How to Survive Talking Politics with Your Family Over the Holidays


Tips for tables with Trump voters

Family sitting at a long table eating together

It’s now November, which means the holidays are fast approaching. As in you’d better start getting your holiday shopping lists together. As in you’d better starting figuring out who’s making what for Thanksgiving.

I have a small immediate family (shout out to all the only children in the house!) but a huge extended family with a bunch of cousins and aunts and uncles. Although we’re never sure whose house we’re going to for which holiday, there is one thing we can always count on: politics will most certainly be discussed at least a dozen times. And it won’t always be pretty.

My dad and uncle have way different political views than a lot of the rest of my family. And they aren’t afraid to voice their loud (and sometimes lousy) opinions about everything from Charlottesville to universal healthcare. For example, Yom Kippur dinner kicked off with my dad and I shouting at each other about NFL players taking a knee, followed by some truly alternative facts from him, and culminating in me running out of the room crying. That was followed by several sleepless nights playing back the conversation in my head, coming up with several retorts I wished I’d thought of in the moment.

I don’t want to go through that again as the holiday marathon approaches, so I’ve been racking my brain for some moves I can make when things start to get ugly. Because he is my dad, and my parents and I are close (see above, the only child thing), not seeing him or speaking to him anymore is off the table. So that leaves me with a few alternative solutions (different from alternative facts), which I thought might be helpful to those of you also facing down a long dark slog of holiday political conversations.

  • Keeping my opinions about me. It doesn’t help anyone to yell, “YOU PEOPLE ARE RUINING THE COUNTRY,” even though it might be true. It also doesn’t help to tell others when you think their feelings are “wrong,” which my dad said to me during the aforementioned Yom Kippur fight, and set off my waterworks. Opinions and feelings can’t be wrong. Facts can be wrong. Knowing the difference can do wonders.
  • Making sure I have facts to back up my arguments. The worst thing about the political climate right now is the political climate. But one good thing to come out of this garbage heap is that I’m now more politically aware and well-read than I have ever been before. That helps me put my money where my mouth is when it comes to these conversations. And that leads me to my next point, which is …
  • I’m not going to change anyone’s mind, I’m just trying to have a conversation. Once it’s understood that we’re just having a polite debate and we’re not going to sway anyone to “come to the other side,” it leaves it open to have an engaging conversation. And who knows, we might learn something in the meantime. But when in doubt, there’s always …
  • Not engaging at all. This could mean actively disengaging, like leaving the table for a little while. Or I could just sit there quietly and try not to throw up while gripping my wife’s leg under the table. Because I’m pretty sure that’s what passes for options, during the holidays of 2017.

What do you think? How do you deal with politics at the holiday dinner table? Do you have any survival tips for the rest of us? Sound off in the comments below.

Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy is the Editorial News Manager at Scribd. Prior to that she was an Assigning Editor at NerdWallet, Senior Tech Editor at Business Insider, and Assistant Managing Editor at CNET. Her varied interests include singing with her a cappella group, The Loose Interpretations, gaming, buying clothes and sneakers and then hoarding them, and anything related to food. She lives in the Bay Area with her wife, Kate, and four (very cute) animals.

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  • sofar

    I am team “Do not engage” with my family and my husband’s.

    I feel like a lot of my more conservative relatives are very bored and see the holidays as a time to “rile up the snowflakes.” Meanwhile, I just want to catch up on everyone’s lives and kids and eat (as it should be!)

    So, I’ll generally awkwardly and obviously change the subject, “HEY SO HOW ‘BOUT AARON RODGERS, SUCH A SHAME RIGHT??” “OH MY GOSH I SAW THE CUTEST PICTURE OF YOUR GRANDCHILD’S RECITAL ON FACEBOOK, EVERYONE DID YOU SEE?? SO CUTE!”

    My SIL married into a family that is just BEYOND, and I have a firm agreement with my husband that if they let loose with racial slurs, we’re going to say, “This language is getting a bit much for us! We’re going to step out.” We like this plan because they are ultra religious and have banned us from saying, “Geeze” in front of them because it’s short for “Jesus” so calling them on their language would bring me much holiday cheer.

    • Eenie

      Yes to your whole last paragraph.

    • theteenygirl

      If they can ban you from saying “Geeze” surely you can ban them from from racial slurs???? Or do they live in that world where streets only go one way?

      • sofar

        If it were my house, I’d ban or say, “Don’t use that word in this house.” But it’s usually my in-law’s house … or their house. Or at a restaurant. That’s why we decided on a get-up-and-leave policy.

    • “I Don’t Knowww, Margo!”

      My blood pressure just shot up reading this.

    • Meredith

      yep yep yep. Just don’t engage. It makes more a much pleasant visit, especially since our family is together so infrequently.

    • lamarsh

      At least in Wisconsin, there will always be the Packers to fall back on…

      • Eenie

        That’s the thing though, now even football is political! Which is fine, I don’t have any problems with the protest, but you can’t casually switch to football without someone talking about the protest.

