Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry

What Can I Do About Parental Attitudes?

'What To Say'

A woman writes: "My mother uses racial and ethnic terminology — the Mexican checkout clerk, the black saleslady — in casual stories in which race and ethnicity are not factors. Of course, if the person is white, she never bothers to mention it."

A man continually refers to the largest nuts in cans of mixed nuts as "nigger toes." His grown children speak up whenever they hear him use the term, but he persists.

A man writes, "My father says he has nothing against homosexuals, but they shouldn't allow them to lead in a church. I didn't know what to say."

Speak up without 'talking back.' Repeat information, removing unnecessary racial or ethnic descriptions: "What did the checkout clerk do next, Mom?" Or, "Yes, I like these mixed nuts, too." Subtly model bias-free language.

Appeal to parental values. Call upon the principles that guided your childhood home. "Dad, when I was growing up, you taught me to treat others the way I wanted to be treated. And I just don't think that term is very nice."

Discuss actively. Ask clarifying questions: "Why do you feel that way?" "Are you saying everyone should feel this way?" Articulate your view: "You know, Dad, I see this differently. Here's why." Strive for common ground: "What can we agree on here?"

Anticipate and rehearse. When you know bias is likely to arise, practice possible responses in front of a mirror beforehand. Figure out what works best for you, what feels the most comfortable. Become confident in your responses, and use them.