is my family racist?

First of all, thank you for the OVERWHELMING positive response to the blog post I wrote the other day. I was honestly kind of blown away. You people put wind in my sails.

Thank you.

Only two people (so far) voiced disappointment in what I wrote. And their issue was with the same statement. Because, being related to me by marriage, it reflected on them.


Gabe and I both grew up in extended families that would both consider themselves very much Christian, very much Jesus-following, but are very very very much racist (they would most likely deny this). Being in Cambodia (and missing out on all the family reunions/holidays) makes this easier, frankly, but we will see them all next summer and cannot avoid this forever.

These two men had reason to be upset. It was a pretty strong, harsh statement I made. I almost deleted (or softened) it several times.

But then I didn’t.

Why? Because the blog post itself was about being vulnerable and truthful, and I believe that statement to be true. It’s how I feel (and I feel it pretty strongly), so I left it, come what may.

Gabe and I had a good talk about it last night, and he made the point that people really need to hear the whole story–from my family background (where I grew up/what I believed/how I was raised) to what I’ve discovered on this journey God has had me on for going on a decade now to the very humbling fact that I have racist tendencies deeply ingrained in me (I believe all of us white folks do) that will take awhile to root out.

I told Gabe I feel like a whole book is really the only way to make the entire thing clear. It’s that complex. He agreed.

So, why make a blanket statement and stir up trouble now, while I only have a few hundred words of the book written?


No, because the time is long past to put this out there and start the messy work of plowing through it.

Another good point by Gabe: “They may not agree with you, but I think it’s good that Bill* and Ted* are responding to this. They’re entering the conversation. I think that’s what you want.”

(*not their real names–wouldn’t that be something?)

Yeah, it is what I want.

(because I’m an idiot)


Confession time. I feel deep regret and shame for the way I have listened to racist comments from my family in the past and have said or done NOTHING.

Have I EVER had the guts to stand up to one of them? Yeah, several times (none of which went over very well). But not nearly enough.

Is a blog post going to make up for that?


Will a book make things right?


But it’s what I’ve got right now.

As Bill* wrote me, “Would not the biblical response to have been to confront individuals privately rather than paint your entire family as ‘very, very, very much racist’ to your entire readership?”

I HAVE confronted individuals privately, some in real life, some in Facebook/emails. And. It. Is. Exhausting.

And, as you’ll see in a minute, when I list some of the racist things family members have said, this is pretty widespread. So I’m just going to tick all the birds off with one stone.

This next sentence is very important. And kind of the key to this whole thing.

These family members and I have a very different idea of what racism is.

None of them are “bad” people. As a whole, they are good, kind, hard-working, God-loving, patriotic, and charitable. Some of them very very much so. I love them.

And some of them, were I to play judge and rank them, would be way higher on the racist scale than others. Some very very low. Some lower than me. (Yes, I am on the scale. Much to my dismay.) Some of the most racist have already passed on to glory, as makes sense, since the older generations tend to be the most prejudiced.

But for them to tell me that “there’s no hint of racism whatsoever” in their family or “no one in our family has a racist bone in their body” or “I’m the least racist person there is” (all things I have been told)?

Those are all tired, red flag phrases to me.


Let’s start with me for example. I do have a racist bone in my body. It’s all throughout my bones actually. And I do have a hint of racism in me–waaaay more than a hint, frankly. And I will never win a contest for being the world’s least racist human (how would that even work?) (and, besides, Donald Trump has already claimed that title as his own).

The difference between me and many (not all–many of them are on a journey similar to mine) of my family members? Is that I’m not pointing at a speck in their eye while I have a plank in my own. I am well aware of the inherent plank of racism sticking out of my face. I am well aware of the white plank of supremacy, privilege, fragility, and all the others. And this is a fairly recent awareness.

So, it makes sense that it’s taking a lot of my relatives awhile to catch on. Here’s the thing (and I’m going to focus on my own blood relatives, not Gabe’s, for a minute). The small town my parents were raised in (and that we moved back to when I was 12) had like 2500 people in it when I was growing up. And maybe 5 of them were black.

When you grow up with so little diversity, fighting racism is an uphill battle.

This is not an excuse; it is just a fact.

So, when I say that my extended family and my husband’s extended family are racist, and two people in that family have told me there is “no hint of racism whatsoever” (you can read one of the comments for yourself on this post), then I suppose it’s only fair that I give proof.

Here are some anonymous, 100% true examples of racism (as I see it) in our extended families from both sides of my family and both sides of Gabe’s:

–an uncle who constantly forwarded me racist, white supremacist emails about President Obama and his evil black agenda until I told him to stop it and that I thought he was being racist.

