Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry

What Can I Do About Joking In-Laws?

'Not ... In My Own Home'

A woman's father-in-law routinely tells racist "jokes" at family gatherings. "It made me very uncomfortable," she writes, "though at first I didn't say anything to him about it." After having children, however, she felt compelled to speak up.

Arriving for her next visit, she said to her father-in-law, "I know I can't control what you do in your own house. Your racist 'jokes' are offensive to me, and I will not allow my children to be subjected to them. If you choose to continue with them, I will take the children and leave. And I'm informing you that racist 'jokes' or comments will not be allowed in my own home."

Describe your family's values. Your spouse's/partner's family may well embrace bigoted "humor" as part of familial culture. Explain why that isn't the case in your home; explain that principles like tolerance and respect for others guide your immediate family's interactions and attitudes.

Set limits. Although you may not be able to change your in-laws' attitudes, you can set limits on their behavior in your own home: "I will not allow bigoted 'jokes' to be told in my home."

Follow through. In this case, during her next visit, the woman and her children left when the father-in-law began to tell such a "joke." She did that two more times, at later family gatherings, before her father-in-law finally refrained.