect early example of cultural appropriation of my childhood. I had to take a minute to let that sink in…the blind spot there was pretty big for me.

        Glad you put in the effort and your mom let it sink in.

        1. Yep. The community where I live now (right outside Burlington, VT) has been convulsed with rage the past two years over a decision to change our high school mascot from “Rebels” to something that a)is rightfully inclusive of an increasingly diverse student body and b)you know, DOESN’T HONOR THE FREAKING CONFEDERACY, BECAUSE OUR STATE FOUGHT FOR THE UNION, FFS.

          1. Our high school’s mascot was also the Rebels. It was changed last year to the Grizzlies.

            Despite the high school’s population being almost entirely liberal POC, and the high school being located in the middle of the San Francisco Bay Area, people fought the change of mascots.

            And it was weird, because I taught in the middle school that fed into the high school, and every year I’d be teaching Civil War history and would go into the Rebel mascot at the high school they were going to. The majority of my students were young SJWs and they’d be appalled at the mascot. They’d want it gone. Four years later, they’re graduating from high school and the *last* thing they want is for the mascot to change. And I’d be all, “I know the social studies teachers who taught you at that high school. They didn’t do this. What happened??”

  26. Thanks for this post. It’s timely. My own parents (both mild to moderate narcissists) absolutely do not care what I think or feel, which is one reason why we don’t/rarely speak. But I am in this sort of predicament with my in-laws.

    Just endured a nauseating lunch with them last weekend, with FIL in full gross “flirt/condescend at the server” mode. UGH. I should have said something. I didn’t. I’m sorry. Next time. In-law stuff feels so difficult/fraught and I’m really scared, but that’s no excuse.

    1. With in-laws, your partner is a very obvious and necessary support source. Barring extraordinary circumstances, they should be the one to do the heavy lifting here.

    2. Oh, gross, my dad does that too – not quite flirts but smiles and make cheeky conversation with waiters or cashiers who are women my age and clearly have to smile back as part of their job contract. I have no idea how to make him stop without making it sound like I think he’d actually cheat on my mom (which, never, and ew, do not want to have that conversation). Do you have any tips?

      1. Eew. My dad does this. And I have realized that he has not dated since the 1940s. So that’s the only way he knows to relate to waitresses!

        1. Yeah. Something about the power dynamic – she has to smile back and put up with his…what? How would you describe it?

          Dad, you’re being kind of cheeky with that server. I know she smiles back but that’s her job. My (imaginary) friend told me it makes her uncomfortable when people do that to her, and I’m wondering if this person is feeling the same way, and I wish you would be more like you normally act around people.”

          What are you saying? I would never cheat on your mother!

          What? I didn’t say anything about that. I’m talking about your behavior making me uncomfortable and possibly making the server uncomfortable too. Since we are the ones with more power here as she’s depending on our tip, I’d like to act as good stewards of where we are in the power dynamic right here.

          1. I have a very awkward friend who was saying some gross stuff about high school waitresses in a diner and jokingly making lewd gestures. And I lost it. “What do you think her dad would think of what you’re saying right now? What do you think SHE would think of what you’re saying right now? She’d probably think you were creepy and gross along with any other woman who heard you. And her dad would probably beat the shit out of you. And the jury would likely think you had it coming. It’s not cute. It’s not funny. It’s just fucked up and gross.”

            I think that could work on a lot of men. “Dad – I know you think your cheeky, flirty behavior is harmless but it makes you look like a common lech – you’re not on an episode of Mad Men so it’s time to treat female waitstaff the same way you’d treat male waitstaff. She will appreciate the show of common courtesy – promise.”

          2. “I’d like to act as good stewards of where we are in the power dynamic right here.”

            I’m putting that in my back pocket right next to “We don’t make of comments here”. It’s such beautiful mannerly language for “stop being an a-hole!”

      2. Pointing out the similarities between the women and yourself might be the best way to go.

        “Gross, dad! What would you think if someone said that to me?”

        “If I was her, I’d be so uncomfortable right now. You can’t say that.”

        1. Oh, that last one could work. Dad never says something overtly flirty, he calls it all “friendly conversation”, and maybe he honestly thinks that. Maybe I could try “She looked bored out of her mind and obviously didn’t want to have to force another smile because her job said so” ? Dad’s never worked in retail, he may have no idea. I hope.

          1. Or you could try echoing those things right back at him with the same icky smile, and seeing whether he still thinks it sounds/looks “friendly.”

        2. Or point out that she is smiling and acting exactly the same way to all the customers?
          “Dad, being nice to you is literally her job. See, she’s doing the same with that next table”

  27. The Captain is right. Our parents (most of them) want our good opinion. I wouldn’t have phrased it like that in my early 20’s, or even really known I had that power. But I did go to war with my mom over her practices in tipping at restaurants. And to my great surprise some years later, I won.

    I was waiting tables to survive post-high school and pre-college, and increasingly disgusted by the poverty wages and real struggles of myself and my peers. Then I’d go out to eat with my mom and she’d leave a tip of $2-3 on a $50 meal for the two of us. I was aghast.

    I’d ask her if the waitress was me, did she think I could live off of that?

    I’d ask her if she realized that by tipping down, she was actually taking money *out of the pocket* of her server? Because a table would have been sat there who would have tipped accurately.

    Rather than argue with her, I started taking my hard-earned tip money out of my pocket and placing it on the table so that my fellow server would be adequately tipped. She’d get angry and tell me to put my money away. I’d say, then tip adequately.

    She’d say I was embarrassing her by trying to one-up her and leave money. I’d say it was embarrassing me to go to dinner and feel powerless while watching someone not make the money they needed to pay the rent.

    I’d explain how to tip, using the mental math she’d taught me in 6th grade for calculating sale prices for clothes on the sales rack. Take 10% and double it, that’s a 20% tip. I didn’t let her tell me she couldn’t do the math (and she was an accountant, she could do the math).

    Finally. Finally. Finally, she began adequately tipping. She’d actually check her math with me to make sure I approved, and that it was alright.

    I moved away in my mid 20’s, lived on my own for years, and some time later mom and I went out to dinner. I must have been in my early 30’s, but she turned to me at the end of dinner and asked me if her tip was alright or if she should tip more. It had become a permanent ethical concern for her.

    It kind of broke my heart actually. Because of the fights we used to have, not because she was tipping correctly. I was proud of her for that. But I apologized to her for fighting with her about it the way I did at one time (I was mean about it sometimes, I did not always have the moral high ground).