–a grandma who believed (she and I had more than one conversation about this, and she stood firm) that “black people are cursed because they’re descendants of Noah’s sinful son, Ham.”

–a grandpa who told me about a kind black nurse he even hugged once. “I have no problem giving one of them [black people] a hug. No problem at all.”

–stories from my parents about my racist great-grandparents

–people jokingly calling other family members–and other people–“nigger” (over and over and over again)

–relatives (several of them) upset with me for posting “Black Lives Matter” on Facebook. (I read recently that if “Black Lives Matter” bothers you, you would have hated Martin Luther King, Jr.)

–conversations among uncles around the dinner table, the game table, the talking table about “those blacks.”

–another grandpa who told me (quite sincerely) he knew a black person who was actually intelligent. “Some of them are, you know,” he said.

–someone who said, “Why do you keep talking about racism in this country? Do you know how many successful black people there are?”

–someone who was furious (in 2015) when the Confederate flag was being taken down from various places and golfer Bubba Watson painted over the Confederate flag of his Dukes of Hazzard General Lee car. (Gabe tried to have a conversation with this person who refused to listen.) (and can we just take a second to think about that TV show? what in the heck?)

–relatives (lots) who voted for Trump, call him a man of God, completely ignore every awful, racist, misogynist thing he has said/done and every lie he tells, and are in full support of his Muslim ban. “Keep those terrorists out!”

–a nephew making a racist comment, his sister reprimanding him, their mom saying it was a joke and he’s entitled to his opinion.

–one of our girls’ cousins apologizing to Livi and Ava last summer, “I’m sorry my family is racist.”

–two of my own cousins apologizing to me for their racist siblings.

–various relatives (many of whom comment on nothing BUT these kinds of posts) upset on Facebook any time I post something about racial injustice, police brutality, etc.

–multiple conversations started with the words, “I’m not racist, but…” followed by something about “black people.”

–disparaging comments made by relatives about our neighbors at Abbey Lane.


Gonna stop now. My heart is actually racing and I don’t feel so great.

And this is just off the top of my head. (yikes)

Here’s the thing, friends.

If someone says I’m racist, and I bristle and get defensive and angry and lash out, I need to ask myself why.

If I really, truly don’t have a hint of racism in my bone marrow, then I can let that misguided person’s accusation slide right off my racist-free feathers. She is wrong about me. Moving on.

If, on the other hand, it is possible that my outrage is a result of a deep down feeling I have that there might be a grain of truth in that person’s judgment, then I have a couple options.

1.) Ignore it and go back to my life as usual.

2.) Humbly start exploring what all of this might mean for my life.

If I’m ready for Door #2 (which is where I found myself some years back), there are soooo many resources available. The first step is to say–okay, I admit I may be blind to how racism is subconsciously a part of me. I want help opening my eyes.

Then read, watch, listen, reflect, repent. Repeat.

Read this amazing compilation on Whiteness.

And this great interview with Lecrae.

Watch the documentary, I Am Not Your Negro.

And this short video about being Black on the 4th of July.

Listen to this podcast: Black and White.

Read the book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

And the young adult novel, The Hate U Give.

There are thousands more resources written/created by people of color that will help us all on this long, important journey of putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and seeing the world through eyes not blinded by privilege and whiteness.

I can’t help it I was born white. But I can give my life to loving my neighbor as myself, which means making sure my brothers and sisters of color have every right and opportunity I was born with already in my mouth.

Read, watch, listen, reflect, repent, repeat.

23 thoughts on “is my family racist?

  1. Samantha L.

    relatives (lots) who voted for Trump, call him a man of God, completely ignore every awful, racist, misogynist thing he has said/done and every lie he tells, and are in full support of his Muslim ban. “Keep those terrorists out!”

