A few days ago, I was discussing holiday plans with a very close friend who comes from a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant family. I made a joke, suggesting her to bring up the 2016 presidential election at Thanksgiving dinner. Her eyes widened, jaw dropped, and a look of panic came over her—she honestly looked like someone told her that a loved one had passed.
This is many—too many—Americans’ reaction to the thought of discussing controversial subjects among family in a formal setting. We’ve all thought about taking on racist family members and most of us are dreading it. It’ll be much easier to ignore the current state of American political discourse to enjoy a turmoil-free holiday dinner.
But it’s that exact type of selfish passivity—the complete and total avoidance of any hot-button issue at family gatherings—that begins, if not accelerates, the normalization process for the racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic and other discriminatory behaviors that plague our nation today. It’s passive indifference to unsavory ideas, people, and beliefs of our family members that enable and incubate them. Just as the uneasy silence from your dad’s sole “black friend” is used as justification for his support for Donald Trump, your silence at the dinner table will be used to assuage any concerns about racial bias.
Thanksgiving is a time for reflection and family, but that luxury isn’t afforded to all Americans when many are living in fear due to a sudden increase in racist and anti-Semitic incidents following Trump’s election.
We can’t rally in the streets protesting bigotry then turn a blind eye to it when there’s literally a turkey’s distance between you and and your uncle who is constantly ranting about illegal immigrants. The point is — the burden of curing racist behavior doesn’t rest on people of color. Very few people, if any at all, change their mind on political issues after Twitter spats. So it begins with us, talking to our families, educating them, and showing them kindness and compassion in the process.
Wearing a safety pin at your primarily white office space and using the hashtag #NotMyPresident isn’t going to make the world a more inclusive place. So, here are some friendly tips from a straight white dude to help your family members better understand your co-workers, classmates, neighbors and friends of color.
• While passing the green bean casserole to your grandpa, remind him that it’s white homegrown terrorists, not Muslims, that have killed more Americans than “Jihadists” since 9/11.
• After your casually racist aunt finishes her fifth glass of Pinot Grigio and tries to say that African-American voters didn’t turn out in 2016 like they did for Obama, gently explain to her that fourteen states have enacted new voter-suppression laws and remind her that red states and conservative Supreme Court justices completely gutted the Voting Rights Act.
• When your mom calls undocumented immigrants “thugs” and “criminals,” kindly inform her that most immigrants are actually women and children fleeing violence and seeking safety, but instead of helping them the United States government is locking them up in "family detention centers" and making them go through emotionally draining “credible fear interviews.”
• When your dad laughs off Trump’s sexism, tell him that no woman should ever have to deal with being objectified like that and remind him that women, still, are being paid 70 cents for every dollar a similarly-qualified man makes.
• Don’t even let someone try to downplay the significance of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests while simultaneously observing a holiday in which Native people warmly accepted uninvited immigrants from Europe. And yes, the Washington Football Team’s name and the Cleveland Baseball Team’s logo are very much racist. It’s not “honoring” them when they actually want the name changed.
• Before everyone rushes to the couch for football and post-meal naps, disprove your relatives’ false narratives of minorities committing most of the crimes by showing them that in the most diverse cities in the country, hate crimes are going way up while other crimes have fallen.
This may be one of the few times you’re able to see your family members throughout the year and now, thanks to self-segregation, discriminatory hiring practices, and how we consume news via Facebook, we’ve created new forms of systemic oppression along with bubbles for white America to live in. This might be the only chance your family will encounter someone who challenges their one-dimensional, shortsighted ideologies. With that said, people of color should not have to live in fear for the next four years, so the first place white folks can start is at home, by rebuking these hate-filled beliefs. The resistance in the ongoing American culture war begins with you.
Jordan Uhl is a Washington, DC-based writer and public relations person and an MPA student at the University of Baltimore. You can find him on Twitter @JordanUhl.