Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry

What Can I Do About Sibling Slurs?

'Is This My Family?'

A woman is vacationing with her mother and two brothers. One morning, her brother says he wants to give his car "a Jewish car wash," which he describes as "taking soap out when it's raining to wash your car, so you don't waste money on water." He says he learned the phrase from their stepfather.

She asks, "Why is that funny?" He laughs and says, "Don't you get it? It's the whole Jewish-cheap thing." She responds, "Well, I don't think it's funny." He says, "What do you care? You're not Jewish."

That evening, over dinner, her other brother makes similar remarks.

"It pains me and embarrasses me that this is a pervasive culture in my own family, that they consider this part of their 'humor,'" she says. "I feel like an outsider. I feel confused. Where have I been? Is this my family?"

Speaking Up...
Sibling relationships involve long-established habits, shared experiences and expectations. In crafting a response to bias from a brother or sister, consider your history together. Was bigoted language and "humor" allowed or even encouraged in your childhood home? Or, is this behavior something new? Does you sibling see him- or herself as the sibling leader? Or does another sibling hold that role? The following suggestions might help frame your response:

Honor the past. If such behavior wasn't accepted in your growing-up years, remind your sibling of your shared past: "I remember when we were kids, Mom went out of her way to make sure we embraced differences. I'm not sure when or why that changed for you, but it hasn't changed for me."

Change the present. If bigoted behavior was accepted in your childhood home, explain to your siblings that you've changed: "I know when we were growing up that we all used to tell 'jokes' about Jews. As an adult, though, I advocate respect for others."

Appeal to family ties. "I value our relationship so much, and we've always been so close. Those anti-Semitic remarks are putting a lot of distance between us, and I don't want to feel distanced from you."

Reach out. Feedback about bias is sometimes hard to hear. Who is your sibling most likely to listen to? A spouse? A parent? A child? Seek out other relatives who can help deliver the message.