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IL's being racially insensitive

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 
I am Filipino and DH is American (Caucasian).

Before we got married, I had already noticed a bit of insensitivity/ignorance coming from DH's side of the family. It ranges from the mundane and almost funny (MIL: "Do you use the same calendar as we do?") to somewhat offensive, with SIL often mentioning her 80 yr old uncle-in-law's 20 year old Filipino mail-order wife wondering how that match could've happened or their neighbor who had a Filipino wife who left him for someone else (because I guess it does not happen to other races as well *insert sarcasm here*).

In a lot of conversations they would always mention race even if it were not relevant to the story. It does not have to be Filipino, but pretty much anything other than white. Example,

FIL: So and so has a new general manager. He's black.


FIL: I went to the farmer's market last Saturday. The vendors are mostly Vietnamese.


MIL: The Canada Geese has really been a problem in so and so park because of all the pooping. It's because the Mexicans feed them bread all the time. (well, what do you know, the one time we were at a park, who do we see feeding the geese? An elderly, Caucasian woman, pretty much like MIL)

I know it's really not offensive per se but the race really is not relevant and it makes me think why they think it is important to mention it.

Or one time, DH's nephew's bike got stolen and it was somehow relevant that it was a Mexican kid who stole it. Or the other time when SIL was at a garage sale with me, letting the kids run about but the moment a Somali family arrived and started perusing the garage sale, she had to get her kids closer to her and she later admitted that the presence of that family somewhat bothered her and made her hold on to her kids a little bit tighter. Note that this family consisted of 2 moms and their 5-6yr old kids.

FIL would often comment about why in the world would Somalis choose to migrate in their state or the Hmongs for that matter.

While at most it is an annoyance/irritant to me, I am starting to think about how it would be for my son when he gets to be more conscious of his heritage. My IL's do not believe they are racist because, well, they really don't mean any harm. To them, if they did not mean harm then any hurt feelings should not count. So no, they are not aware of their insensitivities and unlikely to change precisely because of the fact that they view themselves as your normal, average family who means no harm so who could possibly be hurt by what they do or what they have to say?

So now, the dilemma lies in how do I handle this type of behavior in the presence of my son who is now starting to process conversations and such (he is 3)? Like I said, I am not so much worried for myself because pretty much no one can convince me that I am inferior or of a lesser race but I do wonder if this type of thing can hurt my son?

IL's live far from us and we do seldom see each other. Once a year perhaps for a period of two weeks. But this is a period where we're all together all the time. And I understand that I cannot shield my son from the racism in the world but I do worry about it coming not from strangers but rather relatives of his.

Any advice?
post #2 of 21
I would say that it is up to your husband to talk to them. You tell him how you feel, about your worries for your son and then he goes talks to HIS parents.
post #3 of 21
you know something. its somehow inherent in us to be racist. i shocked myself the other day by my thoughts and discovered i was prejudiced even though i didnt believe i was. wow that was some wake up call for me.

having said that i wouldnt worry so much about shielding your ds. in a sense i think its going to be good. as his parents you set the bottom line. he might bring it up himself. or it might just go over his head. it probably will open up dialogue between your child and you.

if otherwise they are good gparents then i wouldnt try to limit what little time they have together.

your inlaws are not going to turn your child racist. they might introduce the concept of race. what matters is how they are with their gson. are they caring. do they have a close relationship?

however take my views with a pinch of salt. i feel parenting has become far too serious and we try to protect our kids way too much. so please ignore my comments if they dont sit right with you.
post #4 of 21
Thread Starter 
i'm not so much afraid of them turning my child racist as them hurting my child for their cavalier comments. His mommy after all is not white and he is a child of Filipino descent so whenever they make comments emphasizing race/nationality, I feel that it emphasizes to my child that he is different as well.
post #5 of 21
aaaaaaah i see what you are saying.

yeah we faced that too.

i have always brought up my dd to understand everyone has a mouth. everyone has a right to their opinion. does that mean you have to believe it. for heaven's sake my mom says stuff too. i know for my dd what she closely watches is my attitude.

right now at almost 7 she is really upset by the names her dad calls me. i show her how its a reflection of him and not of me. and i explain why he is th eway he is. its just the way he is.

at 3 i had to work with her with regards to my mom. and explain to her where my mom was coming from. even then what really mattered was my reaction.

i have noticed it has definitely made her sensitive to people's feelings since she has been exposed to 'negative' comments since she was little.

