My war on Thanksgiving continues. Not only is it a war against inferior meats, though it is very much that, and not only is it a war against people who don’t want to discuss the holiday’s genocidal roots, but it’s also a war against family compromises at dinner. Jenn Jackson, the outstanding Teen Vogue columnist, had this to say about the need to confront our racist and homophobic relatives over the holidays.
White Americans are also isolated in their social groups, as research has found they are the group least likely to have diverse friends and peers. According to a 2016 analysis from the Public Religion Research Institute, the average white American has a network of friends that’s 91% white. A combined 8% is Black, Asian, Latinx, mixed-race, other and of “unknown” racial backgrounds. The same study found that Black Americans, on average, have a friend network that’s 83% Black, 8% white, 2% Latinx, 0% Asian, and roughly 7% that’s mixed, other, and of unknown race. Not only are white Americans often isolated by race where they live, they are unlikely to be surrounded by friends and loved ones who are nonwhite. If anti-racist white people do not muster up the courage to challenge their bigoted family members this holiday season, no one else will be there to do it.
These forms of isolation mean that many white Americans don’t have to confront racial differences in their personal and daily lives. Because of white privilege, many of them can simply opt out of difficult conversations that challenge internalized stereotypes or beliefs about people who aren’t like them. These attitudes are shaped from an early age. As University of Rhode Island history professor Erik Loomis put it in a recent piece in the Boston Review, when citing a study of white school children in a specific town in the Midwest, “almost none develop a meaningful critique of structural racism, question their own privilege, or think seriously about how to combat racial prejudice.” They may “oppose overt racism,” he continued, “but they also see themselves as deserving of every advantage they have received.”
The issue of racism is tangled up with a host of other issues, including gender and sexuality, class, and education. Starting the conversation can seem daunting, but it can also be a gateway to a host of other meaningful interactions about systemic prejudices and inequality.
For example, while support for trans rights is increasing in the United States, transgender people still face an epidemic of violence and a history of mistreatment by police. Because many cisgender people don’t have out transgender friends, the issues facing trans communities rarely show up in their day-to-day conversations and lives. This form of cisgender privilege closely resembles white privilege in that it allows cis people to simply avoid understanding the ongoing struggles faced by trans people in this country.
Fortunately, the internet is teeming with guidelines and suggested methods for talking to family members about racism this holiday season. There are also plenty of practical tips and recommendations for supporting queer and trans folx this holiday season. What it mostly boils down to, though, is not being passive. Quietly forking away at your yams and green beans while Aunt Susan spews hateful messages about Black people, immigrants, or gender nonconforming people won’t do anything to change the status quo. It’s just another way of allowing these toxic ideas and beliefs to permeate throughout generations and social networks every day. How about stepping up to do something about it?
I have a dream of sowing discord in families across the nation. Turkey will be thrown around the room between angry family members, finally providing a point to it. And of course thanks to the LGM readers unwilling to confront their own white privilege around schools who inspired the Boston Review piece cited here.