How Do You Love A Racist?

I was (thankfully) raised in a home where racism was not tolerated. My parents had lots of friends of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds than ours and I never thought twice about it. In fact, I was so shocked by what I saw in a video on racism in the South when I was in 5th grade that I literally sobbed in front of my entire class and had to see the school counselor. I just couldn’t even fathom that type of hatred. It shocked and upset me deeply, but it also made me feel very proud to come from the family that I came from. A family that would NEVER discriminate or feel hatred towards a member of a different race.

I have a great Uncle who has been exceptionally awesome to me. He has always encouraged my love of hiking, exploring, history, and world travel. He would let me roam for hours on his large property, patiently and sweetly explaining to me that the rock I found was not a dinosaur fossil, but was indeed, a very unique rock. He watched all the history shows with me that the rest of my family found boring, and when I declared I was going to go to Africa by myself, he was one of the only ones who focused more on helping me prepare for the trip than trying to talk me out of it.

And then one day I overheard him use the N-word. And I felt the same shock and deep level of distress that I felt the day they showed the video on racism in 5th grade. I couldn’t believe my ears. How could this man who I had always loved and even admired say something like that? Never in my childhood had I heard him say such a thing. I was beyond appalled and stunned. And then he continued on his tirade and it became glaringly apparent that my great Uncle was a racist. A horrible despicable racist. How in the world, could I love a racist?

There ensued a battle with myself. If he was a stranger, I would find him repugnant. But he wasn’t a stranger. He was a man who had cared for me and encouraged me. But he was a racist. Could I reject him knowing how much he had done for me? Could I love him knowing how hate-filled his heart was?

How do you love a racist? Can you? Should you?

I chose to distance myself from him. I explained why. He promised not to say those things around me ever again, but his heart wasn’t changed. I still see him for family holidays but we’re no longer as close as we were. I feel like to go back to the way things were would be dishonest and damaging to my conscience. I think that racism should have consequences and in this case, the consequence was losing a closeness with his niece. It didn’t change his mind. But my mind was also unchanged. I think I made the right decision for myself, but I still think about this question and wonder about how other people may have handled the same situation.

So, I’ll ask again. How do you love a racist? Can you? Should you?

– Mae

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49 thoughts on “How Do You Love A Racist?

  1. That’s a sad thing to go through when it your family. I dated someone who was racist even though he said he loved me he hated everyone else that look like me. Another tough situation which I later removed my self from

  2. I think that the term “racism” is used too broadly; there are different motivations behind racism.

    Let’s say you have a guy who was raised in a rural community, whose parents taught him that a certain group of people are terrible or awful. That person is “racist” without any real reason; it’s just what he was taught, even though he may have never interacted with someone from that group before.

    Now let’s say you have a guy who grew up with a lot of friends from different cultures, who one day moved to a public high school where members of a certain race would pick on him, or bully him. Then someone from that same group mugged him on a train. Then someone from that same group robbed his friend’s apartment. Then someone from that same group committed a rape or murder. Now you have a person who is “racist” because he has been taught by that group of people to fear or distrust them.

    Obviously the latter form of racism isn’t really “justified,” since you’re still generalizing about a large group of people. But you can’t really BLAME that second person for being racist; he was bullied and intimidated to a point where he did what any animal on earth with a basic predator/prey instinct would do, and that’s to avoid people with a certain trait. It’s classical conditioning, and it’s one of the most basic principles of psychology.

    So why is your uncle a racist? Is it just because his parents and friends in school made lots of jokes about other races and never learned to respect diversity? Or is it because of a brutal history with members of a certain group of people? I, for one, feel that the motivation informs his character. And while being racist is a terrible flaw, I don’t think that “punishing” someone with the consequences of removing yourself from his life is a productive step. Why not help him see the error of his ways and work with him to introduce more diversity into his life so he can become comfortable with members of other races? Why not bring him to jazz clubs or drum circles or other events that are rife with diversity so he’s exposed to more culture?