    And she told me no, I had been right. She needed to tip better and she needed someone who had been in the trenches to tell her that. I love my mom and I’m proud of her.

    Our parents care what we think. My mom wanted my good opinion. And while not all parents will care enough for it to actually change their behavior and politics permanently, it is enough at first that it changes while we’re around. It’s a start.

  28. My mom had a phrase when we misbehaved, that was sheer gold as far as I’m concerned: “I’m surprised at you.”

    It’s a colloquialism, so it sounds best in a Southern lilt, but when I heard “Why honey, I’m surprised at you!” I knew I had done something bad. But I also knew *I* was not bad, because she did not expect it of me. I was acting out of character, and she was recalling me to my better self.

    Now, of course it’s not literally true that you are surprised when your folks act this way. You do expect it. But I imagine it was no surprise to my mom that I misbehaved sometimes, either. She was an intelligent woman and had reasonable expectations of small children.

    It could be a useful shorthand if you’re intervening with your folks. “Dad! I’m surprised at you! That wasn’t a kind thing to say.”

  29. My mom and brother are Southern Baptist Supremacist types … racist and bigoted in every way, and they cherry-pick scripture to bludgeon others. [I have been a happy heathern for decades now. And yes, it’s pronounced with an ‘r’.] So I like to “out-church” them. Like this:

    Mom: racist hateful racist words

    Me: “I can see that [racist attitude] is a real stumbling block to your Christianity, and since God calls on us to love everyone as ourselves — should we pray on it together?” [starts praying]

    Brother: hateful hateful hateful hateful words words vomit

    Me: “If somebody who didn’t know what a good Christian you are heard you right now, they’d think you need Jesus. Myself, I like to follow how Jesus did, and He said to love your neighbor as yourself, you know, like with the good Samaritan story? Let’s pray on it.”

    OR — In the case of bigotry disguised as “But we would accept them if they woudl just accept Jesus!!!!111!!!!!” —-

    “Well, I don’t know about that but I like to follow the Bible, and the Bible doesn’t call on me to judge, just to love, you know, the verse that says “Judge not lest ye be judged?”


    **************************** THEY HATE THIS *************** Because they either have to acknowledge their bigotry OR their lack of Christian-ordained love and charity for their neighbors (which explicitly includes strangers, those in distress, refugees, prisoners, the sick, the poor, the orphaned, etc.)

    And what “good Christian” is going to turn down an opportunity for someone to pray with them (or for them)?

    BONUS: (because I’m kind of an asshole and I don’t mind making a scene)

    Sometimes, in public, I use the script and then just “lay hands on” and start praying out loud, for forgiveness, for patience, for God’s divine guidance, for the demons to be gone, whatever.

    This has proven highly effective in my family. They live in a very Southern Baptist fundamentalist small town. YMMV.

    1. I AM DYING. This is incredible. I am going to add “I like to follow the Bible” to my list of phrases to employ with a few people I know.

    2. I’m gonna start praying for my family when they say awful things. I can see it now, in my perfected Southern drawl: “Lord, reveal unto my loved ones your Word and take away the seeds of ignorance and hatred that Satan has sown in their hearts, AMEN”

      …and when they point out that I left the church over a decade ago and started practicing witchcraft, then I can just say: “Then how come I’m acting like a better Christian than you?”

    3. I used to have fun with the local baptists many years ago when I would point out the hypocrisy of their homophobia by innocently asking them ‘didn’t god create everything on this earth?’ And ‘so if that’s the case, obviously he created gay people too so why would you hate one of god’s creations?’ Etc etc.

  30. The first time you say anything or confront, you will likely “overreact”, then next time you will “underreact”, then overreact but not as much, then underreact but not as much, repeat ad nauseam. Eventually your reaction will attenuate to what is normal and acceptable to you. Just don’t get discouraged when the first intervention goes poorly – keep on slogging until you get to the sweet spot.

  31. As a WOC and a public service employee who gets regularly and undeservedly berated by members of the public, I have to disagree with the advice that it’s the LW’s responsibility to step in when her parents are behaving badly in public. That advice is great for people who have the aptitude or interest in doing that, or they have the kind of relationship with their parents where that kind of interaction will be heeded or taken without undue stress, but I don’t think it’s an adult child’s responsibility to keep their parents in line when their parents are interacting with strangers.

    I’ve been the target of undeserved contempt from people more times than I can count, and I don’t know that having a person’s son or daughter step in for me would have made it any better. I’ve had situations where the son or daughter made things worse by stepping in, teasing or belittling the parent and trying to make them look stupid. From the person on the other side of the desk or counter, it’s not something they would necessarily want or appreciate.

    If the LW felt the need or desire to discuss it later, or even soon after on the way home or something, that might make a difference to the parent’s behavior while leaving the service employee out of it. I understand the desire to help out when you can, but sometimes being an ally is knowing when to not get involved.

    Also, I wouldn’t understate how painful it can be to create new norms and behavior expectations from our parents in efforts to be an ally to the targets of our parents’ abusive behavior. If the LW or anyone else wants to take on that work, I applaud them and wish them luck. And if they choose not to, I don’t blame them.

    1. Thanks for this. We have to keep in mind that white people who publicly lose face can become violent, and their kid isn’t gonna be the first one in the line of fire.

      Stepping in in that moment may not be a good idea or work for a lot of reasons (though I think the adult child doing what they can to get the offending parent AWAY – even if it means distracting them like a toddler- can help, like, “Mom, why don’t you go grab the car, I’ll handle this mixup with the card!”), but I think that saying something – even if it is on the ride home, or saying “I can’t go places with you if you act that way” over time – can be better than leaving it totally unaddressed.

  32. My mother has been known to comment unfavorably to me about people who are fatter than she likes and/or wear tight clothes. She makes sure they don’t hear it, but I am appalled that anyone in this family would talk like that. I more or less pointedly pointed out that it’s good to see folks wear a lot of different things, adding variety to the world, and being okay with their bodies which not all of us can manage to do, and that some like tight clothes just like we like loose ones, and that shut her up. (For the record, neither she nor I are paragons of slimness.) She has also occasionally made disparaging blanket statements about men, and so far I’ve been able to head that off at the pass too. But I could always use some more ammo.
    Once many years back someone came and told me that some others had been saying bad things about me, and I said I had never heard anything of the sort and she said “Well, they are afraid to say it to you,” and I said “Maybe there’s a good reason for that.”
    Now I have to deal with someone at a weekly brunch who gets into this mode of going on and on and on, taking a half hour to impart maybe 5 minutes worth of information, and occasionally slips into totally off the wall bigotry, and since no one challenges him I have acquired some skill at high-speed, midstream subject changes. But I still have a bossy, snarky cousin who needs to be reined in, and that’s going to take some work.

  33. One of the few good things I can say about my father’s bigotry and ugliness is that he rarely airs that shit in public. He’ll say awful shit about how dare a “negro” come into his regular pub in private, but he almost never says it where people can hear. And he’s always polite to customer service people.

    One thing we have, as a family, managed to teach him is to shut up when we say shut up. We have to actually use those words, we can’t ask him to not say that, or use anything more polite, but he shuts up when told. He gives the oddest little startled look every time, too.

  34. Ditto all of the Captain’s advice as always.

    My favorite customer service asshole story is this: during one of those prime rushed off your feet the place is crawling with customers and you’re an hour behind everything, an old white beardy Santa type dude ripped me to shreds verbally for how long he had to wait with some nasty insinuations about race and gender. I apologized sincerely even while I fumed, even while noticing that I had moved my people through as fast as I could and how was it my fault he wasn’t one of mine? But I needed that job and I couldn’t keep it if I mouthed off, right or not, at a customer so I kept my trap shut. Nearly an hour later, he crept back in the side door, abashed and downcast, sincerely apologizing for his atrocious behavior. Apparently his Very Proper wife waited til they got out of doors and she BLASTED him so good, I mean, you could see the sweat coming off him, that he not only was asking forgiveness so he was allowed to come home again, but because he actually saw how much of a jerk he was being.

    We actually became friends after that.

    Highly unusual but the whole situation was unusual and that’s why it stands out.

    Obviously this is highly dependent on them caring about what you think, which I think is more common than not, and in this case it’s a spouse rather than a parent but clearly the mannerly companion was willing to say what had to be said and had the right words and maybe leverage. But that situation made me realize that dying of embarrassment on the spot while someone acts out isn’t the only possible option. I learned a valuable lesson that day too.

  35. Captain, if it distracted a customer from their anger, I’d be happy to clean up young-you’s stress pee.

    1. I am inferring that your statement says that her peeing like that was worth it if it helped a retail worker. I definitely disagree, but if that’s not what you’re saying I apologize.

      1. It was more a joke response to the captain’s apology. My experience in the retail field, I was much better equipped emotionally to deal with messes than angry people. In retrospect not so funny of a joke and I am sorry.

  36. For the example given having to do with the rewards card:

    “Mom, I don’t think this is a problem, but if you do, what would you like to do to fix it?” (Mother could be assured that using a card with another name at the same address results in the same rewards. Store could issue a card in the mother’s name.)

    (Mother keeps complaining and not making sense about the name on the card.) “Mom, Is that the way you want to solve the problem, by standing here repeating that the wrong name is on the card and you don’t know how it got there?”

    “Mom, this cashier has told you all she knows about how cards are issued, and I’m afraid you’re being rude to the people behind us in line who would like to be checked out. Is there anything else you’d like to do? Is there someone you’d like to talk to about this?”

    I once had good luck in a sort of similar situation with my somewhat older but still very much in possession of her faculties mother by turning to the cashier and insinuating that Mother was becoming a bit dotty in her old age. My mother was livid! But she shut up.

  37. I often feel terrible for witnessing a situation like the LW’s and not being able to think fast enough to intervene, and over time I have come to accept it as part of the process, along with voraciously reading through every single comment on posts like this! If I am too uncomfortable, unsafe, or unverbal to say something in the moment, I can think over the incident in my own time, the pros and cons of various responses, and be better prepared the next time such a situation arises.

    We allow others time to learn and improve their behavior, it’s ok to allow ourselves that as well.

  38. OMG THANK YOU Captain. It’s like you literally read my mind! I have been thinking about this exact thing the past few days after an embarrassing weekend lunch with my mum.

    She’s just like the Captain’s mom – an escalator who has this bizarre sense of paranoia about things being done “badly” on purpose just to bother her. She’s everything from careless offhand rudeness to extreme rudeness (like calling a server “dense” within their earshot), and some casual generalising racism thrown in occasionally.

    I’ve made some great strides with her in terms of my personal boundaries thanks to Captain’s leave/hang up strategy, and have managed to train her out of most of her more egregious controlling/manipulative behaviours around me. But this particular problem hasn’t been a main focus, until now, when it’s the remaining problem between us.

    I’ve been feeling resentful of it lately, like “why should I have to do all this emotional labour to mitigate her shitty behaviour?” and feeling like there’s no point to calling it out because she lacks the self awareness to ever change something this deeply ingrained in her personality. But I needed the Captain’s reminder that the people most affected by her behaviour can’t leave or speak up about it, and so it’s worth my continuing to call her out for their sake.

    I guess my problem is that despite the strides I’ve made, I still find it really hard to stand up to her in person. On the phone or in text I’ve gotten much better at not being drawn into her arguments, but in person it’s much harder.

    My general strategy has just been to not engage, and to ignore her attempts to manipulate or drag me into an argument. But that strategy won’t work in this situation, because just staying silent allows her to keep being an asshole to others. And makes me look like I agree with her or don’t care.

    It’s not so much the initial call out that’s the issue for me, but dealing with the aftermath. Either having to endure her “civility” defense I-am-the-victim-here bullshit, or walk out before we’ve even ordered. And I struggle with how to pick my battles. Should I call out every time her tone is offhand? Or just focus on the direct rudeness (like interrogating a bookstore employee about why their books weren’t displayed in the way she thought would sell best – despite her never having worked in a bookstore)?

    Anyway sorry for the rambling! Solidarity with LW, and thanks Captain. <3<3<3

    1. PS: Anyone have any experience or advice on how to pivot from [I am engaging politely because she is behaving herself and it makes for a pleasant interaction] to [she’s started acting badly so now I have to disengage so I can call it out without getting drawn into an argument]?

      I seem to have trouble pivoting between these, so I’m either completely disengaged and not able to interact with her much at all, or too engaged and easily drawn into an argument.

      1. I think your reaction to her can depend on how egregious her behavior is, how hurtful it is to the victim.
        If it’s just tone and the clerk seems like they can handle it, you can catch their eye and roll your eyes, or grimace. You know she’s not being nice, you don’t agree, but the clerk would probably agree that it’s not worth making a scene over.

