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Are the holidays really the right time to reel in your racist uncle? Set your MAGA-hat-wearing-Migos-loving niece straight?
I see a lot of posts on social media calling for white people to collect their family members over Thanksgiving turkey. But seeing as how Thanksgiving is a problematic holiday in and of itself, I don’t really have high hopes that the same people who chose to overlook their family members’ love for Trump last year are now going to get behind The Resistance full force and check these same relatives on a holiday that celebrates the colonizer. And for those who really are ready to stand up for all the communities under attack in Trump’s America, how effective is a dinner table call out?
I wasn’t sure, so this week, I’m turning my column over to my longtime friend, published author and psychologist with 30 years of experience, Dr. Lois Nightingale:
“Great question! On one hand, when else would family members get a chance to talk about important issues face-to-face without being buried in their cellphones? On the other hand, alcohol, multigenerational sibling rivalries, trying to accommodate everyone’s dietary restrictions, deep-seated in-law resentments just brewing under the surface — What could possibly go wrong?
I guess my first thought would be for people to be true to themselves. For instance, if in the past they just ignored racial slurs or hostilities toward minorities or laughed along with everyone else at belittling jokes about women, people of color or other sexual orientations, now is certainly the time to say, ‘I really don’t find that funny’ or ‘Adding to that mentality isn’t very kind.’
Telling positive stories about same-sex weddings they’ve attended, acts of kindness they’ve experienced from these groups, or new friends they did activities with over the past year, can be indirect ways of opening positive conversations.
One of the most powerful tools for tolerance (A term I detest… inclusion, acceptance, etc., are better, I think) is exposure and having interaction with the other. As people talk about having close relationships, emotionally bonding activities and connections with people who one’s family may be prejudiced against, the more a family is likely to change their views.
Even harder, if a family member wants to make a difference, it’s imperative that they treat the judgmental members of their family with all the kindness and understanding they would like to see them demonstrate. Hate comes from fear and no one can be kinder to others than they are to themselves. The most bigoted and prejudiced people I see are extremely hard on themselves and hold the past over their own heads with tenacious self-disdain. I know it’s kind of abstract, but when people cut themselves slack, embrace the embarrassing facets of themselves, then they automatically accept others.
Every family has its own culture. In a family that is pretty jovial and gets along pretty well, holidays may be the perfect time to change family norms and what’s unacceptable. In families where rage and jealousies are just a few drinks away from being exposed, any conflictual topics should be put on hold. Making dinner plans or scheduling coffee one-on-one for a later date, might be a good use of seeing relatives at Thanksgiving. One on one these issues can be addressed without the added pressure of saving face in front of loved ones who have expectations for how everyone has acted in the past.”
Awesome! Thanks, Lois. I would like to add that this isn’t a pass to cop out on doing your part to change the culture of this country. Rather, this is a set of tools and options for you to consider when figuring out the most effective way to handle these conversations. There’s a time and place for everything and the time for these uncomfortable conversations is now, the place just may not be over your great aunt’s green bean casserole. But, as Lois pointed out, if an opportunity presents itself to set someone straight, you should absolutely take it. •