How Do I Teach My Kids Their Grandmother Is Racist?

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How Do I Teach My Kids Their Grandmother Is Racist?
Illustration by Jim Cooke/GMG. :
Dear Jane,
I am a WoC who is married to a white dude. Most of our married life, we lived with his mom. At first, it was because we were both students and he has 2 kids from a previous marriage and it was nice to have a big house to live in. Now, she lives with us because he wants to take care of his mom in her old age. I’m grateful for all the help we had received and the fact that the kids have a grandparent around who loves them. Lately, I’m finding living with her a real burden, not because of her age, but because of her ideas. I didn’t use to say anything but now, I let my mouth run. The other day, we had an argument because people in a small Canadian city were protesting all the refugees who were illegally entering Canada from the US I looked it up later and they weren’t protesting at all! They were wondering about the tents pitched up by the federal government and wanted to know what they could do to help. But, during the argument I called the city racist if they were protesting the mostly Haitian refugees. She started to defend the city and say they were not racist for not wanting people to clutter up the area.
Apparently, during the argument I called her racist. I don’t remember calling her that. But she IS a racist from every other conversation I’ve had with her. Two days later, she asked me to never, never, never, ever call her a racist. I can call her intolerant or a bigot but never a racist. I told her she needs to find out what racism is. She said she knows what racism is because she’s lived longer than I have. I, of course, said that I know better what racism is because I experience it everyday and that being labeled racist is not worse than being affected by racism. Back and forth and back forth. She doesn’t want to be called racist in her own home (a home we partially own) and couldn’t I just respect that? If she were really racist, how could she live with me all these years? We’re thinking of moving to a different town and she will be moving with us. I want to have a peaceful house but I want to be able to call a spade a spade. My MIL is completely unaware of her white privilege. She doesn’t realize that she actually holds power to affect the lives of PoC by voting for a bigot, even just for economic reasons. I have half-white children, Muslim children, who will be experiencing overt racism soon. I need to teach them about what they will face and they will eventually realize that their grandmother is racist. This isn’t a Thanksgiving dinner where I can argue with her and leave. This is in my home. How do I keep peace in my home and call out racism as soon as I see it?
Pissed off in Canada
PS: You might want to know where my husband is in all this. He works in that little town where we are planning to move and is often away from home. He works really, really long hours (I mean really long) and is way too tired to deal with home problems. Besides, I want to fight my own battles because I’ve stayed quiet so long.

Dear POC,

Hang on: you basically live alone with your racist mother-in-law right now? YIKES. I’m so sorry, that is a fucking nightmare, good lord.

Here’s the thing: she knows you know she’s a racist. The groundwork has been laid (good job!). And her arguments are stupid. And she is not the boss of you, so you can do whatever you want. But, as with any asshole, you can’t change people (very easily, by yourself when you are raising kids). Especially stubborn racists who won’t even consider your point of view. So let’s just assume calling her a racist won’t alter a thing. You could replace the word with bigot. That works and lets her know you’re paying attention. But if words matter to you, you could also just keep calling her a racist until she shuts the fuck up and has her racist thoughts on the inside, not the outside, or dies. She’s going to die, I promise!

Also, I think calling her out is probably a good example for your kids. I know people are going to disagree with me, but children are smart little sponges and while it’s not a an easy lesson — teaching them when to talk back to their elders — it is a good lesson that their mother will defend them and stand up for herself no matter what. I think the good outweighs the bad there. Man, fuck her. I’m sorry.

Oh, PS: Your husband is a coward. We all have jobs, whoop-de-doo. That does not mean we don’t stand up for our partners. I know you want to handle this yourself and, congrats, you will have to, but he’s getting major side-eye from me right now.

I am recently married. I’ve been my husband for seven years before we got married, and I have known from day one that he has issues with his parents. As the years have gone on, I’ve come to understand why. As our Big Day approached, my mother in law (MIL), reached out to me over small matters, and I always happily communicated back and forth. Well, on our wedding day, neither she nor my father in law had a smile on their faces the whole day (I’ve checked every photo!!), said inappropriate, disparaging comments against our service, even going so far as to tell strangers their thoughts. They left VERY early. Turns out, not only did MIL and FIL leave early, they did not even thank my parents for hosting (and paying for) our entire wedding in their backyard. I can forgive any slight on my behalf, but my parents and siblings worked so hard to do this for us, that I am flabbergasted to the point of rage. And now my MIL keeps reaching out, clearly hoping for a connection that I do not want to give her for insulting my parents. Please, help. Am I holding onto a grudge, or should maintain the distance?

Oh, weddings. They make everyone crazy, including you. Trust me that a few months/years/decades from now, you will forget how important this feels.

So, your parents paid for a wedding they hosted at their home. That’s very sweet! It also inherently means that your husband and his family had a diminished role in the day. That can make some people feel weird, unloved, neglected, etc. My guess is that your in-laws wanted to be more a part of the day than they were. And you know what? They are adults and will have to grow up and get over it. Nothing happened to them. They’re fine.

The fact that your mother-in-law is reaching out to you is a good sign! FFS, stop scouring your wedding photos for evidence of her hatred toward you and your family and just, like, go to Olive Garden with her or something.

Also, maybe you married the wrong person? When that happens we often look for signs of trouble anywhere we can find it. Think about it.

Dear Jane
I’ve just started grad school in a new city and I’ve made two new wonderful female friends. I really like hanging out with them but we’re now three weeks into the friendship and they’ve started making suggestions about how I should change the way I look. I’m a slightly chubby masculine-but-not-really-masculine woman with long hair and invisible eyebrows, who doesn’t wear makeup anymore or do a whole lot to my look. I’m open to try new things, but coloring and waxing my eyebrows seems like weird ways to show commitment to a friendship. And what would come next? I don’t have many female friends so I really want this to work, but I also don’t want to spend money on getting my eyebrows done, when I’m fine with how they look now. Is there a polite way to tell them that their beauty standards make me feel bad about myself, and that I would prefer not to participate – or should I just give it a go?
I hope you can help!

Three weeks! GET A GRIP. These people fucking suck and it’s rad you found out so quickly. If you’re in a town that even has a graduate school, there are plenty more folks to choose from. Ghost these fools.

Have a question for Jane? Email her at [email protected]. Please change names and identifying info; this advice column unfortunately is not aimed at destroying lives.

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