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Talking about race

Hivemind, I need your help here. You are my beautiful, wise information source for all questions about race or racism (plus a number of other issues), and I value your input more than I can say. (Please God, no mainpaging, just in case.)

I’ve been thinking recently about how to talk to people about race when they must deal on a day to day basis with people who reinforce negative racial stereotypes. Please, please understand that this is not “I once got robbed by a gypsy so all the rumors about gypsies are true.” Or, if it reads like that, please tell me and I will take your words and suggestions to heart. But I’m going to do my best to clearly state what I’m talking about, and hopefully I will succeed.

I have a friend, who from time to time looks like he might like to be more than a friend. He works as a police officer in a very poor, very high crime neighborhood, and has worked this neighborhood for almost a decade. He often shares stories of his work on Facebook (without names, of course), and the vast majority of them involve people of color, which makes sense considering the neighborhood is almost exclusively comprised of people of color. He never uses racial slurs, but most of his stories are essentially making fun of how uneducated/dirty/prone to crime the people who live in the neighborhood are. Some of them can be excused as just having a bit of a morbid sense of humor known to be common in people like policemen and firefighters, some are meant as a genuine critique of how children in the neighborhood are parented cloaked in a sad sense of humor, and others are more problematic. He has a lot of opinions on welfare recipients, but one might assume that he sees more than his share of “lazy” welfare recipients and feels his opinion is warranted.


So I guess my question is, is it possible to talk to someone who spends their days mired in crime in a neighborhood full of people of color about racism without sounding like some kind of pie-in-the-sky idealist? He’s obviously not the hateful kind of racist…his friend group is much more diverse than my own (though to be fair, my friend group is also about 10% as large as his) and doesn’t seem to have a racial bias when it comes to women he finds attractive/dates. In person, I’ve never heard him say anything I considered remotely offensive. He’s smart, and he’s funny in person in a way totally unrelated to how he is on Facebook. But his Facebook is not something that’s happening separately from him.

So tell me, Groupthink. Do you have any experience with a situation like this that you might share? Is it possible that he's just blowing off steam about his obviously stressful job, and I’m the one making it about race? Am I a terrible person for even considering dating him?

(As an aside, this is also applicable to my mother, who works in healthcare. She won’t listen to anything I have to say about race or white privilege because she considers me to be a naive idealist on the subject. I work with many people of color, but due to the space I work in, none of them are poor, and a large amount of the patients who come into her clinic are poor people of color on some kind of government assistance. But obviously I can’t cut my mother out of my life so easily as I can a prospective beau.)

Just to reiterate, I’m not asking if it’s ok for people who have lots of negative experience with a certain race to be racist. It very clearly is not. Just more asking if there is a a way to talk to someone without seeming like I’m saying “Yes, I know that’s your experience, but it’s wrong anyway.” I am open to any and all opinions here, including "What the hell are you thinking, this is fucking terrible and I'm ashamed of you."

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