How to Deal With Racist Relatives at a Gala Dinner

The best part about getting together with your family for the holidays is meeting loved ones you haven’t seen since last year. It’s great to hear about your sister’s new job, watch the kids play with their cousins, and grit your teeth at the horrific comments of racist relatives. Okay, wait – it’s actually not very fun. In fact, it can be quite frustrating and depressing.

How to be, you ask? Depending on your goals, you have four options.


A completely unscientific poll of friends with racist relatives shows that this is the preferred method of talking about “these people,” the queens of wealth, or, as I like, fake resentment that blue lives matter. I think what is the point of the dispute – no one will say: “Oh, you’re right! I now fully understand that Black Lives Matter is a legitimate protest movement that draws attention to police brutality, not a racial extremist group killing cops! “Because you outplayed them on Thanksgiving. For older members of your family, if there is no hope of changing their minds, this may be the best strategy.

To push back

For those of us with a more aggressive temperament, it’s hard to let racist comments slip away. If you feel like you need to combat allegations of “illegal” and an extensive conspiracy of voter fraud with facts and reasons – voter fraud is not a problem; what voter suppression – then be prepared to stay calm. I am convinced that racists openly declare their abhorrent views mainly because they like to cheer people up. I don’t argue too much myself – I get angry too easily – but if you have the skills, go for it. A good friend of mine firmly believes that opposing racists, even if you love them, is our responsibility to any children who may be there. They won’t learn how to confront racists themselves if no one models it for them.

I will also say that if you are white and are dealing with white relatives, and if you have a child, partner, or guest who is of color, you have an absolute moral responsibility to openly oppose hate speech and then leave the meeting. … You must protect your family and guests from hate speech, and especially if your child or partner is the target, you must demonstrate in no uncertain terms that you will protect them even in the most uncomfortable or difficult circumstances.

To avoid

Perfectly legal. A good friend wrote to me that she just doesn’t celebrate the holidays with her racist relatives anymore. At the last dinner hosted by a troubled sister and son-in-law a couple of years ago, she says, “We went to see our parents, but those were terrible trips — all the tense and fake Midwest smiles, dead. silence mixed with insults, racist and homophobic comments. The obvious choice: no holidays with them. “

The decisive factor was her son’s apparent confusion over her silence in the face of vitriol: “My son watched me sit through their tactlessness, tried to behave well for the sake of his parents and tried to understand why he did not respect any of these adults. defended everything we talk about until the end of the year. I know I’ve lost his respect for it, and there really isn’t a good way to explain it. “

If you can’t change their mind, staying away may be the only viable solution.


Last fall, just after the 2016 elections, I interviewed a former Jesuit missionary about how to productively interact with people of a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. His main instructions were to practice reflective listening (“you seem to be really worried about immigration”), “get to know people where they are,” and most importantly, don’t expect anyone to change their minds. one day. He briefly described what bad missionaries do – act with a kind of dull assertiveness – and emphasized the manifestation of generosity to even the most abhorrent worldviews. I myself am firmly convinced that a kind of (social, not religious) missionary work is what is needed to combat the social division of the country. Ultimately, maintaining relationships with people with ugly views does not justify those views, but makes people understand that there is another way to live (again, which is especially important for children). Will you enter the new year with new non-racist relatives? Probably not. But keep doing your best.


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