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Racist neighbours - how should I deal with their behaviour

(23 Posts)
anita64 Wed 08-Aug-07 10:18:56

Yesterday, a neighbour referred to my son and his friend as "coloured" so I corrected her by saying that "nobody in this house is coloured" so she changed it to "half-caste".

I didn't want to continue the conversation so I told her that I didn't appreciate her use of language and shut the door. She thought I had wrongly accused her of swearing but I just didn't want to get into an arguement with her. She had come round to complain about my son and his friend which is fair enough and I feel a bit guilty about shutting the door on her.

Later, it transpired that she told my son's friend "that's all you lot can do, climb trees" (he was climbing a tree in the small play area which is between our houses). He asked her what she meant by "you lot" but she refused to say.

I'm angry now and undecided if I should take it further. Any suggestions?

margoandjerry Wed 08-Aug-07 10:22:09

eek. Tricky. She might well really not know that "coloured" is not on these days in which case you can just explain to her what your preferred term is. If she ignores it then she is an ignorant cow.

Re "you lot" I would assume she meant children on the basis that I find it hard to imagine people still talk like that about race. But if she didn't, that's appalling.

WigWamBam Wed 08-Aug-07 10:24:54

I don't think she deserves your anger - but she does deserve to be corrected in her use of those terms. If she continues to use them, then she would deserve your anger.

Sometimes people (particularly older people) don't realise that the terms which were considered acceptable years ago are now considered racist. The fact that she thought you were accusing her of swearing tends to suggest that she doesn't actually realise that you found the terms "coloured" and "half-caste" offensive, and as you haven't elaborated on why you were upset, she still doesn't. I know there are some posters on here with mixed-race children who refer to them as "coloured", so sometimes it's hard to know what's acceptable to an individual and what's not.

The "you lot" is very ambiguous, and could have meant anything at all - I would assume she meant "all children".

flowerybeanbag Wed 08-Aug-07 10:34:53

what WWB said, lots of people, especially of a certain age, are confused about what is an acceptable phraseology and are trying to say the right thing.
Educate her nicely, then if she continues you of course have a right to get angry.

MyTwopenceworth Wed 08-Aug-07 10:36:27

I would have thought she meant you lot as in you kids.

Did she refuse to answer or did she just walk away and ignore him?

If she just walked away after ranting at them, and he yelled 'what do you mean' at her as she stalked off - then she probably just meant 'you kids' and was simply not listening.

However, if she refused to answer when directly asked "what do you mean by 'you lot'", she just looked at him and said i'm mot saying, or stood there, mute........then that would seem odd. If she meant you kids, she would have said kids and wondered why he was asking such a weird question!

I guess I would start by apologising for the kids and saying you'll try to ensure they play elsewhere. But also say that they were upset by her remark about them only swinging in trees as it seemed racically motivated.

Hopefully she'll be horrified it was interpreted that way and will apologise. If she doesn't, or she gets nasty and abusive, then you'll know.

anita64 Wed 08-Aug-07 10:41:02

Thanks for replying. Yes, I'm sure she didn't realise she was being offensive in her terminology and I know I should have explained properly.

It's the "you lot" that bothers me because yes, it was directed in a racist way. It was witnessed by others. My son's friend is 15 and is sure she was being derrogatory. He asked her what she meant by it. She could have explained if she meant just kids in general. She knew she had overstepped the mark, was embarrassed and bid a hasty retreat! By the way, he's not aggressive or cheeky, just a nice kid really.

I'll probably let it go. she's not worth getting upset about, is she?

margoandjerry Wed 08-Aug-07 10:54:18

Didn't realise friend was 15 - in which case I would assume she meant "you load of teenage layabouts" ! Not particularly friendly either...but not really malicious.

Hope so anyway.

speedymama Wed 08-Aug-07 10:58:11

By saying "you lot" I and most people of colour know exactly what she means as I have had that directed at me many times (I'm black).

I would just ignore her - she is a backward ignoramus so don't waste your time or energy on her.

speedymama Wed 08-Aug-07 10:59:49

Climb trees - yeah because according to people like her we are like monkeys. Do you know how many times I have had to endure monkey noises from people who think like her?

margoandjerry Wed 08-Aug-07 11:02:27

but me too speedymama and I'm white (from my grandma's annoyed neighbour actually.)! Obviously she didn't add the trees thing but then I've never climbed a tree in my life.

Anyway, I'm sure you're right. She doesn't sound at all nice and I don't want to make excuses for her. I just do find it amazing that anyone says things like this which is why I assume she can't really have meant that...but obviously I have not experienced it so I bow to your greater knowledge.

speedymama Wed 08-Aug-07 11:10:06

Well at least you did not say "chip on shoulder" or "too sensitive" which is a regular response if you have the temerity to complain about it.

margoandjerry Wed 08-Aug-07 11:18:01

No indeed I would not say those things.

I get the same from certain men in my office when I complain about their visiting lapdancing clubs and expensing it...

anita64 Wed 08-Aug-07 11:18:03

Speedymama, I know you're right. I thought of monkeys as soon as my son told me. My son did too.

I'm not new to all this (eldest is 20) but sometimes it is less blatant, more ambiguous incidents like this that really hurt.