    I appreciate that you clearly distinguish your understanding of racism. I appreciate that you own your vision of truth and your scaffolded experience. I also appreciate that you own your own racist “bones.” Please, though, do not paint all the folks that voted for the President as racist… as you cite this as an example of your families racism. Many of us voted for him, are happy to see what he is doing in our country behind the veil of the media spin that is so colored and pervasive. The timed ban on Muslim refugees may mean one thing to you; another to me. I would like a moratorium on Muslim entry. My husband was killed on September 11th. I would like my fatherless kids protected by screening of all folks entering the U.S. England and France refused to do that. After the latest on the London Bridge / machetes… perhaps being overly cautious is prudent. Better safe than sorry. I am a unschooling mom as well. I work nights and unschooling our kids all day. Denied Obama care…. finally insured…. our lives are far better off now than during the Obama years. My small business shutdown …. we were not considered a minority owned business. I guess, in some… I ask you to pray on using smaller brush strokes when painting folks with the colors of your truth. And…. realize that just as I afforded President Obama respect during his tenure…. you might do the same for President Trump…. And just as you fervently see President Trump as a liar, multiphobic, racist, mysoginist… I see much of the same in Secretary Clinton and President Obama. The “truth” is far more round than you see in the media or on Facebook. In the end, as a Catholic, I place myself into God’s hands. He knows where our path is and knows what the future holds. We call that fiat. It gives me the same measure of peace and the lack of stress regarding secular issues and unschooling in my life as you seem to have found in unschooling. God’s got this. Love, honor, and serve him …. and don’t call out folks for racism while at the same time being rather judgmental and phobic yourself. Owning it doesn’t make it less sinful in the eyes of God. And it sure doesn’t make the rest of the Trump voting Americans hurt less when you say/judge/kick us.

    Just saying.

  2. Steve Larson

    I think the cause of racism is hip hop. That music is so horrible, it causes people to hate the artists. I however, hate no one.

  3. Jenny

    You appear to have issues getting along with leadership in Cambodia and now you are alienating your family. Maybe you need to spend some time asking yourself why that is instead of pointing fingers at everyone else.

  4. Ben Collins

    I’ve heard racist comments by my family members but these conflicted with the deep friendships they had with men of other races and generous compassion for immigrants. I’m not sure what to make of it. Implicit bias and unacceptable language – yes. But overt racism – I’m not so sure. Or maybe specific familiarity bridged the racism gulf that was present in them.

  5. Scott

    The Mylins think the Tavianos are amazing people doing amazing things in the name of an amazing God. Keep on keeping on, friends.

  6. Steve Larson

    People would be better served to make sure that their own lives are right, than getting all worked up about others. However, it is much easier to label others as racist, or get on one’s high horse and point fingers at other people. Especially if they do not live up to your expectations. Criticizing and judging other people in regards to their being identified as racist may make you feel smug and self righteous, but that is all it accomplishes.

    This is America, land of endless opportunity. If people want to live in a ghetto, father unlimited children, shoot each other, pimp out their sisters, and become drug dealers….that is their choice. It has nothing to do with racism. It is simply a group of people choosing a particular lifestyle. Some choose excellence like Ben Carson, Allen West and Mia Love. Some people choose a life of welfare and crime. Not so excellent.

  7. Steve Larson

    I have been wondering about the Black LIves Matter movement. I understand why folks feel threatened by certain police departments. What I don’t understand is why the BLM folks do nothing about the black on black violence in Chicago.

    I totally don’t understand why hundreds of black people are shot by other black people every weekend in Chicago. The BLM people totally don’t care evidently. Their silence is deafening. To me, this is racist. I don’t see Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton in Chicago, attempting to stop the shooting and killing. You know why? Because there is no money in it for them. Jesse and Al make a living off of racism. That is pure evil.

    I believe in judging people by their actions, not the color of skin. I will be a friend to anyone who will be my friend. I believe people should be accountable for their own actions. As a member of the American Legion, I see no racism. We are all brothers.

    1. Wendy 'I'm from h the Chi and don't get it' Henderson

      Not understanding the fixation with Chicago and all the black people being’killed’ there…..I’m from Chicago…….. And last I checked, Chicago was ranked 8th in murders in 2016…….

      AND while an oppressed people group can be prejudiced, they cannot be racist because racism inherently is the exacting of oppressive dominance over a minority population through means of overt and institutionalized discrimination.

  8. Sara Smith

    Wow. What a pharisitical two posts from people who are literally taking money from people for years now with no accountability as “missionaries”. And have been dismissed not once but TWICE from both ministries they have involved themselves in. (In both cases it is not the Tavianos in the wrong, of course). As far as I can tell this family has jumped ship time after time no matter what country or what ministry they have been involved in (or job for that matter). But it’s never ever the Tavianos problem or issue…it’s always someone or something else is the issue but now they have others (mostly people who either done know them IRL or haven’t known them for >5 years fronting the bill). Oh, but they are due for another “vacation”…their last international vacation having been in April…what with all the work and time laboring on things like fixing meals since then. It’s really shocking you feel justified in throwing stones at other’s words.
    Show some accountability for your own actions for a start. Or dont….sit in another country collecting money from hard working people while vaguely describing your ministry or being held to any productivity standard and write a book about the words of others whom you judge harshly and write another book so you can go on an anniversary trip away from your hardworking life (FYI many people have hard lives that ALSO include working a full week of hard work in addition to things like cooking, cleaning, etc. and taking a vacation abroad isn’t something they would even dare to dream of. But you go ahead…you are “working” so hard. And oh I know what will come next…no one is ever allowed to judge you…let the water works and pity party begin.

