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Here's the scenario:

I have a friend who had/has really abusive parents who are part of a tightly knit expatriate South Asian community from a certain minority ethnic/religious group here in our small-ish US city. She experienced the community as very toxic, and although she was born in the US, her parents have tried to force norms on her from their culture such as arranged marriage in addition to many shocking, flagrant examples of abuse that left her in a situation where being homeless after things came to a head with her parents was actually better than living with them. They still treat her in shockingly terrible ways.

So I'm very sympathetic toward her anger and need to vent about her community, but she does it by saying things like, "Indians are the worst culture on Earth. Even thinking of my Latina friend, her culture has the toxic masculinity, but at least Latinx people are loyal to their own. In the Indian/Pakistani community everyone's trying to backstab each other," or, "Punjabis--my dad's Punjabi--are known for being crazy aggressive," and so on.

I haven't been handling these conversations very well, since I'm torn between different desires:

  • Support and commiserate with her--this ends up with me (and I'm white) agreeing with these racist viewpoints, by, e.g., sharing stories other South Asians have told me about toxic experiences in their cultures
  • Straight-up disagreeing with her since she's being racist, so I say things like, "Indians don't all have the same culture, you're only from one specific community" or telling her about really admirable South Asians I know or times when a South Asian I've known has explicitly taken the opposite stance of what she's saying Indians are like
  • Defending the honor of the many South Asians I've known and loved, who've made my own life successful, like the Pakistani mentor who set my career up to be successful and the ex-boyfriend who helped me recover from rape-induced PTSD

But regardless of which tact I've taken, she keeps on complaining and generalizing about South Asians, and I either feel like I've been racist or failed as a friend to care about and give space for her pain. I want to draw a clear boundary that I'm not okay with generalizing about all South Asians or dubbing some cultures as completely inferior to others, while still being available to listen compassionately to her own experiences in her community, the toxic cultural strains she's experienced, her problems with her parents, and what sort of culture she wants to live in.

So, how can I change my approach to achieve this? And if she isn't willing to stop saying overgeneralizing racist things, how can I still be supportive without compromising my own ethics or feeling like I'm betraying the other South Asians in my life? Are there, for example, specific things I can say to reframe what she said so it's clear that I'm supporting her pain but not agreeing that how she's been treated is representative of all South Asian communities and individuals? Should I talk to her explicitly about setting this boundary, or just try to respond in a way that makes it clearer?

closed as too broad by Rory Alsop, AndreiROM, JAD, NVZ, Witan ap Danu Feb 24 '18 at 18:49

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Not a duplicate, since your friend doesn't seem to be joking, but still, maybe the answers will help some: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/q/3141/1599 – Tinkeringbell Feb 24 '18 at 11:18
  • 1
    Your last paragraph has four different questions. Please focus your question on one. – JAD Feb 24 '18 at 16:12
  • As said, the "question" is actually several questions. Before you can follow any course of action, you need to decide what then end should look like, then you can plan how to get there. All of your options are valid, on their own, but not together. Refine, in your mind, what you want, then edit your question to ask one question. I'll gladly vote to reopen the question once that happens. Until then I have to vote for it to be put on hold. – Witan ap Danu Feb 24 '18 at 18:49
3

A direct explicit conversation would probably be the better way to go.

Trying to get your point across when her temper is already high probably isn't going to go well... She's hurt, angry, and from the sounds of it, justifiably so. I'd recommend approaching the subject directly, but gently when she isn't already in the middle of a rant.

I recommend a more direct approach because it's often better not to hint around or try to be subtle when you're talking to someone about something so personal. Be gentle, but be direct.

Something along the lines of:

When you talk about your past relationship with your family and former community, it bothers me a bit when it comes out as a broad generalization about all south asian people. I know a lot of really good people, like yourself, who come from those cultures.

Be prepared for some push back. It's easy to self justify these kinds of statements when you've been abused by your own culture. I know I've definitely talked about all Christians or all Americans or all straight people when I've been hurt and let down by the community I was raised in... It takes time for wounds to heal, particularly the deeper ones. It's easier to say "F all those people", than it is to say "I was hurt by my own people" when you're still angry, but as the wound heals and the anger fades it gets easier to address things without the hateful broad strokes. Honestly I still fail at this from time to time, but I'm a good bit better about it than I used to be.

1

Three reasons why she says these things against her own race:

  • She doesn't actually believe all the racist stuff she's saying, but rather says a lot of things she doesn't really mean when she gets angry or upset. Kind of like when a girl learns her boyfriend is cheating on her she might say, "All boys are trash." (even though she loves her dad and brother)
  • Your friend actually believes it because she only met a small amount of people from her own community. And her abusive parents have likely changed her perceptions of her own community to torture her further.
  • Her views could also be a kind of trigger or defense mechanism for herself so she doesn't get abused.

My suggestion (which is by no means a perfect one)

I would suggest finding a time when she is happy or calm and not upset, and then gently and casually asking her something like "Hey [insert name], I get kind of worried sometimes. I know there's good people and also bad people in every group of humans, but I'm not really sure what to think when I hear you say 'All indians/pakistanis are mean/backstabbing/etc. I feel like we should not judge someone by their skin color"

  • Act like this is just a random conversation topic, like the weather.
  • Mention that you often take spoken words at face value, so sometimes it leaves you feeling rather unbalanced when your friend makes a generalization about someone.
  • Throughout the conversation you should keep in mind that this girl is a victim of abuse; she may even be traumatized and have mental health problems like anxiety, depression, etc. You should also try to listen to her more than talk.

I hope this helps and you get through to her. Forgive me if I sound like a robot.

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