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Disrupting Racism (And Any Other -Ism) On Thanksgiving

In the era of Trump, racist, homophobic, xenophobic and sexist family and friends can make Thanksgiving get-togethers unbearable. Here are some tools to fight back.
Disrupting Racism (And Any Other -Ism) On Thanksgiving
Image from: Wikimedia Commons

Who needs help navigating the holidays? Any of you excited to bite your tongue when Grandma talks about "the *whispers* BLACKS" or when your cousin bitches about the "Mexicans" taking jobs away? How about when someone you love brags about "Jewing" someone down on the house they just bought? You psyched to grin and bear it?

No one likes confrontation. Wait, I take that back. Some people like confrontation. But lots don't, and it's those people I'm talking to. Here's a round up of articles that can help you deal with your family/friend/co-worker's particular brand of bigotry without feeling like they've won, and that you've done nothing to disrupt it.

Here's the thing, though. You need to do this work to prepare — before you see them. You KNOW who will be at Thanksgiving. Christmas. The holiday office party. It happens every year, and you know who you'll encounter. So whoever it is, whatever brand of bigotry they spout, run down this article to find something that helps you cope. I'm about to hand you a huge number of resources with advice for all personality types - on how to handle these situations. But you have to prepare.

Learn your facts. Say the words before the event. In your room, in your bathroom, in front of a mirror, whatever. Let the air pass over your vocal cords and the words come out of your mouth. It's as much physical muscle memory as emotional and social muscle memory, and it takes practice. Just like anything difficult does.

If all else fails when Uncle Walter makes racist joke, there is always, always the option to look him in the eye, furrow your brow, and not laugh.

1. Excerpt from How To Deal With Racist Relatives At Your Holiday Dinner (LifeHacker):

Fight Back

For those of us with more pugilistic temperaments, letting racist comments slide is hard. If you feel like you need to combat statements about “illegals” and the vast conspiracy of voter fraud with facts and reason—voter fraud is not a thing; what is a thing is voter suppression—then be prepared to stay calm. I’m convinced that racists are open about their repugnant views largely because they like to get a rise out of people. I myself am not much of a debater—I get enraged too easily—but if you’ve got the skills, go for it. A good friend of mine firmly believes that standing up to racists, even if you love them, is a responsibility we have to any children who might be present. They aren’t going to learn how to stand up to racists themselves if no one models it for them.


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I will also say that if you’re white and dealing with white relatives, and if you have a child, partner, or guest who is a person of color, you have an absolute moral responsibility to vocally confront hateful statements and then leave the gathering. You must protect your family and guests from hate speech, and especially if the target is your child or partner, you must demonstrate in no uncertain terms that you will stand up for them even in the most uncomfortable or difficult circumstances.

2. Excerpt from Talking Racism With A Racist Relative in 4 Easy (Um...NO) IMPORTANT Steps (The Body Is Not An Apology):

I waited to engage my uncle, sorting out what I wanted to say and how to highlight the ways in which his comments were an attack on my husband; a Mexican immigrant. I opted to write my thoughts on his Facebook page rather than texting him. It felt important to share my response with others on the thread. Upon reading my comment, he pushed back but we did not end up in an immediate fight. We were able to have a conversation. Stepping away gave me a chance to collect myself and respond with rationale and reason. While the feeling of reasonability was not always present in the coming exchanges, it made the work easier for me.

3. Excerpt from Calling Out Racists Is Actually Good For Your Health, According To Science. Here's How To Do It (Washington Post):

But standing up to offensive comments can be tricky, especially for people who shy away from confrontations or simply don’t know what to say.

Research, though, shows that when people speak up, they generally feel better about themselves, said Edward Dunbar, a psychologist and professor of psychology at UCLA whose areas of study include hate crimes and harassment.

“People find that they are most satisfied when they say ‘I find that offensive and discriminatory. That’s anti-Semitic. I would never use those words about my sister or your mother,’ ” Dunbar said.

Other phrases that indicate you don’t agree are a simple “excuse me?” or repeating back to the person what they said and asking whether that is what they really meant.

4. Excerpt from How To Respond To A Racist Joke (Thought Co.):

Question the Joke-Teller

You're lunching with an old friend when she launches into a joke about a priest, a rabbi, and a black guy entering a bar. You listen to the joke but don't laugh because it played on racial stereotypes, and you don't find such generalizations funny. You care for your friend dearly, though.

Rather than make her feel judged, you want her to see why her joke was offensive. Consider this a teachable moment. "Do you really think that all black guys are like that?" you might ask. "Well, a lot of them are," she answers. "Really?" you say. "Actually, that's a stereotype. I read a study that said black guys aren't any more likely to do that than others."

