Why White People Need to Speak Up During the Holidays


2017 should probably get classified as the year America became a dumpster fire. It's been the year in which our cultural norms have been tossed out the door and replaced with new ones that hearken back to the days when non-white people and women were seen and not heard.


Except these are not the good old days and thus the chorus of dissenting voices continues to push back against the shifts. The result is a continuous stream of news, commentary and argument and, at times, mental whiplash.


As I write this, many Americans are steeling themselves for their first Thanksgiving (and Christmas or Hanukkah) in the era of Donald J. Trump. If you are one of the lucky ones, you will spend the holidays with loved ones whose political views are aligned with yours, and resting assured that the week's most stressful moment is worrying whether the Tofurky is actually tasty enough to eat or that the turkey isn’t too dry.


However, if you're like most people — especially white people in this moment — there's a high probability that your holiday experience will be shared with mixed company, including that uncle who says racist things (but "isn’t really racist"). Except that if you’re being honest, he is actually racist. And you have to decide what to do.


For many people, the idea of cutting ties with problematic relatives is a line they don’t want to cross. It's easier to smile and nod rather than speak up. I'm here to tell you that this year more than ever before, it is your duty to speak up and push back on intolerance and bigotry. It is not enough to unfriend and avoid those with abhorrent views. We are now being governed by a motley crew that is literally reshaping our world with their hate-fueled agenda.


Thus, we must all become activists and speakers for what is right and just. Uncle Rusty the Racist doesn’t get a pass because he is old and supposedly harmless. If he espouses an ideology that is hateful, what does it say when no one in the family has the courage to counter his views? What are the younger generations learning when they see family members stay silent in the face of intolerance? What does it say about you that you say Black Lives Matter, you support POC and the LGBTQ community, and yet you don’t feel comfortable speaking up?


White people who have widened their lens to accept an anti-racist framework are foot soldiers for change. You have the ability to penetrate spaces that people like me will never enter. Make it your mission to talk about race, racism and current events this holiday season. It will be uncomfortable and people may get mad at you. That’s okay. I have been writing about race for the past decade-plus. People are always mad at me — you will survive. Lean into that discomfort and let it be your teacher as you grow in your own change work.


Given how racially siloed we are in this nation, conversations that start within our own personal circles of family and friends are critical first steps to change. Given that Trump’s primary language is racially coded language (referring to NFL players who chose to kneel instead of standing for the national anthem as "sons of bitches," while in the aftermath of Charlottesville, where actual Nazis were out in force, stating that there were "fine people on both sides"), the first action on the treatment plan for social change is honest conversation and debunking the racial myths that are so much a part of our culture. Which means if you are celebrating Thanksgiving, that might need to start with an honest conversation on the true origin and legacy of that day. It isn’t the fairy tale that we were all raised with.


After two decades of working for social change, I can honestly say that change is typically a slow process. The large victories are beautiful but systemic change tends to move slower than the molasses in some of your holiday recipes. Do that small and slow work so that it can all add up to something big.

Read more Shay Stewart-Bouley at www.blackgirlinmaine.com 

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