The Holiday Family Freakout: Calling Family In to Dialogue About Justice

Few things give me more anxiety than thinking about spending the holidays with my entire extended family.  Don’t get me wrong; I love them! And much of our time together each year is joyful and loving.

But inevitably someone is going to say something idiotic (read: racist, sexist, heterosexist/homophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-choice, religiously bigoted, or otherwise infuriatingly offensive).  And for years, I’ve struggled with how to navigate these family spaces.

After all, confronting the bigotry directly has been known to lead to all-out Christmas or Thanksgiving verbal brawls with shouting and crying and people walking out.

And I know full well that calling my anti-immigrant uncle out and starting verbal wrestlemania isn’t going to change his mind.  He revels in pissing people off with his political beliefs.  He’s the ultimate internet troll (except that he’s sitting on my grandmother’s couch).

Yet as I walk the precarious path in trying to be an accountable ally, I feel a calling and responsibility to address this stuff.  It’s tough to know what to do.

When talking with a friend the other night about whether or not to engage, I couldn’t help but think of a quote from the controversial but surely-quotable Tim Wise:

“The power of resistance is to set an example: not necessarily to change the person with whom you disagree, but to empower the one who is watching and whose growth is not yet completed, whose path is not at all clear, whose direction is still very much up in the proverbial air.”

As I think about whether to engage, I should consider less whether I want to fight with my trolling uncle than about who is listening.

Christmas_fight

Because I’m not going to change his mind, but I very well may plant the seeds of resistance in the minds of my young nieces and nephews.  They are listening.  And at 3, 5, and 7, few times of their lives will be more formative in their development of self and in their construction of “other.”

Further, I might empower someone else in the family to speak up.  Maybe they’ve been just as fed up with the nastiness and bigotry but felt alone at family gatherings.

Inclusiveness CAN Be a Family Value

And while a resistance to bigotry and a commitment to seeking justice are currently not family traditions or ethics, but they certainly can be.

When I saw Cornel West speak at the 2013 CIRCLE Conference, one of the many parts of his talk that stuck with me came in the Q&A.  I can’t remember exactly what question was asked, but he spoke to the need for an ethic of allyship and solidarity as a value.  He talked of needing to highlight more White allies in history, and he talked of needing more vocal allies working with others who share their identity to shift tides of oppression.

But that doesn’t just happen by buying our kids gender-neutral toys or books with fantastic messages.  Instilling inclusiveness as a family value requires some tough conversations.  Yes, these conversations should be respectful and carried out with love, but they need to happen, and they need to be public so that everyone in the family can understand that it is okay and encouraged to challenge someone on a statement that furthers oppression and marginalization.

But it’s also about timing.  If my uncle corners me alone in the kitchen to goad me into a a debate about how Phil Robertson is a perfect example of how Christians are the oppressed minority in the United States today, I’m probably not going to take the trolling bait.

But if during the meal, someone makes a statement about how immigrants are ruining our country, I need to find a way to challenge it and call them in to a discussion.

And while doing so might cause a collective family meltdown, the risk is worth it if we manage to have a powerful conversation that sets the precedent that we can talk through the tough things in our family. After all, doing so makes it clear to those little ones that our family is one that engages, not disengages, with the harsh realities that are the context both inside and outside the walls of our family celebration.

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A Message to Megyn Kelly: Jesus Wasn’t White

In case you missed it, Aisha Harris wrote a really awesome piece about how it’s about time we stop depicting Santa as an old White dude and start picturing him as a penguin.

Aaaand then this happened:

Yeah . . . You heard that right.  “Jesus was a white man, too. It’s like we have, he’s a historical figure that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy in the story and change Santa from white to black?”

Ummmmm . . . No.

Megyn, let’s start by talking about geography.  I’m sure you know most of this, but it’s worthy of review.  Jesus was born and lived in the historical land of Palestine/Israel.  It’s in the Middle East.

What that means is that Jesus was most likely an Arab Jew (though he may also have had some darker-skinned, North African roots).  If you’ve never met an Arab Jew, here are a few modern Arab Jews who might act as a good reference.

So Jesus likely looked more like these folks than like this:

Beyond all of speculation about the color of his skin, though, there’s the contention that Jesus was “White.”  Considering that our modern understanding of Whiteness came about in the process of European colonization, particularly the colonization of North America.  There was a long history of Europeans looking down upon darker-skinned people from other continents, but the idea that all or most European people were of the same “race” was laughable until it was needed as a tool of control in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s.

Thus, even if Jesus HAD been light-skinned and blue-eyed, he wouldn’t have been White.  He would have been seen as a Semitic Canaanite, someone “other” to the Europeans like the Romans or Greeks who made their way through the region.