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Fair enough. Putting my words on the internet is an open invitation for judgment. No water works nor pity party here.

      I have no desire to defend myself to you, but I’ll defend the 35 individuals/families who financially support us here in Cambodia for a total of $2500/month.

      Since I don’t know who you are, whether or not you know us in real life, how long you’ve “known” us, or what your obsession is with our family, I don’t know where you came up with the idea that they’re “mostly people who either done know them IRL or haven’t known them for >5 years fronting the bill.”

      It’s pretty far from the truth. Like not even close.

      Of our 35 supporters, 4 of them we’ve never met in real life. Of our 31 in-real-life friends and family, we’ve known 28 of them for over 5 years. So, 80%.

      And they are some of the most amazing, beautiful, loving people you’ll ever meet. Please don’t insult them again. Thanks.

    2. Gabe Taviano

      If your real name’s Sara, I’m not sure we’ve met. But I have a feeling maybe we have. If you’re not ashamed of what you have to say, please send me an email ( and let me know who you are so I can directly communicate with you. Fair enough?

  9. Jelani Greenidge

    The critical sentence in this piece is as follows:

    “These family members and I have a very different idea of what racism is.”


    I’m speaking to Marla and Ted and anyone else who wants to argue about this… please don’t spend another minute arguing about racism UNTIL you come to an agreement about what racism *is.*

    If you can’t do that, you won’t get anywhere.

    Now, because I’ve studied this and read a lot of work by social scientists and psychologists and people who study racism for a living, I agree with what I consider to be the consensus among the professionals:

    Racism is racial prejudice plus the misuse of institutional power.

    If you’re not willing to unpack what those words mean, how implicit bias feeds prejudice, if you’re unwilling to examine institutions and how they propagate racialized outcomes in housing, criminal justice, education, healthcare, etc. … then you have no business proclaiming whether this person or that person or this comment or that comment is or is not racist.

    1. Dana Milan

      I’m starting to understand well what you are talking about. Practical question….what can be done? We’ve had a wide range of presidents the last few years… Has any difference been made? What are some solutions? Many of us white folks feel at a loss I think….Obviously equal access to quality education is key. I used to do opera outreach in Indianapolis and we went to schools ranging from those in the rich suburbs to those in poorest communities, mostly black students. I didn’t notice too much of a difference in the elementary schools, but by high school there was a huge difference. In the rich areas the students were treated as if they attended a private school… in the high schools in the economically depressed areas, the students were treated like prison inmates. It was shocking and unsettling the level of yelling by the teachers. My mom teaches at a Catholic high school and she always says you are fooling yourself if you think those kids are innocent… What can society do to better prepare young people who come from high risk areas?

      1. Dana Milan

        Those kids as in Catholic school kids not being innocent. Kids are kids but it is how society views certain kids that alters what happens to them after high school

  10. Ted (Tug) Taviano


    Ted here (and I am on an excellent adventure), I chuckled at that, because that was one of Gabe and I’s favorite movies. I give you permission to use my name when you are talking about me, as being disappointed to your post. The crazy thing that I see in this, is that I actually do not see a “RACIST” in our family, and I know that comes across as a shocker, or you may think that there is.

    I hate racism, just as much as you, but to me racism is antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. No one in our family has a hint of thinking that they are better than another race because of their skin color. We should focus on that.

    If you ask anyone in our family if they agree with slavery, the shooting of innocent people of a different race, being looked at different because of your skin color, or what have you, I am sure you would see the same answer.

    The other side of this is racism that has been put on to white people, which I am ok with being called. My black friends do not want to be called white, or what have you, and I think they are ok with being called black as well. It is a beautiful shade, and actually my favorite color in all of the pantone of colors.

    I talk with alot of my friends that happen to be black, and they all have shared with me this same area, when you know the persons heart, it is not an issue at all. My friends, Gabe Brooks, calls me obama… should I be mad? No, he knows how much I respect him, and I know how much he does. My friend Clay calls me black boy when I call, and I call him white man…should we ask for forgiveness. I stop by his house, and actually happen to be the only white person in the mix, out of 30 people. When we get down to the real issue, it probably is not race, it is probably what has been conjured up in peoples minds for years. We are not our history!

