My brother has some racist views and I'm at a loss

This is a bit of a long one probably, I’ll try to be as brief as I can.

I’m currently living in the US, though I’m going back to Australia (my home country) in October. I have a few friends scattered across the states, some of whom I’ve only ever interacted with online and have never met in person. We had the idea of going on a vacation/road trip in September before I had to leave USA, as like a big hurrah and possibly the only time I’ll ever get to spend time with all of them in person. I invited my brother along on this trip when we first started planning it way back at the beginning of this year. He’d be flying in from Australia to join us.

At this point, tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars etc have all been booked and reserved.

Last month, my brother, my best friend (who’s going to be on the trip as well) and I got into an argument. My best friend and my brother know each other through me, but have a fairly close relationship/friendship now - like they don’t just know each other on a “friend of friend” basis, they’re genuinely friends with each other. Anyway, we were making fun of my dad for basically being racist - my dad had apparently told my brother that he wouldn’t rent his apartment to a black person, because he thinks they’re more likely to be “trouble” or commit crime or whatever. So we were roasting my dad over that.

Thing was, last year [Edit: I checked my messages and turns out it was December 2020, just prior to last year], my brother had shared to me that he too had some racist biases against black people, maybe not as extreme, but it was there. It wasn’t a heated argument that time, and he seemed relatively open to having his mind changed, but I was disappointed in him all the same. Basically, he admitted to me that when he’s walking alone along a street, and he sees a group of black people, he crosses the street “for his own safety”. Basically because he thinks black people are inherently more dangerous, or at least they are in a group or something. And I questioned him about it at the time, he admitted he was generally ignorant when it came to topics about race and that he may well have the wrong idea, but he didn’t think this one thing was a big deal so he didn’t really care to change it. I did suggest that he educate himself further on the topic, and I also suggested that if he actually ever got to know a black person he probably would change his mind, and he agreed with me on that last part. It was a fairly heavy (but not heated/aggressive) conversation, and it took a lot of spoons on my part. I did lose a fair bit of respect for him as a result of it, but I ultimately managed to move past it, I guess hoping that like in other areas he’d been ignorant/misinformed about in the past, he’d eventually grow out of because I’ve usually known him to be an empathetic person with the humility to realise where they’re wrong, even if it takes some time. I love him, and I tried to be optimistic that he’d, you know, grow up. (He’s 24 now, he was 22 at the time we had this discussion the first time around). And like I said, he seemed very ignorant, but you know, not… beyond hope?

Anyway, so then this roasting session with my dad came up. And my brother actually said “You know, I bet if dad met a black person for real, he probably would lose the views he has”. And I guess, hoping that maybe this could be the little push he needed, I said, “Well, isn’t that similar to what you said last year? That if you met a black person, you’d probably change your mind too?” And my brother said something like “I guess”. And I said “Well, you’re kinda similar to dad in that sense then right? You both have some biases that if you just had the right sort of life experiences, you’d probably grow out of.”

And then my brother got super defensive, claiming he was nothing like dad, and got upset that I compared him to dad in this aspect. His reasoning was that the way dad acted on his biases actually directly hurt or affected black people, whereas what he does doesn’t hurt or affect anyone.

So that’s when my best friend (who’s half Native) explained that she’d experienced Othering as well, once people found out or “clocked” her as Native, and it wasn’t a nice experience, and it can lead to a lot of hurt. And that people can tell when you do these things, you’re not as subtle as you think you are (we didn’t actually use the word “microaggressions” but we tried to explain the concept).

Anyway, my brother got very defensive and basically said that he disagreed, that was just “his opinion”. And I said, “well, how can your opinion outweigh [Best friend]'s lived experiences? That just doesn’t make any sense. If we’re talking about how racism or racist beliefs/actions hurt people, obviously we need to consider the perspective of the people being affected by those actions more than the people engaging in them?” And my brother got upset that we suggested his opinion doesn’t matter, and then said that “[Best friend]'s opinion doesn’t matter either then, because she isn’t black.”

(It was around this point my best friend got very very upset and left the call to calm down.)

