Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“How Can I Deal With My Dad’s Racist Rants?”

My dad and I live in two different countries; we visit each other once a year and spend a few weeks to a month together. We have very different values, and I’m not sure how to navigate that anymore. I am a liberal. I am a woman and I am an immigrant. I absolutely support equal rights when it comes to women, the LGBTQ community, and any other socially or racially marginalized groups. My dad is the opposite of all the things I am or believe in. For example, when we’re driving and see another car/driver drive slowly, or not following the rules, my dad often make remarks like, “It must be a woman driver.” And of course it is often NOT true. I try to reason with him, and he just says, “Women are not good at driving. There are things women are good at, like sewing and cooking.”

My dad also tells me straight up that he thinks homosexuality or any sexuality that deviates from heterosexuality is a “disease.” I am a biology major, so I have tried to explain to him what sexuality means, how it is determined, and how it is NOT a disease. I believe my dad does listen, but he continues to perceive LGBTQ community as “not normal.”

Same goes with races. My dad firmly believes that Africans are “lazy” and certain races/ethnic groups/religions are “bad.” He is extremely Islamophobic. He is seriously concerned with my safety (I live in Canada) around the refugees that Canada has been accepting. Many of my friends are or were refugees and are some of the most wonderful people I know. It hurts to hear someone I love being ignorant and unaware of how exactly his behavior and perceptions are the root problems of hatred in this world.

Thankfully, since my dad and I do not live in the same country, I don’t have to deal with this issue often (only sometimes on the phone or once a year in person). But I would like to find a way to make some changes. I just don’t know if that is possible, given that my dad is 60 years old and pretty set in his ways of thinking. What should I do or say when my dad makes a racist, bigoted, and/or misogynistic comment next time? Remain silent so we can live in peace? Reason back which causes both of us a great deal of distress and stress? I’d appreciate your advice, Wendy! — Tired of the Racist Rants

I think the way to handle your father’s racism, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, etc., depends on what your goals are and how likely you think you are to meet them. Do you want to maintain a peaceful relationship with him? Change his mind about social issues and how he views people who are different from him? Have harmonious visits together? You probably already realize what the best way is to maintain peace and harmony with your father. You avoid confrontation about the issues on which you differ. But you want more than simply maintaining harmony. You want to elicit some changes.

Do you feel that change is at all possible for your father? You say he’s 60 and “pretty set in his ways of thinking.” Well, one way to gauge whether there might be room for change, or at least an option of his listening to you, is to ask him about his ways of thinking. WHY is he afraid of Muslims and refugees? WHY does he think certain races are lazy? WHY does he think women can only be good at sewing and cooking and not at driving? And then listen to what he has to say with an open mind — the same open mind you’d wish he would listen to you with. Maybe he will listen to you with an open mind if you give him the same courtesy (which I know is hard when what you believe you’ll hear is just a bunch of hateful -isms). And then you hopefully have a dialogue, wherein you share your feelings and examples of people who don’t fit the little boxes your father would like to put them in.

Maybe your father doesn’t change. Or maybe the change doesn’t come quickly or obviously. Maybe his thinking progresses so slowly and so quietly that you’re never aware of it and you keep dreading your visits and phone calls with him because you can’t stand to hear his ignorant comments anymore. You may even find that, as he ages, the opposite of what you hope for happens — he may become even more married to his way of thinking and he may express himself and his opposing beliefs even more disrespectfully and frequently. And if/when that happens — when you feel you’ve reached the limit of what you can withstand (maybe you’re already there) — you need to tell your father that, in order for you to continue any sort of relationship with him, you must agree to disagree and that he needs to keep remarks that belittle other groups of people to himself when in your presence.

If/when you realize that no amount of dialogue will change anything, and if you decide that you still want to have a peaceful and harmonious relationship with him, you’ll need to avoid any discussions about social issues that you disagree about and he will have to stop making his bigoted remarks. If you and he cannot do that, you have every right to cut him out of your life. I know people who do this thinking it’s the action that will finally get their bigoted parent to change, but I think they’re fooling themselves. What cutting out a bigoted family member may do though is preserve your own sanity and energy — at least the sanity and energy that would be threatened dealing with the racist rants and trying to elicit some change. Of course, cutting out a family member has its own baggage, and you’ll have to decide whether that baggage is better than the burden you carry keeping in touch with someone who makes you feel so crappy with the garbage he constantly spews. Maybe others who have been in a similar situation can speak to such a decision…

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.