    In my opinion, one character flaw – even one as serious as racism – does not make a person “bad.” They shouldn’t be quarantined like a monster, but taught the error of their ways.

    • You make a lot of interesting points. However, I just don’t believe there is an excuse for racism. There may be a reason, but racism is still wrong, discrimination is still wrong, and I can’t think of anything that is going to change my mind on that. Terrible things happen all the time and are perpetrated by every race and yet it seems to me that some races are still singled out more than others for discrimination, and that’s wrong. I simply can’t be convinced otherwise.

      Also, I have had these conversation with my Uncle and I can tell you his racism comes from hate and no where else. Maybe it’s not right to punish him by not being as close as we were before, but I’m a big believer in not putting yourself in a toxic situation and once he made it clear he didn’t care to or want to change, wasn’t even willing to listen to the other side of things, it was clear what I needed to do. He made his choice. I made mine. And, for the record, he isn’t quarantined like a monster, as I mentioned in the post, he is still invited and attends every family function we have.

    • All racism (and sexism– interesting you used “guys” for both of your examples ^_~) seems to me to stem from a lack of critical thinking. Racism is based on faulty thinking (uninformed or illogical conception at best, willful ignorance at worst). Hating racist people, however, will not necessarily make the problem go away. In fact, stigmatizing them or isolating them might even exacerbate it. A very, very good friend of mine whom I love very dearly was, for a long time, incredibly sexist as a result of his religious beliefs and upbringing (among other things). We waged war over this subject, going back and forth about our experiences, feelings, thoughts, ideas and opinions, agreed to disagree and found that we couldn’t even do that much, and then were separated (by distance) for a long period of time. I never stopped loving him nor stopped being his friend; I always cared for him deeply. We communicated when we could, but only about the goings-on of our lives. When I finally went home and we met again, I couldn’t believe my ears– he had acquired some pretty radical ideas and some serious feminist thinking, and now frequently challenged the sexism (and racism) he saw in his church, workplace, even among his friends.

      Sometimes, I think, we don’t choose who we love. I couldn’t have stopped loving my friend had I wanted to. But sometimes the people we love can surprise.

  3. Great post, this is a tough one., because even if it isn’t YOUR view, it does say something about you if you tolerate it. I guess I’m still grappling with this one myself. I’ve never been witness to a full on tirade, but I’ve heard comments made in my presence that ranged from not sitting well to infuriating me. It’s a delicate subject.

    • It most certainly is. And one, I believe that everyone had to decide for themselves how to handle. I’m not sure there is a universal “right” way to handle it.

  4. I went through this with my grandpa… even got up from the table and walked out of Thanksgiving one year when he was running his mouth (can you say that about your grandpa?). Calling him out like that helped some, but no, didn’t change his heart or mind…just made him watch himself, especially when I was around. I guess sometimes that’s all you can hope for.

  5. I’m from the deep South in the US and I can honestly say that 60% of my immediate friend group and family are racist, misogynist, ableist, name-an-ist-and-they-are-it. I’ve tried to educate and have made some leeway – my parents, for example, went from not wanting me to even hang out with gay people to being in favor of gay marriage – but on the whole, things remain unchanged.

    I don’t socialize with people who have to include me in their hatred. I am polite and nothing more to a local guy who’s a member of the KKK; I don’t go to local luncheons sponsored by a group that burns books. This socially isolates me. I *am* friends with people who have offensive perspectives to me, but since they respect me enough to keep their mouth shut, we get on fine. Whether this is “moral” or not I can’t say, but what I CAN say is that the few whose minds I have changed are worth dealing with their occasional crap.

    Unfortunately, people need to decide for themselves whether what they want out of life is worth giving up their deeply-held belief structure.

    • I think you’ve handled this the best possible way for yourself. I really believe that each person has to handle this individually according to their beliefs and circumstances. It’s part of why I wanted to write this post, to be a part of such a diverse conversation. Thanks for your comment!