    Do I feel bad for all the things that racism has done, I am responsible for me, will leave it at that. My heart hurts for what alot of people have went through, and the only thing I can do is control me, and speak into what needs to be. So if I can control me, you can control you, others can control themselves, lets push to the positive side of cracking the rear view mirror. Notice, I did not say rip it down. There are things in the past that cannot be changed as far as history goes, but I cannot wake someone up that is dead and say, WHY DID YOU DO THAT, why were you racist, why did you hire slaves, why did you call that person something different than you should have. I can only focus on what God has given me the ability to control, me. Maybe I should write a book about how much time is wasted on fighting over things that may not be issues if you really see the person’s heart, and allow God to massage it.

    Now that I have covered the history of which I do not like, but have used it to shape me, I want to hit an area that is not talked about that much at all, racism is not just one sided.

    I do not want to be looked at differently either. I do not want to be tied to the demeaning views of a person, who happened to have the same skin tone as I do, but not the same fingerprint.

    If one race is walking in, and feeling less comfortable because I am white, or because of the past that is history, then is racism towards our family wrong as well?

    So the past is the past, and I feel completely bad for the slavery, racism of the past, that african , italians, jews, asians, and many other people have endured as well. There is arguments on where slavery started, and through research it is a toss up between italians and africans, so with having italian heritage, I wonder if any of our blood line were slaves.

    The problem with the black and white issue, is that the battle is not against flesh and blood. The color disappears when you look at the heart. All the devil wants is for our family to be divided, our country can be divided, and alot of people get generalized into a statement about racism, and then honestly look and analyze to make sure their actions are not producing hints of racism.

    I know you said that people only comment when things like this are brought out, but the fact of getting roped into the category of extended family in a generalization has allowed me to enter into this conversation in a natural way. When I say a hint of racism, I mean NO ONE OF OUR FAMILY FEELS SUPERIOR because they are white. People are different and are ok with being different.

    I appreciate this dialogue, but I believe we should be spending more time focusing on the area of impact that God has given us directly. Is racism a huge issue in Cambodia, what are you doing to fix that there. If racism is the biggest issue that you may see and it happens to be here in America, I would pray about moving back and being an integral part of fixing.

    I know that your heart for racism is to see it gone, and I think that in our family, racism (in the way that I see it) is not present, for it is a level playing ground. Has family members joked, ya…but the same family members would probably trust people of different race, as much as they do their own.

    Well, I hope this conversation continues, and I do not think writing a book on racism or whatever will solve the problem you see, but maybe the conversations that you can continue and prayer to continually be open for God to change your heart, as I pray God changes mine. In that statement, I pray you will feel the freedom of letting go of what has been said in past. I also pray that your family (Yoder side) will feel the love you have for them, and would challenge you to make a blog about the positive side of life in the Taviano/Conrad/Yoder/Figley clan, they are all good hearted people, as you are!

    Racism is sin deep, is something that I remind myself.

    Back to my Bogus Journey 😉

    1. Rod Robison

      Ted: Speaking of “the positive side of life in the Taviano/Conrad/Yoder/Figley clan,” did you know that one of Marla’s ancestors hid slaves as a brave participant of the Underground Railroad? His name was Isaac Patterson and he hid escaped slaves in a cave on his farm.

  11. Dana Milan

    I remember having to stand up to a longtime family friend of my mom’s for gay people, years before it was in the spotlight and becoming more acceptable. I also grew up in a small, white town. I am so grateful at a young age I was able to attend music camps near and somewhat far from home, where people of all race and sexual orientation were able to freely mix and be ourselves. My parents, somehow, refrained from racist speech but I heard similar things as you stated, not nearly as bad though. ( some you said are extremely cringe worthy actually.) I recently posted a lot on an acquaintance’s page, who is a black singer, something similar. Those little snickers , jokes, comments, are damaging because it lumps blacks together in one group, as if they aren’t individuals. A black person commits a crime and people say or feel, “well, that’s how some are”. We would never say that if a white person commits a crime. We only look at the individual and wonder what lead him down that path. I’m grateful that I’ve always been a very open hearted person ( my husband can attest since I manage to strike up long conversations with anyone and anywhere ), and I love being out of my comfort zone. Sometimes this allows me to get hurt but I quickly bounce back thank goodness. I understand your heart and it is frustrating since many of us don’t know what to do to make it right other than raise our children differently. I’m not confrontational and like you said or hinted at decent, good people can have racist feelings. I feel so fortunate to be in a profession where we can look past race and gender and focus on what we love. L

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