I fell down on this one a few days ago while we were visiting my parents at their home out of state. My dad, who always has been a jerk at times, is now all jerk all the time without my mother to reign him in (Mom has advanced dementia). So at one point in the family conversation, apropos of nothing, he says, “I can understand why police have problems when approaching Black suspects. It’s easy to tell the difference between White suspects, but there are only a few feature differences that separate Black people. And the coloration is basically all the same.”

At this point in the visit I had already stopped trying to engage my father in meaningful conversation, and in any case he’s lost the ability to learn (he’s 87, but it’s not just age; he’s undiagnosed, but I suspect the early stages of dementia, based on attempts to teach him rudimentary computer tasks he used to know). So who calls him on it? My mother.

This is the woman who thinks she’s in a retirement home some days, on a cruise ship another day; who sometimes recognizes us as family, other times thinks we’re staff; can’t follow most conversations beyond something someone said half a minute ago.

She turns to Dad and says sternly, “So! You’re saying all Black people look alike?”

He backtracked quickly.

Next time I’ll try to follow my mother’s example.

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