  6. For me I am in a family where more than one family member is racist and they don’t hide it. It was really hard as a teen when my first boyfriend was black and my second boyfriend was mixed. My cousin has been with her boyfriend (who is black) going on almost 10 years and they’re going to get married one day but the hardest thing for their relationship is our grandma and her mother who are racist and not only don’t hide but refuse to apologize for it. I dislike my grandma for many reasons so personally no I don’t think I can love her, I tolerate her at best because she taught her children to be the same horrible people and that’s not something I find acceptable. While I can’t change my family, I can change the pattern and make a stand. Beyond that I don’t have any answers for if I can or should love a racist family member because that’s something even I question.

  7. Wow, Mae. This must have been really difficult for you. It’s always disappointing to find out something so terrible about someone you love. However, I kind of agree with Cody Gough (the comment above). Maybe you shouldn’t cut him off COMPLETELY. There may be hope for him to change his ways. It just seems so sad to have to throw away the wonderful relationship you had years ago…. Whatever happens tho, I really hope that things work out…

    • I do still see him. Things are cordial. But, I just don’t believe in engaging in a toxic relationship. He was unwilling even to engage in conversation to hear my side of things, how wonderful a relationship can that be? Having said that, I fully believe that this is a very personal choice and in no way am I recommending anyone else take the same measures I did. This was the right choice for me, but it may not be for others.

  8. Thank you for writing about this. It is such a sad and conflicting situation to be in when someone close to you holds values or beliefs that directly contradict your own.

    I’ve chosen not to bring up such topics with certain family members, though I warn them that if they want to talk about these things with me they can expect my complete honesty.

    • I think that’s a good rule! If you bring it up, then be ready to hear *exactly* what I think. You can’t say fairer than that.

  9. This is quite a sad story ): I think that you can love a person without loving what they believe, if that makes sense? Racism is just so.. unnecessary, but it’s a cruel world and as much as i wish it would, i don’t think it’ll ever stop, sadly.

  10. I have had this problem with my older relatives. I think there is merit in saying that you love your relatives, but don’t have to like them. The best I can do is point out to those people that their comments make me uncomfortable, and inherently, can make many people uncomfortable. Maybe that little thing can start to make these people think about their actions.

    • I totally agree that you can love someone without liking them. Feelings can be very complicated, especially with family.

  11. I think you should look at it from the perspective that he is from a different generation growing up in different circumstances. Bear in mind in 40 years time you will also probably have very different viewpoints from your neices and nephews. We don’t have to give up our convictions to show compassion. Given your strong relationship you should be respectful of one another’s oposing opinions.

    • I see your point, but I stand by my conviction that there is no excuse for racism. And maybe it makes me a bad person but I’ll never be able to respect an opinion that is racist. I’m pretty laid back about most things but discrimination in any form is something I feel very strongly about.

  12. The questions you bring up are very difficult one’s to face, and even harder ones to answer, but I appreciate you doing so. I wouldn’t classify my family as racist per say, because they aren’t near as bad as many of the other people I’ve had to deal with throughout my life, but they do have there moments. And more than it makes me angry, it just makes me so desperately sad to hear that sort of hatred from them. They are my family, and I don’t think I could ever truly stop loving this, which makes it incredibly conflicting whenever I hear them say things that would make me disgusted with literally anyone else. The thing I’ve been told a lot is that it’s because all of these family members I’m referring to have been in the military and many of them in wars, and that these-are-my-enemies sort of environment is what did that too them, what essentially made them racist. I don’t know whether I believe that, even if I do understand that sort of effect can come from such a narrow minded situation.
    But, back to your questions. As I said I cannot completely stop loving my family, and maybe I should stop but I can’t. However, I have no tolerance for racism, and I make them very aware of that by making sure they see how disappointed I am in them when they make any such terrible comments. I’m hoping that one day they’ll come around and work themselves out of whatever mindset they built up for themselves in the service, and I’m hoping that in some small way I’m helping with that.

    • I think you’re doing the exact right thing for you. I think this is one of those questions/subjects where everyone just has to decide what is best for them. There doesn’t seem to be one right answer, distancing myself was the right answer for me but I know it wouldn’t be for everyone. I think it helps that this is only once instance and the rest of my family has never expressed anything but tolerance and open-mindedness so I don’t feel alone in my convictions.

