Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry

What Can I Do About Stubborn Relatives?

'It Was Like A Game To Him'

A young Arizona woman says her father and uncle know how much she opposes racist or homophobic "jokes." "I've told them that all the time, and they just keep telling 'jokes' to make me mad, to push my buttons and get a reaction. They know I hate it. It used to make me so angry I'd cry and leave the house. Now I just try not to react."

A Maryland man shares a similar story: "My cousin used to come visit me whenever he was doing business in town. One time he was over and used the N-word, and I said, 'I don't use that word,' but he still used it a few more times. I finally said, 'Don't use that word. If you're going to use that word, I'm going to ask you to find somewhere else to stay.' It was like a game to him, to use the word to see how I'd react."

Describe what is happening. Define the offense, and describe the pattern of behavior. "Every time I come over, you tell 'jokes' I find offensive. While some people might laugh along with you, I don't. I've asked you not to tell them, but you keep doing it anyway."

Describe how you are feeling. "I love you so much, and I know you love me, too. I wonder why you choose to keep hurting me with your comments and 'jokes.'"

Appeal to family ties. "Your 'jokes' are putting unnecessary distance between us; I worry they'll end up doing irreparable harm. I want to make sure those 'jokes' don't damage our relationship."

State values, set limits. "You know that respect and tolerance are important values in my life, and, while I understand that you have a right to say what you want, I'm asking you to show a little more respect for me by not telling these 'jokes' when I'm around."

Ask for a response. "I don't want this rift to get worse, and I want us to have a good relationship. What should we do?"

Broaden the discussion. Consider including sympathetic family members — and not-so-sympathetic family members — in the discussion so everyone can work to help the family find common ground.

Put it in writing. If spoken words and actions don't have an effect, consider writing a note, letter or email. Often, people "hear" things more clearly that way.