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Monday question: Giving thanks and offense

Posted by Robin Abrahams  November 14, 2011 05:58 AM

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Today's question is an eternal one, with a seasonal twist: 

I have a question related to responding to demeaning and/or racist comments in a group setting while a guest in someone else's home. 

Occasionally, when I am at a dinner table with a group of people, such as at Thanksgiving dinner, someone will speak in a very derogatory manner with regard to people who are gay, disabled, or of a different ethnicity. When I do say something, no matter how gently phrased, an uncomfortable silence usually falls over the crowd and it takes quite a while before normal conversation resumes, making everyone in the room feel awkward. 

I don't want to be a bad guest, or insult the guests of my host, but I feel that it is just plain wrong to sit there and say nothing. A recent example was at my sister's home on Thanksgiving, where a nephew from her husbands side of the family who teaches special education classes, said many unkind things about the children and their problems. At other times it could be someone using racial slurs or disparaging gay people. I need help with responding in a way that will cause the least amount of collateral damage.

Your thoughts, dear readers? As usual, I'll post my advice on Friday, and summarize your responses. 

And stick around! It's going to be a busy week. Live chat on Wednesday from noon-1pm (last chance to get your Thanksgiving questions in!), and tomorrow I'm running a contest to win tickets to the fabulous "Arabian Nights" at Central Square Theater. 
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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