Monday, November 19, 2012

The Liberal's Lament: A Thanksgiving Plea for Advice

I'm over my weird spat of influenza with just a wee bit of lingering congestion.  I say weird because I was horribly ill from Tuesday night until Thursday afternoon and after that I fine excepting boogers and some fatigue.  Normally the flu knocks me on my ass for several weeks.  I really appreciate all the well-wishes and I'm so glad I have so many friends who care about me.

Speaking of thankful, I have Thanksgiving on the brain and it has really been bothering me.  I've had to make a lot of decisions involving family and my beliefs and I could really use some honest advice and feedback.

Since childhood I have gone to my grandmother's house for Thanksgiving.  This is the first year that I am not going because I choose not to be a part of that family gathering.  I'm sure I've missed thanksgivings here and there, but this marks the first time that I'm not going because I don't feel comfortable.

Full disclosure here.... about 30% of the reason I'm not  going is that the event is not very "child friendly."  The meal occurs smack dab during naptime, for one, for two my grandparents live in an immaculately decorated suburb home filled with sharp edges, white carpet, cut glass bowls filled with candy no one is supposed to touch, and general spotlessness.  I end up spending the entire day not with my family, but in the glassed in sunroom where the teenagers watch TV. Atticus makes my grandmother nervous with his toys and loudness and ... ummmm... being a child.  So we sit apart from everyone and just wait to leave.  It sucks.  But that isn't why I'm passing up on Thanksgiving.

In my family, Sam and I are the lone liberals.  Sam isn't as sensitive about it as I, and he pretty much ignores all the politics, but it bothers me.  Every year the entire holiday discussion is about politics.  I've learned to keep my mouth shut because it does no good to argue.  I'm used to being made fun of for listening to NPR or being a "Feminazi."  Whatever.  I just sit there and enjoy the food and make quips in my head.  However, it gets annoying when one can absolutely predict the Thanksgiving conversation because it is EXACTLY THE SAME every year. 

Here.... Let me back up and explain one thing:  I absolutely think it is good to have a fair amount of political disagreement.  I don't want everyone to agree with me; if we all agreed we'd most likely be living in some weird, brain-washed Dystopia.  They can rant about guns, and liberal media, and taxes, and welfare.  I have arguments I could make, but I don't.  I'm not going to change anyone's mind at the table so why bother.  Let them say and think what they want... within reason.  My one stipulation is that I do not tolerate hate speech.  You can disagree with gay marriage for whatever reason, but say degrading things about "disgusting homos" and I will rip into you.  You can complain about Planned Parenthood... but use a phrase about "feminist sluts" and I'll go at you.  In other words, we can disagree on ideas, policies, and protocol, but we have to agree that humans are... well... human and deserve respect, love, and equality.

I've noticed an increasing number of comments about gays, women, latinos, etc... and it bothers me.  But last year, something happened that completely shocked me:

We're sitting around the table and the talk turns to Atlanta.  One of my uncles was complaining about Atlanta... namely the huge population of Canadians.  (Huh?  Canadians? What's wrong with Canadians.  I assumed that they most likely lumped Canadians in the same group as feminists and the liberal media... SOCIALISTS.  Sigh.)  They continued to fervently discuss the big areas of Atlanta covered in so many Canadians. I decided to play dumb.  I said, "I had no idea there was such a dense population of Canadians in Atlanta!  I know it is an international city for the most part, but wow.... a bunch of Canadians.  I should ask my Canadian library director about that!" Complete awkward silence. I looked around the room.  No one was speaking.  I laughed nervously.  Finally someone said, "ummmm.... Amanda.... Canadians is code."  "What?  Code for what?," I nervously asked.  "Black people, " my relative replied.  "Canadians is code for black people because (eye roll) now we can't talk about black people."  Everyone is sitting around at Thanksgiving -- after a lengthy prayer for our "Christian nation" -- and talking about black people.  Don't go to Atlanta... because of black people?  And this is in 2011?!?!  I turned 500 shades of red and tried to pretend it didn't happen.  Everyone laughed at this stupid liberal.  Good lord, I can only imagine the things they said to each other about me when I was dating a black man for six years.  I slunk down in my seat and then I saw Hope's face.  She was confused and whispered "mom, what's wrong with black people?"  I should have stood at that table in front of my children, blasted my relatives for such hatefulness and left.  But I didn't.... I think I mumbled something about needing more coffee and left the room.  I was a coward.  I've always told Hope that if an entire group of people is belittled and discounted it is hate and fight against that.  Hope know that if a gay kid, special needs kid, or someone from a minority group is being picked on for who they are she is to get help, speak out... and if need be... fight.  I talked to my mom about it later and told her we would not be attending Thanksgiving again at my grandmother's home.  I don't think she took me seriously until this week when I reiterated why we wouldn't be joining them. 