  13. Now you’ve got that They Might Be Giants song in my head! “This is where there party ends, I can’t stand here listening to you…and your racist friend. I know politics bore you but I feel like a hypocrite talking to you…you and your racist friend…” Lol

    As a white girl that grew up in a mixed race home (my first stepfather was south American/hispanic and the second was black and I have siblings from both of them) racism is a special pet peeve of mine! When I moved away to college in like the whitest hick country place ever, I had a cultural shock of epic proportions. I’d never been surrounded by so many white people! It was also the first time I’d really heard people blatantly, openly display their racist attitudes (not knowing my origins).

    My first instinct was to debate and educate. I did my best to try and combat their racist beliefs but boy are some of these folks set in their ways! Stubborn as hell about things they know nothing about! It’s mind boggling.

    Then I married a guy who, though he didn’t appear racist himself, his family was more iffy. My father in law would never “admit” to being a racist and as a preacher would always say how he loved all people and he’d been on missions trips all over the world, including to places like Egypt, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Still he’d make the craziest generalizations about groups of people when they were at home discussing things. I would do my best to *nicely* point out to him that not everyone was like that and he’d kind of relent but he is in his 70’s and headstrong.

    One time, at the dinner table he made some off the wall statement about Asians and his daughter’s husband, who is half Filipino glanced over the table at me and I said out of the side of my mouth, with a deadpan expression, “It’s all because of those damn Asians” and he just bust out laughing. Sometimes you gotta make a little fun of things to keep it light and try not to take it too seriously.

    My son, who is a blonde haired, blue eyed 13 year old has spent way too much time around folks of different races I guess because he thinks he can say whatever the hell he wants. His little friends that are white and have had a black stepdad since birth are allowed to toss around the “N” word in a casual, joking context (that was never allowed in my home growing up, nor is it now). So one day he is downtown and these two big black dudes get into a fight and are yelling at each other and one calls the other a “Negro” and my son yells out “the word is ni****”, you are supposed to call him a ni*****” OH MY GOD, give me a heart attack here child, but the men thought it was hilarious and started laughing (whew!).

    When racism is most damaging is when people use it to discriminate against others. Living in a mostly black community as a white kid, sure I’ve heard my fair share of “white people” this and “white people” that and even seen general disdain for whites but the difference is that as minorities there is less ability to use that attitude to cause real and lasting harm (not talking about specific hate crimes).

    So someone who is an old stuck in their ways racist I would be debating and discussing and trying to help open their mind probably more than try and shut them out. If they are a family member, pry to see why they feel that way and how they came up with these notions. Things like that really can be unlearned. Maybe not for everyone but it’s always worth a try.

    • Thanks for this comment! I really appreciate you sharing. I know that it may be hard to understand why I did what I did, but I know that I did the right thing for me, it definitely wouldn’t be the right choice for everyone but it was for me.

  14. I was having breakfast with a bunch of friends who were just casually tossing around the n-word. I felt like I was eating with 4 Quentin Tarantinos. It felt really uncomfortable for me, but I know that they’re not actually racist deep down inside… maybe they just listened to a lot of rap music.

    But still, it was really really awkward.

  15. That’s a tough situation, and very sad.

    It raises a bigger question, too — how do you love anyone, since everyone’s got skeletons in the closet? You love the person in spite of their flaws, be they big or small — and if you have to create some distance, you do so…but with love. In the case of your great uncle, I’d suggest you might have more of an impact on his heart if you keep up the relationship, while making it clear that you completely disapprove of his racist attitudes.

    Sometimes it’s by being who we are and still accepting/loving those who could be better that we help them change who they are.

    • I can see your point. I can also assure you that I *do* love many people and have excellent relationships with the rest of my family. We are all humans and are therefore inherently flawed, and we love each other through it, however I don’t see all flaws as equal. And this is a flaw I’m unable to love past. Maybe that’s *my* flaw. I’m unable to tolerate racism in any form, even when it’s coming from my own family.

