Photo By. Mother Jones Illustration
We all have those family members that are- to put it gently- xenophobic ass-hats. Whether its an older aunt, uncle, parent, distant relative, a grandparent who was “just born in a different time” or the drunk relative no one wants to sit next to at Thanksgiving, we have all experience horrible things said within our own families. The Huffington Post recently shared an article about speaking out against your racist family members.
Growing up my parents had raised me and my siblings to be independent and free thinkers. I was taught to express my opinions in a respectful and intelligent manner, and to always respect another person’s opinions, even if I do not agree with them. However, from a young age I was always told to not bring up certain issues and topics around certain relatives because it will cause problems and arguing at family gatherings. I had to do this no matter how bad the comments got or how uncomfortable or angry their comments made me. No matter how angry and uncomfortable I got I had to keep my mouth shut “in order to keep the peace” at family gatherings. Now as a fully independent adult who genuinely does not give zero f*cks about making racists comfortable, I will say exactly how I feel about politics, human rights, and current events.
I got so tired of making certain friends and family feel like it is okay to say xenophobic, homophobic, and misogynist comments without and regard on how it makes everyone else feel. It made me feel resentful to my own family. I felt unsafe about expressing my own identity and opinions with my extended family because I felt like I wasn’t going to be accepted. I felt like I had to be a completely different person when I was with my family. Sometimes I still feel that way. I felt like I couldn’t bring certain friends around my extended family because I didn’t want then to feel uncomfortable. My immediate family has always been open and accepting, but I cannot say the same when it comes to some of my extended family.
Why do we do this? Why do we teach kids to not speak out against racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other xenophobic comments and behaviors? Why is this normalized in family dynamics? Is keeping the piece over a dry Thanksgiving turkey really worth putting up with hateful comments? Turkey isn’t even that good! I have pondered over these questions so many times whenever I am with a family member and they say something that I find…. questionable at best.
I have come to this point in my life where I feel like I can share my views, opinions, and my identity without feeling like being rejected by my family. I am an adult with a college education, life experience, and the ability articulate my opinions in a respectful and calm manner (well, most of the time). Sharing your views and opinions is part of being an adult. Speaking out against racism is extremely important, especially now. If you can’t speak out against your own family, how can you speak out against other people.
If this doesn’t convince you, here are a few reasons why you should speak out against racism in your family.
Not speaking out normalizes racist, misogynist, and xenophobic behaviors
When people are not held accountable for their actions, they will continue to repeat the behavior, and influence others to do the same. Hatred and negativity can spread and manifest itself in other people. Being around hate can make you a hateful person.
It will give them a chance to educate themselves
I am a firm believer that people can grow and educate themselves to be a better person. I for one was a trash person at some point in my life, if I am completely honest. I had the pleasure of having friends and teachers that taught me how to listen and how my thoughts and actions can be harmful to other people. If we become that person to someone else and give them the chance to change, that can be a positive outcome of your relationship with that person.
It makes these actions accountable within your family
Accountability goes a long way. Putting negative repercussions to negative behaviors takes away the power that person has when they use those comments. If people are not told that what they are saying and doing is wrong, how can they stop repeating those behaviors?
It gives other family members who want to speak up
You are probably not the only person in your family that thinks what someone is saying is morally wrong. but out of fear, or lack of confidence or whatever, they do not feel they will have the support if they speak up. If you take that leap and speak up, it will give more people in your family the support they need to speak up. No one wants to be the leader if they don’t want to.
It creates a safe environment for those in your family that are LGBTQ+, POC or have significant others and/or children that are of different ethnic backgrounds.
I have family and friends of all different backgrounds and part of the LGBTQ+ community. I have family members whose significant other is a person of color. And I know that this isn’t the only family that is like this. We all have someone in our family like this. (we all know the gay cousin cliché all to well). When we allow hateful comments like this in out families it makes certain family members feel unsafe, unwanted, and aloof to the family as a whole. By you speaking up against these types of comments makes them feel like they are not alone and that someone understands and sees them for who they are.
In conclusion, racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia should not be tolerated, especially within our own families. Normalizing these comments creates a toxic environment full of hate and causes resentment to your family. A lot of these comments are usually rooted in ignorance, and un-check bias, so we need to do our best to be respectful and kind when speaking out. They are our families after all. We want to educate, not criticize.
I believe people can change and grow if we give them the opportunity. However, if we do not give them that opportunity and we attack and berate them any chance we get, they get defensive and shut down to new ideas and understanding. They will always be our racist family member no one wants to sit next to at Thanksgiving.
I know that not everyone has a family that they feel comfortable speaking up with. For me I consider myself lucky that I can have disagreements within my family, and we can still love and respect each other regardless. Do the right thing. Call out hateful comments in your family.