Yesterday I was sitting in the backyard with my parents, telling them about the various events I plan to attend in downtown Detroit next month: namely Motor City Pride and SlutWalk.
My dad made a comment that, for reasons I'll explain in a minute, was both racist and sexist: "You know I don't like you going west of Alter Road."
It was about the twentieth stupid comment he'd made all weekend, so I finally told him that if he isn't going to change his way of thinking, he needs to at least have the decency to keep his fucked up ideas to himself.
My mother, ever the peacekeeper, intervened. But instead of supporting my stance, she told me (for the zillionth time) that I need to accept that my dad's not going to learn/change, and ignore his comments.
Now, let me back up a bit and explain the context of my dad's remark:
The thing about most Detroit suburbs is that they're not actually very close to Detroit at all. Royal Oak, for instance (where I was born) is in Oakland County. Detroit, meanwhile, is located in Wayne County.
But Grosse Pointe--where I have lived most of my life--is one of the few Detroit suburbs that's actually in Wayne County. We even share the 313 area code, made famous by Eminem and Faygo ads such as this one.
Which is funny (read: sad and embarrassing) because Grosse Pointe, in stark contrast to its neighbor, is both affluent and overwhelmingly white.
Our house is a block from the border.
And so that's why my dad's comment was both racist and sexist. He was basically saying, "You know I don't want my pretty little girl to venture into the ghetto." Never mind that I'm twenty-two years old and in the process of earning a degree from a university in downtown Detroit. BUT ANYWAY.
So, here's my dilemma: In some cases, I do accept that certain people just aren't going to change. It depresses me more than I can express. But I'd rather focus my energy on people who might come around to the idea of equality. The kids I babysit, for example. They're young (four and seven). I see them three days per week, so hope to have some positive influence over their lives.
But in the case of my dad... it isn't easy to place him into the category of haters that I ignore. I share his genes. And we live together. I actually think it's healthier (for all parties involved) for me to speak up--and release all the pent-up energy I have--rather than keep quiet while he makes comments that upset me to the point of needing to email the people I know who care about the same things I do just to thank them for being there. (I've done this a couple of times, most recently, this past April.) My energy has to go somewhere, you know?
Another example of my dad's outlook: Last week there was a story in the news about a woman on the campus of Wayne State who "says [that a] campus cop pulled her over just after midnight and demanded a sexual favor in exchange for letting her go." She reported the incident; he was taken into custody and suspended without pay.
Upon seeing the story on the 5 o'clock news, my dad rolled his eyes and said, "That woman probably just wants money and came up with a creative way to get some."
Do I even need to explain why that's the worst thing anyone could possibly say? I know firsthand (as I'm sure many people do) how hard it can be to come forward about something that fucks with the whole power structure.
Secondly, I know that if I were to tell my dad that something like that had happened to me, he'd stop at nothing to make sure that the cop in question got his balls chopped off.
I babysit just a few blocks from my house, so I ride my bike or walk to and from work most of the time. I get off work at 9:30, by which point, it's dark outside. The first time I walked home from work, I entered the house to find my dad standing in the entryway. "Don't you ever pull a stunt like that again," he snapped. "I know you don't see yourself as a girl anymore, but you're still my girl."
I'm not an idiot. People know where and when I'm walking. But the idea of "some big burly black man lurkin' in the bushes" isn't enough to make me drive the three blocks to and from work instead of walk. This is my world, too, and I'm sick of being part of a culture that teaches women not to get raped instead of teaching people not to rape. Which is why I'm such a vocal supporter of the SlutWalks that have been popping up literally all over the globe.
So, what to do? Part of me just feels helpless, heartbroken, and exhausted because if I can't get through to my dad of all people, how can I possibly expect to have any influence over people who aren't related to/don't live with me?
I believe in living honestly. That's why I don't eat red meat or drive if I can help it, openly identify as a feminist, and told my parents that I'm gay, among other things. My mom, though she disagrees with me, knows that I'm adamantly pro-choice. So I find it really difficult to just shut up while my dad makes racist/sexist comments. I don't understand why I'm the one who's expected to shut up and let him say his piece. Because if I make a feminist remark, he's able to tell me stop because he's my dad and therefore, trumps me in terms of authority.
Furthermore, because I know my dad to be a pretty good person overall (or at least, someone who tries to be in the ways he knows how), I think it's unfair to him to act as my mom does. I can't just say, "Well, he's from Poland. And he never went to college. So he's just never going to get it." Um. He accepted the fact that his daughter's a lesbian, so I like to think that he can be a little more open minded if I do a little bit of work, you know?
Or is my mother right? Am I just wasting my energy?
Lemme know, Internet.
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