I’m seeing a lot of guides to talking at Thanksgiving to your relatives who voted for Trump, and I love that people are putting these together, but I want to back up a bit to help you figure out if you even want to be in that position.
To be clear: My agenda is helping you decide how best to preserve your emotional and physical health. No one will defend your healthy boundaries but you. No one will defend your kids’ healthy boundaries and teach them to defend their own healthy boundaries but you.
I’m going to plug my Christmas workbook again right now because it’s a very clear, very step-by-step guide to isolating which expectations belong to you and which ones belong to other people, and how to figure out when it’s more worth not doing things that other people want you to do, and when it’s more worth going along with other people’s ideas (and how to maintain your emotional health when you do go along with someone else’s plan). It’s focused around Christmas because Christmas is ubiquitous in the US, but a friend used it to plan Ramadan, so there’s that.
If you are facing having to see people at Thanksgiving who voted to harm you and your family and friends (and possibly themselves!), please know that this isn’t a situation of “disagreeing” about politics. That idea assumes that both “sides” are valid and there’s the possibility to either agree and find common ground, or to just decide not to talk about things and ignore this difference of opinion.
In contrast, this situation is you having been harmed by someone who voted for a candidate who wants to harm you and is actively appointing evil into the government to harm anyone who doesn’t comply with their racist vision. Your relative may not have realized at the time that they were voting to harm you. But that doesn’t actually matter here. I’ve said it before: If someone is carrying scissors and trips and stabs you with them, you have still been stabbed and need to be healed. Their not intending harm doesn’t mean that you haven’t been harmed. And that makes this an inherently unequal situation because their intention doesn’t matter, only the effect on you matters.
The upshot of that is that you are not under any obligation to “consider their side” or “come together” or “try to understand” what they were thinking. If they want to repair the harm they’ve caused you, they need to do work to do that. It’s up to you to decide what that work should be. I described what it would take for someone to repair the harm to me in this post, if that helps you get ideas.
So I’m suggesting that you approach Thanksgiving in a very functional way and ask yourself two questions:
1. What do I want out of this day?
2. What do I want from each of the Trump voters I will see on this day?
What do you want out of the day? Maybe you want to not be triggered by people who won’t be kind to you. Maybe you want to see your grandmother. Maybe you want your kids to see their cousins. Maybe you really secretly just want to sleep and order in pizza. You are actually allowed to do anything you want to do, as long as you are willing to trade for whatever the repercussion is of doing that.
Let’s say you really want to spend Thanksgiving at home with your cats, instead of going to a relative’s house and having to navigate your brother. What will be the repercussion of staying home? What’s the repercussion if you tell them why you’re staying home? What if you develop explosive diarrhea that morning and just can’t come? Are you willing to deal with the range of repercussions? If yes, then stay home. If no, then go but work on some strategies for how to minimize the damage to yourself from going.
Calculating the damage you sustain by going requires considering the second question about what you want from each of the Trump voters you’ll see. Maybe with someone you really want to have a discussion about it but don’t care if you agree. That’s easy, if the other person is willing to discuss it. Maybe you want an apology from someone. That only works if the other person is willing to apologize. Think carefully about whether that will really happen and what you’ll do and how you’ll feel if it doesn’t. Maybe you really just want to not have to speak to someone but just sit there together and make it through the afternoon to be able to spend time with someone else. In that case, you might lay out that expectation for the person. (“I’m not interested in talking about the election and would just like to have a nice meal with Aunt Hana. Are you willing to not bring up anything about the election?”)
Think about what you want from each person and whether you think you might be able to get that from them. If you don’t, is it worth it to go?
Basically, here are your possibilities:
- Don’t go, and tell them exactly why you’re not going.
- Don’t go, and fake a reason for not going that doesn’t confront the issue (work, projectile diarrhea, migraine, etc.).
- Go but only get there in time to eat and then leave at the end of the meal, and don’t answer any questions from anyone about anything. (Basically, you’re checking the “Thanksgiving” box but not really participating.)
- Go but don’t talk about it with anyone and leave the room if anyone brings it up.
- Go and stick like glue to anyone you know didn’t vote against you and don’t talk to anyone else.
- Go and bring all sorts of stuff to distract people so no one can talk about any of it.
- Go and engage people thoughtfully in conversation about it without agreeing to “wait and see” or “all get along.” If this is what you choose to do, the NYT did a nice little set of questions you can ask people here. And Showing Up for Racial Justice has a huge wonderful resource for you here including thoughtful factual responses to a lot of justifications. (They even have a text helpline!)
- Go and say, “I’d prefer not to talk about it” as many times as you need to.
- Go and say, “I’d prefer you not mention that in front of me/my kids/the dog.”
- Go and any time anyone brings it up, change the topic IMMEDIATELY and abruptly.
- Go and be ready for a fight and to stand your ground. (Be prepared to leave if you need to–and to lose people–if this is the course you take.)
Note that I’m not mentioning any option that makes you have to listen to anyone’s justifications and agree that they were right to support Crybaby Don just to keep the peace. Part of the next four years is going to be affirming and protecting yourself, and not rolling over just because people expect you to. You are worth being cared for and about. They can’t hurt you and then make you apologize for it. You can listen to their justifications and then change the subject, but don’t bless them because you think you should. That’s not honoring yourself and anyone else who is being hurt by this, especially people of color, people with disabilities, LBGTQ people, and Muslims.
Now, for anyone who isn’t going to be in the belly of the beast at Thanksgiving because you’ll be only with people who are also targets and non-Trump voters, you’re still going to have extra energy and worry. Why not put that to good use together by writing hard copy letters to your elected officials together? And what if you decided as a family to do a community-strengthening service project together in December? There are all kinds of things you could do, from collecting food or diapers for food banks to helping out with a community program that helps children of single parents make presents for their parents for Christmas and Hanukkah to volunteering at an animal shelter. Use this time and your energy and high emotion to work together to help each other and other people.
Tomorrow I’ll talk a little about how to frame this all for your kids, once you make a decision about how you want to do Thanksgiving.
All my love,