        • sofar

          Augh. That’s right. Dammit.

        • Jessica

          Yes, but T-Bone or whoever could kneel to pray after a touch down, and really why should religion be in sports??

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            I don’t want to have that discussion over turkey, either.

          • Jessica

            I don’t ever actually want to talk about football, unless it’s about how the Superbowl is going to make my life a living hell (it’s in my city in a few months and I’m already sick of it)

          • ART

            oh I hope you’re going to make bank on your airbnb though?

          • Kat

            Lol “T-Bone” really got me.

    • Mary Jo TC

      I like that idea with racial slurs, and I’m glad my family isn’t quite so bad as that. I don’t think I’d ever hear them dropping the n-word or anything like that. The problem I run into is with coded language that they honestly think is not coded. Like “thug.” or using “illegal” to describe a person. That’s a lot harder to call out, because they don’t understand why it’s objectionable, and it leads you down a whole rabbit hole. But I guess that’s what educating people is about. Sigh.

      • sofar

        Ah, yes, it is definitely easier to counter the BIG ones because the person who is using them knows they’re offensive. But OMG, I remember the “Why can’t I say he looks like a monkey in a suit?” conversation about Obama in 2009. AUGHHHHHH.

      • guest

        Here’s how I deal with the “subtler” issues you mention. Typically I will say something like, “There are political implications there you may not be aware of. We’re not talking politics at Thanksgiving, right?” Sometimes a mini-discussion ensues, but the group as a whole is committed to the “no politics for Thanksgiving dinner” idea. I have to acknowledge that I don’t know how well this would work in other families. In my family, my parents host most holidays, and my mom has already done much of the work of clarifying where she (and my dad, and me and my husband) stand, so a holiday dinner doesn’t have to be the place for this stuff. I am very appreciative of her efforts, and it has–so far at least–kept the … problem views in check. People know those views won’t be dominant or receive support in this context. It might also help (haha!) that my DH is a non-white immigrant, so everyone just assumes that we are at least as “liberal” as my parents.

  • Eh

    My FIL has strong opinions about things he knows no facts about (e.g., indigenous people living on reserves, same sex couples having babies, immigrants, Muslims, French people). So when presented with facts he usually says “I didn’t know that”. I doubt it changes his mind but since he has no facts to argue with it ends the conversation. He won’t even bother to use fake news or some random post on FB or anything like that to back up his opinions.

    • Eenie

      My in laws are the same! It’s so frustrating because it doesn’t even make sense to debate with them.

      • Eh

        With my FIL there is no debate. When facts are presented, he is done. I have learned to not get worked up while he is talking so what I say doesn’t come off as emotional. I present some facts and then the subject is changed because he has nothing else to say.

        With other members of the family it’s best to just change the subject to shut them down.

    • Julia

      I really love calmly asking things like, “So, what article or book did you read about that?” or “What are the statistics about XYZ?” More than 90% of the time, people with strong (usually wrong) opinions literally have nothing to back it up other than sentiment or “this one time, I heard that…” I don’t even try to argue facts, I just literally point out that the other person has none.

      • K. is skittish about disqus

        This is usually so great, but sometimes you can’t win, even when you try to be as gentle and factual as possible. :-/

        When I’ve tried this tactic with my grandmother, she turns extremely hostile and says, “Oh I’m so sorry, am I not passing your TEST? I didn’t realize an 80-year-old woman needed to provide *citations* in order to have a voice!” etc., etc., etc. She also likes to say that all of her sources are “just as good” as “CNN or Rosie O’Donnell.”

        • flashphase

          Or sometimes their “facts” are from something that rhymes with Nox Fews, and I’m not really sure how to address that.

        • Cellistec

          Ooh, yeah, there’s no winning that one. That’s a pretty clear case for changing the subject.

      • Her Lindsayship

        I’m not a fan of this because honestly I’ve had it used on me in conversation and I just pretty much never have a scholarly article at the ready to point to. Is this a thing other people do?? I strongly believe in taking a critical approach to pretty much any news item, trying to verify it, not spreading false information – but if there’s a rule that you must provide a bibliography for your dinner argument, I lose. But if someone asks me where I read a factoid, I can say I’ll send it to them later even if I can’t remember it on the spot. I guess that’s at least better than no source.

        • Amy March

          Yeah I think it can be a bullying technique used to shut down any argument not based on The True Correct Facts, although I don’t think that’s what’s being proposed here.

        • penguin

          I’ve had this used on me as well, and I hate it. I don’t need a scholarly source at the ready in order to still be right that Black Lives Matter.

        • K. is skittish about disqus

          When I do this, it’s usually because someone has stated an alt-fact with clearest conviction. In my example below, my (clear-minded, but kind of hateful) grandmother told me that “85% of illegals [sic] are convicted violent criminals.” I’ve also used it on people who are big fans of the “But what about Chicago?!” gun control dog whistle, as well as people who made false statements about Charlottesville protester.

