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?