Here's why Thanksgiving is a perfect time to argue with relatives

Here's why Thanksgiving is a perfect time to argue with relatives
Source: AP
Source: AP
opinion
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If you're dreading Thanksgiving this year, you're not alone. The yearly deluge of guides instructing you on "how to talk to your relatives about politics" has already saturated the internet, advising readers of varying political shades how to avoid a tense holiday with the bigots and lunatics they call family.

"Stick to nonthreatening conversations," CNN suggests. "[It's] probably best to not talk about politics" if things might get divisive, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine chief psychologist Mark Reinecke tells the Chicago Tribune. "It's a tug of war. Just don't engage in it."

Ignore this advice. Donald Trump, swept into office on a wave of racist rhetoric, is the most gleefully autocratic and woefully under-qualified person elected president in U.S. history. This is no time to avoid argument simply because it makes you uncomfortable. This is the time for ideological war.

If this election has taught us anything, it's that Americans aren't engaging with each other enough. We aren't listening to each other. We aren't empathizing with each other and holding each other accountable. It has gotten us nowhere, and it's time to lay it all on the dinner table. 

Last month I wrote a message to my white aunt, a Donald Trump supporter. My white father — her brother — had been disowned by their dad in 1979 when my father married my mother, who is black. My aunt's support for a candidate who retweeted white supremacist social media accounts and advocated racist criminal justice policies targeting blacks was incompatible with her love for her black family, I reasoned.

My aunt responded politely. "I am not a racist and never have been. I love you, [your sister] and your mother," she said. "I hope you understand my position, and we can agree to disagree, but also still love each other no matter what."

Then she went to the polls on Nov. 8 and voted for Donald Trump. I applaud that she exercised her right to the franchise. But we're definitely not done talking about it.

I hope to engage with the rest of my white relatives in the same spirit going forward. I might be uncomfortable, but an open debate about race and politics is worth the friction. Facebook has shown me how wide the gulf is. One of my cousins is a serial fake news sharer and Trump racism truther who refuses to acknowledge anything the president-elect has ever said was bigoted. Another insists that "Black Lives Matter" is a group of racist thugs; she has a 14-year-old son who lectures me regularly about how Martin Luther King, Jr., would despise the group.

It's a frustrating back-and-forth. But I pop my white family members' bubble as frequently as they pop mine. Our relationship lies somewhere between symbiosis and masochism — rarely pleasant, but always grounding. I say this to encourage other people to engage with their relatives in the same way. For white anti-racists and non-Trump supporters in particular, a Thanksgiving heart-to-heart might be your best chance to make your voices heard.

This is especially true on the subject of racism. White spaces are among America's most segregated. Three-quarters of white people don't have a single non-white friend, according to the Washington Post. White neighborhoods, schools, governments and households remain fortified echo chambers. Don't let this be normal. Break the bubble. Make people uncomfortable with their racist beliefs.

If Trump's election has inspired you to pursue anti-racism as a civic imperative, now's the time to shoot your shot. The best strategies will differ from one family to the next, with some responding well to open confrontation while others need more finessing. But having the conversation is key. Accept that it will take time, effort and empathy, and may not be resolved fully in your lifetime. Arm yourself with facts. But do not shy away from debate. Only silence means defeat.