Whatever you do, don't do this. And try some self-education if this is you in the picture.
Inexperienced blogger in the land of blogs warning: shambled, somewhat unplanned thoughts lay ahead.
After discovering, Ways to Face Race at Thanksgiving -- and Not Choke, by Terry Keleher, I decided to insert our needs at KHJN that certainly include challenging racist structures and in addition, addressing inequalities that impair freedom in our reproductive lives. The goal here is to highlight Terry's potent list and show that it can be applied to many difficult conversations in the social justice movement, like reproductive rights, health, justice! That sounds like dinner conversation, yeah? I'm going to stop using that jargon now before I lose my audience. Here we go.
1. Talking Turkey
“Talking turkey” means “talking plainly about a difficult or awkward subject.” Instead of just being reactive, look for softer points of entry. Start with a question. Use plain language. Set the frame and tone you want. Create an opening for some constructive dialogue. For example, “Did you see that video of the police cracking down on the non-violent student protesters?”
On health: Make it personal. Personal stories really hit home when talking with the ones you love already so use it leverage meaningful, difficult conversations. The 1 in 3 Campaign have shown that it’s possible to use story-telling as a powerful, provocative way of shifting the cultural stigma around abortion. Try it while your family and friends are available in truckloads!
2. Go easy on the stuffing
It’s OK to debate, but keep it constructive and don’t personalize things. Use “I” statements (about your own experiences and perspectives) rather than “You” statements (which sound accusatory). Focus on actions and impacts (which are concrete and knowable) rather than attitudes and intentions.
On rights: This is where you should have your Guttmacher Institute state-based fact sheet hidden in your hands under the table (preferably, in reference cards if you didn't make it on the Quick Recall team in middle school.) But, I digress. Intentions are never helpful to debate. What did your mother always say? The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Fortunately for non-research buffs, social attitudes about sexism, homophobia, socioeconomic status, and the like, can be easily digested on any mainstream news source. I mean it, click on the links, I made it so easy to find!
3. Take a roll with the mashed potatoes
When the rabid right-winger just can’t resist his racist rant, roll with it. You don’t have to take the bait. Talk on your own terms—when, how, and with whom you want. Not everything and everyone is worth your time.
On self-care: Sometimes, people (even family) will say the most ridiculous, ball-faced lies, and yes, get away with it, because you cannot combat every cruel piece of misinformed garbage that a person with bigoted thoughts will inflict. What you can do is decide how to use your mental energy and time (because it is precious). After a lengthy, challenging dialogue, do what it is that rocks your jollies -- be it wine, wine, some more wine, swinging on your Nana’s porch swing, seconds on dessert even though you told yourself not to, or holing up in the bathroom to scour Tumblr, go do it.
4. Go for the gravy
Sometimes the gravy makes the meal; instead of the typical race talk focused on blaming and shaming,can you appeal to shared values such as inclusion, equity, dignity, unity and love? Can you lift energy around a vision of racial, gender and economic justice for everyone?
On justice: This is where communities can connect across the aisle. For example, your cousin is the Chair of the Young Republicans and you’re both women and college-educated. Commonalities? Talk about how you got there. Did you live in middle-class neighborhoods, which kept your schools well-funded? Were you raised in a home where dictionaries, food, and vacations were abundant? Okay, that's okay. Don't feel disrespected because we're talking privilege. Reach for depth in your empathy compartment and find out why everyone does not have all their needs met all the time.
Your cousin didn't get there by their boot-straps. Keep your privilege in check and reflect with honest questions to allow these narratives to inspire visions of a future where everyone has an abundance of dictionaries, food, and vacations.
5. Keep your eye on the pies
The point of talking about race at the Thanksgiving table isn't actually to ruffle feathers. The real point is to get others to see, act and think differently.
On doing something: Here at Kentucky Health Justice Network, we strive to transform communities through justice and freedom in our reproductive lives. That’s going to take incremental work on us all. Do one thing -- share a story about some radical birth doulas, give someone space to talk about their life growing up in poverty without the awkward cringe of pity, donate to your local abortion fund, talk to your freaking neighbors, and don’t give up.
If I've learned anything at all in this life not lived long enough, it’s that this world is worth taking time to shape.
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