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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Guest Post – Standing Up to Racial and Religious Profiling

Kadra AbdiKadra Abdi is originally from Somalia and Kenya, and grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She obtained her Master of Public Policy degree with an emphasis on Gender and Global Policy and a minor in Human Rights from the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Luther College in Anthropology, and Women and Gender Studies. She has a strong background and interest in international development, social entrepreneurship, and community-based organizations. She has worked with diverse communities in Kenya and Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota with a focus on program development and the creation of healthy relations across cultures. Follow Kadra on Twitter at @JESUISKADRA ———

“We define ourselves as a nation of immigrants.  That’s who we are — in our bones.  The promise we see in those who come here from every corner of the globe, that’s always been one of our greatest strengths.  It keeps our workforce young.  It keeps our country on the cutting edge.  And it’s helped build the greatest economic engine the world has ever known.”

– President Barack Obama

 In June 2013, I traveled to Stockholm, Sweden as a grantee of the U.S. Government, specifically of the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm. The purpose of this travel was to present a workshop at the 2013 Nordic Somali Youth Summit, “a project that continues to strengthen and connect engaged youths across the Nordic borders and promote cross-national cooperation on education, employment, social entrepreneurship and political participation.”

 During the summit, I led a workshop titled, “Modern Somali-American.” I discussed the dichotomy of traditional and modern social norms and how they are reconciled day-to-day in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I also shared stories about efforts to engage community members as active participants in creating solutions to community concerns.

 I was proud to be an American in Stockholm. I was proud to emphasize my American-ness more any other part of my identity.

 I shared stories from my four, formative years at Luther College. It was at Luther where I learned to be comfortable in my skin and with my identity, which was not exactly mainstream in a Norwegian-American Lutheran college.

 I identify as a Muslim, Somali, American, and a feminist. At Luther, I learned that the intersection of those identities is not only possible, it is a strength.

 Over the years, I became much more self-aware. I became aware of my ability to comfortably navigate and shift between cultures and identities. I learned to be at peace with being a perpetual insider and outsider.

 My Somali counterparts in Sweden could relate to my stories. We connected on our shared narrative. I left the Summit feeling inspired. I made friends, and potential collaborators. I made connections that would last me a lifetime.

 Sadly, upon returning to my own borders, the same values I was espousing to foreigners abroad about America’s tolerance of immigrants were not extended to me.

 I traveled back to Minneapolis on Sunday, June 9th. Upon returning, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport conducted an unnecessary, unjustified, illegal, and degrading search.

 I understand that for some people, searches at airport checkpoints might seem routine, but let me explain to you why this was not.

 It was not a random security check upon my arrival into the United States. After the initial questions, the officer referred me for additional screening without explaining the process. I was the only passenger chosen for the additional screening, and the screening took place in the open area, not in a private room.

 The Officer said my name and country of origin were “red flags” and that people with my name do “bad things.” He said “there is always an issue when people are entering the United States.” Simply put, I was the target of racial, ethnic, and religious profiling.

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Racism: Fuel for the Immigration Debate Fire

This morning, I opened my inbox to the usual stuff: a slew of work-related emails, my daily deal emails (which I never even read any more . . . I just delete), and an email from Amnesty International asking for donations.  Mixed in there somewhere was a rather interesting forward titled, “You Want Liberal . . . Check the Last Photos . . .”  Here’s the text and photos from the email:

Maybe we should turn to our history books and point out to people like Mr. Lujan why today’s American is not willing to accept this new kind of immigrant any longer.

Back in 1900 when there was a rush from all areas of Europe to come to the United States, people had to get off a ship and stand in a long line in New York and be documented. Some would even get down on their hands and knees and kiss the ground. They made a pledge to uphold the laws and support their new country in good and bad times.They made learning English a primary rule in their new American households and some even changed their names to blend in with their new home.

They had waved goodbye to their birth place to give their children a new life and did everything in their power to help their children assimilate into one culture. Nothing was handed to them. No free lunches, no welfare, no labor laws to protect them. All they had were the skills and craftsmanship they had brought with them to trade for a future of prosperity.

Most of their children came of age when World War II broke out. My father fought along side men whose parents had come straight over from Germany, Italy, France and Japan. None of these 1st generation Americans ever gave any thought about what country their parents had come from. They were Americans fighting Hitler, Mussolini and the Emperor of Japan. They were defending the United States of America as one people.

When we liberated France, no one in those villages were looking for the French American, the German American or the Irish American. The people of France saw only Americans. And we carried one flag that represented one country. Not one of those immigrant sons would have thought about picking up another country’s flag and waving it to represent who they were. It would have been a disgrace to their parents who had sacrificed so much to be here. These immigrants truly knew what it meant to be an American. They stirred the melting pot into one red, white and blue bowl.

And here we are with a new kind of immigrant who wants the same rights and privileges. Only they want to achieve it by playing with a different set of rules, one that includes the entitlement card and a guarantee of being faithful to their mother country.

I’m sorry, that’s not what being an American is all about. I believe that the immigrants who landed on Ellis Island in the early 1900’s deserve better than that for all the toil, hard work and sacrifice in raising future generations to create a land that has become a beacon for those legally searching for a better life. I think they would be appalled that they are being used as an example by those waving foreign country flags.

I wouldn’t start …. dismantling the United States just yet.

FOR THE WRONG THINGS TO PREVAIL, THE RIGHTFUL MAJORITY NEEDS TO REMAIN COMPLACENT AND QUIET. LET THIS NEVER HAPPEN!

 As I read the forward, my blood started to boil.  My usual response to annoying forwards is simple: Delete.  However, in this case, I couldn’t look past the blatant racism I saw in the above piece, so I decided on a different tact: Reply All.
Here’s my response: