Behind a cut for this dude’s gross, racist opinions. Read More
Hello, Cap and friends! I have a couple of questions about boundary-setting with people who don’t believe in boundaries.
The Awkward team’s advice and scripts on setting boundaries have been so wonderfully helpful in my life, but what (if anything) can you say to people who believe that setting boundaries in a family is controlling?
For an example, there are wonderful scripts you linked from the SPLC center, on how to set boundaries with family members being bigoted:
>”Your ‘jokes’ are putting unnecessary distance between us; I worry they’ll end up doing irreparable harm. I want to make sure those ‘jokes’ don’t damage our relationship.” “You know that respect and tolerance are important values in my life, and, while I understand that you have a right to say what you want, I’m asking you to show a little more respect for me by not telling these ‘jokes’ when I’m around.” “I don’t want this rift to get worse, and I want us to have a good relationship. What should we do?””
In my family (parents + siblings, I’m 30), the responses are simply, “There wouldn’t be a problem if you just laughed” and “You’re trying to control what I do by saying that. It’s manipulative to say that I’m disrespecting you if I keep saying [awful insults about minority groups, or about me personally].” I mean, in a way they are kind of right? I am literally attempting to control discourse to a degree, but somehow that feels like they are missing the forest for the trees in a way I can’t articulate. Especially since they get offended if you don’t laugh at their ‘jokes!’
Is there any way to rationally respond to people that think that attempting to set boundaries (or tears at being insulted) is “childish and manipulative”? They see that as a truly deeply harmful thing, and it would be really wonderful if it was possible to get them to understand the idea of **mutual** respect.
Thank you so very much for ANY ideas.
– A Weary Woman
Hello Captain Awkward!
I love your blog. I love it so much that I’ve read through your archives and found a few questions that are cousins to, but not quite the same as mine, so here goes:
I am in my mid twenties and work at a nonprofit in a large, diverse (racially/ethnically, economically, politically) city. My organization trains and places volunteers to tutor children in Title I elementary schools. All of our volunteers are hardworking people who are very generous with their time and resources. Most of our volunteers are kind and thoughtful about the challenges many of our students face, and about the differences that may exist between their backgrounds and their students’ backgrounds. Some are not.
Some people say terrible things, usually privately to staff (if volunteers say racist things to students, we ALWAYS step in. It also doesn’t happen too frequently, thank goodness. The questions is more about one-on-one interactions with staff members.)
“I like working with Joe. At least he has a brain in his head, unlike Rose.” [not their real names]
“When I went to Ethiopia I expected to feel sorry for them, but I just felt like ‘get up off ground, stop pissing in the street, and clean up your city!'” [many of our students are Ethiopian]
“So are these poor kids?”
“It’s just too bad his parents don’t really care about his education.” [not true]
“I just don’t feel comfortable in this neighborhood. You know, since I’m a white lady.” [yes, someone said this]
There are semi-frequently comments from volunteers assuming that of course our students don’t have fathers in their lives, how their parents probably don’t care about how they’re doing in school, and how their students must have a terrible home life. Of course, some of our students may be in these circumstances – the problem is jumping to these conclusions after having spent 0-5 minutes with a student.
The comments range from foot-in-mouth to super racist, and those of us on staff struggle to know how to handle them. Some complicating factors:
1. In a perfect world, we’d have so many volunteers that we could dismiss the racist ones and replace them. Unfortunately, we need every volunteer we’ve got, and usually these volunteers are at least capable of not spewing this stuff in front of students, which is really the only way to get rid of a volunteer.
2. Part of the organization’s mission is to help educate people who don’t know much about urban education so they can become better advocates for our students and their schools. Therefore, though our first priority is our students, our second priority is providing excellent “customer service” to our volunteers.
3. Most of the offending volunteers are white, wealthy, and middle-aged/seniors who have raised children. The staff is in their 20-30s, mostly not white, definitely not wealthy, mostly childless.
Most of your scripts for dealing with racist behavior tends toward the more confrontational side. Though often wish I could employ them, I’m not in a position where I can straight up tell people that they are being racist. Do you have some scripts to help us make it clear to volunteers that certain comments are not acceptable, while still maintaining a good working relationship? Or do we have to pick between standing up to racist comments and making sure volunteers stick around?
Thank you for your help! I know this is a little long, so feel free to edit as needed.
Please Don’t Volunteer Like That
I have a question about racist strangers who think I am their friend.
Occasionally, I’ll be out in public waiting in line, reading at the
library or just waiting for the bus and a stranger will approach me
and feel compelled to make a racist observation about someone else who
is present. I am a white person, and I think these strangers assume
that because of that, I will totally agree with whatever racist slur
comes out of their mouth.