BTW I am white but my son looks black and I think the neighbour thinks he is a lodger or adopted or something. She never refers to him as my son. Yesterday he was the "coloured chap who lives in this house" which is really so outrageous that I am sitting here laughing about it!

margoandjerry Wed 08-Aug-07 12:27:32

anita, the way she refers to your son is extraordinary. OK, scrap all previous comments from me. I do not know what I am talking about.

chopster Wed 08-Aug-07 12:31:25

My parents still use terms like coloured, since they don't realise it is offensive, and I explain it to them but it goes in one ear and out the other. So I agree that you should have explained about that.

I think though, some people jsut are racist and nothing will change them, I'd have absolutely nothing to do with her if she meant 'you lot' in a racist way. Sometimes though it is hard when you have to put up with people.

You would think in this day and age things would be better.

chopster Wed 08-Aug-07 12:33:22

maybe you should jsut get really condescending, after all behaviour like this is infantile. Correct them and say, 'oh you mean my mixed race son' with lots of emphasise. A friend of mine used to deal with comments from people like this, with utter politeness and in such a nice way that it would leave them dumbfounded.

speedymama Wed 08-Aug-07 12:34:58

Someone once called me coloured. I looked them straight in the eye and said "I'm black, not coloured".

They never said it again.

margoandjerry Wed 08-Aug-07 12:42:01

I've just been reminded of someone I met once on a course who was mentioning another course participant, who was black.

This bloke described him as "the Asian fellow...". I said "He's not Asian, he's black". He says "Yes but I thought black was rude..."

Didn't really know where to start.

anita64 Wed 08-Aug-07 16:50:24

I can forgive her use of "coloured" and "half-caste" if it was done in ignorance which is probably the case. I've since been told by another source that she referred to the two boys as "you kind" rather than "you lot". I know it sounds like I'm splitting hairs but I think it just confirms that she is a fully paid-up racist! At least I know where we stand. Don't worry, I won't be losing sleep over any of this.

Anyone who thinks racism is becoming a thing of the past is sadly mistaken. My son and daughter had banana skins thrown at them at school on more than one occasion which is bad enough but even worse was the headteacher's response, " I will have to investigate to find out whether this was meant in a racist way." I was (almost!) speechless.

Before anyone asks, this was in a large comprehensive in Birmingham so I think it would be reasonable to expect the head to have some awareness of racism.

My children cope with it better than I do but I wish they didn't have to.

mumsville Wed 08-Aug-07 22:03:36

Anita the use of the word coloured could be her terminology stuck in the past.

However I know what you mean about the term 'you lot' and that's what bother's me.

Different countries use different words. eg. a South African girl worked in our company and called herself coloured. We were all aghast and she insisted that we refer to her as coloured rather than mix race. Coloured in South Africa is a very specific identity.

Try this - try to get kids to really not annoy her but the next time she say's you lot ask her exactly what she means in a loudish voice.

MarshaBrady Wed 08-Aug-07 22:08:49

Anita it sounds like your son dealt with it very well.
Questioning, and not rising to it angrily and making the woman do a double take (hopefully) on what she was implying. Or at least embarrassed by her own views.
You'll probably wish to avoid her from now on.
But if it comes up again in conversation ask very directly, and evenly for her to explain what she means by it.

speedymama Sat 11-Aug-07 10:21:12

Anita, my DTS are mixed race (3yo) and one day I was walking with them near to a grammar school. There was a group of boys on the playing field that backed onto the park and when they saw me, they started making monkey noises. As you can imagine, that was very upsetting and I moved away quickly.

DH, who is white, said last night that it does bother him what the boys will be subjected to when they are older, especially as one is dark with brown eyes like me and the other is fair with blue eyes like him. It really saddens him that their innocent world is going to be shattered by vile, racist ignoramuses like your neighbour.

I assured him that they will survive it like I have but deep down, I wish they did not have to experience it at all.

anita64 Sun 12-Aug-07 12:30:27

Thanks to everyone who replied.

Speedymama, I have become much more aware of how racist people can be since the birth of DS2 age 6 who is fair skinned with blond hair and could easily be mistaken as white. People often admire his curls and then do a double take when they see his dad! DD looks like the racial mix that she is (black and white) whereas DS1 appears black and many people are surprised when they realise that I am his mother.

All these years on I now realise that I was definitely treated less favourably when I was perceived as a white mother with black children with all the stereotypes and issues that come with that. Generally, people are much more accepting of me when I am just with DS2 who is seen as white. It is very interesting, really.

I don't take offence at any of the people who wonder how I could produce such diverse children because it's just natural human curiosity. But I do object to the way we are treated differently and that certain assumptions are made on the basis of skin colour.

Unfortunately, DS2 has actually said that it is "better to be white" and in a way he is right - life is definitely easier - so we are all reinforcing how positive it is to be black aswell. The eldest two are very proud of their black heritage and I am very proud of them.

Anyway, I hope I haven't been too negative here. I don't normally dwell on things like this but my stupid neighbour really annoyed me. When I'm at home I like to close the door on other people's problems and enjoy my lovely family without being interrupted by ill-informed bigots. So she's definitely been crossed off my Xmas card list!

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