Remain calm and clear-headed. Keep questioning your friend and offering facts until she sees that the generalization in the joke isn't valid. At the end of the conversation, she might rethink telling that joke again.

5. Excerpt from Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry (Southern Poverty Law Center):

A woman is vacationing with her mother and two brothers. One morning, her brother says he wants to give his car "a Jewish car wash," which he describes as "taking soap out when it's raining to wash your car, so you don't waste money on water." He says he learned the phrase from their stepfather.

She asks, "Why is that funny?" He laughs and says, "Don't you get it? It's the whole Jewish-cheap thing." She responds, "Well, I don't think it's funny." He says, "What do you care? You're not Jewish."

That evening, over dinner, her other brother makes similar remarks.

"It pains me and embarrasses me that this is a pervasive culture in my own family, that they consider this part of their 'humor,'" she says. "I feel like an outsider. I feel confused. Where have I been? Is this my family?"

Speaking Up...
Sibling relationships involve long-established habits, shared experiences and expectations. In crafting a response to bias from a brother or sister, consider your history together. Was bigoted language and "humor" allowed or even encouraged in your childhood home? Or, is this behavior something new? Does you sibling see him- or herself as the sibling leader? Or does another sibling hold that role? The following suggestions might help frame your response:

Honor the past. If such behavior wasn't accepted in your growing-up years, remind your sibling of your shared past: "I remember when we were kids, Mom went out of her way to make sure we embraced differences. I'm not sure when or why that changed for you, but it hasn't changed for me."

Change the present. If bigoted behavior was accepted in your childhood home, explain to your siblings that you've changed: "I know when we were growing up that we all used to tell 'jokes' about Jews. As an adult, though, I advocate respect for others."

Appeal to family ties. "I value our relationship so much, and we've always been so close. Those anti-Semitic remarks are putting a lot of distance between us, and I don't want to feel distanced from you."

Reach out. Feedback about bias is sometimes hard to hear. Who is your sibling most likely to listen to? A spouse? A parent? A child? Seek out other relatives who can help deliver the message.

And for those of you with white relatives who are liberal and moderate, and think they are fully realized and actualized allies, with absolutely nothing else to learn, yet somehow they still need to center themselves in every conversation about race or bigotry or abuse, I have something to help you deal with them, too. They're the ones who insist they don't have a racist bone in their body, and want to regale you with all the "woke" things they have done, and why none of your statements about white people apply to them. Here's an excerpt from Ijeoma Oluo's brilliant Welcome to the Anti-Racism Movement — Here's What You've Missed (The Establishment)

Your privilege is the biggest risk to this movement.

That’s right: the biggest risk. The compromises you are willing to make with our lives, the offenses you are willing to brush off, the everyday actions you refuse to investigate, the comfort you take for granted — they all help legitimize and strengthen White Supremacy. Even worse, when you bring that into our movement and refuse to investigate and challenge it, you slow down our fight against White Supremacy and turn many of our efforts against us. When POC say, “check your privilege,” they aren’t saying it for fun — they are saying it because when you bring unexamined privilege into anti-racist spaces, you are bringing in a cancer.

That should shift the focus of the #notallwhitepeople! arguments back to where it belongs: On what we can do to continue to disrupt racism when we encounter it. Yes. All. White. People.

As a special bonus, since it is always nice to be armed with some facts, if you're good at memorizing (or you can book mark these on your phone and run to the bathroom to do a quick review...) here is a list of links that debunk myths of as many stereotypes I could come up with. You know your brother-in-law has a particular issue with trans folks? Check out the list of debunked myths about trans people. Does your great-aunt like making jokes about Black people? I got you. The following is a list of links to articles that can help you debunk myths and stereotypes to specific groups of people in honestly no particular order whatsoever.

Debunk myths about:
immigrants
Black people
Latinx people
Jewish people
Women and relationships
Women in the workforce
Muslims and Islam
Transgender people
LGBT people
People with disabilities

(added 11/21/18)
People with Autism
People with mental illness
Indigenous (First Nations) People (Though the title of this piece refers to "Native Americans," which is not really appropriate parlance anymore.)
Thanksgiving

I'm sure I've missed something, someone, or some marginalized group. Please feel free go google your own info if it's not included above - that's all I did here, anyhow. The point is, resources are available to you. Both to arm yourself with facts to combat ignorance in family members and friends you encounter over the holidays (and all year,) and the tools to help you relay those facts in the most effective way possible for your situation. Please, though - put in the work. Preparation will replace anxiety, and maybe you'll even look forward to the chance to wake a few people up out of their tryptophan turkey stupor.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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