Spoiler alert: I don’t know exactly how you should deal with your racist relatives this holiday season. Every family situation is obviously markedly different, and will call for different strategies. But it will probably be helpful for us to think through this together before you go—don’t you think? With the election behind us and #trumpocalypse looming large, this is more important than ever.
Strategy one: confront it
I was reminded by a friend recently that we don’t owe social comfort to those who espouse, directly or indirectly, hateful beliefs. Your relatives or friends may not be out-and-out racist, but they looked at the hate being spewed by the right this year, and decided that they were okay with it. Racism and hate ride the waves of complacency. If you choose to confront the racism, come armed with facts and figures (they might not listen to the actual content, but the mere presence of figures somehow seems to strengthen an argument…). It’s going to be uncomfortable, but if you have the stomach for a fight, more power to you. It’s your decision to confront, but not necessarily your obligation.
Strategy two: bring it up
It doesn’t have to be a direct fight for you to address things. Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner has value to you beyond political discussion, probably, or else you wouldn’t still be going. If a full confrontation would be too much, try gently bringing the issue up—and not at the dinner table, where everything is basically onstage. Engage one-to-one. Probe just how far you can take the conversation before things start to escalate beyond what you’re ready for. Don’t give your nana a heart attack or destroy your relationship with her, but don’t let your uncle get away with his long harangue either. In short, go into it with a plan of just how long you are going to push the subject and argue until you have made your point. The mere fact that you said something may make a difference, but if not—well, you tried.
Strategy three: avoid it
While we don’t owe racists social comfort, we do owe ourselves a modicum of social protection. There have been plenty of think pieces post-election blaming liberals for living in bubbles—and yes, that is something we have to think about, but not necessarily all the time or at the expense of our own mental and emotional health. If there isn’t going to be any productive discussion at your holiday gathering, or if you know it’s going to be extremely painful and stressful, you can excuse yourself. Your relatives might be upset for a while, but you owe yourself that much consideration, too.
As much as the holidays are about interacting with others, they are also about re-evaluation yourself. Going home is a strange experience sometimes, like being dropped backward in time. It’s a chance to confront your own latent privileges and the environment that shaped you, but as an adult with a new perspective.
Do you have thoughts or strategies for uncomfortable holiday gatherings? Comment below!