How to Talk to Difficult Relatives on Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is a time to express our gratitude for the blessings of the year.
It is a time for good food and loose clothing. It’s also a time not to lose our effing mind because Aunt Pauline has embarked on another racist rant.
You catch your mother’s eye, but she gives you a warning look. You search for your father, but no one has seen him since he went to the basement two hours ago to find the Horn-o-Plenty to put the walnuts in. Your nephews haven’t looked up from their cell phones in three days.
“He (Colin Kaepernick) isn’t even black,” Aunt Pauline said. “His mother is white. He should be thankful this country allows him the freedom to make money. I don’t know why the blacks think people owe them something…”
This is the moment you’ve been dreading since Halloween candy went on sale on November 1. What do you do? Do you?
- Slap Aunt Pauline.
- Ignore her.
- Leave the room.
- Argue with her.
- All of the above.
A Time of Reckoning
Until the people of the United States reckon with its racist past and present, we will be fighting the same battles for equality and justice in the future.
Aunt Pauline isn’t a freak of nature that you hide along with the chipped china and your grandmother’s moonshine recipe. She has existed for generations in every family. She was Missy Anne, the plantation overseer’s wife. She screamed “nigger go home” at six-year-old Ruby Bridges when she integrated Louisiana’s public schools.
Maybe you don’t share Aunt Pauline’s views, but you need to collect your sisters – or in this case, Aunt Pauline. You need to talk to her right now because my liberation as a black woman and the future of millions of women, LGBTQ individuals, black and brown children, and Muslims and Jews are at stake.
Aunt Pauline’s time of reckoning – and yours — has come.
A Time for Truth
We live in a culture of call-outs and clap-backs.
I have witnessed some white women on social media hold each other accountable for their racism and privilege with the savagery of a mixed martial artist. Dozens of Facebook comments sections are littered with the carnage of returned fire masquerading as intersectional feminism. Complex realities are whittled to a GIF or 140 characters.
However, there is a difference between a call-out and a call-in.
A call-out produces shame, not reflection. Shame generates defensiveness and anger. We remain locked in self-righteousness instead of allowing our curiosity to lead us to higher moral ground.
A call-in, as my friend Molly defines it, is an invitation. It is a request to examine the pervasive addiction to white supremacy and the irreparable damage it causes. A call-in requires courage and compassion without the expectation of receiving the same in return.
So, what do we do about Aunt Pauline and the people like her in our lives?
We tell Aunt Pauline that racism and hatred are not welcomed in our family or at our table. We stand in the truth of this, even when other family members judge or challenge us.
We call Aunt Pauline in to scrutinize her beliefs, fears, and actions. We ask her whether she wants to be a citizen of a country that honors the promises it makes in its sacred, founding documents or prostitutes itself at the intersection of political expediency and racism.
Aunt Pauline won’t thank you and you’ll probably start a family fight. But hey, it’s Thanksgiving. What’s a holiday without a few hurt feelings and some mashed potatoes on the ceiling?
The following is republished from my monthly column in Sweatpants and Coffee, an online women’s magazine.