Usually I just give them a look of disgust and horror and try to move
away as quickly as humanly possible, but I would love some clever
scripts to have on hand to let them know that:
1. I do not agree. At all.
2. That they are horrible and racist.
3. To get away from me.
This doesn’t happen often, but when it happens, it often takes me by
complete surprise. I realize this is a problem of privilege, but I am
concerned that my silence (even with the face of disgusted horror)
could be interpreted as agreement, and I never want to give that
Not Your Friend, Racist Stranger
Keep it simple! “Wow, that’s really racist.”
Maybe throw in a “Not cool” or “Do you seriously believe that?” or “I beg your pardon?” depending on how much you want to engage.
The person will likely insist that they aren’t being racist, to which you say “Sure, whatever. Howabout: Don’t talk to me anymore.” Chatty Racist, like Rape Joke Telling Bro, is looking for people who will be a willing audience for their crap, and if they can’t find that, they’ll settle for a silent-but-unwilling one and get off on making you uncomfortable but too scared or polite to speak up.
If you feel safe and able to do so, defeat them with total bluntness. It won’t change hearts and minds, but it will remove the sheen of plausible deniability or silent assent from what they do, and it will show the people the comments are meant to intimidate and marginalize that you have their backs.
Dear Captain Awkward,
I have a dilemma that I suspect is quite common, but I’m still running into mental roadblocks as to how to properly approach it. Background: I’m a lesbian and a big-eff Feminist working in a male-dominated field, in a male-dominated company. I’ve worked marketing, event planning and PR for rape crisis centres, and volunteer on rape crisis support lines. I know a lot about anti-oppression and actively work on acknowledging my privilege and on calling people out when they’re being oppressive asshats. Except that’s not what I want to do at work. At work, I wanna focus on my interesting tech stuff and not feel I have to educate my boss and coworkers on racism and why and how they’re being fucking offensive.
My boss is a young-ish, laid-back, former hippy who’s travelled all over the world and loves to talk and thinks he knows everything about everything. A nice enough guy, but these topics he brings up at work are raising my blood pressure. And it doesn’t help I have 3 male coworkers who fall easily into the conservative end of the spectrum, so I’ve got no backup there. The lot of them could talk until they run out of breath, not really caring if they have a lick of knowledge about the subject. I mostly keep my mouth shut when he brings up touchy subjects, because I cannot be bothered to try to get into convos with people who won’t change their minds, have no investment in the topic, and will keep talking until I give up bc I’ve got other shit to do and my face is red and I just want them to STFU.
So, the question in all this, is how do I draft a nice, calm email to my boss about work-appropriate conversations and how his oft-racist verbal meanderings are contributing to a hostile workplace for me? I don’t wanna quit my job, I don’t want to go over his head to HR if I don’t have to, and I don’t want to be “the one who caused a scene” b.c., oh yeah, he’s also a huge gossip. Help?
Damsel in de tech
Hi Captain Awkward,
I want to preface my email by saying that I really love my mom. I really do. We had a great relationship when I was growing up and we still do, for the most part. Generally she is an accepting, loving, level-headed person, albeit gullible at times.
She is a Christian and a Republican. There is nothing wrong with that. People are allowed to have their own political and religious views as they see fit, in my opinion. That’s part of being an adult. She knows I do not have the same views as her politically or religiously, though, and she claims to respect that.
However, she sends me these incredibly racist/anti-Obama/anti-Liberal/anti-Muslim/anti-poor person/anti-Mexican/anti-gay/etc. email forwards all of the time. Normally I try to ignore them because I don’t want to cause a rift in the family, but it’s gotten pretty unbearable. I have asked her several times to not send me emails of that nature and she always stops for a while, but then starts up again a few months later. For the record, she never mentions any of these emails when we talk on the phone or in person. It’s like she has a secretly hateful side or something.
If I were to advise someone else, I’d probably tell them to block emails or send a sharp reply, but I can’t seem to give myself the same advice. I only get to see my parents a few times per year (they live a few hundred miles away, but I have no car and I’m poor, so it’s hard to get down there to visit), so every bit of contact from them is like a gift to me and blocking would make me feel terrible. And like I said before, I don’t want to cause a rift in the family by starting a fight.
But these hate-spewing emails make me sad; sad that there are such hate in the world, and sad that my own mother would spread it (and perhaps sad that my mother is not the loving angel I’ve made her out to be in my mind…). There have been several times where I’ve started an angry reply, only to stop myself and walk away.
With election season coming up, they’ve been coming again in a fairly steady flow. It’s gotten to the point where I get agitated if I see an email from my mom in my inbox.
What would you advise I do about this? Block her email? Ignore the emails? Delete them? Refute them with facts? Remind her that she’s supposed to “love thy neighbor”? Something else?
Thanks in advance,
Hi Captain, please help!
I am a white woman in my mid-twenties. My husband is a black man in his late twenties. The interracial thing is almost always fine and awesome for us, we both have pretty excellent family members and friends but there is one problem. That problem is my (white, of course) auntie.