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Racist fam at Thanksgiving dins

Nothing is better than sitting down to a family meal over a too-large dead fowl that’s been carefully stuffed with stale bread and onions.  

Sides of various sliced, diced and mashed root vegetables tucked around the main dish of death.  

Everything is covered with a generous serving of thick, casual, racism. 

Large family dinners are generally enjoyable affairs, but most families have that one relative that’s just a little, well, racist.  

These relatives can be hard to deal with, especially when Thanksgiving dinner is happening in 2017 and not 1817. 

The problem with casual racism is that it’s hard to stamp out. It’s become increasingly hard to do with openly racist – sorry, nationalist – politicians and parties giving their followers social license to do as they say. Adding to that struggle is that what is required to stamp out casual racism is counter to every instinct of a non-racist. 

Like in some cases the best way to deal with it is to just wait.  

Yes, until that person dies. 

It’s callous.  

It’s cruel to try not to save Ole Grams from her racist ways; the older human beings get, the less likely it is that they’ll change their behavior and at a certain point it becomes almost impossible to change the mind of an older human being.  

For someone like Ole Grams it’s best to just let the comments slide at the dinner table. 

But – it’s more important to follow up with the younger turkey-gobblers in attendance.  

Make sure they understand that what Ole Grams is saying is wrong. It’s essential that this is done out of ear shot of Grams. If she somehow manages to hear, she may regale everyone with that one time that one person did that one thing, sort of like her neighbour just did, and don’tcha know you just can’t trust those [insert racial epithet]s. 

If someone is not decrepit, there is still hope for their future, like Racist Uncle Bob – dealing with those types is slightly different. There are generally two scenarios where Bob rears his racist head: the racist joke, and the off-the-cuff racist comment. 

The racist joke is easy to deal with: a straight face and an earnest expression – like a young kid on the first day of kindergarten: mind open as an empty garden, waiting for ideas to be sown.  

Moving on. Racist jokes exclusively play off some sort of stereotype that is unfounded. When Bob tells the joke – no matter what anyone else does – jump in with an earnest:  

“I’m sorry, I don’t get it, can you explain that to me?”  

Play really dumb – like super dumb – but really eager. Pretend like comprehension and laughter is always just around the corner. Surely, you’ll get it if it’s explained a bit more.  

Bob will generally react in two ways: he just brushes the joke off. This means he knows it’s racist; he knows he’s been called out for it and he knows it’s wrong. The more this happens to him, the more he’ll become slightly less racist over time. 

The second way is Bob will re-tell the joke or punchline; he’ll try and explain the punchline quickly. In this case, ask follow up questions that are completely oblivious to the stereotype the joke is playing on. This usually leads Bob down a rabbit hole of trying to explain a stereotype that is not true to someone who doesn’t understand it. His argument will fizzle out as he realizes that he can’t explain it without explaining that he’s in some way, racist. 

If Bob is racist with an off-the-cuff comment, it’s a one-step solution: as soon as the comment is out of his mouth let out a hearty chuckle, say “that’s racist.” Then leave the room immediately. 

The weird and unfamiliar part of this may be that the advice is just to identify that racism is happening and then do nothing. In fact, the best course of action is usually to just identify and immediately leave. 

Real quick – think back to all the Facebook fights you’ve witness dance across your friends’ feeds.  

How many of those ended when one side realized the error of their ways and admitted it in the public forum? 

It just doesn’t happen. 

Anyone willing to advocate for or promote an assertion is absolute in their belief of it.  

A conversion away from whatever that belief is, doesn’t just happen with a clever retort. There is no repartee that eliminates racism.  

Engaging over dinner will simply strengthen existing beliefs by causing those who hold them to dig their heels in deeper. More often than not, the person challenging the racism ends up being blamed for ruining dinner; a clucky mother who doesn’t really like her husband’s brother, but wonders why everyone couldn’t have just sat down for a nice meal once a year will be the one to do so, and yeah, her baby’s grown up and gone to school but that doesn’t mean he has to ruin dinner with all the new stuff he’s learning at school. 

The eradication of racism is an evolutionary process not a revolutionary one.  

It takes time. Identifying the casual racism at dinner and then immediately leaving means that the only person the racist can challenge is themselves. With that self-challenging, hopefully, a seed of doubt is planted. As the seed confronts beliefs, it grows into lasting change.  

If not, Ole Grams will be gone and the young turkey-gobblers will have learned better.  


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