What Did You Talk About at Thanksgiving?

Its Thanksgiving night and I’m nicely stuffed from dinner. A friend surprised us with a turkey. She said a friend of hers donates turkeys to her and her partner and asks them to distribute them to people working on behalf of community and social justice causes. What an amazing gift. I promised my friend I will pay the gift forward.

Originally, the Fakequity team had planned on a two-part Thanksgiving special. Week one was themed: Things We’re Not Thankful for, with a running list of annoyances, problems, and stuff that we make fun of signs that say “Prioritize Equity!” Thanksgiving week we planned the good list, Not Fake Equity. However, with the election of President Elect Trump and the anxiety this has provoked as well as the militarization of the Native American Siuox tribe standing ground to protest the North Dakota pipeline at Standing Rock, and locally anticipating a $73m Seattle Public Schools shortfall with the fear a lot of the gains made on behalf of students of color will be gutted. I just don’t have it in me to write that blog post about what is good and bad.


picture credit: http://www.itworld.com

Instead, I want to know what was your dinner conversation. This year before Thanksgiving I noticed more colleagues and friends were anxious about dinner conversation. One white friend said she was traveling with her family to her in-laws who voted for Trump, she didn’t vote for Trump. She was dreading what would come up during their time together, her partner sent an email to the family saying “we’d like to have a nice visit, let’s leave politics alone.” I saw a Facebook post (in a group, I don’t know the person who posted it) where the family signed a pledge to avoid talking about the election and politics at dinner, on another post the host created a drinking game where people had to take a sip if they said something racist or politically charged, there’s going to be some hangovers.

Allies Did you Eat Your Talk?

I’ve been wrestling with the thought that Thanksgiving is about family and friends, but I’m also annoyed with allies who are avoiding tough conversations because it is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is about being with people we’re ‘stuck with.’ Because of the stuck-ness there is a chance to coach and guide people to understanding why race matters. Back in July people were outraged when Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, both black men were shot by white police officers. Many people were outraged, including many white friends. My Facebook feed lit up with calls for conversation about race, white people posting how outraged they were, words like allies and solidary were used and subsequently the posts were Facebook ‘Liked.’

Fast forward to the November presidential election and again I saw a lot of social media posts sharing articles about “Parenting Advice for the Trump Era” (has some good content, but centers whiteness a lot), resource lists of books and articles to read, posts asking how the country allowed Mr. Trump to be elected. I’m also seeing a lot of posts about Standing Rock and how outraged people are at the use of water cannons and violence directed at the protesters. Social media is for the like-minded, we are often social media friends with people who have similar values or a connection in some ways.

The problem with focusing on social justice actions online or with like-minded people is we’re talking to people who already ‘get-it.’ President elect Trump didn’t just happen, bigotry and racism have been simmering unchecked because we’re too lazy or avoidant to call out people about their values and language. As this article explains our democracy depends on talking about politics at Thanksgiving dinner.

Have the Conversation – The Hard Ones

We all have ‘our people’ those in our lives where we must continually help them understand why race matters. For some it is family members or close friends, for others it might be colleagues, clients, or neighbors. There is an element of trust in those relationships; they trust us enough to be open and honest, maybe show a little ignorance, ask questions that they know they can’t ask in certain places. With this trust we can have tough conversations in everyday settings like at family gatherings and in the office. If we only get outraged during big events, we are complicit in allowing things like police shootings of African Americans/Blacks to continue or Donald Trump to be elected. Only talking about race when it is convenient is fakequity, real race work takes place at family gatherings, in the car, and in my case over food– I like to eat, if you offer me food there is a good chance I’ll talk to you about race.

A white colleague was telling several of us about an op-ed he is planning on writing. He has the basic outline and named two other white allies to co-author it. After he finished telling us about the op-ed, I challenged him by saying “you realize all three of the co-authors are white,” he paused and got a little defensive listing off their titles and how great they are (I admit they are great). We talked more and I explained part of undoing racism is realizing sometimes those with privilege, especially white privilege, need to step back and use our privilege to try something different. He later told a colleague he was grateful someone was willing to call him out about his natural tendency to center whiteness. This is where the everyday work of being an ally happens.

Back to Thanksgiving did you talk about the election and race with your family and friends? I hope so. I hope you had a civil conversation about a topic you care about–immigration, police accountability, gun control, education, environment, etc. In some cases, the conversation really isn’t worth having, because a person’s fundamental belief is so far ingrained they won’t change. But we still need white allies to tackle hard conversations with your white family members and peers. At the Washington State Budget and Policy Center conference the keynote speaker Anat Shenker-Osario told the audience our messages should highlight our values and with that we’ll win-over undecideds.

If you missed having a hearty conversation about race at Thanksgiving, you still have the winter holidays to try again. I’m not going to Christmas/Eid/Hanukkah/Solstice dinner with your family as a ‘plant’ or imported poc, so step up and have the conversation with your own family. I’m going to be eating pancit, lumpia, and sushi rice with my family and talking about immigration, race, and the latest family gossip. Change happens when we have a relationship in place to invite people to think differently, step into the conversation – it makes a difference.

Posted by Erin Okuno