My point is this: if your goal is to further the racist hierarchy established by rich Europeans (people we now would consider White) by distorting history, then we see you.  We’re on to you.  And we won’t let it stand.

If, on the other hand, you’re just that ignorant of history (which I highly doubt since you are a brilliant, well-educated woman), then please do me a favor and read this.

Oh, and also check out this phenomenal follow up from Aisha Harris.

Baby It’s Cold Outside: A Rapey, Sexual Pressure-Filled Holiday Staple

For as long as I can remember, my favorite Christmas song has always been “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”  I especially love the version from “Elf.”

elf-zooey-deschanel

It has always been such a part of my holiday tradition that I never really thought about it critically.  That is until I was training to be a sexual assault survivor’s advocate.  An article we read about sexual pressure and consent happened to fall right after Thanksgiving, when I usually start listening to terrible Christmas music.  After reading the article, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” came on, and I was shocked!

My realization: This is a song about a sleazy, rapey dude sexually pressuring a woman into staying!!!!!

I mean, LOOK!

Dude is literally grabbing her by the arm and stealing her coat and hat from her!

I am definitely not the first to notice this.  Salon had a great piece from Salon titled, “Is ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ a Date-Rape Anthem?

Well, after reading this piece whereby Rob Delaney attempts to have a dialogue with Katy Perry in “Last Friday Night,” I thought it was time I had a chat with the duo of “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”

Alright, y’all, it’s time we had a conversation…

    • I really can’t stay
    • And girl, if you need to go, you go on ahead and be clear about that.  He needs to listen.
    • I’ve got to go away
    • This evening has been
    • So very nice
    • My mother will start to worry
    • And does she know where you are?  Does anyone? Because Dude is getting a little handsy.
    • My father will be pacing the floor
    • So really I’d better scurry
    • Well maybe just a half a drink more
    • Okay, that’s cool. Thank you for communicating clearly. You always have the right to change your mind, give or withdraw consent.
    • The neighbors might think
    • Hey now, if slut shaming is the issue, don’t worry. What needs to go into your decision is whether you want to stay and get a little frisky. If the neighbors wanna talk, f*ck them.
    • Say, what’s in this drink
  • Baby it’s cold outside
  • No . . . No . . . Your response now is, “Oh, okay.  Well, I would love for you to stay, but if you have to go, let me call you a cab. Or I can give you a ride home!”
  • Baby it’s cold outside
  • Been hoping that you’d drop in
  • I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice
  • Beautiful, what’s your hurry
  • Dude, she said she needs to go. It’s not a hurrying issue.
  • Listen to the fireplace roar
  • Beautiful, please don’t hurry
  • Again with the “hurry!” There shouldn’t have to be any convincing! If she’s DTF, she’s DTF.  If she wants to go, enough with the pressure!
  • Put some music on while I pour
  • Baby, it’s bad out there
  • Dude, you need to talk to your neighbors. Sounds like they could use to hear from the folks at HollaBack.
  • No cabs to be had out there

WOAH!!!! HOLD THE GODDAMN PHONE!!!  Dude, did you put something in her drink?  And your response to her questioning what you put in her drink is to say she can’t get a cab???  Ma’am, if that drink tastes funny, toss it the f*uck out.  We need to call you a cab! Right now!!!