          So yeah, in those instances where someone is baldly claiming a fact that can be easily refuted with two seconds of Googling, I do try to get to the bottom of it by asking about where people heard things. IN GENERAL, it goes better than coming right out the gates with, “What you’re saying is offensive bullshit.” But in the case of someone like my grandmother, she already knows that, doesn’t care, and just doesn’t want to be called out on it. So it’s ultimately not worth it.

          But I try not to nitpick every single thing someone says, nor do I use it unless their “facts” are particularly egregious.

  • Pterodactyl111

    I just don’t talk about politics with family. There’s no point.

  • Tolkien Gay

    Be ready to actively listen with your brain and your heart. Give the other side the same respect and space to talk to that you’re looking to receive. Thankfully there are many toolkits out there nowadays for these situations but I think a lot of the takeaways come down to 1. Asking why someone feels that way. 2. Actively listening when they share 3. When you provide your view,
    Reframe the situation to make it more applicable to your audience’s experiences. For example, when my MIL said she didn’t understand why a town riots after a child of color is shot, I asked her to leave out race, gender, cops, all of it, and imagine how she would feel if the victims were LGBT youth. As A mother to two LGBT children, that was something she could instantly understand.

    Aside from that, feel free to remove yourself from the conversation if you’re not in a mental space to take it on. I mean, it’s fall! The weather is so nice! Or hang out at the kids table for a bit :)

  • CMT

    I don’t engage. I don’t enjoy arguing, I personally think people who like to argue just for the sake of arguing are jerks, and after 30 years of my dad going out of his way to push my buttons and then feigning righteous indignation when I get upset, I’m over it. I am there to eat and talk about the weather.

    • Amy March

      Agreed. I think a lot of this is just plain bad manners. Learn to have pleasant conversation.

      • CMT

        And it’s totally possible. I spent a lot of holidays with my ex-bf’s conservative family and they were lovely and enjoyable and we all were able to respect each other.

        • Eh

          Exactly! My step-family is very conservative but we have no issues having pleasant conversation. My FIL (and other members of my husband’s family) bring up topics to push buttons, and not in the spirit of the holidays at all.

          • AP

            Yeah, I had to work overtime on biting my tongue when last year my FIL and BIL wrapped everyone’s Christmas gifts in handmade MAGA paper (that they literally drew themselves) as a “funny” joke (they are Trump supporters, and they were definitely looking for a rise out of me and the few other liberal snowflakes in the family.) I didn’t give them the satisfaction, but I very much enjoyed crumpling it up and tossing it into the fireplace.

    • Meredith

      Right, I otherwise get along great with my family, so why start arguments with each other?! My parents have gotten better about avoiding topics we won’t agree on, but my MIL still brings things up. Then when my husband doesn’t agree with her she always seems surprised?! It’s annoying.

    • penguin

      My FIL likes to argue just for the sake of arguing, and it’s exhausting. We take the strategy of just don’t engage, and get up and leave the table if needed. Last year some of our friends came to Thanksgiving at my in-laws place, and we coordinated ahead of time to keep talk away from politics at all costs (since that was right before the election). With 4 or 5 people at a huge table working together it went pretty well – lots of subject changing.

      • AP

        I should enlist my brother in this strategy. He tends to get upset over my grandpa and stepdad’s conservative politics, but I think if I diverted his energy toward helping me change the subject, we’d all have a better time.

    • sofar

      Agreed. And I think that by engaging, you are giving them what they want and rewarding them for their behavior. An icy subject-change or a quick, “That’s not a nice thing to say … let’s talk about something else” is way more effective, I think. It teaches them that their behavior is not tolerated among decent people.

      • AP

        This tactic works WONDERS on my grandpa. He’s learned what he can and can’t say around me because I just get up and leave the room, and then my grandma gets pissed at him that he’s “alienated all the grandchildren.”

        • sofar

          Love that you’ve trained him.

          I know some relatives say awful things when I’m not present. But at least they refrain when I’m around.

        • Another Meg

          I also love your grandma.

    • AP

      Yep. I channel my energy in other directions that, for me, are way more productive than arguing with my loudmouth MIL or grandpa. And there’s always the standby of for every comment I let go by, I can donate $10 to an advocacy org.

    • Maya

      I wish this worked for me. But I’m a queer woman of color born to immigrant parents, so often (most of this time) is specifically an attack against me, so…how do I not engage?

      • Amy March

        Ultimately, don’t go. People personally attacking you don’t deserve your company.

        • Idk, like, I’m white/cis/straight-married AF and have 100% used that privilege to disengage with things I couldn’t handle… But I’m so uneasy thinking that the holiday “answer” for people with privilege is to be quiet so we can enjoy a nice meal, while the holiday “answer” for people with targeted identities is to accept being excluded from family spaces. Malicious bigots don’t deserve *any* of our company, but it shouldn’t only fall on people who are already marginalized to negotiate real-life consequences of that?

