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How to Deal With Racist Relatives This Holiday Season
Nova Reid is back to walk us through the holy grail of family land mines
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Not for all of us.
Christmas and holiday gatherings, concoctions of good food, a ferocious political climate and alcohol can bring joy and festive cheer, but it can also bring out some ugly ISMs.
Just the sheer thought of spending extended periods of time with family we wouldn’t normally socialise with, or family that have strong views about politics and race that are different to ours, can raise anxiety and make us dread this time of year.
Many people think the way to end racism is to:
1. Stop talking about it (I suspect those people aren’t reading Restless Magazine)
2. Just get rid of Far Right organisations
3. Wait for the older generation to die out. (I know, rude!)
But racism is systemic, it is both subconscious and conscious, often unknowingly passed down from generation to generation, which is why it is still very much prevalent in society.
The real power to dismantling racism is having difficult conversations with people you love, with the people closest to you, the people you have given up hope on ‘changing their minds’ simply because of their age, because that’s ‘just the way they are’.
The irony? We often don’t address racism in our families because we don’t want to upset people. But the biggest impact you can make this festive season is to not continue to let casual racism pass at the dinner table. Racism is learned behaviour, and because of that, we all have the capacity to unlearn it.
Here are 6 tips to help you have difficult conversations with racist relatives
Our socio-political views are as clear as night and day. We are divided right down the middle. The only way to bridge the gap is to facilitate uncomfortable conversations with people with views we oppose, especially family. Not easy, but necessary.
Approach challenging views with curiosity. Go in with a view not to change their mind, not to judge, but to better understand where they are coming from.
‘Help me understand – Tell more about why you feel that way…’
Challenge the truth
In debates about racism or xenophobia people often misinterpret their opinions as fact. Our thoughts are NOT fact.
Respond to fear driven retorts with fact based evidence
Common fear driven retort: “Immigration is getting out of control. Refugees are violent drains on society. They’re coming over here, taking our jobs”
Possible fact based response: Most refugees are vulnerable women and children fleeing terrible conditions. The current percentage of refugees in the UK make up just 0.26% of the population. I’d like to think if things got that desperate for us we would be able to find safe refuge in a welcoming country. Have a read up on it to find out more, it’s amazing what we think isn’t always a true reflection of what’s actually going on.
Practice compassion – I promise it makes this easier – most relatives are well-meaning and don’t know the harm they are causing. So don’t use your words as weapons, don’t use your understanding of anti-racism as a moral high ground. Meet them where they are at. Remember you are not on the same part of the journey. Remember there was a time when you knew less than you do now, there was a time when you caused offence or tripped over words. What helped you get on board and change – being shamed or being compassionately informed?
Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean giving people a free pass. We can hold people accountable firmly without shaming and demonising them.
- What you said then (repeat what they said back to them)
- I know you care and wouldn’t want to intentionally cause harm to people, so I wanted to let you know that this is harmful/ offensive/ racist because xxxx
- If relevant – I know language is always changing and it’s hard to keep up, here’s an alternative instead xxx
Where are your allies in your family? Are there others you can lean on if you need to, or call afterwards? Is this the best time to engage in debate in the moment with everyone, or will you have more impact to pull them aside 1-2-1. Go with your gut, there is no right or wrong. Up your self care – tough conversations with people you love is not always easy and assessing whether you have the current capacity to engage or not, is key.
Decide whether this is a relationship that is serving you or not. Families are circles we are born into and sadly some relationships are toxic and it may get to a point where you have to put up boundaries and make an important decision whether it is worth continuing to invest in this relationship or not. With all the will in the world, sometimes people do not want to engage or change and willingly choose to sit in their ignorance. If it’s causing you pain and after years of trying behaviour does not change, sometimes the best thing you can do for your sanity is to let go.
Education is key in addressing racism. The more you understand, the more reading and learning you do, the easier it is to have conversations with people and to support them in widening their understanding. Read books, podcasts, articles, follow advocates online, keep abreast with the news beyond the mainstream, enlist on anti-racism courses. The more you know, the easier it becomes to effectively hold others accountable for their racism.
One of the most powerful things we can do to help reduce racism is having the courage to have uncomfortable conversations with family and friends, because they are the places we can effect the most change. Just imagine the ripple effect if we all did this?
In the words of Brené Brown – “Speak truth to bullshit. But be civil.”
Nova Reid is a diversity campaigner and anti-racism educator who offers consultancy, workshops and online anti-racism courses. With humility and humour, she uses her professional background in mental health to focus on mindset change, to help dismantle racism from the inside-out.