8 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Northern Star August 3, 2017, 10:09 am

    There is nothing you “should” do. There is only what you WANT to do.
    You don’t “need” to push back. You don’t “need” to stay silent. You need to think about whether keeping a friendly relationship with your dad is worth brushing past his repugnant views, or whether it is not.

    (If you’re worried that NOT pushing back is somehow wrong or implies agreement with his views—it isn’t, and it doesn’t.)

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph August 3, 2017, 11:17 am

      Ugh, I so feel that last part. My grandfather is a lot like the dad here and… ugh. He’s 80 years old, I only see him a couple times a year, and I usually decide not to engage on his comments like this because a) I don’t think he’ll change and b) I don’t want to ruin Thanksgiving (or whatever occasion).
      Mostly my husband and I (or my siblings and I) just kinda make bug eyes at each other when he says some ridiculous things and then try to change the subject. And I do feel a little guilty like not turning it into a fight is some kind of tacit agreement with his bullshit.

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  • avatar

    csp August 3, 2017, 10:45 am

    LW – Here is my favorite line. “What was your goal with saying that to me?” In this letter I see two different types of isms – stereotypes and fear. So When he says “Women can’t drive…” when you ask for his goal and listen, ask if he thinks you shouldn’t drive or work or whatever and say, “It hurts that you do not think I am capable.” When you put a face to things in a compassionate way, it might sink in. For the gay, say, Why do you think this affects you? What do you think it takes away from you?” if he says nothing, then say “It is weird that it bothers you so much. If he is a libertarian type, you can say why do you think the government should regulate people like that?

    Finally, for the fear of refugees, that is a fear of terrorism. Tell him that you feel safe and that it isn’t the way the media makes it out to be. But you will let him know if you ever feel like you need him. It validates his feelings and still doesn’t agree with them.

    I am a believer that people can be racist and can still love the people they know. I have known people like this. I also have seen people change their mind later in life but I think they have to feel listened to. Don’t give up on your dad.

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark August 3, 2017, 11:40 am

    Tune them out. And come up with a short, scathing stock go-to response.

    “That makes you sound, SO intelligent, father. I do hope this is the image you wish to project as others will NOT be as forgiving as I…”

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  • avatar

    Lucy August 3, 2017, 3:27 pm

    This work is not your responsibility. But here are some ideas if you decide to undertake it anyway.

    https://www.vox.com/identities/2016/11/15/13595508/racism-trump-research-study

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  • avatar

    Cyndi August 3, 2017, 7:01 pm

    My dad is probably the most racist person you ever want to know. He is also 86. When he spouts his views & when he does this in public . My siblings & I just look & say dad – no! It took years to get to this point. You can’t change your dad.Even asking “why” may not work. Just let him rant. Hope no one hears him & do damage control . It sucks . You are not responsible for his views. That is his reality. Right or wrong.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros August 3, 2017, 7:19 pm

    My dad makes similar comments (but maybe less inflammatory ones), and I’ll just kind of made an opposing statement. He started making comments about certain races of students feeling entitled, and I was like, “Actually, the students I work with who are the most entitled are wealthy white students.” Then I just move on.

    Your dad sounds pretty extreme, and I don’t know how likely it is that you’ll change his mind. So, I think you need to find a balance where you can feel that you are doing the right thing, but not necessarily blowing up the situation for little to no benefit.

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  • avatar

    Bonnie August 6, 2017, 2:49 pm

    I am the LW.
    Thank you Wendy and all of your comments. It gives me some clarity on what to do with my Dad. I now understand that his stereotypes are coming from a place of fear and not being exposed to the truth. I will make an effort to ask him questions, listen to him and hopefully share my views without getting us into an argument. That said, I will also try to make peace with the fact that my Dad may never change. Like Wendy recommended, I’ll just avoid having conversations with him about politics and humanity in general.

    It’s also comforting to know that some of you have similar problems with your fathers/grandfather. It makes me feel less alone! Thank you all for your input. It has been incredibly helpful.

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