    • I wish I knew how
    • To break the spell
    • That is not a spell!  This is not Harry Potter!  That’s a drug called Rohyphenol, and this sh*t is serious!
    • I ought to say no, no, no, sir
    • At least I’m gonna say that I tried
    • As you should!  You did try!  You said no!  You said you needed to leave!  And now he’s gone and put something in your drink!!
    • I really can’t stay
    • Ahh, but it’s cold outside
    • I simply must go
    • The answer is no
    • This welcome has been
    • So nice and warm
    • My sister will be suspicious
    • My brother will be there at the door
    • My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious
    • Well maybe just a half a drink more
    • At this point, I just have to question your ability to make this decision. If you want another drink, that’s your prerogative, but considering there’s a question about your last drink, are you in a state to be able to consent to anything, even a half a drink?
    • I’ve got to go home
    • Say, lend me your coat
    • You’ve really been grand
    • But don’t you see
    • There’s bound to be talk tomorrow
    • At least there will be plenty implied
    • Again, if this is about slut shaming, you go on ahead and do what you want, but it seems to be that this decision would be made under great duress.
    • really can’t stay
    • Ahh, but it’s cold outside
    • It’s cold out there
    • Well…..I really shouldn’t…alright
    • Ahh, do that again….
  • Your eyes are like starlight
  • I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell
  • Did she ask you to take her hat?  She’s concerned there’s something in her drink, and you’re taking her hat!? I think it’s time to call the cops.
  • Mind if I move closer
  • What’s the sense in hurting my pride?
  • See, now you’re using guilt to pressure her.  Who gives a f*ck about your pride!?
  • Baby don’t hold out
  • Ahh, but it’s cold outside
  • Baby, it’s cold outside
  • Ooh darling, it’s cold outside
  • Okay, I am only going to say this one time.  She said no.  You know what no means, right?  Yeah, it means NO.
  • I’m lucky that you dropped in
  • Look out the window at that storm
  • Man, your lips look delicious
  • You’re just creepy at this point.
  • Waves upon a tropical shore
  • Gosh your lips are delicious
  • Wait, did you just steal a kiss?  I didn’t hear any consent, and everything she’s been saying tells me that she’s not ready for that.
  • Never such a blizzard before
  • Oh, baby, you’ll freeze out there
  • It’s up to your knees out there
  • I thrill when you touch my hand
  • How can you do this thing to me?
  • Think of my life long sorrow
  • If you caught pneumonia and died
  • QUIT GUILTING HER!  What, are you going to use “blue balls” next?
  • Get over that hold out
  • So you’ve stopped the sly convincing, and now you’re just demanding she get over her desire to leave?  Dude, you are a bad person!
  • Ahh, but it’s cold outside
  • Brr its cold…
  • Cant you stay awhile longer baby
  • Make it worth your while baby

At this point, I can’t help but wonder if we need some bystander intervention. Ma’am, you’ve been taking about things in your drink, and after resisting OVER and OVER and OVER, dude didn’t listen. He needs to understand that wearing down a woman’s will is not an acceptable way to achieve “consent.” That is not, in fact, consent. Enough!

Gift Giving and Gender Socialization

One thing I will never understand is how completely wed so many of us are to traditional gender norms, particularly in the way we raise children.  Even progressive folks who would never say “a woman’s place is in the kitchen” freak out when a little boy is in a pink outfit or when a little girl is given a GI Joe instead of a Barbie.

This is never more frustrating to me than during the holidays.  My nieces and nephew (on another note, is there a gender-neutral term for my sibling’s children?) are awesome but slightly spoiled.  Each and every family member showers them in gifts to the point that they can’t decide what to play with . . . there are too many options.  Some of these gifts are awesomely-gender-neutral like the shopping carts that the kids (boys and girls alike) loved to fill with toys and push around the house.  Others were as gendered as you can get (also note their outfits):

Aiden on His "Cat" Car

Abbie on Her "Princess" Car

At one point, Aiden climbed onto the “Princess” car, and one person in the family exclaimed, “Aiden!  You can’t ride that car!  That one’s for girls!”  Then his older sisters (5 and 3) started echoing the sentiment.

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Less-Than-Black Friday: Ideas for a More Socially-Just and Sustainable Holiday

The other day, my friend Zach said, “I have a great idea for a bumper sticker!  It will say (excuse the language), “Fuck Black Friday.  Give thanks again!”

I’ve never really understood the hyper-consumerism that accompanies the holidays.  Even though I’ve often had a strained relationship with my family, I still love them, and I see them as the focus of the holiday season.  I just don’t quite understand why we’re expected to show our love for our families through rampant consumerism.  “Buy More Stuff.  That’s the way to celebrate the holidays.”

Though in some ways, I will undoubtedly participate in that consumerism (there are a few small things that I want to give to family and that I hope to receive), I also recognize that there are lots of ways to participate in this dance more responsibly.

Thus, here’s my 2nd Annual list of ways to celebrate in a more Socially Just and Sustainable way.

1.  Since I spent the other day baking tasty vegan rolls and vegan gravy for Thanksgiving, the idea of food in the holidays is definitely on my mind.  I love to eat.  I love to eat well.  And I am incredibly privileged to eat super well!  I also recognize the privilege that comes with being a vegetarian, and while I hope that folks reduce their meat consumption, I also don’t really see any sense in trying to convince everyone to stop eating meat.  However, in that, I am mindful of the environmental impact of meat consumption.  Eating turkey is wildly unsustainable (and the turkey-production industry really screws the farmers)!  How about beef or ham?  Well, if you choose to eat those, it’s like dumping 2400 gallons of water down the drain and burning 55 square feet of rainforest.  Thus, this holiday season, I encourage you to consider a vegetarian holiday meal!  Or perhaps consider having all-vegetarian sides with your turkey or ham or pot roast.

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