This isn't an argument between Republicans vs. Democrats.  I look at my facebook friends list and I have gobs of friends -- really good people -- who are Republican and they would never ever say anything racist or homophobic or make rape jokes or marginalize entire religions.  This has become a Liberal vs. Conservative debate because my FAMILY SEES NOTHING WRONG WITH THESE COMMENTS.  It is "Amanda isn't going to Thanksgiving because of all the politic talk and she's a liberal."  No, I'm not going to Thanksgiving because I want my children to know that hate speech isn't okay.  They poo-poo that... it must be because I have different political views and can't handle dissent.  Look people, racism is not a "republican value." It is hateful.  There is no way to justify it.  Jokes about women and gays and latinos are not political ideological points of debate... it is a gross display of hatred and ignorance.

My plan was to have an alternate "friend thanksgiving dinner" at the same time my grandmother had her meal (an easy excuse... conflicting plans!), but my friends had too much going on.  So when my mom called to confirm that I wasn't going I told her I wasn't attending and that I was celebrating another time.  She then asked if Hope could go with her to Thanksgiving.  No.  First of all, Hope needs to spend that day with her mom, dad, and brother.  Secondly, the decision to not attend is because I don't want my children around hate speech.  Needless to say, my mom is furious and I know I'll be "discussed" at dinner and that bothers me.  This is also exacerbated by the fact that I unfriended my aunts and uncles on Facebook for comments about the Islamic religion and gay bashing.  They view it as "Amanda disowned her family because we're Republicans."  That's how I'm portrayed. 

The decision is made for this year.  We're going to have a meal with Sam's family, but I'm already thinking about next year and doubting my decision and trying to find things I could have done differently.  I see several paths:
  1. Move to having Thanksgiving at my house and invite anyone who wants to attend. My house, my rules.  Maybe if everything is positive the hate will cease.
  2. Move to having Thanksgiving with Sam and the kids at home to skip jealousy over "why do they always go to Sam's family Thanksgiving?"  (btw... both sets of family are about the same length away from us 30-45 minute drive.
  3. Go to Thanksgiving at my family's house next year and tell Hope we need to ignore comments.
  4. Go to Thanksgiving at my family's house but immediately leave when they get hateful.
  5. Go to Thanksgiving at my family's house but speak out against hate even if I am outnumbered.
 I truly am looking for feedback.  Am I overly sensitive?  Am I justified in being saddened and disturbed?  Could I have done things differently with better results?  Can I just invite all my blog-friends and real-life friends to Thanksgiving next year at my house?


Debi said...

No, absolutely not--you are definitely NOT being too sensitive!!! Oh wow. This post has me in tears. Because I can so well relate. Not everyone in either my or my husband's extended family is like this, and they're often not so blatant with their hate-spewing. But sometimes I find their subtlety more dangerous, because I'm not sure the kiddos would pick up on how wrong it is quite so easily. But yes, it is because of our kids that we finally had to make the rule, as soon as the hate starts flying, we leave. Period.

Andi said...

It's so so hard. I have encountered this in my own family. It's a minority number of family members, but on the whole it gets ignored. It's ignorant and ridiculous, but it's also hard to stand up when it's family and you know there's nothing you can do to change the seed of hatred that it comes from.

I honestly don't know what to tell you to do -- except do what makes you comfortable and what feels right for your kiddos. Sometimes there's a talk waiting to happen that goes something like this, "X, Y, and Z grew up in a different time than ours, and they're holding onto some outdated, wrong attitudes. Our family does not prescribe to these attitudes."

Or that's the gist of it. I remember having this same talk with my mom when I was younger and confused about what my family had to say about gay people. And I suspect I'll be having the same talk with Greyson when he gets older.

I do want to tell him to fight, but when it's family it's harder. It's different. It's risking a rift. It's a tough decision.

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

I only know you via your blog, but for what's worth: I'm proud of you. It takes courage to decide not to attend and stick to your values. In my humble opinion, you're doing the best for your kids and I'd do exactly the same, at least until they are old enough not to be so susceptible to hate-thinking.

It's a tough call about what to do in the future. I would probably try to make the people really close to me and that I value to most understand my reasons. Having Thanksgiving with Sam's family sounds good and it'll still give you that feeling of being with family/clan.

Good luck either way and please keep us updated.

Thomas at My Porch said...

I think you can set aside all of the negative issues and come up with a positive reason for declining this and future Thanksgivings with your extended family. The fact of the matter is that you have a loving and growing family of your own, and it is perfectly acceptable for you to start your own traditions with them. You can remain silent about the fact that you want your kids to cherish holidays rather than dread them. As you say, there is probably nothing you can do to change the tenor of the big family get togethers so why subject yourself to it?