I tried my best to get through to my brother - later I found myself really wishing I’d recorded that phone call, because I was trying my hardest to phrase everything gently and like, not-aggressively - I didn’t even directly call him racist, I just tried to explain how his biases basically contribute to the racism that minorities experience, I tried to explain that I wasn’t saying he was a terrible person just that he had some really misinformed views that he should work to unlearn but he still felt “attacked” and finally, at the very end of the call I sort of point blank asked him like, did he acknowledge that he had racist biases, and he said yes, and I asked him, do you think there’s nothing inherently wrong with that? And he said yes. And I just… that was it I guess.

I haven’t really spoken to my brother since that argument. My best friend was very upset for about a week, but eventually she spoke to him, and they hashed out some things and he apologised for dismissing her opinion, though he still doesn’t think he’s wrong to think the things he thinks, and he still feels like we ganged up on him or attacked him or whatever. My best friend is - perhaps more tolerant/forgiving than I am, I guess. She hasn’t completely like, “gotten over it”, but she cares a lot about their friendship and she’s accepted him the way he is for now. She sees him as basically immature and “under-developed” in that way, but she’s willing to focus on his good sides and move past it. Though she’s also told me that if it was anyone else, any other friend, she would have cut off the friendship, but she loves him enough as a friend to let this go, and trust that with time he’ll realise he was wrong. She says she has tried to gently bring up the topic a few times over the past month but he’s still very defensive about it so she has just accepted that he’s not “ready” yet, essentially.

I completely understand and respect the way she feels, and I too have tried to move past it but… I can’t. Last time I was able to, to do what she did - idk, focus on the good and kind parts of my brother that I love about him, but this time I just… I just can’t. I’m not even hurt or angry anymore, I’m just disappointed and I’ve lost too much respect. He was a lot more hardened this time, it seemed, than last time. And I do agree with my bestie that yes, he’s ignorant, yes, that’s not all his fault, yes he’s still unpacking trauma from my mum (any long time posters/viewers here will know who I’m talking about), and yes, he probably just needs to grow and he’ll eventually grow out of it - I understand and agree with her and I’m not completely unsympathetic. I just… this is just such a dealbreaker to me, I guess, and I can’t get over it this time. Not with how he answered those last two questions I asked him, idk.

So, if it was anyone else, I would have just cut ties and had that be that. I get that he’ll probably grow out of this s*** eventually, but I just don’t have the spoons or desire to hang around waiting for someone to complete their redemption arc, you know? I’d rather hang out with people I respect. I still love him, but I’ve just lost so much respect for him this time, and I tried really hard to restructure my perspective somehow over the last month, but I just haven’t been able to.

Since the argument happened I haven’t been able to look forward to the trip, at all. My brother’s gonna be there for the whole trip, and my feelings towards the trip have changed from “yay! trip! Can’t wait!” to “Okay, I’ll get through this. It’s two weeks, I’ll get through it.”

If it was anybody else, I would have just either kicked them out of the trip, or kicked myself out of the trip.

The problem is, like I said I do still love him, and I don’t want him to be out the money/investment as the flights are nonrefundable and fairly expensive. I don’t even think it would be “productive” like - it’s not going to teach him anything, he already feels like none of it was a big deal and that it got blown out of proportion, and me kicking him out is just going to register as him being “punished” for no reason - it’s not going to teach him humility or empathy or whatever. If anything it might even harden him more, make him feel more victimised or something. If I were to kick him out, it would really just be for my sake, so that I can be comfortable on the trip. My best friend still wants to meet him, and she’s told me that while she’ll respect and understand whatever I decide, and she won’t blame me if I kick him out for part or all of the trip, she’ll be pretty heartbroken if I do, because she doesn’t know if/when she’ll ever get to see him in person outside of this trip. I love her too, and I don’t want to hurt her either.

Kicking myself out of the trip is also not an option, because I’m basically the center of the “web” of this friendship group - the 3 friends I’m inviting on the trip (including my bestie) all know each other through me, so it would be unfair for me to uninvite myself and leave them all to hang out with each other. And cancelling the whole trip for everybody feels awful too as everyone has spent time and money on this trip.

