DEAR KELLY: My grandparents are coming for my graduation, and they are racists. They have no clue they are racists. If I were to ever call them that, my mom says that they would be so hurt. I hate having them around because I never know what will come out of their mouths.
Last time there were in town they met one of my friends who is black. My grandma must have said three times how wonderful she thought Martin Luther King Jr. was and other weird things. Thank goodness my friend was able to laugh about it after, but even she said it was kind of weird.
My grandma shares things about growing up in a segregated town. Every time she talks, I cringe. She will say things like “interracial dating would have never been tolerated when I was in high school. How times have changed.”
I told my mom to tell them they didn’t need to come, but she said that would devastate them. I hope at my party after graduation she doesn’t say anything racist or something to make my friends feel awkward. Half of my friends are either black, Asian or Filipino. My grandma has even commented “What a rainbow of friends you have,” like that’s supposed to make me feel good. When I went to visit her in Georgia, all her friends were white. It was so obvious.
Please tell me what to do. I should be excited for my graduation, not dreading it because my grandma is a loose cannon. I know she is my family, but I can’t help but feel embarrassed that I’m related to someone so narrow-minded. I’m sure they are Trump supporters, and if we start on politics, I can guarantee I won’t be able to keep my mouth shut about how awful I think he is.
A Family Divided
DEAR FAMILY: Being in a family means we accept each other for being different. When people know that you truly accept them, trust develops, they open up and a closer bond develops. In particular, it improves relationships. Approaching family with judgment divides you and develops tension and resentment. While you struggle with Grandma’s words or beliefs, you seem to be judging her quite swiftly. You want her to accept others, yet you seem to be critical of her.
It is important to remember that accepting people does not mean you have to like or condone their annoying ways, but simply that you need to accept it is the way they are and that you are powerless over changing them or their beliefs. You don’t have to agree with them to love them. It’s about letting go of judging them on your differences and appreciating them for the good things they offer.
Your grandma sounds like a history lesson waiting to happen. How interesting it would be to hear about how she grew up and how times have changed. To hear her story might enable you to understand why she says and does the things she does as well as develop a sense of compassion for her based on how she was raised. Understanding her history is integral to understanding her and the things she says.
Taking the time to listen and ask questions about how and where she was raised can be a teaching moment. Not only does it enable you to appreciate how and where you have been raised but also to connect to her about how different it is today. If you take a more open-ended approach, talking with her with the goal of simply understanding her reality and her concerns, you might walk away feeling closer and more connected to her.
You can share things with her as well. Let her know how passionate you are about equality or cultural diversity. Explain how awesome all your friends are because you are so different and each brings something valuable to the table. Talk about how diverse yet alike your friends are. Don’t do it in a way that is condescending but rather that explains who you are. If you can’t express yourself without resorting to insults, hold your tongue.
One suggestion: Don’t go there with politics. Arguing over your differences about Trump is futile. They have their beliefs, as do you. Accept your beliefs are different. Don’t try to change their minds or enlighten them. Talking about politics is an emotionally charged subject that will inevitably cause hurt feelings. Why waste your energy on something that is bound to be a negative experience? Find other topics to discuss, and if politics comes up, remove yourself from the conversation.
Enjoy your graduation and appreciate that your grandparents love you enough to come all the way from Georgia to celebrate it with you. Show them gratitude for their efforts and respect for their differences. Appreciate that even though you have different beliefs, you are still family and you still love and care for each other.