        The worse her behavior, the stronger your response.
        -“Mom, I’m sure the bookstore people know more about book displays than we do.”
        -“Wow, mom, that sounded really rude!”
        -“Mom! that was rude!”
        -“Mom, you never worked at a bookstore, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

        You don’t get pulled into an argument because once you’ve called out her behavior, all you need to say after that is “I disagree.”
        In all probability, after you’ve called her out, she’s going to try to deny or justify her behavior, and whether she says “I wasn’t X” or “it’s okay for me to do x because y” all you have to say is “I disagree.”
        When you say anything, that is. Not responding, just standing there looking at them (disapproving expression optional) is a serious rebuke. If she’s too much, “Mom, I’ve had enough, I’m going to go look at z.” and walk away.

        If you’re holding up the line, “Mom, you’re holding up the line. If all you want to do is argue about this, let’s get out of line. Otherwise, pay and we can continue this elsewhere.”
        Of course, by “continue” you mean “I disagree” or disapproving silence.

        There is great power in refusing to engage in an argument. They know you disagree and you refuse to play their shitty little game.

        1. Thank you, this is really helpful! 😊

          If I just have to remember “I disagree”, I don’t have to get flustered or anxious about refuting her argumentsor even caring what they are. Even repeating “I disagree” in my head might help me maintain the silent judging look when she is rambling on.

          Hopefully eventually she’ll tire herself out and give up, and either end the interaction, or change the subject.

      2. I am inferring from your username that you’re female-presenting?

        *hand on breastbone* *indrawn breath* *slightheadtilt* *sad eyebrows* “Oh my goodness.” (Yes, I am quoting one of the orphans in Annie.)

        It sometimes works, on somebody who realizes that the next step is you uncapping your We Do Not Do This pen again.

        1. Kitty, I think Jenny Islander is right that you need a “warning signal.” Her suggestion is solid. I have recently had a ton of success with my toddler (hear me out!) with 1-2-3 Magic, a behavior management strategy for children (hear me out!) from a book of the same name. The gist of it is that too so annoying behavior, you “count” the kid, then they get a time out at 3 that is their age in minutes. When it’s over, you interact as though it’s forgotten–no badgering or scolding the kid. The essential part of the system is no emotion, no negotiation. The counting gives a signal to the kid. So like…

          Toddler: throws a toy
          Me: (calm, firm) That’s one. We don’t throw toys.
          Toddler: yells for no reason
          Me: that’s two. We use inside voices.
          Toddler: hits me
          Me: That’s three. Take a break. I’ll set the timer.

          Then we both calm down and reset in the break. The idea is that parents often try to get kids to stop behavior by explaining too much, but really the behavior just needs to stop (this reminded me a lot of the Captain’s koan “reasons are for reasonable people”). It also gives time-out alternatives, like removing yourself if the kid won’t go to timeout and is too large for you to physically move.

          With an offensive relative, it might look like…

          OR: rude to/about server
          You: That’s rude. I don’t eat with rude people.
          OR: says nasty things
          You: That’s rude. I’m gong to take a break. (Go to restroom, outside, etc)
          OR: more nastiness after you return
          You: I don’t eat with rude people. Let’s try again another time. Bye.

          (Adjust as needed, but this worked VERY quickly for me with the toddler once–and this is key–he saw that I meant it and wasn’t emotional/outwardly upset (toddlers love a reaction). It’s also similar to what I do with bad behavior from my high school students, without counting (more similar to example 2, only instead of me leaving I ask them to step out/go to the behavior coach). But it only works if you aren’t providing an emotional response to escalate the drama llama.)

          It’s also worth noting that arguing/backtalk about the counting also gets counted–
          Offender: (bad behavior)
          Me: That’s one.
          O: What?? How is that racist/he hit me first/nuh-uh/etc
          Me: that’s two.
          O: You’re just mean/a snowflake/ungrateful!
          Me: Time for a break. Bye!

          YMMV and I think it’s totally legit to give an adult fewer than three chances but having a plan/system helped me a lot with not getting angry at the toddler (who is a toddler and still learning how to act right) or the teens (who might need reminders to act right, or really might not know yet). It helps me stay cool but firm to know I don’t have to put up with the behavior or beg/plead/negotiate with the offender.

  39. Also, the “but YOU taught me…” part really struck me, because actually my mother didn’t. In fact, I had to spend time unlearning this kind of offhand behaviour, after some kind friends pointed out that I was being rude and I realised I’d picked up some fleas from her.

  40. Hi LW. In your situation, I would look at what attributes my parents pride themselves on and use that against them. For example, do they pride themselves on their manners? If so, every time they say or do something yucky, call them out on it with ‘how rude of you to say that’ and keep pointing out their rudeness. If they say something negative about someone’s appearance, say’ how rude, and how on earth does their appearance impact you? Does pointing out someone’s faults make you feel better about yourself?’ That should be quite a wake up call to someone who values manners. If they think they are good people, then use ‘that is so racist’ or whatever ist behaviour they are doing. I think calling out the actual behaviour to someone who sees themselves as a good person can be quite confronting for them, and make them take a good hard look at themselves. If they don’t care about these things though, I have no clue what you should do other than refuse to be around them or maybe apologise to the person they are being horrible to.

  41. For older family members who generally aren’t too bad – but might be getting a bit um fearful-of-minorities I found it really useful to check the diet of semi-reality fly-on-the-wall doco TV. There are a lot of following-(generally white)-police-officer-dealing-with-(generally brown)-offender TV shows out there; and for someone who doesn’t have much day to day interaction with many minorities watching those shows can give a really really biased view of typical behaviors of members of different groups. My older-family-member agreed, intellectually, that the shows might be biased, but didn’t believe that it was affecting their thoughts on real-life-people (was possibly slightly offended at the idea ), however was willing to consider altering viewing habits because *I* didn’t like the the police-based shows.

    After a while when I’d steered that kind of semi-reality TV toward driving-violation, and customs-inspection (with bonus cute sniffer dogs!) shows – both of which had a more balanced range of lawbreakers – I noticed a decreased fear of minorities (or at least it wasn’t being expressed to me) in my elder-family-member. I felt this was a good outcome for everyone.

  42. Thanks for these scripts, Captain. My parents also say some gross and prejudiced things sometimes and I need ways to serve the awkward back to them. Especially my mother who thinks there are “too many gays on TV” and calls things “politically correct” when she doesn’t want to appear racist/homophobic/ableist.

  43. Something it has helped me to remember is that none of this has to be particularly graceful. I think one thing that kept me back from confronting people about this garbage in the past was thinking that I had to deliver like, one of those Upworthy video smackdowns and school the bigot. Whereas in real life, you know, “the bigot” is maybe my stepdad or a coworker or a new acquaintance I liked and I’m maybe blindsided by their remarks and I don’t actually have immigration figures or whatever on hand etc. Now I have learned to accept that I’m just not a person that likes confrontation or is ever going to be that witty on the spot, so I mostly focus on saying SOMETHING in the moment (all the suggestions here are so good!), and deciding what follow up actions to take when I have a minute away to think. Sometimes that’s talking to the person later, sometimes it’s cutting them off and making sure they know why. It does get easier, I find, especially since people will generally learn to expect this behaviour from you- even the gentlest challenging of someone’s bigotry is seen as being super confrontational and aggressive ime- and will tend to adjust to your “eccentricities” or whatever as much as they adjusted to the bigotry. This is not very glamorous, it’s the shitty monotonous housekeeping of social justice, but the way I think about it is if we all had been cleaning up we wouldn’t be in a godforsaken mess now, eh? Good luck!

    1. I love this way of looking at it, thank you! I too am pretty confrontation phobic and get anxious about the fallout after the callout. But I want to think about it like you do, that the important thing is just to say something, and the rest I can sort out in the moment and it doesn’t have to be perfect. That having called it our in the first place is the win.

  44. Ick, been there and done that with my sperm donor. It’s no longer an issue since I’ve stepped far, far away from the situation but he would amp up his generally awful attitude when I was around because he liked to see how “triggered” his “special liberal snowflake” daughter would get over his telling terribly racist jokes (where the punchline was inevitably “brown people exist and we’re better than them!”). I never did find a way to stop his behavior; at best I could keep it from getting too much worse by rolling my eyes and refusing to engage. Though patting his growing belly when he pointed out overweight people did at least get him off that tear …

    I do wish I’d been able to do something in those incredibly uncomfortable moments but all the scripts I’m seeing assume that the parent ISN’T doing the bad behavior primarily to irritate their child. Like I said, it’s water under the bridge now but I do feel sorry for any service people who cross his path. Maybe without me to ‘put in place’ he’s at least got less an audience and won’t put so much energy into bullying them.

    1. I know it’s now a moot point in your situation, but in case it’s helpful for others:

      The interesting thing about racist jokes is the vast majority of them don’t need to be racist, in that the person in the joke doesn’t need to be of any identifiable group for the joke to work.

      In some cases, I’ve been able to disarm racial joke-telling by pointing that out – in a “isn’t that weird and interesting” tone and delivery, like if you’re just in the process of realizing for the first time that Indiana Jones is irrelevant to the movie. Then I make things nice and boring by dominating the conversation with a point by point analysis of why the characteristics of the person in the joke are completely irrelevant – again, in a “isn’t this fascinating!” tone and delivery.

      And then do the same thing again for the next racial joke. And the next one. And the next one.

      Sometimes they find this dissuasive. Unfortunately, other times they think “Challenge accepted!” and try to find a racial joke that does in fact need to be racist.

      1. “The interesting thing about racist jokes is the vast majority of them don’t need to be racist, in that the person in the joke doesn’t need to be of any identifiable group for the joke to work.”

        A friend of my father’s realized that too. He used to tell “Ethnic jokes”. He’d say “Two Ethnics walk into a bar…”

        1. Our sign language teacher made us sign jokes for the class, both for signing practice and to reinforce/explore the way some things don’t translate. His rule was that any joke with a grouping was replaced with “Bobos.”

  45. Delurking to say how much I love reading the awkward army and finally have something I’d like to share.

    I am the white mother of a son with multiple disabilities and a biracial daughter. We live in a very conservative area. In the last eighteen months, I have seen a definite uptick in the number of people who feel empowered to say incredibly ugly things in public. From the college aged young woman who felt that loudly mimicking my autistic child was the height of comedic genius to the angry old white guy who told me I was a traitor to my “kind” and that I should “shut my (racial epithet here) kid up or he would, it hasn’t been easy. Those people suck, but the fact that we have had to end many relationships with family members for the exact same shit has been, frankly a nightmare.

    Speaking just about public spaces though, I am getting better about handling these situations than I was when we first started to deal with them, but I don’t think this will ever be easy. With that said, and speaking as a woman whose privilege grants me a lot of protection. I would like to offer the following perspective:

    When I go to the store with my kids and nasty fauxnewsmanbaby says something ugly, I have to make a whole series of decisions at warp speed- “did my kids hear the comment? Does this person look like they are likely to escalate? If that happens, can I get both kids and myself to safety? How much time do I have to deal with ugly?” My response has ranged from grabbing my kids and running like hell to calling the person out. The thing is that in that moment, I’m not there because I want to educate people. I’m there because we are out of milk and sadly risking racism and ableism are the price of admission.

    While I want to be clear that I cannot speak for POC, I do want to share that sometimes the people who have attempted to come to my children’s and my aid have been super helpful and other times…..not so much. When my then two year old daughter and I were threatened by AOWG above, the woman in front of us in line looked at me and said quietly, “Would you like to go in front of me?” She gently and compassionately offered to put her body between us and him- it allowed me to simply disengage and escape. I’ve had a stranger look at the ableist jerk interrogating me about whether my son was “crippled enough” for our handicapped parking placard and say, “hey. do you need any help?” That person didn’t engage with AJ, just offered to help us. That worked.

    However, sometimes when people try to “help” I’m left wondering what the goal was? Like was it truly to address the inappropriate behavior or was it performative? Example: We were in line for food at an art in the park show. Woman in front of me asks where my daughter is from. I reply, “We are from (our home town).” Woman says “no, I mean, what is she?” Before I could reply “she is a curly haired, bipedal vegetarian” the woman behind me in line decides that this was her moment. She starts haranguing our inquisitor about how racist she was being and how that bigot had no right to ask us anything and she would not put up with it in her community. yada yada…. All at top volume. At that point, my daughter and I were stuck between an insensitive bigot and a performance artist. It was not helpful.

