How do I change my racist grandpa's point of view?

Philip M. asks from Avenel, NJ
12 answers

To be honest, I haven’t seen my grandpa since I was a child after we moved away to a different state. After my parents retired this year, they decided to move the whole family back to New Jersey to be with our relatives. I noticed the region has changed a lot since I was a kid, especially with all the new businesses and also a booming population of Peruvian Americans. Well, I took my grandpa out for lunch yesterday at his favorite diner and to my horror, he made really offensive racist comments towards the Lima women who were working at the establishment.

I felt so ashamed sitting down next to him, especially because I was never raised by my parents to discriminate people by the color of their skin. I don’t want my grandpa to continue having this kind of point of view towards POC. How do I change his thoughts on the matter without seeming like I’m imposing my own beliefs? He is still my elder and I respect him, even though what he did yesterday was really insulting and off-putting.

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12 Answers


Natalie K.

answers from Miami Beach on

My father was like that, using the n-word and other things I found sickening like putting women down as if they had no right to talk and had no ability to think for themselves, and more. I tried my best to not bring boyfriends to his home, afraid of how they'd react. I tried to keep our public outings to restaurants to a minimum for this reason, and would tell him to please keep his voice down. If he was loud enough for someone to hear, I'd apologize on his behalf. Other than that, you won't be able to make him become tolerant, polite, and tactful if he has never been this way.

If this is a new development though, do consider having him screened for dementia. My former FIL makes disparaging comments about Hispanics, despite the fact I have Hispanic heritage and while I find his comments incredibly stupid and embarrassing, for him, I otherwise just ignore him. He wasn't like this before, and so his family members say he is probably going through dementia (or maybe he now feels that he can say that in front of me since I divorced his son, maybe it is his way at getting back at me for divorcing him, I don't know, I just try to nod, don't respond, and get out of his home as quickly as possible). Generally, I feel sorry for ignorant people and I pity them for being so close-minded and hateful. Must be hard to go through life like that.

For what it's worth, maybe these Peruvian ladies didn't speak much English or didn't know English slang or racist terms and perhaps didn't hear or understand his demeaning comments -- we can only hope, right?

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Others below have good responses assuming your grandfather is able to have/understand the conversations. My perspective is this: Alzheimer's Disease runs in my family. A symptom of AD is that people lose their impulse control - meaning they lose their filter that would have kept their remarks socially acceptable before the disease. There were some shocking moments when I heard what my older relatives really thought, once that filter was gone (not necessarily racist comments, but about people's clothes, hair, weight, whatever). However, in this type of situation, the best we could do was apologize to those who were offended and do our best to avoid social situations that would trigger that line of thinking in the future. So, depending on the age and health of your grandfather and whether or not he has early signs of dementia, you may need to avoid places and things that trigger the racist comments.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Lehigh Acres on

My grandpa is 95 years old. He's racist and we can't change him. We did ask him to keep his comments at home, don't say anything in public. He'll say what he wants at home and has gotten better about what he says in restuarants and stores.

8 moms found this helpful

Wild Woman

answers from Reston on

Welcome to mamapedia, Phillip.

WHAT did he say that was SOOOO offensive and racist?

You can't change him. You can ask him WHY he said those things and WHY he feels that way - and if you have a counter-point - then so state. Otherwise? You can't change a person.

If it's his FAVORITE DINER?? Why would he make comments if it's his "FAVORITE"?? There's more to this story.

Please don't use POC - as person of color - that to me?? IS OFFENSIVE. they are HUMANS too.

8 moms found this helpful

Margie G.

answers from Portland on

My husband's family is racist, sexist and homophobic.

You can't change people. You are also not responsible for them or their actions.

You can tell him how you feel. You can say you don't agree with him, and you would prefer he keep his views to himself. You won't go out to lunch with him if he continues to make those remarks.

That is what my husband did with his parents. They did not like it but it was effective.

11 moms found this helpful

Suz t.

answers from Sharpsburg on

you can't change another person's point of view (unless they're open to it, and most people of a racist bent aren't) but you can take courteous steps to rein it in when he's with you.

one of the best methods is to smile at the person he just insulted and make a brief apology. 'grandpa hasn't really kept up with the times. i'm so sorry for that remark.'

might piss grandpa off, but that's a worthwhile risk to run.

a generous tip wouldn't hurt either.


8 moms found this helpful

Doris Day ..

answers from Miami on

I sincerely doubt that you misinterpreted your grandfather's remarks.

You can respect that he is your grandfather and still tell him that what he says offends you. By allowing him to talk this way in front of you you are approving his behavior.

You have the right to ask him to stop saying things like this when you are with him. It might not change him, but it will at least show him that you are not comfortable with it.