I spoke to all of my friends about this yesterday. My two other friends disagreed with my brother and while they’d accept him on the trip if I still chose to bring him, they wouldn’t feel bad if I didn’t bring him either. They’re more neutral about it I guess - basically they’d respect my decision either way. My bestie also said she’d respect my decision, but she’d be really sad and heartbroken not to see him, as I said. So I feel like it ultimately comes down to what I want. And I just feel… miserable and stuck. I love him, I love my best friend, I don’t want to ruin their chance to meet and hang out. I don’t want to screw him over with the cost of the tickets. But I’m so tired, and just the thought of spending two weeks with him feels draining as hell. But if I’m the only one who’s really uncomfortable, I feel selfish putting my needs over everyone else. Almost doubly so as the “group leader”, in a sense - I feel more responsible for everyone else’s wellbeing than my own.

And on another level, I feel guilty that I haven’t been able to get over it - I was hoping that maybe I’d just… get over it and we could just have a fun trip without my sadness and anxiety causing any tension but it’s been a month and I haven’t been able to get over it, and I’m mad at myself for that. Given what my bestie has said to me about the way he’s responded when she tried to press him on the topic over the past month, I believe her in that discussing this topic any further with him is likely just gonna be unproductive and draining, and potentially lead to another fight. I really don’t know what to do at this point. No matter what I do, somebody or multiple somebody’s are gonna be miserable, and I don’t know what the “least unreasonable” choice is for this.

Thanks for letting me vent, I guess, and appreciate if you read everything to this far.

I need hugs.

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I kinda think that since it’s your road trip, you should get to have only the people you want be there, but I understand your reasoning for not wanting to uninvite your brother. So I don’t really have any answers but I do have bear hugs.

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This trip may be a chance to reconnect if you haven’t spoken to him for a while. Plus you could make some suitable “educational stops” that may be fun and start the process of helping him grow.

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So he ended up messaging me last night. At this point, I basically decided that while I’m willing to suck it up for the duration of the trip where we’re all there as a group, I didn’t have the energy to handle like, one on one time with him. The initial plan had him staying with my husband and me for a few days before we all met up in Vegas. I basically suggested that instead of spending those 3 days with me and my husband*, I’ll pay for flight tickets for him to see my best friend and he can spend a few days or even a week with her instead. I’ve suggested this option to her as well and she’s okay with it.

This is how it went down:

(Yellow = my brother, black = me, blue = my best friend, red = my husband)

AIBU?

Edit: the screenshots posted in reverse order, should be fixed now.

*Husband confided in me yesterday that he is not comfortable with my brother either, and actually wasn’t comfortable since a more minor drama that my bro was involved with a few months ago, and this has just added onto that. We moved past that minor drama but my husband found it irritating/disrespectful I guess and with this on top of it he doesn’t want to spend time with my brother either.

Ouch, tough situation to be in. I think I understand both you and your brother.

I think the reason your brother was upset about this is that, even though he is apparently trying to get better about his racist views, you still compared him to your father, who is at another level of racism. And with the way you and best friend zeroed in on him about indirect racism and microaggressions, it might have communicated to him that it’s just as bad as overt racism… But it isn’t, and that’s a very frustrating message for someone who is on the long way to overcome racist views.

I hope that helps you understand his stance. At the same time, I understand your own frustration and the loss of respect you felt towards him. I think your suggested solution is smart in that it allows both of you some space to overcome this frustration. But I do also think that, after some time has passed, you two need to come back to this and talk.

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How would you suggest I approach the discussion if/when we are ready to come back and talk? I don’t know how productive of a conversation we can have if he’s not willing to drop the defensiveness, it’s very exhausting discussing with a defensive person. For my part I did try to explain, at the time, that the similarities between him and our dad were in their views/biases, not in their actions because obviously I acknowledge their actions are not equivalent in consequence. I do agree he probably took it the way you suggest. I really felt that given it had been over a year - almost two - and that in that time he had gotten close to my best friend, who is very very open about racism that she’s faced, both overt and covert, I thought he’d be more open to it I guess. I didn’t expect him to get so defensive like that.

I’m willing to apologise if I gave him the impression I thought his racism is on the same level as my dad’s (as that was not what I meant to suggest), but I feel like if his views are what they are and he doesn’t see how racial biases are inherently wrong… I don’t know if I can get past that. I’ve tried and I can keep trying but I can’t promise anything. I don’t think he’s ready to grow yet, and right now, I just can’t enjoy or look forward to spending time with him. Maybe I need more time, idk.

If there’s anything specific you can think of that I should bring up in a future discussion, I’m open to suggestions/advice.