    I appreciate the people who reach out and do something positive, and we need people who will stand up to the ugly. At the same time, I think sometimes people have this desperate need to prove that they are NOT one of those racist ableist jerks….sometimes our privilege results in situations where we center our need to do that over the actual victims in the situation.

    From my perspective (and again, I can speak only for myself, I don’t claim to speak for all disabled people or POC), if it’s your family member, I’d really rather you deal with that shit where my kids and I don’t risk being collateral damage. I think it’s critical that we call these people out, but in a way that limits the emotional labor of others.

    1. As someone who worries a lot about being a bystander, it’s really good to read examples of what is and isn’t helpful behaviour if we see someone being an ass to you.

    2. Holy shit, in sorry you have experienced that awfulness on the regular.

      Also thanks for the reminder to centre the person most affected. I can understand the urge to smack down bigots like that lady did, but you are totally right that it’s not helpful.

      Sending loving vibes your way <3<3<3

      1. Yes this is great! Thanks for the concrete examples! Also I think verbally smacking the offending party down is totally an option…after the people suffering leave with their groceries/drive off etc.

        1. I do think the verbal smack down has a definite place in this, especially when it comes to leveraging our own privilege. I have had those moments of sheer mortification and incoherent rage when one of my family members decides to make their ignorance into a public spectacle. There has been more than one situation where I’ve done my best damage control and followed it up with a “you are goddamn right that I expect you to be ‘politically correct’….because I expect you to not act like an utter asshole in public.” I used to hope that I could change their attitudes, but I’ve decided that given a limited amount of energy, my focus has to be on their behavior.

          While the outright racists stink, microaggressions are damaging as well. My daughter is three. She has mastered the art of the air raid siren scream, followed by “I DON’T KNOW YOU, DON’T TOUCH ME!” in response to white women reaching out to touch her hair. Without fail, none of the women (and we are now in double digits) who did this did so with the intention of scaring her, in fact all of them seemed to be genuinely surprised that their attention wasn’t wanted. My other kids also had perfect ringlet curls- none of them ever had perfect strangers touch them. I feel like my job in that situation is to be as proactive as possible to prevent ambush by Nice White Ladies tm, but when it happens I have to advocate for my child, with educating people second.

          The number one argument these people give is a variation “I didn’t intend…. “. I think we are socialized respond to that argument with variations on “It’s okay….”. Intent means precisely jack and shit. What is important is impact. Now my response starts with, “Nevertheless, it is dangerous to normalize a stranger putting their hands on my daughter, I appreciate your understanding.” Address impact and then deliver the expectation for appropriate behavior.

          Wow. I didn’t realize I had so much to say about this. I apologize for being so verbose! You can probably tell I don’t have enough progressives IRL to talk to!


            Your comments are great and you are great.

      1. I love this comic but had forgotten where I’d found it. Thank you for linking!

  46. Thank you, Captain, for letting us use the comments here to sort out our bullshit! This is all something I struggle with myself and hate myself for not being able to do better, and I’m learning a lot from other people’s strategies.

  47. Captain, thank you for this response & for moderating the thread. HELL FUCKING YES.

    I can report that I have also had great success at using this tactic with relatives and acquaintances. It takes a lot of practice and it is scary, sometimes, but I believe it is very worth it.

  48. This is such a timely post for me. I’ve just spent a week staying with my mother and her partner. Partner likes to say sexist/racist/whateverist things when I’m around because he knows I don’t like it and wants to see if he can get me to react. I find it very difficult to know how to deal with to his deliberate efforts to provoke me into an angry or offended or upset response. I usually ignore him, or talk over him, or walk away. But that hasn’t stopped the behaviour, so I’m always waiting for the next shoe to drop when I’m around him. And, my family just dismiss it, telling me that he’s joking, or he’s just trying to get a rise out of me, thereby putting the onus on me to stop being offended. I’m not a confrontational person at the best of times and the knowledge that he wants me to fight and will consider that a win leaves me at a bit of a loss for tactics.

    1. Since he is doing it deliberately to try to rile you up, I think this is not really about challenging his bigoted views as much as making it NOT FUN for him to bait you. It would be hard to get to this point, would take some practice, I think, but perhaps something like, “You really want to talk about politics while we are all trying to watch this movie/eat dinner/have a picnic?” “You’re going to make everyone listen to us having a political argument? Do you think the rest of the family would enjoy that?” “Really? A political argument on my vacation? Why would that be fun?”

      When I’ve had to do this with strangers or at a business lunch, etc., I try for some mix of calmness and eye rolling exasperation.

      But since he’s doing it deliberately to try to get your goat, I dont’ think you have to be very nice about it. But confrontations like this are no-win for you for sure. I’m sorry you have to go through this.

      1. It sounds like you are already doing all you can and unfortunately, this behavior is so reinforcing to people like this that it can take years to extinguish the behavior. My step brother is like this. I wish I could say that I had some perfect comeback that reliably shuts him down. Unfortunately, in our situation, I can’t prevent myself from giving him the reward he most wants which is my pain. What I can do though is not engage him a way that allows bystanders to play the “both sides” game and I echo the make it super not fun tactic. I like looking at him just long enough to let the uncomfortable silence accumulate and then change the subject. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Sometimes this results in him escalating. At that point, if I feel strong enough I flat out name what is happening, “oh… so you’re trolling the lib. You win. You hurt my feelings. Are you done?” Sometimes I just leave.

        What I’ve noticed though is that generally the silence works because it creates a situation where others become socially uncomfortable, so they are more likely to participate in the subject change. At the same time, I can see where this wouldn’t work if the family dynamics were more conducive to bullying. In our family, the cardinal rule is “thou shall not make a scene” and while I don’t abide by it, there are times when I leverage it, if that makes sense?

        I do try to limit the amount of contact I have with him because I just don’t have the energy to cope with the sixty year old human embodiment of 4chan. I am so sorry that your mom isn’t advocating for you with her partner and that the response to your pain is “don’t be offended by the offensive jerk.”

        1. “sixty year old human embodiment of 4chan” – brilliantly said. That’s it exactly – mum’s partner is in his 70s, but he’s also channeling the murkier reaches of the internet. We’re not in the US, but if we were, he would have been a Trump voter. And that’s worth avoiding someone for. I’m sorry that you too have to deal with this in your family.

        2. Fwiw, my solution was to tell my mother (who enables and low-key follows my father’s decent into stereotypical 2018 faux news lover but mostly avoids the outright nastiness) that the moment my father tried to pick a fight or brought up politics (aka trying to pick a fight) I wouldn’t engage but would, instead, smoke, wish them a great evening, and leave and not see them again until the next trip back. It worked. Turns out my father can behave when stakes are high enough.

