When My Own Family’s Posts Are Racist, Sexist

Categories: Bigotry, Personal, Racism, Sexism
Comments: 10 Comments
Published on: 2017.06.26

I’ve blurred the avatar and first name because I don’t want to focus on one individual’s behavior. But I’ve left the surname visible: this was posted by a member of my extended family, someone I’ve known since childhood.

I’ve been open about unfriending more than a dozen social media contacts last year (several of whom were real-life family/friends). As is natural for me, I’ve second-guessed that decision many times. I wonder repeatedly whether I should have remained “friends” with them online and challenged their posts — “call them out”, so to speak.

None of the issues were things I consider “political”; all were stances on very fundamental things like women’s rights, civil rights in general, freedom of speech/expression, whether sexual assault is okay, or whether we should favor environmental protections over obscene profits.

Months after all of that, I got a friend request from an extended family member who I knew as a child but haven’t had much contact with since then. I had no idea what I was in for.

Most of this person’s posts were about a personal hobby — something in which I take zero interest — so I simply scrolled past them (as I would expect them to do with personal hobby posts of mine). After a few days, a few pro-Trump memes popped up. Again, I just scrolled — everyone is entitled to his or her political stances, I told myself. I won’t assume what this person is thinking, or why they might support a political figure that I’m personally against. In hindsight, I wonder whether I should have asked which particular things about Trump were worth supporting.

But then this meme (pictured at top right) showed up on my timeline, casting women in general as sex objects and black women in particular as a specific category of sex object, and belittling them all with the moniker “girls”.

Again, in hindsight, I wonder whether I should have challenged it, or at least asked a poignant question. In fairness to myself, I wondered that at the time, too, but could not answer “yes” to my own question: “Will it be worth my time and effort to entertain the possibility that there was a good reason for posting this?”

Using my innate conflict-avoidance tendency as a guide, I clicked “unfriend” and walked away.

For more than a week, I’ve pondered my hastiness, to the point of overthinking. It hasn’t helped, by the way (does it ever?)

I welcome your thoughts and opinions. What do you do when your family members say racist or sexist bullshit, whether in person or online? (I think if it had been in person, I would have spoken up, depending on circumstances, but one can never be sure.) Do you challenge them? Do you walk away? Do you ignore it?

***

One other option that someone here is sure to mention — and which I am once again considering — is exiting social media altogether. Most of you know that I left Facebook in 2010, and only returned in 2014 because I was missing out on neighborhood communications through its closed Facebook group.

However, I’m reluctant to leave again, because the majority of people I follow don’t do this (because I actively weed out the ones who do). Also, leaving Facebook doesn’t end my relationship with family members.

***

10 Comments
  1. Recently I have been more apt to “unfollow” than unfriend. I don’t have to see the bullspit, but those people can still see my incredibly erudite, brilliant, flawless, and entertaining posts. Also, unfriending someone actually has no effect on their bigotry at all. Maybe we should have the courage to call them out more often. But, yes, I know: deaf ears.

  2. Mammon says:

    I myself don’t have Facebook, but my brother has mentioned my dad posting more and more aggressively political stuff of a conservative nature. Not surprising since he has switched to getting all his news from Fox (fell in with a bad crowd). Since I don’t have Facebook it doesn’t present itself as a problem too often, but a couple of weeks ago he forwarded a chain email to all of us. It was basically using a “Wacky information you didn’t know!” format to barely veil an argument that guns should be everywhere. I took an hour to write up a response email pointing out the lack of sources for the information, the poor scorecard for chain emails on Politifact, some rebutting data with sources, and I wrote a paragraph about avoiding confirmation bias and being open to conflicting data. I can’t say if it had any effect, positive or negative, since he never responded, but I was at least glad I addressed my problems with it.

    I don’t know if I would do the same with extended family members though, and there is a certain threshold at which it seems better to just not associate. While my parents certainly have many moments of implicit racism, we can still agree that my cousin in the explicitly racist motorcycle gang doesn’t need to be invited to family gatherings.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      Ah, thankfully I no longer receive those chain emails… Yes, I used to respond to them too, spending tons more time than the people propagating them.

      Perhaps the closeness (or lack of) of this family tie rightly affected my decision to not respond. Had it been someone closer, whom I already had some level of respect for, perhaps I would have been more justified in spending effort.

  3. I wonder whether I should have challenged it

    In writing this post, you have challenged it. And you did it with respect to the original posters opinion and right to free speech while asserting your own.

    I say, “Good Job”

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      Thanks, Michael.

      I don’t know whether the original poster in this case has seen (or will see) this “challenge”, since I hastily clicked “unfriend” as soon as I saw it and then waited more than a week to write. But quite a few people did see it, both here an on my Facebook post (which linked to this blog entry). Most people who commented — you can see the comments here; it’s a public post — seemed to have the same concerns as I did, which was encouraging.

      I think that, at least for now, this is my favored means of “challenging” or “calling out” what I see as inappropriate behavior, because this way the other person doesn’t need to feel defensive and snap back, and it seems to reach a slightly wider audience than if I had simply commented on the person’s Facebook status.

  4. Sometimes attempts at humor like this are a result of immaturity, not evil. I know I cracked wise too loosely in my youth, and regretted it.

  5. Dana says:

    Well, the defense attorney in me would say (playing Devil’s advocate) that the person who posted it may, as Richard suggested, not have had any malice in mind. He may not be aware of the racist and sexist overtones. He may have just thought it was funny. We’ve been receiving a ton of “implicit bias” training at work (along with recognizing and avoiding microagressions) and I’m blown away at theoretically how often I’ve unintentionally offended people.

    In family matters, I choose to overlook any “tone-deaf” comments (which, given that I’m not on Facebook are few and far between as far as I’m concerned). Of my relatives that I’ve met, people are generally good-hearted and live good lives even if they occasionally say something stupid or offensive.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      Thank you for that perspective, Dana.

      In the past few days, I read an article (it’s here; excuse the weak lede and clickbaity headline) that had a few good suggestions for responding to stuff like this. In hindsight, a couple of them might have been the better route for me.

      Number 3 is the one I probably should have used in this situation. “Act like you don’t get it.” Make them explain it to you. Something like: “I think I’m missing the humor here; can you break it down for me?”

      Perhaps this is where my “bubble” comes into play — I’ve been outside the racist/sexist loop for so long that I no longer instinctively remember how it was so easy to laugh at these sorts of things. :-/

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