Ask LIE: How to address a parent’s “blindness”

Dear LIE,

I’ve been on-and-off following LIE for awhile now and I have a question. I am a white 19 year old who grew up in a small town in Connecticut where we had maybe one family in the entire school system who wasn’t 100% white. My parents are both white (and are divorced).

My dad is an extremely friendly and accepting person- I’ve never seen him seriously treat anyone different due to race (we moved to North Carolina 4 years ago), most of the ‘racist’ jokes he makes are towards the British or Scandinavia/Iceland. I don’t believe he has any obvious prejudices towards people of color (although he might).

But, like most of white USA, he is unaware of his white privilege. And it’s gotten worse lately, I think because of the Dr. Laura thing. He makes comments about how “If [white people and people of color] are really equal, why can’t white people use [the n-word]?” (yes, he says the word while saying he isn’t allowed to say it) and he believes that “affirmative action” is code for “reverse racism”.  He’ll also make jokes about how annoying PC terms are by, when a waitress asks if he wants white toast, he’ll say “The term is Caucasian American” or when the word ‘black’ comes up doing the same thing with African American instead- and I don’t know if this is bad or not, but I still think they’re in poor taste. And, because it’s generally to a waitress, its not like the person can tell him if they have a problem with that. I don’t think he means any harm, but he’s just… “blind” (to use the currently accepted terminology). 

My dad and I have never had the relationship where we talk to each other- he’s extremely accepting and if I have a problem I can ask for help, but we don’t really talk to each other that much and I really don’t know how to talk about this because it gets me pretty upset. (probably not as upset as someone who actually suffers from ideas like this, but it makes me so angry to see people who think like this)

Is there anything I can do here?

-False

From co-editor Julia:

Hi False,

Thanks so much for asking such a good and difficult question. This is something I struggle with myself. What I would suggest first is that you get more clear about what you would like the outcome to be. So, for example, do you want him to stop making such comments in your presence? Do you want him to gain a better understanding of his own privilege? Do you want him to understand how you feel when he makes such comments? All of these outcomes suggest different approaches. Although, of course, you cannot control the outcome because you cannot control his response. And I think it’s important to acknowledge that limit going in.

I would also encourage you to think about your fears about the worst-case scenario. It may be helpful to prepare yourself in advance for how you will feel and how you will prepare yourself to respond if he fulfills your worst expectations. Also, keep in mind that this conversation does not have to be the last conversation. You can always return, and sometimes people will surprise you in their capacity to change.

I know I have not actually answered your question, but I hope I’ve provided some helpful thoughts on preparing.

Readers,

What would you advise? Have you had such conversations with family and friends? What was the outcome? Are there any ways of approaching this kind of conversation that might be more likely to result in a better outcome?

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