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A Conversation with My Racist Relative

How the act of listening broke the cycle of conflict

Allowing others to be seen and heard gives them a safe space to go inward and find their truth.

“I wanted to correct him. I wanted to tell him all the ways he was wrong. I wanted to scold him for his negative viewpoints. But instead, I listened…”

I had forgotten about this certain relative’s racist beliefs until somewhat recently. I wasn’t exposed to these viewpoints because I was doing everything I was “supposed to do.”I had unknowingly created his ideal version of what a family should look like. I married a “white” man and had two “white” children. But then my life changed. I still had my children, but I was no longer married to a man who had received a hidden stamp of approval due to his skin color. And I connected with someone else.

My boyfriend quickly became the most supportive man I have ever had the privilege of knowing. He continues to teach me what unconditional love looks like. During some extremely difficult times, he sat beside me without judgment. We laugh together. My children adore him. We are enjoying the benefits of a healthy, functional, equal relationship. We waited a decent amount of time before posting pictures of us on social media. When we did, we were met with support and encouragement. Most people were happy for us. But not everyone.

Word got back to me from my sister that a close relative in our family was glad I was dating, but didn’t like it that I was dating a “black man.” Now, I’m not going to get into the heritage and genetics of my boyfriend. Though he is not technically “black,” that is all my relative saw when he looked at a picture of us together on Facebook. Not that it would matter to me if he was black. But this relative reduced my boyfriend to one aspect of an entire lifetime of the human experience. He saw a picture and didn’t see a man who has loved, fought, bled, cried, laughed, failed, triumphed and cared for others. He saw a skin color and attached all of these notions of inferiority to him. When I heard about this I got angry. How could he judge a man he had never met because of his skin color? Couldn’t he see that I was finally happy? I knew we needed to have a conversation about this. But before we discussed it, I prayed and meditated on it, a lot.

I was searching for the perfect words to say to make him see the err of his ways. I prayed for ways to make him see this man as I see him: as a compassionate human being who actively works to ensure the happiness of me and my children. I prayed and I meditated, but the right thing to say didn’t come to me. Instead the spiritual message I kept receiving over and over again, was to listen. I argued with this message at first. How am I supposed to let him say ignorant things about this person who I love and value so much? He can’t get away with that type of thinking. I’ll teach him to see differently. And still the message was the same: listen. So I surrendered and picked up the phone.

I began one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had. I shared with my relative that I was aware of his discontent with the man I chose because of his skin color. I asked him to tell me more. Then, I listened. He stammered. He did not expect me to listen. I can only assume he expected some sort of righteous argument. I could tell he was unsure what to say. I got the feeling that not many had asked him to tell them more on the subject of his erroneous beliefs about humanity. When he was finally able to articulate a sentence, he said, “I’m not prepared to welcome a black man into my family.” Wow. That was hard to hear.

I wanted to correct him. I wanted to tell him all the ways he was wrong. I wanted to scold him for his negativity and tell him that anytime you place someone above or beneath you, it’s an act of arrogance and foolishness. But instead, I listened… In that moment, I remembered the words of a woman I highly respect by the name of Jane Goodall. She said, “Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right.” When I listened to him with compassion, instead of judging and making him wrong, something interesting happened. He had a lot of trouble articulating his viewpoint. It was as if he started to see that these beliefs, which had been passed down from generations, were not connected to anything real. He couldn’t find the right words because these antiquated views did not represent what was really in his heart. This is only something he can realize for himself. No amount of me telling him to think differently will do it. The act of listening broke the cycle of conflict.

Now, he still protests my relationship. Ironically, he says he feels like I am judging him, even though not one word of judgment came out of my mouth. I let him speak. He filled in the silence with his own story. I offered compassion and respect in the face of hatred and disrespect. Did he change overnight? Nope. Does he refuse to acknowledge this relationship that means so much to me? Yep. And that hurts a great deal. But I believe this is where change begins. In a country so polarized and angry, people want to be heard and seen. They need compassion, even if we feel some may not deserve it. Does that mean I will let people walk all over me? Not at all. I offer strict compassion.

I am fortunate to have an amazing tribe of friends. Whenever I slander myself or give into my negativity, they offer me strict compassion. They gently but firmly remind me of my true self and my own power to take responsibility for my suffering. They help me stand up and be accountable. They say, “hey, this isn’t who you are.” I’ll admit, not everyone is ready to hear that, but I deeply appreciate it. And as my friend Jane Goodall says, change starts by listening and starting a dialogue. Allowing others to be seen and heard gives them a safe space to go inward and find their truth.

My contribution to peace is offering unconditional love. My truth is I love this racist relative. I love him even though I have deep conviction that he is wrong and he knows it deep down. I’ll show him with my joyful life that his racist beliefs are false. I will continue to have difficult conversations on the front lines of racism, with my own family. And if he never comes around, I’ll love him anyway. No matter what, I will not let it affect my happiness.

Originally published at frecklesndreams.com

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