at times she has cried with teh why. i have sat with her and mourned too and said i dont really understand either, but i wasnt going to let that affect me. and then gone on with our life.
post #6 of 21
Thread Starter 
That is good to know (about your experience with your daughter).
I think it's a good approach to take.
I know I cannot shield my son from people like that nor do I want to create the illusion for him that prejudice does not exist.
I think being honest with him in a way he can understand might be best (like you do for your daughter).
Thank you!
post #7 of 21
Are you in MN/the midwest? (I say that because of the mentioning of Hmong and Somali refugees, which were a BIG big topic of conversation when I lived in the Twin Cities about 10 years ago, with a lot of really disappointing racist overtones.) I don't know the background of your DH's family, but my first husband's family was from rural MN and they too often used racial descriptors. But in their case it wasn't so much negatively, but...just for convenience I guess or to express that they liked the novelty of having, say, a black friend or regular customers who were "Mexicans" (meaning hispanic) who were there for farm labor, ect. That was jarring to my enlightened/sensitive ears. Once my ex-BIL asked me why I got a "funny look" on my face when he's said something like that, and I simply told him that when I'd heard other people use race as a way to describe someone they usually meant it in a derogatory way. He was really embarrassed, and I felt bad (because obviously he hadn't meant it that way). But later he thanked me, and said he talked about it with the friend he'd mentioned and said that he could understand why that might give the wrong impression and that it'd been a good discussion with his friend.

Generally I've chosen to only call people out if they're obviously using it in a derogatory way, or if they ask me about it (like BIL did), or if something is said that hurts me personally (I am biracial, but it's not super obvious to most people, so occasionally that is an inroads for discussion).
post #8 of 21
I think you should talk to the family about their use of race as a descriptor. They probably aren't aware that they are being offensive to you. Tell them how it makes you feel as a non-white person. Ask them if they realise they don't do the same thing for white people, assuming they don't and that that is part of the issue you are having.

I always cringe when I hear race, sexual orientation, or any other irrelavent-to-the-situation-at-hand descriptor used, but I really think people use them without thinking and just aren't aware that they are unneeded. I hear people of a variety of races doing the same thing. Humans like to describe and label. It's what we do. If you are bothered by it, you need to talk to them. Ask they why it is relevant that the new manager is black or that the vendors are Vietnamese. See what they say.

I hope you use this opportunity as a teaching moment. Good luck!
post #9 of 21
That is so funny, when I heard the sort of immigrant groups your in-laws mentioned I thought you might be in MN too!

I can speak from experience as the bi-racial child with working class white family from MN and the sorts of comments that I heard growing up.
I really don't know if talking to them is going to help. If they are not used to being around people of color then it probably will never occur to them that what they are saying is offensive or possibly damaging to you and your kid.
But make sure to provide a different example as he is growing more conscious of race (and trust me when you are a bi racial or multi racial person you NEVER stop being conscious of race!!!) and let him know that the way his family talks is not appropriate and that they don't necessarily mean harm but are just the products of American society. Understanding history and race relations and racism is important to recognize and understand those sorts of people. It's helped me come to understand my working class white family. (Though on some occassions when it gets too overt or offensive I will say something!)

It's a weird thing to be an "insider" as a mixed race kid or a person whose in a relationship with a person of another race. People sometimes "forget" who you are and will slip up and say the craziest stuff around you!

And if someone needs to say something make sure its your husband. Hopefully, since he married you, he has some kind of understanding of racism and respect and he can be your advocate because he is probably the voice they will listen to.

And hopefully your son will teach them some things too now that they have a child of color as part of the family they might be more aware of how ignorance and prejudice is something they should fight against in themselves and their communities!
post #10 of 21
Originally Posted by shinaabikwe View Post
That is so funny, when I heard the sort of immigrant groups your in-laws mentioned I thought you might be in MN too!
me three!
i'm still reading the replies, just wanted to chime in on the MN thing..
post #11 of 21
This probably isn't the best reaction, but when I'm around my in-laws, who aren't all that aware, if I hear the conversation turning a certain way I eventually start to "slip up" too, with a comment here or there, like how "whities" are all so dirty...they all wear their shoes in their houses - ha ha." Or if they are guessing at some asian ethnicity I might joke, "Japanese. Chinese. It's all the same. Who can tell them apart, anyway?" I'm amer-asian. I suppose it's my way of letting off steam. It's not a lecture. It's not self-righteous. It's a mirror. Sometimes they look a bit stunned. "Is she kidding? Is she serious? Am I supposed to laugh now?" Sometimes it goes right over their heads. Either way I feel better. I've been dealing with this kind of dynamic all my life. (I'm almost 40.) Ten years ago I might have tried to keep my cool while trying to raise awareness. But in all honesty I figured out that approach takes way too much effort for little-to-no payoff. That approach may even build walls, if you want to know the truth of it.

