By Noelle Lambert ‘19
It’s that time of year again. Oh, yes, the holidays are finally upon us. You might be ecstatic to see your favorite eccentric cousin who’s been traveling the world and finding himself again, or—more likely—dreading the inevitable line of questioning from your old and pruny relatives:
“Where are you going to college?”
“Why don’t you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?”
“What are those holes in your jeans doing there?”
Et cetera. Et cetera.
Regardless of our levels of tolerance of intense interrogation, we’ve all been in situations where something our favorite grandma or grandpa says doesn’t sit quite right. It may be an off-hand comment demanding his wife to get him another beer, or a disgruntled complaint about the new family that moved across the street that are suspected “illegal aliens” (hang up on ICE, George, they’re from Delaware). Although hearing these conversations can be incredibly uncomfortable and saying something is even worse, it is still important that we put ourselves in these awkward situations.
First, it lets your family know that something is wrong in the first place. For a lot of all-white, traditional families, norms regarding how to talk about immigrants, refugees, people of color are disregarded or labeled as “over-sensitive PC.” Sure, we shouldn’t scrutinize and censor every word, but that’s never been the point. The point is not to use demeaning language to generalize or dehumanize an entire group of people. Simply stating this concern may bring up an issue your family members had never heard of before. Their shift in behavior, or lack thereof, is out of your hands, but offering information about the impact of derogatory language is something you can and should control.
Second, it opens up a two-sided dialogue on issues no one seems to be rationally discussing. Granted, I wouldn’t open up the conversation by calling your relative an evil racist, but objecting to a comment can be done in a polite way that doesn’t “disrespect your elders.”
There’s a clear difference between being rude and being intolerant of bigotry. When the discussion inevitably takes a turn for the political, don’t immediately leave the table to get seconds. I mean, get seconds, but stay for the conversation. Raise a counterpoint that challenges their deep-seated beliefs about Kaepernick’s protesting, LGBTQ+ rights, unequal pay in the workplace, or the enforcement of immigration laws in our country. Most haven’t heard a well thought-out, level-headed argument against what they believe.
And finally, it’s just the right thing to do. At the end of the day, people on both sides of the political spectrum can be pretty entrenched in their beliefs, but that should never be a reason not to introduce our relatives to a new viewpoint that could end up shifting a toxic mindset. So next time Uncle Larry or Aunt Whats-her-name cracks that racist joke they do every year, be brave.