They’re the Good Kind

My grandfather is notoriously racist. Maybe some of it is a little understandable and even a bit excusable since, you know, he’s an older white guy and that’s just how things were in the 40s and 50s when he was growing up. He also fought in the Korean War, so it seems a bit normal that he would have some reservations for treating his enemy combatants equally after the fact.

Grandpa has a racist name for everyone. All Asians, regardless of whether they are Korean, Chinese, or Cambodian are chinks. All Latinos and Hispanics (again, he doesn’t care if they are Mexican, Chilean, or from Southern Texas) are spicks. I could go on, but you know already where this is going.

And it’s not just people of color who have their own nicknames, but anyone not from his own distinct racial background is at risk. He is racist against the Polish and the Italians (even the Polish-American and Italian-American families that live in our community). Most shockingly, he is also racist against the French – he cites reasons of not helping Americans enough in various wars or something equally silly. The hilarious part of this is that he IS French. His side of the family comes from Alsace-Lorraine, which was admittedly part of the German Empire when his ancestors left for America, but it is definitely part of France now.

I can’t remember a conversation with grandpa where something racist didn’t come out of his mouth. “We should bomb the entire Middle East and turn it into a parking lot for visitors to Europe!” “I worked with a colored guy once on the job site [he worked in construction], he was a real hard worker with a shovel, but them colored guys just aren’t smart enough and can’t learn how to run equipment [i.e. a backhoe].”

Now here’s where the fun starts. My uncle, let’s call him Uncle F., married and had two children with a woman from the Philippines. They’ve since divorced and Uncle F. remarried a nice lady with German blood (whew! No longer the black sheep there, Uncle F.!), but that’s a story for another time. In true love-of-nicknames fashion, all of grandpa’s grandchildren received nicknames when they were young, cute grandpa nicknames, like pumpkin and dimples. We also have a porkchop, meatball, bubbles, powderpuff, boomer… plus pineapple and monkey. Can you guess which two nicknames are for the half-Asian cousins?

This is also a frequent occurrence, sometimes happening even when these cousins are in the same room:

GRANDPA: Something about Asians that is obviously racist.

ME: “You do realize that [Pineapple] and [Monkey] are Filipino and the Philippines is in Asia, right?”

GRANDPA: “Yeah, yeah, but they’re the good ones.”

ME: “You mean you hate all Asians equally except people from the Philippines? Those ones are OK?”

GRANDPA: “No, I mean I like my grandkids, specifically. Plus, they’re half German, so it makes up for it.”

ME: “Well, actually… (they’re half French….nevermind)”

So, I have two questions for any reader out there:

  1. It’s clear my grandpa is racist and also very grumpy, but it’s also clear that he just likes getting a rise out of people. What’s the best way of dealing with a situation where you want to speak up against racism, but he likes when you speak up because it reinforces his ability to get a rise out of people?
  2. How can we generalize the “They’re the good ones” thoughts to expand beyond the “Well they’re family, so I have to like them” mentality? I would love to go out and adopt an Angelina Jolie-style multiracial family so I can force him to like children who are Bangladeshi, Kenyan, Iranian, and *gasp* even French, but that won’t help him to generalize either.

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