I’ve often struggled personally with how to reconcile my education as a budding anti-racist with the realities of my family life. Inevitably at this time of year, when prayers of thanksgiving are offered in my church and in the homes of various family members, we tend to gloss over or flat out ignore the significance of this day in our nation’s history.
As kids, we’re taught all kinds of wrong things about the first Thanksgiving. Fortunately, things are improving from the time when I was a child parading around in a paper-feathered headdress in a school play. Scholastic even has some advice for educators who still haven’t gotten the story right. As Resist Racism points out, this is often the only time of year that non-native people even think about Native Americans, and sadly, our thinking is usually caricature.
While in my own little piece of the world, I’m reading and blogging about racial injustice, white privilege, and the life, what happens when I go home with my head full of this stuff and encounter challenges at the dinner table? How can I present what I’ve learned in a gracious way but still remain committed to my ideals?
Love Isn’t Enough has a great guide for alternative activities that would be helpful if I were teaching elementary school, but inviting my family over for a day of mourning in solidarity with my native brothers and sisters wouldn’t exactly fly at Thanksgiving with the in-laws. The mere mental image of that scene reminds me of the passage that says,
And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.’ -Matthew 13:57
I’m not looking to get run out of town, or stoned, but I know that often times those are the breaks for doing the right thing. I’ve taken my fair-share of attempts at insult, bearing up under the labels of “bleeding-heart” (which doesn’t really hurt my feelings) or hearing, “lighten up, you’re so sensitive.”
For me, it’s not just limited to participating in activities where people will remember to thank God for the bounty of America, while ignoring the past and present pain our riches have cost others. We never neglect to give thanks for the troops, but often forget all those civilians killed in the crossfighting.
It’s also the fact that in many of these family gatherings, there will be open use of racial slurs, or stereotypes. Because ours is a white family, we are a meeting of “us” that can launch into conversations about “them.” Do I confront these things? Make passive-aggressive sarcastic comments (as I’m prone to do)? Should I make a scene or let these things pass knowing that this will be my children’s only exposure to most of the folks for a whole year, and my husband and I can clean up the mess later?
I’ve done it all, and rarely gotten any of it right. Anyone out there have similar experiences? How (if at all) do you handle it when you go home with this for the holidays?