          • Amy March

            She asked how not to engage though? And I think the answer to that is to not be there, if efforts to not discuss contentious issues fail. I don’t think the answer for anyone is ignore terrible things, I think it’s discuss the weather and the neighbors and how good the pie is.

          • But “don’t be there” is the message that people who are marginalized get in almost every space in our culture. Like, yeah, take any single family event/job/school that may seem like practical advice, but the aggregate impact of that is further marginalization.

            I guess what I’m trying to get at is that if more people with privilege/power within their families would either engage and do some anti-bigotry emotional labor, OR tell homophobic Uncle Dan to shut up or GTFO, people who are being targeted might not have to choose between being attacked and being excluded.

          • Amy March

            I just think we are talking about different things. How you disengage when people are attacking you, I think, is to not be there. Whether or not anyone should be disengaging is a different question, not the one asked here, and not the one I was answering.

          • Jan

            I hear this, and I think often that’s true, but it can sometimes be an extraordinary expectation that people tell Uncle Dan to shut up or GTFO. That isn’t to say that it isn’t also an extraordinary expectation that someone put up with being personally attacked, or just not show up to avoid such attacks. But, I get frustrated at the expectation that people should engage agitationally in these situations, as if there are no major repercussions.

            Like, I’m a straight, white, cis-woman. I’ve engaged with my family– in person and online, always politely but directly and literally never without being provoked– and it’s absolutely torched my relationships with them. My family, who have views that are problematic AF but who have also loved and shown up for my family my entire life. I’ve mentioned before that none of my extended family– not one member– attended my wedding (and about half didn’t even RSVP), and it was largely because we have gone head-to-head on politics/general racist behavior. My problems with them have led to a deterioration in my relationships with my mom and dad, and with their relationship with my husband. These relationships were (are?) all deeply important to me, and now they’re… they’re just gone.

            I don’t totally know where I’m going with this… I guess my point is that sometimes the emotional labor you’re talking about is literally a “does the fundamental fabric of my family stay in tact if I do this?” type of thing, and that’s not to be taken lightly just because of the privilege held by the person.

          • Ugh, that’s such a horrible thing to have gone through/be going through. I’m sorry if my tone came off overly reductionist — There can absolutely be very real, painful, consequences to taking shit up with family regardless of privilege. And like, to be clear, I’m don’t have some perfect track record here, I opted out of sooooo many political conversations last year because my mental health was unraveling and I just couldn’t.

            Where I’m coming from is that staying silent can also have major repercussions, but I definitely understand that family confrontation isn’t always something that can be taken lightly and honestly sometimes just isn’t possible.

  • Eenie

    I’ve found that although my FIL and I disagree wholeheartedly on politics, we agree that it’s not a topic that creates happy family memories. Therefore we both work to change the subject whenever my MIL brings political topics up. My husband will argue with his mom until his last dying breath because he just cannot put up with her nonsense – it’s not ever a debate, it’s just whining about these people or those people because she’s racist.

    So I add to the list – work together with the other people celebrating who also don’t want to ruin holidays talking politics.

    • Eh

      That’s lovely!

    • penguin

      Teamwork makes the dream work! We definitely deploy this method.

  • ManderGimlet

    I don’t engage with them, their opinions are only getting worse and more stupid (last time at my future In Law’s my fiance’s father expressed views that could really only be construed as “Nazi sympathizing” and he is also apparently a young Earther now.) It’s ridiculous. I don’t engage because they (in laws) have actively told us they don’t want to talk politics, but of course they bring it up every single time we’re there and we just stare at them blankly while they spout nonsense.

    • Jan

      I’m going to hate myself for this, but wtf is a young earther?

      • Em

        Believes that the earth was created 6000 years ago and in 6 days. My husband is convinced his parents (evangelical Christians) believe this too, but we avoid that topic with them like the plague!

      • ManderGimlet

        People who believe in a biblical interpretation of the geological history of Earth aka believing the earth is only about 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs and humans existed together during a very brief period of time before dinos went extinct.

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  • emilyg25

    My mom’s family is split into a camp of conservative Evangelical Christians and super liberal non religious people, a good number of whom are also gay. Fun times. We just don’t talk about religion or politics. Family history, funny shows, our kids/grandkids, hobbies, etc. are all fair play. We just want to have a nice time and be as close as we can be with such divisions.

  • Rose

    Sometimes, I think disengaging really is the best option. Even in a family that pretty much all agrees on political issues, my wife and I had to flee briefly at Thanksgiving, when my MIL and a cousin got into how awful everything was and it started making me really super anxious. Fortunately we had the excuse of old family items to go through in the basement, so we just took 15 minutes to go do that. In groups that aren’t very politically-focused, sometimes just those 15 minutes will let you avoid most of the politics talk.

    • CMT

      I totally agree! Even when it’s political talk I agree with, it makes me unhappy and anxious. It’s really not ever what I want to be discussing at family gatherings.

