How to Stay Woke Around the Dinner Table

The holidays are a time when, more often than not, you come together with family and loved ones. Some of these people are young and impressionable, while others are older and already impressed upon. If you’re anything like me — a 20-something female from a white family — you have probably come back home for the holidays and heard your loved ones say some not-so-woke things. If you’re also like me, you may have gotten into some heated arguments with family members regarding said “un-woke” comments.

Maybe you’ve unintentionally made your mom cry while trying to explain white privilege. Maybe you’ve cried yourself trying to explain and re-explain and re-explain again the realities of rape culture, or the violence perpetuated toward black and brown bodies in this country on a daily basis. Who’s to say?

Sure, it can feel stressful as white folks to be confronted with our own privileges — rarely does society demand we confront them. Which, in and of itself, is a privilege. Non-white women, immigrants, LGBTQ folks and Muslims are fielding that stress on the daily by simply existing. For those of us trying to stay woke, it can be tempting to avoid this stress by skirting those difficult conversations with our families. We can perform wokeness on our college campuses or in our already like-minded friend groups, but when it comes to getting real with Mom and Dad, we shut down and stay quiet… yet another exercise of privilege.

Our current historical and political climate demands we be anything but silent when it comes to addressing oppression. This means some of our most potent interpersonal activism can come from direct conversations with those we are closest to. Yes, that even means at the family dinner table!

Talking with our families about problematic rhetoric or behavior is one of many ways we can work toward undoing the structures of whiteness, patriarchy and heteronormativity — with a hope of alleviating even a fraction of the burden that marginalized communities carry.

Below are a list of guidelines to help you with the task of woke-ifying your family this holiday season.

Come Prepared

Coming prepared means staying informed and doing some thorough self-education. Try role-playing potential arguments in your head to practice how you will address certain comments, delve into alternative news resources instead of consuming only media propagated by massive, monetarily incentivized corporations and then study those articles a few times over, making sure you look at the topic from all sides of the spectrum. Taking time out of your day to learn is an essential part of the work.

Don’t Tip-Toe

It is uncomfortable and unfamiliar to come out on the offense against your family, but this is actually where you have an advantage. Instead of a stranger reminding your mom that this country was founded off of slave labor and that this inherently means everyone does not, in fact, have equal opportunities — it’s you doing the reminding! Your mom both knows and loves you, and probably trusts you more than a stranger. She may feel like you are personally attacking her initially, but in the long run, she will be more prepared to process it because this new way of thinking is coming from you. This is why it’s best to be as frank and firm as possible when discussing hegemonic power structures with your family. Treading lightly isn’t disruptive enough to cause change. I’m telling you this now: you may have to fight with your family. I’m also telling you this: yourself, your family, and the rest of the world will be better for it.

Have Patience

It is impossible that you will get your loved ones to unlearn racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic and transphobic micro-aggressions over one meal. For one, you’re probably still unlearning them yourself. Unlearning any type of harmful behavior or thought pattern is a long-term (if not unending) process for everyone (of which, you and I are no exception). We must undo lifetimes of being conditioned to think, see and act a particular way that require restructuring. For some, this also means learning the nuances of an entirely new vocabulary. The point is to do the work, and to keep doing it over and over. And remember, be patient!

Realize Thou Art Not the Wokest in the Land

This guideline goes hand in hand with coming prepared. If you feel like you are not properly explaining a concept, issue or term clearly to your audience, it’s time to step back and remember where you learned it. Structurally oppressed groups have been writing prolifically on their lived experiences for decades, and the hope is that you’ve done your homework. Yield to the primary resources. Direct your curious teenage cousin or your interest-piqued aunt to the progenitors of the information you’ve been navigating yourself. Your loved ones need you to lead them to the water… you must show them the maps drawn by those who have laid the land, dug the well, and then, graciously shared both.

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