As for having bi-racial children and helping them, I think biracial kids are at the crux of racial understanding. They will have it down better than anyone. They are potentially targeted from both sides (not white and not "pure") and will have to navigate that territory as they grow up. If the in-laws are a part of that territory, well, you can't help that. Some of the nicest people I know are preoccupied with race. It's a complex issue. I had terrible esteem growing up, with the Chinese-Japanese slurs and all. I was shaped by it, and though parts were painful at the time, the struggle provided an understanding and awareness for me that not many people have the privilege of having. I live a richer life now because of it.
post #12 of 21
I'm only 1/4 Arabic (mom is half) but DH's family loves to crack comments about Arabs. My father and his family keep hush hush about the "situation."

I feel for you, and when either side of my family make cracks, I pleasantly remind them that we are part Arab - of course, dad is ridiculously embarrassed about it (how dare anyone know). Sigh.

post #13 of 21
Thread Starter 
LOL. Yes, they are from MN.

At some point I got kind of tired of my FIL's query regarding "Why in hades would the Somalis or Hmongs migrate to MN, of all states?" and I asked him, why does it bother him so? And then he goes it's because they get the jobs that X and Y (his grandchildren) are supposed to be getting. I had to muster a lot of self-control against retorting with "no, they're getting the jobs that X and Y CAN'T KEEP".

I just had to LOL at the way you're handling these things insahmniak. I should probably have more of a sense of humor like you.
post #14 of 21
OT, but I gained about 20 lbs after my exH started a job in a education center where most of the people there were Somali and word got out that we both loved these meat pastry-like things (it's been so long I can't even remember the name but I am drooling with the memory of how good they were) that are Somali cuisine! And it didn't help that after we separated I moved to within walking distance of Vietnamese bakery row in St. Paul.
post #15 of 21
I can't say I have advice, but I'm posting to commiserate. I get very offended when people mention race when describing a person or situation. I don't find it to be a pertinent detail..

My husband is aboriginal, and it seems that a lot of Canadians are prejudiced against them (seems to be a stereotype that all natives are drug addicts or alcoholics or abuse social programs, etc), and I get very hurt and offended when I hear people perpetuating that stereotype.
post #16 of 21
Your in-laws sound a lot like both my grandmothers... both the Caucasian and Japanese ones. Both were/are some of the most racist people I have ever known.
post #17 of 21
Originally Posted by grumpybear View Post
At some point I got kind of tired of my FIL's query regarding "Why in hades would the Somalis or Hmongs migrate to MN, of all states?"
Fantasy answer: "I know, it's just this boring place full of ignorant white people. You'd think they'd move somewhere with a little culture."

(FYI, this comment does not reflect my true opinion of Minnesota. Minnesota is lovely! Full of culture! But ignorance too.)
post #18 of 21
Excluding my mom, pretty much my entire family is racist. Now, they would NEVER consider themselves racist. They think they're quite normal and open to other cultures. But, the truth is, they're comments are just incredible to hear. They're all from eastern Europe, in a country that is 99.9% Caucasian Catholic. So, they have no exposure to other races.

My dp is adopted, and when I casually mentioned this to them, my grandmother said "my God, he could be a Jew for all you know." I'm embarrassed for them. Since then, she has gone on to say that "he could, God forbid, be an Arab." Really, I'm just glad my dp doesn't understand what they say due to the language barrier. My grandmother has been known to say things like "all black men beat their wives."

I've tried over and over to change their views, and nothing has helped. My hope is that because I will be raising my child in the states, and only going to see my family during the summers, my child will be able to differentiate between right and wrong in such views.

After all, I was born in that country, lived there until age 5, and then moved to America. At which point, I spent summers with family in Europe and the school year in America. And I definitely don't hold any racist views. Although, I do agree with the poster who said that, to a certain extent, we all have some prejudices. I'm sometimes surprised by mine, and I try really hard to overcome certain irrational fears or stereotyping.
post #19 of 21
Wow, I can't believe your DH is standing for such insensitive ignorance from your in-laws. I would have a talk with him and how there comments come across to you and how it could have an affect on your DS later on in life. That being said, I used to be married to a filipino man who's mother was constantly offensive to me (I'm caucasian). She hated the fact that she would not have full filipino grand children!! Yet, she is the one who moved to America!!

So I know how you feel although my situation was kind of oppisite yours. My best friend is filipino by the way! She's from Manila and the coolest chic I know, lol!

Side Note: filipino guy and I ended in divorce.....partly his mother's fault.
post #20 of 21
My dad does this stuff. He says thing like I was talking to a new lack cowroker or whatever. My Ils do it too. We aren't a biracial couple but I understand what you mean when people don't think about it being racist. But it essentially is. I don't have any advice. I alway ask though now when a person says this, wha does teh race have to do with your story?
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