Ask ARP: How do I handle troubled and racist relatives?

Dear Anti-Racist Parent,

I have a nephew who is a white supremacist.  He and my other nephew are both “troubled” (to put it lightly), and tend to cause major issues at family events.  Tonight during a light political discussion – - – joking all around- – - my nephew suddenly got a cold evil look in his eyes and (to make a long story short), got in my one-year-old son’s face, told him to shut up when he was blabbering and then threatened my husband.  Not that it matters, but we are all white.  My father’s reaction was to tell my husband to get over it and “act like the adult.” My nephew is a grown man as well.  Huge issues (not always about race) have come up at family functions before- even physical fights- where my nephews are involved.  As the heads of our family, I feel like my parents should put their foot down and tell my nephews that they are not welcome at family functions if they cannot act in an appropriate way.  Is it unfair of me to expect my parents to tell their grandsons to leave (or not attend) family events? I do not feel safe when my nephews are around, and I don’t want my kids in that kind of environment.  Is it wrong for me to tell my family that we will not be attending family functions if my nephews are there?

Disappointed in California

From the Editor:

You are not wrong to demand that your parents create a good, safe environment for ALL of their grandchildren, and their other family members, too. But it seems from your letter that they have declined to do that, believing that coddling your nephews will someday cause them to see the error of their ways. You and your husband will have to take a stand and decline to attend family functions that include your nephews. I am no psychologist, but I fear that someone who would “get in a baby’s face” is unstable and potentially dangerous. And what of your nephew’s white supremacist views? It does not matter that your child is white; white children are damaged by racism, too. Your son is too young to understand his cousin’s racial hatred now, but there will surely come a day when it is clear. And if your son has watched his parents and grandparents ignore and abet this hatred, it will surely send a message that bigotry is, at best, no big deal, and at worse, an acceptable world view.


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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek,, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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