Diane B's remarks are very helpful. I hope you will have the courage to take them to heart.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Brooklyn on

For trying to give a helpful answer to your question, there are a few things that are unclear or "don't add up".

First thing - your grandfather has been living in the town you describe for many years (since you were a kid) - *you* are the one who has been adjusting to the changes in the town, your grandfather has been there all along. He is around these diverse groups of people you describe every day.

You say this is your grandfather's "favorite diner". So, he's been there before...many times...probably recently.

Is it possible that you misinterpreted your grandfather's "banter"? For example - maybe your grandfather made a comment about a female diner employee's curvy figure, and you are aware (rightfully so) of the problems with a comment like that, but maybe she thinks of him as just a silly/harmless old man? (Maybe an old man who tips really well....)

The other issue is - how old are you? If this grandfather is your mother's father or your father's father...and I guess you live with your parents, because they forced you to move to New Jersey after they retired...and your parents did not raise you to discriminate, as you say - well then, why don't you just tell your parents to talk to their father (your racist grandfather)? Even if you are young, you clearly have some good thoughts on this topic, and I would hope that your parents will take your thoughts seriously and talk to their father.

7 moms found this helpful

Diane B.

answers from Westborough on

You probably cannot change him. You can say, "I don't understand. Explain it to me." And watch him struggle. You can probe further: "So, you are saying that brown people are stupid? That they are lazy?" Let Grandpa go on...he probably will fizzle out.

I grew up with a father who told Polish, Italian, Irish, anti-woman (et cetera) jokes and justified them because he heard them from the Poles, Italians, Irish and women in his life or at his job. I struggled mightily in the formative years of the women's movement to tell him that jokes about blondes or women drivers were not acceptable (same for other groups). He was offended. But he slowed down.

So, set a goal. Do you want to A) change his mind? Or do you just want to B) change his behavior in public? Or do you just want to C) avoid situations in which he has a prompt to say things? The strategy varies based on your objectives. So, A) ask the "What do you mean/explain it" question. B) Tell him you're going into a diner with people of color (which is the preferred term - not sure why some would object) and if he grouses, you're leaving. C) Go elsewhere and tell him you aren't going to the diner because he's so offensive to Peruvians. He can think what he wants, but you aren't going to participate.

Also, be careful of your own terms. You say "Lima women" so be sure you can explain to your grandfather how you know that these women are from Lima vs. other places in Peru. You'll educate him by showing you talked to them to find out where they are from, rather than assuming they are from Lima. Otherwise, don't use terms like "Lima women" that can be misconstrued by people like your grandfather and pretty much everyone else.

If it were me, I'd apologize to the workers for your elderly grandfather who grew up in an isolated environment, and I'd give them an extra tip (in their hands, not just on the bill to be divided among everyone). Military Mom has a great response below on that subject. I'd tell Grandpa we aren't going there again, although I'd say I'll be going back on my own to give my hard-earned dollars to the hard-working people. Then I'd change the subject to something he likes: "How about those Yankees?" "What do you think of the Giants' chances?" "Want to take in a Phillies game?" "Hey, the museum has Free Friday admissions. Want to go?"

Also, a lot depends on whether he is 60 or 90. The potential for change is less at 90 so just enjoy the years you have left.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

I think it's wonderful that you are able to realize that, while he may not realize it, his comments were offensive. I'm not sure you will be able to do much other than live by example. He really is a product of his time and upbringing.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of the phrase "people of color." To me that says there are two types of people in the world - white and nonwhite. But I do understand that you are just trying to find a way to say what you need to say.

5 moms found this helpful

MilitaryMom 6.

answers from Woodbridge on

I always apologize to the person right in front of the offender. My mom, for example, swears she isn't racist, but in fact she is terrible with comments that she believes are simply not offensive. If she makes a comment within earshot or to a person, I say "I'm sorry about my mother. She grew up in a time where those types of comments were socially acceptable and is struggling to understand that is extremely inappropriate. Please accept my apologies that she isn't able to come to terms with that. I'd say something to her directly about it, but I've been taught to respect my parents." My mother gets terribly embarrassed, but is less likely to spout off when we are together. And, if she does, at least the person gets a heartfelt apology out of it. I feel like in a way, I am "training" her out of these habits - sure, she still thinks and believes them, but says them out loud less and less.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Chesapeake on

You can't teach an old dog new tricks.
You pretty much have to accept him as he is.
My grandmother was just awful.
My Mom, while better in most respects - will never forgive Japan for Pearl Harbor.
You have to remember that our elders are products of the times they were raised in.
The times have changed and they haven't.
You can try telling him that he is embarrassing you when he talks like that but it's likely it won't make a difference.

7 moms found this helpful
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