Elderly Aunt, please help. How does one deal with the heartache of their own mother, who lives nearby, and with whom they have a close relationship, switching from being mostly silently racist, to becoming vocally racist? I feel more heartbroken than when I lost a loved one to dementia.
The subject of racism is guaranteed to vault the Elderly Aunt atop her high horse.
It is her opinion that racism is one of humanity’s stupidest and most destructive constructs, cobbled together from fear, ignorance and a complete lack of curiosity. It has nothing to do with the racist person’s choice of targets and everything to do with the racist person, themselves.
Alas, the Elderly Aunt feels your pain and consternation, dear reader. It is obvious that you love your mother very much, and that they two of you lead intertwined lives. From the way you phrase your question, it seems to the Elderly Aunt that your mother has always been racist, but you have gotten by until now by relying on your own mother/child version of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
To the Elderly Aunt, racism is a manifestation of benighted personal experience that needs to be acknowledged and understood before it can be effectively addressed. We are as our experience and education teaches us to be, in other words.
As a good American, the Elderly Aunt firmly agrees with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr: Your mother has a Constitutional Right to spout her racist rhetoric as long as she doesn’t falsely incite panic. At the same time, you also have a right to speak your mind. So have you told your mother in clear, simple, non-emotional language that you are not comfortable listening to it?
The Elderly Aunt suggests you honor your relationship with your mother (and her many good qualities, we’re sure) by not giving in to your righteous urge to call her an ignorant dumb-bunny because of her racism—even though, in this one area, she is being one. Make it clear that you are ready to engage in conversation with her on the subject of her irrational hatred (fear?) of others, but only if she agrees to cite her sources for the racist opinions she cites as facts — and that she keep in mind that the opinions of pundits and even those of President Donald Trump aren’t facts. They’re opinions.
Your mother, dear reader, is not the only newly-liberated racist on the block, and the Elderly Aunt feels strongly that the above approach is a good first step in dealing with anyone’s racist rhetoric. Staying calm is so much more effective than getting het up in the face of such obvious manifestations of ignorance and fear. There’s nothing more frustrating to a racist than trying to incite strong emotion in a non-racist who remains coolly connected to reality no matter what.
If, however, your mother continues to spout her racist views in your presence, the Elderly Aunt sees only two options if you wish to preserve your relationship with her: Give Mom’s racist comments a pass, which means you are passively accepting her racist stance; or end the conversation by making it clear you do not agree with her racist views and it distresses you to hear her voice them. If your mother gets defensive or starts quoting Lou Dobbs, physically leave her presence
And do keep the faith, dear reader. Love is now, as it has always been, so much thicker than hate. The Elderly Aunt would bet that your mother is trainable even if she’s not educable, and that she will quickly stop spouting racism when she’s around you.
The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday. And as a general disclaimer—to quote the elves from The Lord of the Rings — “… advice is a dangerous gift, even given from the wise to the wise.”
Got a question for the Elderly Aunt? Ask her on Facebook or email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions).