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: What are YOU Doing to Prevent Suicide?

This week’s post is from a guest author!  I love highlighting the ways that amazing and inspiring young people are attempting to change their world, and this week’s post comes from one of those phenomenal young people.

Rachel O’Grady is a junior at St. Ignatius College Prep, in Chicago, Il. She plays basketball, actively participates in Model United Nations and is attempting to gain 100 service hours by next June.

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Two weeks ago, one of my friends texted me the following words: “Suicide scares the sh** out of me.” My immediate response: Well, of course it does. Taking your own life should scare you. One week later, we both received an email from our school, disclosing that one of the seniors had killed himself. Minutes after receiving the email, my friend texted me again “Remember what I said about suicide?” I went back to the email, and re-read it. It hung on my screen for nearly twenty minutes as I re-read the eerie, haunting truth, over and over again. Nearly shaking, and still crying, despite my lack of a close relationship with the student, I responded to my friend’s text: “But it’s real.”

Suicide isn’t something that teenagers can’t grasp. It’s all over the news and it’s become somewhat of a phenomenon on television and in popular culture. It’s not something foreign to many- most have heard of the “It Gets Better” videos, perhaps they know someone who has taken their own life, or maybe they’ve thought of the possibility themselves. It’s not an alien concept. It’s looked upon as cowardly, dumb, even immoral. It’s tragic, and as my friend so eloquently put, it’s scary.

Despite all of that, however, one of the leading causes of death in the modern teenage global community is suicide. Think about that for a moment. According to some sources, you are more likely to kill yourself than to be killed by another person. The leading cause of death for Lesbian and Gay teens is suicide. This birthed the infamous “It Gets Better” videos, featuring celebrities and normal folks professing to the millions that being gay is hard because of they way Lesbian and Gay teenagers are often treated – but it does get better. The verbal harassment that happens to 85% of LGBT students does end eventually. The physical abuse that happens to a whopping 40% of LGBT students does taper off.

The reality is, however, that the words stick. The bruises and scars may not fade, but this is the antithesis of a great high school or college experience. Not surprisingly, teens are still killing themselves. It obviously does not get better fast enough. How sad, desperate, or lonely do you have to be to want to take your own life? How unwanted, bullied, or depressed do you have to feel to change yours and others lives forever? Being a teen is hard. I don’t care if you’re a parent, a teacher, a mentor, anyone – you cannot deny being a teenager is tough work. We have eighty million things to worry about on any given day. Just school alone can yield a whole variety of stress, from the impossible homework to the sudden pop quiz or upcoming ominous test. On top of that, you have extra curriculars or a part time job, which include the pressure to perform every day. And then there’s college. The unavoidable, scary idea of ACT courses, graduating, leaving the place you grew up, and eventually being pushed into the “real world”, despite how prepared or not we are.

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Respecting Those Who Serve Us

Working in most any service industry is hard. Working in fast food just plain sucks. The hours are long, the pay is terrible, and far to often, the customers treat you like you are somehow less than human once you place that “McDonald’s” hat on your head.

I used to work at Subway, which in the hierarchy of fast food garnered me more respect than if I had worked at, say, Burger King or Taco Bell. Even there, though, people yelled at me for putting peppers on their cold cut trio, berated me for the fact that we were out of honey oat bread after the lunch rush, and one person even threw their sandwich back across the counter at me because it was cold when it was supposed to be hot.

With that in mind, I always try to greet those serving me with a smile and leave them with a thank you. This morning I stopped by a fast food joint in the terminal at Denver International Airport before boarding a flight to Earlham College in Richmond, IN. Most of the women at the counter seemed to be East-African immigrants, likely from Somalia or Ethiopia considering the size of populations from those places in Denver. I smile and place an order, double checking the monitor to make sure I heard right when the young woman said, “$6.76, please” through her gorgeous accent.

As I waited for my order, I watched a middle-aged white man struggling to understand the woman serving him. Though she was speaking perfect English, she did speak with an accent. He got more and more frustrated, slamming his money on the counter, shaking his head and saying, “Learn to speak English.”

I could see the frustration in the young woman’s face as she undoubtedly thought, “What language am I speaking?”

You see, it’s tough to work in fast food, but’s even more difficult when you work in fast food and have dark skin or speak English with an accent.

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On Political Correctness

Man!  People HATE political correctness!  In his column written in 2000, Bill Lind goes as far as to call it “Cultural Marxism,” exclaiming:

“It’s deadly serious. It is the great disease of our century, the disease that has left tens of millions of people dead in Europe, in Russia, in China, indeed around the world. It is the disease of ideology. PC is not funny. PC is deadly serious.”

Extreme?  Perhaps . . . When most people hear the term PC, images like the following seem to spring to mind:

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