      • Rose

        Yeah, exactly. Usually I can deal with a few minutes ok, but last November I was so anxious about politics that it was keeping me up at night, and even 10 minutes of ranting was past what I could deal with. But leaving the table for a few minutes was an easy way to deal with it, at least.

        • Man, last year’s holidays were firmly in the “this is a full-scale mental health thing” zone for me. I’m usually fine with engaging in political conversation, but there were a couple months last year where it was kind of imperative that I keep my brain on ice.

          • AP

            Same.

      • Sara

        This is how I feel. If I agree, I still try to change the topic because (especially in this climate) it all makes me anxious.

    • emilyg25

      Oh this is a good point. My immediately family is all very progressive and politically engaged. We always talk politics at family gatherings, and I’ve always loved that. But the situation these days is just so dreary that I find myself changing the subject. This isn’t just an issue in families with different opinions.

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      Right. Visiting my family is a time when I spend a lot less time on the internet, reading the news, seeing what people are posting on Facebook. I’ve lived the last year in a pretty constant state of mental exhaustion. Sometimes you need to unplug and just…not…for a while.

  • Sara

    I’m fortunate that most of my family falls in the same political side, but even then there’s a spectrum. My cousin and his mother get riled up online a lot but fortunately seem to avoid doing that in person. We’re also a sarcastic family, so if divisive politics come up in a group, someone usually says a sarcastic comment and then redirects.

    My grandpa is a die hard liberal, so he’s the one that brings up politics the most – pretty much everyone agrees with him, he just wants to talk about how Trump is ruining the country. So we let him talk and then change the topic so it doesn’t overtake the holiday.

  • Her Lindsayship

    *TW: offensive ignorance about gender non-conforming

    Recently a family member, whose approach to social media political discussion resulted in me hiding him from my fb newsfeed several years ago, was engaged in a nasty back-and-forth with my sister on a post of hers. It was a picture of some bathroom graffiti that said something like “Burn gender down!”, and she expressed enthusiastic solidarity for it. He commented something about how non-cis people… aren’t actually real? or something that insinuated that, along with a meme that included the word “leftard”. I mean, I can’t say I was shocked, but this was a new low for him. They went back and forth a couple times, with my sister being unbelievably polite and respectful in her attempt to change his perspective a little, until finally she got frustrated and said, “You are too smart for this. This is childish. Please stop commenting on this post.”

    AND THEN. Another family member, whose politics are definitely aligned with this guy’s, commented on the same thread – agreeing with my sister! She said “sister is right, cut it out!” And then immediately followed up with another comment that said, “come get a pork chop”. (They live near each other.)

    I guess it would’ve been better if my sister had gotten someone to admit they were being extremely closed-minded, or if the other family member had jumped in and just really scalded him even though they’re usually on the same page. But I am so tickled by the surprise shut-down immediately followed by pork peace offering. And at least sometimes regardless of politics, people can recognize and defend compassion as a better route than name-calling.

  • SarahRose472

    So I think this is implicit in what a lot of others are saying, but I want to put it more explicitly — I believe we do have a responsibility to try to speak up and engage with others — especially when we hear them saying things that are problematic/false and lead them to have certain political views as a result — but it’s generally not productive to try to change minds unless you have a stable, long-term relationship with the person and interact with them on a regular basis.

    So, Aunt Muriel who you see once a year? You’re not going to make any headway, you’re wasting your breath.

    But if it’s a sibling, or parent, or grandparent that you talk on the phone with every week? That might be another story — it might actually be worth it (though possibly not at the Thanksgiving table).

    I’ve spent quite a bit of time on holiday visits home in the past few years having protracted arguments with my dad about topics related to police brutality, Black Lives Matter, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, etc. Arguments that not infrequently ended in tears or shouting, and I’ve basically despaired that these discussions would move him.

    But somehow, over the years, he has shifted, and now he is legit arguing with HIS long-time 60-something suburban white guy friends about white privilege.

    So I think we should still be looking for these opportunities where we can have influence. But yeah, the once-yearly interactions where you meet distant relatives is probably not it.

    • penguin

      Thank you for this.

    • Sarah E

      This is something I wrestle with a lot, and I get squicky seeing too much “protect yourself” strategies outlined by white women. As a white woman myself, and one who deals with anxiety, I don’t want to downplay mental health. But I think it can teeter very closely to spiritual bypass kind of stuff, or self-caring yourself into debt or whatever. Absolutely protect your mental health. But part of the reason we are where we are is folks like me sticking their heads in the sand, or conflating situational discomfort with long-term mental health issues. There’s no clear line, it’s different for everyone, but it’s something that we white women need to step up on and continually check in on.

      • Amy March

        Spiritual bypass? To want a Thanksgiving meal that isn’t just fighting about politics?

        • Sarah E

          Well, that’s the thing. I don’t think having a fight over dinner is the better option. But I also don’t think that pretending nothing is wrong is helpful, either.

      • Another Meg

        For me a big part of speaking up is just letting everyone in the room know we don’t ALL agree with them. My relatives get into back-patting circles about stuff I don’t agree with, and it always throws them off when I say, “I disagree” or “Your language is making me uncomfortable.”

        So that’s really the most I’ll do, but I think it’s important for them to understand that people they know, people they respect, disagree.

    • AmandaBee

      Thanks for sharing this, I was trying to find some way to articulate it as well. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ve learned to avoid conversations about contentious issues with relatives because it’s “impolite” to argue, or because it’s uncomfortable, or it might make me think about the people I love differently. But, when I’ve been willing to engage in those conversations, I’ve actually found that some people I’m close to really are willing to consider a different point of view, even if they ultimately don’t agree with me entirely. And there is some privilege in knowing that I can have an influence on people’s beliefs or understandings of progressive issues, but choosing not to engage in those conversations when I don’t want it to get awkward or affect my personal life negatively.

      Not that I’m going to start having throw-downs with my husband’s racist uncle at Thanksgiving, but I am recognizing that there’s some value in having disagreements or tense discussions with those close to me, even if it’s in the context of a holiday. If anything, we might come away with a better understanding and appreciation of one another.

      (YMMV a bunch, I’m lucky in that most of my family and my in-laws are pretty respectful and avoid personal attacks even when we disagree. There are some people who I know will just revert straight to hurtful debate tactics, but those tend to be people I’m not close to anyway.)

    • As a super non-confrontational person, family is an area where I really try to push myself — I think it’s easy to lose track of, but family is a political institution and one which I have a high amount of influence in… I’ve had similar experiences with people where frustrating, protracted conversations ultimately did help shift perspectives.

      I do usually use more side-ways or “nudge” tactics & like, I’m much more willing to get in a debate over Black Lives Matter or Abortion than, say, Tax Code (it’s all important, but, yano). But at the end of the day, it’s kind of important to me that people with views I find reprehensible not have yet one more space that they get to claim dominance in because they are willing to be political loudmouths and I’m not.

    • Abs

      This is so right. Also, though, with people you’re close to, the relationship itself can complicate the issue.

      My mom and I have gotten into this dynamic where I will try to change her mind on something, but all she hears is that I think I’m smarter and more educated than she is and her life experience counts for nothing. And I get upset about the issue, and she gets defensive and annoyed because she thinks I’m talking down to her. And then I get more upset because she’s not listening, and she gets more upset in turn, and so on.

      And while, politically, I have no time for people who think that politeness is more important than social justice, I do have a responsibility to see these discussions in the context of our relationship, not just in the context of the world. So I have to change my approach, but I’m not sure exactly what that will look like.

      • Cellistec

        This.

    • emilyg25

      I believe in dialogue, where both parties are ready to engage with one another thoughtfully and each moves a little bit. That’s how you get your nudging in. But I also believe in family dinners, so maybe Thanksgiving isn’t the place for it.

    • JLily

      So true. I also think sometimes it’s a start just to let people (who love you) know that you don’t agree with them and won’t stand for racist/sexist/xenophobic/destructive nonsense. Especially in this era of “political incorrectness” and “telling it like it is” where people I think are often looking for vindication.

    • CMT

      If you know your people, I guess. It’s great that your dad has changed his views; mine gets meaner and more ornery the older he gets. I’m just not going to expend my mental energy trying to change his mind because I know it’s a lost cause. And I’m certainly not going to do it in a setting like a holiday get together. I don’t disagree that speaking up is the job of those of us with privilege, but I don’t think it’s imperative that it happen around the holiday dinner table.

    • Beth

      Thanks for putting this so well! I’ve been reading Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown, which has a lot about engaging where we can. I really like the book and definitely see speaking up as a responsibility.

      • Cellistec

        I hadn’t heard of that book even though I’m familiar with Brene’s earlier ones. Thanks for the heads up!

      • Thanks for mentioning this book! I didn’t know about it either, and I have (and have enjoyed) a number of her books.

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    Somebody pass the mashed potatoes, and MY didn’t the new stuffing recipe turn out great this year. Yeah, Aunt Joanie, tell us how you made that delightful cherry pie.I like my family. I like liking them. I don’t want to not like them. So we just don’t talk about it.

    • sofar

      Ditto. We don’t agree on anything political, but I love my family, I like my family and I want to enjoy our limited time together.

  • Sarah E

    Dropping this link again from Get Bullish about arguing with family members. Probably the best thing Jen points out is that debates– whether on the high school team or nationally televised– are absolutely not about convincing the other side, they’re about scoring points with some judge. So you don’t have to be, in fact it may be better not to be, a super skilled debater. http://www.getbullish.com/2016/06/bullish-qa-how-can-i-defend-feminist-ideas-if-im-terrible-at-arguing/

    Also, the last time I was in conversational proximity to problematic family members, I was really really sick, stuck my (affable, genial) husband next to them and sat at the other end of the table making small talk about children between nose blows.