          ‘Course not long after he old white man raged all over my FaceBook wall and, after the fallout cleared, I haven’t spoken to either parent in nearly 2 years. And after the initial grief it was actually really great. So I’m not sure how good my tactics would have been in the long run…

          1. I’m, I would not smoke then leave. I don’t know how that typo happened nor how I missed it but now I realize my phone is so much cooler than me.

          2. I think those are good tactics, smoking and all. 🙂 But even the best tactics can’t stop old white men raging if they’d rather rage than respect their children. It sucks that we all have to deal with this…

    2. The “he’s just trying to get a rise out of you” thing is so weird. I had {adult) relatives who would do that to me as a child, and now that I look at it as from an adult perspective, I realize it is NOT normal! Why would a person want to *deliberately* bother another person when they could just…not?

      When I came to the realization that it’s not normal, I had the idea that next time someone is deliberately trying to upset me, I’d pause, look at them like they’re an idiot, and say “Why on earth would a person want to deliberately upset another person?” (They’re probably going to say “Because it’s fun”, to which I’d reply “How is that fun when you could be doing, like, any other thing in the world?”)

      But since I came up with the idea, the opportunity hasn’t arisen. Maybe it it could work with your mother’s partner’s dynamic? (And if it does, report back and let us know why they would do that when they could just not do that!)

      1. This could definitely work to make it Super Not Fun.

        You: Why do you want to make me upset?
        Them: Because it’s fun/funny!
        You: Why do you think it’s fun/funny to upset people? That’s really weird.
        Them: Gawd, I’m just joking! Can’t you take a joke?!
        You: But why is it funny? I don’t get the joke.
        Them: Ugh, nevermind! *Someone* doesn’t know how to take a joke!
        You: But why is it funny? I don’t get it.
        Them: Ugh, nevermind *stomps away*

        I have a couple of relatives that I almost wish they’d try to start something, just so I can shut them down.

        1. Thanks for the responses everyone. You’ve helped clarify things for me. I’ve focused on not responding or reacting because I don’t want to reward him by showing anger or hurt. But I can respond without performing my distress for him by pointing out that he’s behaving badly and telling him to stop. That puts the focus where it belongs, on his bullying, rather than on my sensitivity. I’ll be avoiding him as much as possible from now on too – this last visit feels like the straw that broke my back…

          1. Having been on the receiving end of “they’re just trying to get a rise out of you,” I sympathize.

            Yes, call out his bullying, but be prepared for him to keep it up and try to wear down your calm resolve. I would suggest that for future visits – if any – you get a hotel room, so when he tries to continue the game, you can leave. You want to be able to *leave.*
            If your finances are such that you cannot afford a hotel room, then your visits will be fewer and dependent on your finances. If your mother complains that you’re not around, she can pay for your hotel room or get her partner to knock that shit off.
            “My idea of holiday is not being around someone whose idea of ‘fun’ is to be deliberately obnoxious to me.”

    3. “It’s interesting that you/he seems to think it’s fun to deliberately push other peoples buttons. Why is that?”

      That can work for some people. Usually not the button pushers themselves, but it tends to give pause to the enablers.

  49. My sister and I are the only liberals in our entire extended family. Occasionally I would engage my now-deceased father in law on his racist and extreme right wing politics, and strangely enough disarming him with logic usually ended the argument. My mother in law actually said to me that it was a good thing he died before Obama was elected. !!!!!

    With my other family members I haven’t chosen to challenge them face to face. My father in law used to deliberately engage me because he knew I was a liberal and neither of us feared confrontation. But over the years at family gatherings, usually not at my house, when the conversation turned to them all nodding along and agreeing with each other’s racist comment, or a comment about how awful that Hillary Clinton is, I would get up and leave the room without saying anything.

    Over the years they all simply stopped talking about politics and racially or religiously charged topics around me. Which was great. By the time my kids got big enough to be affected by such discussions, they had become off limits when I was around.

    Every now and then, when we were alone at her kitchen table, my mother in law would sincerely question my positions and we had some good discussions. I don’t think I ever changed her mind about anything, but at least we were having a friendly dialogue. I may have made some headway on gay people, but I don’t know.

    Since Trump was elected I have started wearing a rainbow lapel pin and a MLK lapel pin that says DREAM on it to work every day. I teach college English in a red red red state. Occasionally someone will catch my eye and smile after seeing them. Occasionally someone will say, “I like your pin” and grin at me. It’s a small thing but it’s stating my position and perhaps it makes some of my students feel less isolated.

    I haven’t had occasion to call out anyone in public; thank God my family members aren’t like this to servers! But this is hard time and I agree that it’s incumbent on those of us with some privilege and social power to do what we can, as much as we can. I do argue a lot in private with my husband but have made no headway on his attitudes at all. In his family Rush Limbaugh is seen as a voice of reason. !!!!!!! It’s like we are living in two different universes.

    Thank you so much for the letter and for the advice and for all the comments. It gives me hope.

  50. Oof, this is a feeling I know well. I am 33, but my mother is still very much of the opinion that I Am The Mother, You Are The Child in all situations. Especially if I talk while Adults Are Talking, or, heaven forbid, ever correct her. Because she can’t be rude, you see. I am being very rude and disrespectful for asking her to not be rude, though.

    One thing that comes to mind was at my sibling’s graduation dinner when we were the last table in the restaurant by a very very long margin, and it was clear that the staff would really like to go home. When I suggested that we leave because it was well past closing time, she berated me and just became completely impossible to reason with or even speak to.

    That happens a lot.

    (Also, our recent trip to New York was just a nightmare. She’d frequently say things like, “well at least this neighborhood isn’t qu*ersville.” Like I’m supposed to agree with that, when she’s fully aware that I don’t.)

    So while Cap’s got some good advice, I’m also well aware that your attempting to Handle your mother in the moment might well result in an even worse scene for both you and the hapless person she was already giving a hard time to.

    It sucks. I wish I had any advice, but I really don’t. I just try to minimize the places I go with my mom now. Just…commiserating.

    1. One possibility is to always have your own transportation and be prepared to leave when they say something ugly. You might offer one warning — “I won’t listen to that. We can have a pleasant conversation or I’ll be on my way,” but after once or twice I wouldn’t bother. Mom uses the term “qu**rsville,” you respond with a hearty cry of “Taxi!,” a call to Uber or Lyft, or a walk to your car.

