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Is it every single time, or are you letting perfect be the enemy of the good?

Dear Prudence,

My parents consider themselves liberal and donate to causes that support racial justice and LGBT rights. They are also in their 70s and way behind the times in a lot of ways. Lately, I feel like every interaction with them turns into me correcting their “unenlightened” statements, and I can feel them getting tired of this dynamic. I want to ease up on them and trust that while they may make an off-color statement now and then, their hearts are generally in the right place, and I’m not going to change their entire vocabulary at this late stage. But I also don’t want to let bigotry or racism slide. I’m conflicted: Do I continue to correct them multiple times per interaction, or can I let some things slide? Some examples would be referring to a Chinese friend as “Oriental”; making a joke about not wanting to “look gay”; and saying, “Well, did he resist arrest?” when discussing a black victim of police brutality.

—Exhausted

Re: Is it every single time, or are you letting perfect be the enemy of the good?

  • This is tricky.    Instead of talking to them in the moment, can the LW talk to the parents as part of a greater conversation? 

    "Mom and Dad you are a champion for some great causes and because you are I want to let you know that there is a change in some word choices and some things that may have been commonplace in the 80s are considered inappropriate now.  Here are some examples:"

    OR if in the moment, what about saying, "Mom we definitely know what you mean when you say that Rob is Oriental.   The correct terminology is to refer to him by his nationality which is Chinese.   If you aren't certain then the better word to use is Asian.    That word now is considered offensive when used to refer to a person."

    "Mom, if a person was resisting arrest is there an amount of force that you think is OK?  Let's talk about some concerns that exist with how members of law enforcement treat people of color."

    If they are open to conversation then treat these as opportunities to discuss.   That can also mean that if you're referring to a person's actions (police brutality) then you can address it immediately.   If it's about a word of phrase maybe let the conversation point have an end rather than interrupt it for an immediate correction? 
    charlotte989875OliveOilsMomshort+sassy
  • climbingwifeclimbingwife NYC 'burbs member
    10000 Comments Sixth Anniversary 500 Love Its 5 Answers
    Just be happy they're not Trump supporters. 

    MissKittyDangerCasadenaOliveOilsMom
  • If LW is actually interested in how to have these conversations there are tons, TONS, of resources on the internet about how to talk to family about racism/sexism/homophobia. But it sounds like the LW just wants a pass to stop talking about it.

    Which okay, fine, but It sounds like they just want Prudie to say they’re still a good ally if they let it slide. 
  • ILoveBeachMusicILoveBeachMusic Indiana member
    2500 Comments 500 Love Its Fourth Anniversary 5 Answers
    I think for elderly parents, I would let things slide. I know for myself, having grown up in the seventies, it is difficult to remember some correct terminology. I have to make a concert effort sometimes. I would hope that if I slip and use the incorrect term I would be given some slack even though I'm not elderly. If they are truly having a conversation that would invite explanations, then I would explain correct terminology but not be upset if they forget in the future.
  • I think you have to pick and choose what you let slide and what it is you're letting slide.  If this is just specialized terminology that maybe parents don't know, it's probably okay to start letting a lot of it slide.  You just have to take it on a case by case basis.

    My father and I have an uneasy detante very much like this (My father is in his 80s).  I know he makes a special effort to watch his language around me now and, TBH, good.  The burden is not always on the other person to tolerate what puts their teeth on edge.  In LW's situation, I'd let the first 2 slide probably, b/c they're pretty high end SJW concepts re: identity and how language is used to abuse marginalized populations, but the "resisting arrest" stuff, I wouldn't b/c institutional racism needs to pushed back on every time.
    charlotte989875downtondivabanana468
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