8 tips for combatting racism, transphobia and homophobia around the cornucopia

We all fear the seemingly unavoidable result of long meals, awkward conversation and booze mixed with borderline-bigoted family members this time of year. You can try your best to skirt around the subjects that may trickle into political arguments and social disputes — or you could just tackle them head on. It might just be the Gemini in me, but I prefer the latter. Hopefully I can provide some tips, tricks or just general insight from my experiences to tackle the racist, transphobic, ableist, queerphobic and nationalist rhetoric that tends to spill over a perfectly good turkey dinner.

1. Brace for impact.

On a more serious note, I’ve found the best offense is a good defense. When bigotry is brought to the table, ask to see the receipts. My experiences with holiday bigotry usually arise when the relative feels safe enough to spout this trash.

Try not to get caught off-guard — maybe brush up on what’s happening in the news before dinner and if possible, don’t back down from the conversation.

Listen, people, those midterm results were made possible by Democrats sticking to the plan and not getting sidetracked by Donald Trump’s fuckery. Speak clearly and with a point. If their agenda is racist, then yours needs to be anti-racist. If your grandma is homophobic, then you need to be as LGBTQ+ inclusive as possible. Argue your side clearly, focus on the facts to break down their bias, and take it the extra mile to explain the implications of these harmful opinions.

Engage, deconstruct and hold yourself together. Because at the end of the day, you deserve to have a good holiday as well.

2. Have a game plan.

You’ve been through this ordeal before. Without being too pre-judgmental, it doesn’t hurt to expect certain topics to bubble up and subsequent opinions to clash. Know your triggers and where they align with the current political landscape. so you can be prepared for if (and when) that conversation comes into play.

Know where you can give yourself an “out:” see if you can help the chef in the kitchen, offer to set up the table or even making that errand run for an extra pie are all valid excuses to keep in your back pocket if you need some air and some space.

3. Set the scene.

Recognizing your positionality is crucial. If possible, I try to foster conversation in smaller group settings, since people can feel “attacked” or called out when confronted in too large of spaces.

I also look to engage when we’re physically on an even playing field. If the other party is sitting, I try to be as well — as I’m taller and this can be perceived as cornering someone if I stand “over
them. But generally, when engaging in these kinds of discussions, work to make sure everyone is comfortable and hopefully prepare an environment where civil discourse can be had.

4. Dive right in.

My tactic can be summarized through my favorite saying: “You have to play into their game to win.” There are so many walls built up meant to defend, hide and reaffirm these institutions of systematic oppression, and people shut down if you give them any slight opportunity to. So, I work to minimize any chance for someone to back out of their words or a moment of learning.

You have to get these people to remain in their comfort zone (in a position of power), while pushing the narrative out of this circle and into the world of slight and organized discomfort. This fine line is where learning occurs.

Instead of letting that microaggression slide or passing on the opportunity to provide a counter-argument (or fact-checking), play “devil’s advocate” for marginalized groups. I’ve found just the act of pointing out that you don’t share the same opinions can cause a person to dial it back and sometimes simmer in some humility.

5. Work smarter, not harder.

Deconstructing toxic language with the use of “I” statements can be a game-changer. It’s entirely possible that your Uncle Joe thought he could drop in a microaggression for a cheap laugh and get away with it scot-free. However, it’s more realistic that he’s not likely to listen to you once you label him a “racist.”

Instead of replying, “You’re being racist,” I prefer saying, “I think that claim relies on anti-black rhetoric to prove a point.”

“You” statements can be perceived as accusatory and shaming, and push the receiver of these statements to get defensive and less likely hear the argument. On the contrary, “I” statements force the receiver to acknowledge the validity of your emotions and lived experiences, and can make your argument easier to swallow.

It’s more easier for someone to shut down and say they aren’t racist than it is for them to have to prove they aren’t racist and attempt to negate the impact of their words on an audience.

6. It’s present season, so let’s unpack!

When you can provide context for why something is systematically racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, sexist, xenophobic, et cetera, do so. Often times biased language becomes so mainstream, privileged people become immune to the very real consequences of using it. Break down how bigoted phrases have come to be, and the potential (and real-world) implications of such wordage. I’ll name a few that you can keep in your back pocket when needed:

The “F” word

The origin of the slur “f*ggot” comes from the Greek “phakelos,” meaning “bundle.” It gradually snowballed into Old English for “bundle of sticks.” There’s a rumor that gay or effeminate men were burned in groupings during the witch trials and that imagery is how we get the modern use of the word. Still, the Old British terminology synonymous with “woman” is more a reliable link.

This slowly turned to “woman” or “girl,” and then evolved to reference any effeminate or homosexual man. While the history is trivial, the believed origin from the witch trials led to association of “flamboyant” and “flaming” as terms to describe queer, femme or gay men, regardless.

Reverse racism

… is bullshit. Racism is defined as discrimination based on the belief that one’s race is superior, alluding to a systematic hierarchical institution. As American history does not offer examples of POC systematically oppressing white people, in modern America, white people can not be victims of racism.

Bias? Yes! Prejudice? Sure! Crude jokes? Duh. But there are no current institutions that were founded upon and continue to oppress white Americans, as a race, in the way that the prison-industrial complex, voting ID legislation and practice, or the healthcare system currently do.

Identity-based profiling

Stereotyping is very much homophobic, transphobic, sexist and racist. It does not constitute as humor and it does have real-world implications. The excuse of older family members that “things are different now” or “back when I was your age” is ableist at its root, and is a cheap deflecting mechanism. Also remember that while lived experiences are valid, if they are lived with unconscious and implicit bias running rampant? They should not serve as proof that stereotypes are accurate.

For more, here’s a good friend Jane Hong with ATTN breaking down the oh-so-common but often ignored myth of the “model minority.”

7. Practice some humility.

I’ve found one of the best means to combat bias is through recognizing and verbalizing one’s own. Find some common ground in identities, and highlight how you have been socialized to think about a group of people, a talking point or political trope. Then reverse the ideology by providing how you worked through implicit bias to process the bigotry at play.

Be honest in how a gut reaction may cause you to believe what you hear verbatim, but explain how you work to deconstruct and process what’s being distributed before you form your final opinion.

8. End on a good note.

As tough as it may be, remember what you love about these people. Practicing self-care while also attempting to right the wrongs of the world is no easy feat. But bit by bit, you can make a change. Treat people with respect and listen to what they have to say, and the expectation should follow that they do the same for you. Remind them (and yourself) that you speak up because you care, and hopefully that will help make the difference.

All in all, I’m not asking you to forgive racism or any kind of bias — nor am I asking you to interject and attempt to make a huge shift. But rather, try to move the needle left with a mix of compassion, thoughtfulness and the facts. I like to say that if your grandpa can learn how to text, then he can unlearn some bias. But they both take putting in the work and help.

This holiday season, I wish you good luck with your pre-dinner, post-drinking conversations, and if it’s all going downhill… it’s the perfect time than to steal the wine and start reading Michelle Obama’s “Becoming,” right? 🍒