Posted by: eliseanne | December 1, 2009

Confronting Oppression In Loved Ones


Some people I love oppress other people I love. 
Some people I love are not safe around other people I love.

I’ve been struggling with this for quite some time now, but it was really clear to me this past week or two, with some concrete examples. I have sought solace in the blogosphere and my husband and a few choice friends, but am left unsatisfied and without answers. This isn’t something with a formula for success. It is life, a journey, a mess. With stories of failure and success. Some blatant and overt, some hidden and covert.

I feel a responsibility to speak up against racism, sexism, heterosexism, ablism, and pretty much any form of oppressive joke.  It is one thing on the blogosphere. With friends, it is hard, because it can alienate myself, and cause isolation. With family, it is even harder, because, well, they’re family. All three areas have been hard lately.

If it is this hard and unsafe for me, simply an ally, what must it be like for the people I love who are the subjects of these cruel jokes/opinions/beliefs/comments?

Have you been in similar stories? What person are you in the story?  How do you respond?

Here are some snippets in the blog world that are floating through my brain. Check out the full posts and their comments with the links.

1. From, “So Now I Know…”:

 It’s the moment that they realize that speaking up about race or racism distances them from other white people. 
Then Me knew that typically nobody would speak up if I didn’t.  And Then Me knew that I couldn’t live a lie.

So what are the risks and rewards of being anti-racist? 

2. From EscapingBabylon.Com, “People She Loved in Several Cases, People She Knew Were Incredibly Racist”:

Do you compartmentalize, and only share with those you love those parts that will not cause conflicts?

Do you limit your activism on this issue to preserve your relationship?

3. From IrenesDaughters.Wordpress.Com, “Taking It Home For The Holidays”:

Because ours is a white family, we are a meeting of “us” that can launch into conversations about “them.”  Do I confront these things?  Make passive-aggressive sarcastic comments (as I’m prone to do)?  Should I make a scene or let these things pass knowing that this will be my children’s only exposure to most of the folks for a whole year, and my husband and I can clean up the mess later?

4. From Womanist-Musings.Com, “A Spark of Wisdom: Why We Can’t Always Have Productive Conversations”:

Yes, it can be productive. Yes it has worked. Yes calmly and reasonably answering all the ignorant questions you’ve answered a thousand times or politely objecting and explaining why something was offensive can and does work.

And sometimes I can’t do it. Sometimes I’m tired, I’m in a bad mood or I’m just sick to the back teeth of the whole damn hetero-normative world, it’s ignorance, it’s insensitivity and it’s endless reminders that I don’t belong.  Sometimes I’m annoyed because it should be damned OBVIOUS why I don’t find that joke funny, or why I get angry at being called “fag.”

5. From StuffWhitePeopleDo.Blogspot.Com, “Assume That Other White People Enjoy Making Fun Of And Trash-Talking Non-White People”:

I, and some other white people, do not think your jokes about POC [people of color] are funny — at all. Most of the time we’re horrified. Contrary to what you believe, we don’t all secretly think POC actually fall into the stereotypes that you think they do. We do not necessarily share some collective consciousness together bound by our whiteness. True, we are all lumped together in the white category, but that doesn’t mean that we’re all as blissfully oblivious as you are about it.

6. From the same blog different writer, “Get Fed Up Sometimes With Their White Liberal Acquaintences”:

That did not feel like a safe social space to me. As I started to disagree, I could feel the undercurrent of uncomfortable hostility begin to grow. When I went quiet, the hostility just grew in me instead.

7. From, “Softening My Skin In A Mud Bath”:

The comment and admonition to get thicker skin is akin to saying “don’t be so sensitive” or “you’re choosing to be offended” – all of the interpretations lend itself to telling the offended person that this is their personal issue they personally have to overcome.

I don’t want thick skin because I do not believe God wants us to create a bigger barrier to feeling and engaging deeply with God and with one another.

 Thick skin means I just “get over it” and move along. But what if God doesn’t want us to move on so quickly all the time? What if our attempts at getting over it just mean “it” never goes away?


May the peace and boldness of Christ, the great reconciler (who also called people out) help you and help me as we walk this path.



  1. In my immediate family, I have come to a point of little to no filter. With my parents and and in law I have worked years to a place where I am openly confrontational (all trying to stay within the norms of white cultural conflict). But that as you know has taken years and tears with my mother thinking that I am going to become a terrorist. My parents don’t understand my anger much of the time, but they know it is there.

    In the extended family there have been times of direct confrontation and they have been both positive and negative. It is funny though as I apparently have gained a reputation for being really intense in my family. I also seek out opportunities with my cousins to dialog with them… many of whom are still in college and open to ideas… especially from their loved big cousin Jon.

    But what do I do if there something said? White wisdom often encourages us to stay quite… saying things like “Its not worth it” or “you catch more bees with honey than you do with vinegar” or “its not worth losing the relationship”. Increasingly I must demand of myself and others the need to confront these issues head on. I desire always to keep the relationship going as I want family members to journey with me… but in the back of my tool kit remains the possibility for cussing someone out and letting them feel just a small piece of the rage their racism causes throughout others lives. Maybe FUCK YOU (though I am aware of the rape culture connotations) from the face of a white person is what they need. But I am still waiting for white people to love their own humanity and people so deeply they are willing to be true race traitors… most of us just talk about it. I am still waiting for white rage.

    • Yeah I hear ya. I believe that we are growing in our confrontation skills with people we are intimate with, but it is the people not seen often that bring the struggle. Because I think you have to have relationship and trust in our culture for someone to listen to your voice, especially if it is an angry voice.

      I have had several people say that for the older generation, “just pray,” because they have grown up in ignorance for so long that there’s no listening. But how far can the excuse of ignorance or being raised in a culture go, before you are responsible for not learning it yourself?

      I was encouraged by a cousin who has experienced racism himself, yet sees the humanity in the oppressors, and sees that they are coming from one perspective, and they need to be heard too in order to seek truth and reconciliation together. it was beautiful.

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