My white in-laws make Asian jokes in front of me—and I’m Asian.

My white in-laws make Asian jokes in front of me—and I’m Asian.

By Mallory Ortberg


Photo by Sam Breach

Dear Prudence, 

I am an ethnically Chinese man who is married to a white woman. Her family has been very welcoming toward me, but, on occasion, they still say racially inappropriate things to me. They make “Chinese fire drill” jokes, suggest I write birthday cards in Chinese, and ask my wife if she’s comfortable being driven around by an Asian. I tend to join them in the assumption that “this is being said in good fun,” since I don’t genuinely believe they dislike me or my ethnicity. However, this behavior does annoy me, and I don’t feel like my Chinese heritage should be reduced to a party trick for their amusement. Quite frankly I don’t see these jokes ending anytime soon. My question is: Is this the sort of thing that warrants a family meeting where I air my grievances, or is this something I just need to come to terms with?

—Interracially Incensed

I think the defense “it’s all in good fun” is one of the more spineless, craven excuses ever to slither down the pike. It’s telling the listener it’s his or her fault if he or she chooses not to enjoy the joke in question, which is absurd. If you’re not having fun hearing it, then it can’t be in good fun. I’m sure your relatives do like you, but they are repeatedly making racist remarks about your ethnicity, and you have the right to ask them to stop. I wonder what your wife’s response has been, if she’s been around while your family members crack jokes about your driving—does she notice? Laugh it off? Join in? I hope at the very least you can tell her how much it bothers you. It would be helpful if your wife would run interference for you, since they’re her family members, but you’d be perfectly right to say, “I’ve noticed you often make the same jokes about my driving and the fact that I’m Chinese, and I’d like you to stop.” If they protest that it’s “all in good fun,” you can counter with, “But now that you know I don’t enjoy it, and that it makes me feel put on the spot and uncomfortable, I know you’ll respect my wishes and find something else to talk about.”

Source: My white in-laws make Asian jokes in front of me—and I’m Asian.

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