    • And how would you go about fixing someone who isn’t willing to be fixed and doesn’t even acknowledge that their behavior is unacceptable?

      • I think I’d argue with them. You might not be successful, but you might make him rethink things a bit. I know people don’t change easily, but I think the most likely scenario for it happening is if they are challenged by people they respect. It might not work, but at least you won’t feel like you’ve let him think it’s an ok lifestyle choice.

  16. My father is a racist. Good ole boy, southern, racist. I have heard every name for all different races, and all kinds of inappropriate jokes growing up. My mother, on the other hand, doesn’t even see race, and is QUITE the opposite, she’ll talk to anyone she sees and has a huge heart. She was around more than he was while I was growing up (he works entirely too much) but I guess I started to pick up some of his bad traits early on, and she very quickly nipped that in the bud. She impressed upon me at a young age that the way he thinks is not acceptable and that I am no better than any one else, and I should treat everyone the way I want to be treated (Golden Rule 101).

    Why they were married for 20+ years, (they are now in the midst of a divorce) I have no idea. I don’t know how she didn’t bubble over with shame and distaste with the way he is. But you ask How do you love a racist? I don’t know, but I do know that I love my father. I’ve come to learn that no matter how much I try to change his ways, I can’t, and we just end up in a debate. I’ve learned that there are topics I just COMPLETELY stay away from – racism, politics, homosexuality, obesity, religion etc etc, if I want to spend any kind of enjoyable time with him. On occasion I try again to open his mind, but as of yet, I haven’t been able to. And so I just move on, and love him for the other things that make him up. He is entitled to his own opinion, no matter how strongly I disagree, and no matter how back-woods I think his thoughts are, and I have to respect that. But there is definitely a distance between us because of it.

    • I’m so sorry! I can’t imagine how tough that situation is for you and what a struggle it must be to always have to walk on eggshells to stay away from any potential “hot topics”. I think it’s very commendable that you’ve chosen to have a relationship with him- I might have done the same thing had this issue happened with someone even closer to me like a Mother or Father. Who knows? Maybe your Dad will be willingly to listen to you someday, because despite my feelings about my Uncle (which are absolutely tied to this very specific situation and who he is as a person) I *do* have hope that people can change if they want to.

  17. Mae, I applaud you for taking a fierce stand in what you believe in. I,too, abhor racism. Sure, there have been some valid points made throughout the comments, but I just can’t abide by racism. I think you showed great courage to distance yourself from your beloved uncle. Once, years ago,I had a really good friend, a bloke. He rang me one day saying that the police took him away because he put his hands down his daughters pants. I couldn’t believe that these words were coming out of my friend’s mouth and my instant reaction was disbelief so, therefore, to support my friend. It didn’t take me long (after the phone conversation) for the words to sink in and I broke off our friendship. I cried so hard for the loss of our friendship, and because I didn’t want my friend to be that person. To be a child molester. I cried because I feared our friendship had been built on lies in the first place. I have never seen that person again. For all I know, he could be in jail.

  18. Another point. I have an attractive friend who is half aboriginal. He does not look it, and I was quite shocked to see his family photo – his dad is black as night, his brothers are dark, he is tanned and his mum and sisters are blond haired and blue eyed. When I first saw the photo I was like “oh wow. Your dad. He’s not… he’s… he’s not… he’s not white, is he!” It was hilarious, and my friend cracked up saying “listen to you! He’s aboriginal”. As soon as my friend said that, though, I could see some indigenous features about him which, actually, just serve to make him even more gorgeous. I cringe inside when I am out with him and other friends and other friends make comments about “abos” and stuff like that. I never do, and find it totally innapropriate.