    • penguin

      Thanks for this, that’s a great read. I’m also bad at arguing, especially with family members where it’s more emotional.

    • SarahRose472

      Yes, I think that post is gold. Also principles that have been hard for me to learn, coming from an argumentative family where it felt like everyone’s goal was to make themselves heard rather than to listen to anyone else…

    • I was going to link that! I LOVE the second suggestion/speak like your position is the default one. It’s such a good way to make your point and either have the premise of the conversation shaken up, or change the subject if you are trying to escape.

    • Lexipedia

      This is a good reminder. I was a high school and college competitive debater and it never really goes away. FI occasionally notes that I have my “debate voice on” and I don’t even notice, which as an adult I do realize isn’t productive or a way of truly convincing someone of something I believe in. But when I get frustrated or passionate sometimes my conversation-style reverts to “I’m right, and you’re wrong, and here’s why.”

      • SarahRose472

        I feel you, I’ve had to work really hard on myself with this for my partner’s sake (I was also a high school debater). He gets very defensive/upset when I go into “here are the 7 reasons you’re wrong, with subpoints”-mode. And it’s understandable. It’s not really useful or necessary to have discussions in that way.

      • RNLindsay

        I mentioned this above but my husband gets into his heated debate voice at times! He also claims that I shouldn’t take debates personally but for me heated voice = you’re mad at me. So I’ve had to start telling him that if he wants me to continue to engage in the conversation, he needs to return his voice to neutral.

        • Amy March

          Love that argument. Mmhhmmm. When you yell at me, a person, I do take it personally. I’m just ultra sensitive like that.

  • DJ

    This is where I use my partner as my shield. My dad’s opinions are contradictory to everything I believe in, and in some cases are disparaging of identities I myself hold. My partner is an extraordinary ally and supports my activism, and (most importantly) is not directly related to my dad and isn’t a woman, so my dad can’t be as condescending in his arguments, and it doesn’t cut my partner the way it cuts me.

    This topic has been bringing me sleepless nights as of late, with planning a wedding. My friends are LGBTQIA+, feminists, black, involved in activism – many identities which my dad doesn’t have great opinions of. How do we sit him down and tell him he in no way is allowed to disrespect our guests, when he won’t even have a respectful discussion with me about politics?

    • emilyg25

      Unless your dad is an extraordinary asshole, he’ll probably behave himself on your wedding day. Most people know how to be civil in certain environments (work, major life events, etc.). Also, seat him at a table with a bunch of his family. He’ll be too busy catching up with his loved ones to cause trouble.

      • DJ

        Unfortunately, he doesn’t really have any family besides us kids. My parents had a fairly contentious divorce, and while my mom has a big family who can support her and keep her in line, that’s going to compound things on the dad end.

    • SarahRose472

      I’m reminded of something that a journalist I once met said, which is that once you get people in person or on the phone, most people have a really hard time not being very polite and courteous (e.g. compared to emails). Which doesn’t mean that your dad wouldn’t inadvertently say something offensive (because it’s true, lots of people say shit all the time that doesn’t register to themselves as inappropriate, and therefore doesn’t ring their own politeness alarm bells), but I actually think there is a pretty good chance that if he is an otherwise normally socialized human, he won’t be extremely disrespectful.

    • Eh

      Ugh Instead of confronting your father, can you protect your friends?

      I agree with the other posters who have said that people are usually on their best behaviour at weddings (and similar events), but from my experience with my inlaws, best behaviour still might not be good enough. Our wedding was mostly just family so this did not come up until later.

      My husband and I threw a joint 30th birthday BBQ for ourselves and one of my friends (who is white) brought her two children who are biracial. She was well aware of my inlaws attitudes and said that a few of them made comments that suggested they believed that her children were adopted, and she had to inform them that her husband (who was unable to attend) is black. My husband’s uncle is now banned from our house (or any event we host in the future) after at my daughter’s first birthday party he told a sexist joke in front of my friend’s daughter and two of my nieces, and then decided to bring up his conservative political views during the gift opening. And as bad as this behaviour was, it was way better than how they behave at Thanksgiving or Christmas, when it is just their family.

  • Transnonymous

    My dad came from a family where arguments were the norm, and my mom’s family is full of incredibly laid-back “let’s just not talk about it’ people, and they harmonized that into “let’s have civil conversations about things we disagree on, even if we don’t understand or change one another’s minds.” So, that’s largely my approach. I’m more than happy to answer non-invasive questions (and even some invasive ones! I like teaching and helping reframe conversations), but I’m not going to spend the emotional labor on justifying my existence or letting someone else pour their emotional turmoil out on me. At the same token, I’m not going to sit around and walk on eggshells just because I’m afraid of making someone uncomfortable.