      1. Basically. It’s why I’m never going on vacation with her ever again. It took all of 30 minutes of our being on the ground before she’d basically made it clear how she was going to treat me for the rest of the trip, but I didn’t want to just peace out and deal with the fall-out from a blow-up that bad.

        But being willing to peace out has always been my strategy with her since the time I literally ran away from home. It’s just that things have been mostly good with us, so I thought, hey, maybe it’ll be fine. It Was Not Fine.

        But being able to straight up leave is a blessing.

  51. Oof, ok this comment is a little hard for me to write. My mom is a fantastic person, and the reason why I’m so open-minded today, but over the past few years her health has been very bad (for mystery reasons) and so some of the stuff that has come out of her mouth is bizarre, to me. I don’t want to seem like I’m excusing it- I’m really not. I’m also disabled so I rely on her help a ton. However, I *still call her out on what she says.* Does it end up in fights? Yes, sometimes it does. Does one of us end up crying? Yep, also does sometimes. But even though it would make things flow easier, I just can’t not say something, because Cap’s right! She DOES care what I think. I’ve even been able to change her mind on a few things. Even if I didn’t, it still matters that I speak up, or else keeping the words in just becomes a festering wound.

    1. I think it says a lot about you that you are willing to have these conversations with her.

  52. My father could be ugly with service people. He once was unspeakable to a hotel front desk clerk because our roll-away bed wasn’t ready when we checked in — at 3:00 pm, hours before any of us was turning in, anyway. I went back to the front desk, apologized for him, then went back to his room and told him I’d done it. I was 14.

    By my twenties I’d turned proactive. Dad and I ran out to Denny’s one night. Turned out several servers had called in sick, so service was understandably slow. Dad started to inflate. I looked him dead in the eye and said, “Dad, if you’re rude to the waitress I will walk out, leave you here, and you can figure out how to get back to the house on your own.” (We had taken my car.) He harrumphed for a moment, then shut up and was polite to the waitress.

    Interestingly, I learned that the more I smacked Dad down on his bad behavior, the more he respected me.

    1. I will add: Dad’s headstone reads, “Let me speak to your supervisor.” No, I am not kidding. 😀

      1. My husband swears he intends to put “please don’t make a scene” on his mother’s headstone.

  53. My go-to with customer service is “Look, I’m really angry and upset right now, but I know what happened isn’t your fault. Please forgive me if I sound mad. I have to tell you what’s going on, but it’s not directed at you if I sound pissy.” Then I try to be as polite as I can, apologize for any negativity, and ask what they can do. It’s amazing how much it gets me simply to acknowledge that the person to whom I’m speaking isn’t the bad guy.

    1. I do the same. By the time I’ve gotten through a corporation’s miserable automated phone tree, I’m usually seething, so I start by telling them I’m pissed off and upset and it’s not their fault. 99% of the time, the customer service person first calms me down and then fixes my problem. I always ask to speak with their supervisor to report that they did a great job with a difficult customer.

      The other day I spoke with the supervisor of a guy who helped me with a total nightmare that had me ready to reach into my monitor and strangle someone. The super told me that “Josh” was fairly new and was losing confidence about his ability to do the job, so the timing was perfect. Super said she’d flag the call to be used for training purposes, which is great for Josh’s personnel file.

  54. I’m a fan of just straight calling people out.
    My grandpa remembers a time when he had enter stores through the back because of his race, but he internalized some of that and will sometimes say some disparaging stuff. He’s also the type to get overly friendly with female waitstaff, and I get SO MUCH JOY in taking him down.
    For example: “Hello, I’m Joyce!”
    “Joyce, that’s cute, but would you mind if I called you sugar instead?”
    “I’m sure that grandma would.”
    *cue furious glances*
    He usually backs down after I call him out on most things because I’ve managed to establish strong boundaries with him.
    In a separate social situation that happened a couple of months ago, my partner and a couple of our friends were spending the weekend out of town. One of them, a dude who goes way back with my partner, did a racist imitation of an Asian accent and then got belligerent when I called him out on it. I played nice because we were stuck there, but since then, I’ve washed my hands of him.

  55. I’ve been reflecting on the “be willing to make people uncomfortable” thing lately. I visited a friend with a new baby recently and she said she was going to use a delayed vaccination schedule for her child. I said, “Actually, there was a large study on that lately, and the delayed schedule was not found to have any benefit. It can actually increase risk since it delays the time when the child is fully vaccinated.” Then I listened to her talk about how special and unique her immune system is and how her daughter must be the same, shrugged, and said, “Well, do what you want.”

    What made me mad was that my partner (a) literally shushed me — hissing “shhhh!” as soon as I said “actually,” and (b) told me in the car that I shouldn’t be so rude. I said that I wasn’t rude, and that I care about the child enough to be mildly confrontational for a short period of time, and that I respect my friend enough to think she would want to know about the data (although frankly she believes a lot of woo). I just can’t believe that “make nice at all times” is the most important value and it bugs me to be shamed over it.

  56. Just realizing I’ve done this to my boss (he is C-suite and I’m in middle management) so many times:

    Boss man complaining: “This thing that happened was so (ethnic slur). Why can’t these (ableist slur) get their act together?”

    Me, cheerily: “I don’t know, but I do know we don’t use those words in (our profession)!”
    “Huh. You know you can never say that out loud again, right?”
    “I know you’re new to (left-leaning community) so I gotta tell you don’t ever let anyone, anyone, ever hear you say that here! It’s like instant lost clients and workplace ammunition!”
    “Omg I can never hear you say that again because what if I picked it up and said it somewhere, I’d get in so much trouble!”

    I guess I couch it as I’m trying to cover for him against the PC police. I’m gentle enough with it that he can’t take too much offense at me and persistent enough that (over the course of ten years) he’s either stopped entirely or stopped in my presence.

    Best thing is, it’s absolutely true, and I don’t feel I’m being rude or overstepping or even unpleasant. I really am trying to protect my company from consequences, and I really do think his bad behavior is mostly just a verbal hangover from his past. And I really did start my campaign because (ugh) after hearing it dozens of times, (ableist slur) fell out of my mouth one day and I wanted to sink through the floor with embarrassment.

    Hope this helps someone who is dealing with a mega power imbalance take on the -ist who’s higher on the food chain.

Comments are closed.