Ever heard of deep canvassing? It’s something that’s come up as a way of reducing bigotry against the queer community.

Basically, the idea is that making logical arguments simply won’t work. Bigotry hits people on an emotional level. It’s meant to do that, too. If someone is a threat to you or to people you care about (especially women and children), then it’s perfectly justified to hate them and depersonalize them. That’s how bigots recruit people: convince people that others are a threat and then you can get them to do whatever you want in the name of protection.

And this is probably the problem with your brother. He’s convinced that because he’s acting logically to a threat, he is being logical about everything and logic = good so he’s in the right. Even though his perception that there is a threat to begin with is based on an emotional reaction which probably exists because of his emotional connection to your dad and to racist peers. So while he may pretend to be logical, logical arguments won’t work because the matter is emotional and he’s in denial about it. (Also, explaining all of this to him will not help matters.)

Bigotry drives an emotional wedge between people. So the goal of deep canvassing is to connect people to their targets on an emotional level. You don’t even need someone from the target demographic there. You just need a way that someone can connect with other people.

Methodology of deep canvassing:
Step One: the hard part. Ask him about his opinions and genuinely listen. Don’t try to rebut his position, interrupt him, or convince him of anything. Just listen to what he has to say, ask clarifying questions, and paraphrase (in a non-mocking way) his position in your own words. This might be painful, but it is also vital to the success of the technique. If people get to talk about their ideas and opinions, it makes them more open to the listener. You don’t even necessarily need to ask him about this subject in particular: talking about other subjects is almost as good.

Step Two: opening him up. In this step, the goal is to get him to think about something he has an emotional reaction to. For instance, a time when he experienced bigotry or other hardship, or a time when he was shown compassion.

Step Three: connection. Now that he’s opened up emotionally, you can add an emotional connection to Black people. What you want to do at this point is give him a story of a particular Black person who had a similar experience to his, but in response to racism. For instance, sending him a video of someone talking about that experience, or telling him about a person you know having that experience. (Having an actual Black person tell him the story is also an option, but it’s not necessary for it to work and it puts a lot of pressure and work on whoever you bring in.) Since he’s in a receptive mood from the listening and opening up, this will allow him to empathize with someone he ordinarily wouldn’t and connects his experience of hardship with the hardships caused by racism.

Now, this isn’t guaranteed to work, but it is more likely to work than most known methods. You may need to do this multiple times for a complete reversal, but once should at least wedge the door open.
I’m sure you and your friend have covered a lot of topics with him, but here are some in case something sparks an idea:

  • How does he feel about women crossing the street when they see a man because they feel threatened? Does he feel that this is harmful stereotyping toward men?
  • Inside jokes. You know, when two people have an experience together (witnessing the same event, being in the same fandom) and are therefore able to make jokes based on that shared experience that are incomprehensible to someone who doesn’t have the same experience. Then lead into the idea of inside insults. Basically the same thing, but insulting someone based on a shared experience. And that could be a gateway to discussing microaggressions: essentially, insults that are based on someone’s experience as being an X person, which are incomprehensible to outsiders.
  • If he’s been a cashier or service worker, maybe discuss The Jokes. Things like “it didn’t scan, so it must be free”. Or someone named Luke constantly hearing, “oh, like Luke Skywalker?” Things along that line: a ton of people independently making a joke so often that it’s not funny anymore and gets infuriating. Or your friend hearing the same “harmless” comments all the time. And that can lead into the idea of Black people hearing the same “jokes” and insults all the time.

Basically, anything you can think of that might give him an emotional connection to Black people or an emotional reaction against racism.

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@Carolyn
(((HUGS))) from a random internet stranger.

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I think you make very good points and you’re probably right about all of it. I also don’t think I have the energy for deep canvassing :frowning: It sounds like a lot of emotional labour and I don’t think I have what it takes. Maybe one day idk. This topic gets me too emotional as well. I can shut down my emotions when sparring with a random stranger on the internet, but I can’t do it when it’s someone I care about :frowning:

I appreciate your comment though. I think it’s very insightful, and maybe I can use it in another situation (as can other readers here). Thank you for replying :people_hugging:

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“I’m willing to agree to disagree” that’s what he’s ALREADY doing. That’s not a compromise on his part. He’s basically saying “I’m willing to not do anything differently if you agree to throw out your values and ignore my bigotry”.

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