  19. I come from a Christian family and I was taught to show grace all the time. At first I couldnt understand the concept of it, I was one of those bigots who judged people for not doing the right thing. An eye for an eye, was what I always thought. How can someone ever love, let alone forgive a murderer, a rapist, a thief? Shouldn’t everyone pay for their sins? It was just lately when I realized that I was one of the horrible people. Although I havent committed any of those crimes, I wasnt all that great as a human being. I was horrible, far from perfect. And people could see that. But my parents still loved me no matter what I did wrong. From then on I felt ashamed for judging other people and denying them the gift of love, respect, forgiveness just because their sins were different from mine. I think you should love a racist. because if you wont love your racist uncle., who would? How in the world will he ever give love regardless of fault, color, race, if he doesnt receive it freely from someone else? Idk, just a thought. πŸ™‚

  20. Quite a few of my family members are/were racist. Not out of spite or specific hatred, but because they didn’t know it was wrong to say and think the way they did. Instead of distancing myself from it, we had extensive discussions about the whole thing. I managed to change the mind and/or habits of 90% of them, however my grandfather will not ever change. And what I’ve discovered is that it is mostly because he stems from a different generation than I do. His is a generation where there is a defined right and wrong and it was described to him by his parents and members of his community. His is a generation where the “n-word” was commonplace and not considered profanity. His is a generation where he was shut off from the rest of the world, raised in a small town, and never introduced to people from different backgrounds until he had already made himself a person who was so rigidly constructed that if he was bent he would break.
    Is he wrong? Yes. Will he ever see that? No.
    But I will give the man credit for this, his children are less racist and more tolerant than he ever was, and they each produced children who are offended by their grandfather’s racism.

  21. A very sobering story. I suppose you CAN love a racist … from a distance. I’m deeply grateful for my mom, who taught us via word and example to keep every shred of racism out of our hearts. And so much more …

  22. I would ask him, what separates humanity vs. cruelty? Is this judged by one’s skin color or the “Content of one’s character”? Ask him if the shoe was on the other foot, how would he feel about it – being mistreated, demonized, ostracized, stigmatized, undermined, and the likes, and in doing so, who’s the real monster here now? Ask him about what his reason(s) is/are for hating someone of a different skin color than his own and how logical is such notion/thinking? I’ve always wanted to know the thinking behind it all. I think getting folks who are so bound with hatred, to discuss logically why they hate someone unnecessarily and for rather silly reasons, like skin color, which was taught to them by their parents and fore-parents alike, would help them to begin to think rationally for themselves, without the devil’s whisper, as I call it, would help them to unravel the foolishness and uncivil nature of being a racist. Moreover, I believe wholeheartedly that racism is a generational disease of the soul, and it requires a cure, like that of forgiveness – letting go of the past in order to fully embrace the beauty of the future-now and only intervention of universal intelligence from a caring, good-hearted soul as yourself, can bring about such change in the disease ridden mind of a racist. So, don’t dismiss him entirely. I would communicate with him in means of uprooting him from his deeply rooted hate into one of love and peace. Good luck and blessings, because you’ll need it, for the devil is quite stubborn! However, please share with me should you decide to save your uncle, on why he would hate someone of a different skin color than his own. I really would love to know…sometimes when you get folks to see and/or finally realize how silly and insane their thinking is, they may begin to change and move towards liberty in all sense of one’s being. For truly, just as fear cripples movement, one is a slave to racism (hatred), bounded by its’ generational and destructive curse-filled web of lies. Last, when you hate, you hold unforgiveness for some sort of wrong done to you or a lie that was told to you, and while you think you are free during this course of emotional turmoil, you ultimately hurt yourself more-so than the person in which you hate, for emotional baggage becomes a dis-ease within our bodies, thus ultimately becomes tumors, cysts, fibroids, cancer, etc, because they are being held in our emotional chakra in the pit of our stomachs and all things/people are connected and what we think, speak, and feel, do become manifest, and whether one wants to agree with this fact or not, it is true. So when you release such a negative emotion as racism (hatred), you’re actually freeing yourself of dis-eases and unnecessary emotional baggage that drags you down in life, never really having a flourishing moment in life, and I don’t mean of material gain, but more-so in lines with one’s wellness/well-being. So, my friend, let’s help the racist to place logic where there is none! You’re a blessed soul! Have a great and wonderful life! πŸ™‚

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