  • K. is skittish about disqus

    I think it might have been on APW that I originally saw this line, but I’m going to practice saying something along the lines of, “Oh, I hope you aren’t saying that to me because you think I agree with you” when a relative (coughUNCLE-IN-LAWcough) says something particularly racist, misogynistic, and/or plain awful. Very calmly and then change the subject or physically walk away. I’m in the camp of not letting truly hateful remarks go, but also refusing to engage with them like they’re in any way valid or up for discussion.

    For gray area things, though? Yeah, I’m definitely a load up on the wine and play board games with the kids type person. No energy for that mess.

  • ellabynight

    I have found that when my conservative family says mildly bigoted things that it helps to counter them with, “Huh, that hasn’t been my experience… in my experience, XYZ has been the case.” It’s a soft way of disagreeing with them and asking them to broaden their perspective without resorting to calling them bigots or racists. Even if I would like to just flat out call them on their shit, calling someone a racist tends to shut down the conversation or encourage them to list all the times they’ve seen members of ABC group that do the stereotypical behavior in question. Plus, by using personal experience as a framework, they can hardly tell me that my experience isn’t true.

    • Emily

      bless you, because I just can’t be gentle about that crap any more. For years my inlaws and I just agreed to disagree but our current political climate is making my patience thinner than usual.

  • e.e.hersh

    I have trouble these days with my HUSBAND at family gatherings. Political discussion unnerves him, I think because he grew up in a family that never, ever talks politics… it was just seen as impolite, I guess. So when he spends time with my politically outspoken, super-liberal, pro-activism family, he feels really uncomfortable and kind of shuts down. Which makes me feel bad and probably makes my family wonder if he’s a secret neo-nazi. So I’ll still be trying to keep the political discussion to a minimum even though we’re all pretty much on the same page. Sigh.

    • RNLindsay

      I have the opposite problem! I’m your husband in this case, but my in-laws are conservative and love love love to debate – it’s their primary mode of communication! My family never debates, never speaks in heated tones to each other, and rarely talks politics. When my in-laws start to raise their voices at each other/get in heated arguments, I tend to take it so personally because the only time my parents ever raised their voices was when I was in trouble. But my husband’s family are easily able to blow it off/move on right after the argument! It is still difficult for me to engage with them. Recently, during a debate with my husband, he started to raise his voice. I told him if he didn’t want me to take it personally and wanted me to continue engaging in the conversation, he would have to return to a more neutral tone or I’d shut down.

  • this discussion reminds me of the great Bullish article: http://www.getbullish.com/2016/06/bullish-qa-how-can-i-defend-feminist-ideas-if-im-terrible-at-arguing/ TL;DR: start by asking questions like “what makes you think XYZ?” and lower your expectations around changing anyone’s mind!

  • Violet

    I don’t like to spend my holidays talking politics. If someone says something racist or sexist (or any other ist), I call it out. But those statements aren’t really about politics, strictly speaking. Sure, isms overlap with politics sometimes, but having a distinction allows me to mainly eat my pumpkin pie in peace and only speak up when I really think it’s important.

  • Beth

    This is really a ‘know your audience’ thing, but I have found that shifting the focus works well for my family. My mom is railing about Obamacare being evil again? I agree with her that our health care system needs a lot of changes and is leaving a lot of people in a dangerous position. Now when she starts on how Hillary Clinton should be in jail, I change the topic, because there are no facts behind her statement to shift focus with. When my sisters start vilifying abortion? We can all agree that there needs to be more preventive options available to more people. It doesn’t work for everything, but it allows me to stay sane and know that my family has good intentions, even when they don’t share my views. I also ask my BIL a lot of questions because I don’t know him well enough to know where that shared ground might be, and as long as he doesn’t go into conspiracy land it’s good to see where he’s coming from.

    • suchbrightlights

      This sounds like a marvelous peace-keeping strategy.

    • Cellistec

      I’ve always believed in this approach too. Well put.

  • anon

    I haven’t such much in the comments about asking family you disagree with to talk about their experiences. I’m not suggesting this to validate racism as much as to find values you can agree on. A friend of mine was able to get her dad to change his mind by asking what he found offensive about the NFL players taking a knee. She really meant it – what was he concerned about? And allowed her to say “well, my experience is that you usually advocated for us to take non-violent action when we disagreed with something. How is this different for you?”

    Clearly – you’ve got to pick your issue, you’ve got to decide to be genuinely open – not to changing your mind, but to listening to things that are hard and not immediately getting angry. I think a lot of the work for us white people to do is not just the shutting down actual racists, but these mildly racist incidents by people we love who aren’t so terrible. (Like, there’s my BIL who has some pretty abhorrent views on refugee/immigration stuff and I am so not here for that, shut that shit down, full stop). But plenty more people (us self identified “with it people too!) need to be constantly challenged on the racism we’ve internalized, and I think there’s a lot of room for opening up conversation without making it seem like you are down with racism/homophobia/whatever form of oppression there is in your family right now.

    I found this story from my friend to open me up to thinking about my family dinners as opportunities to shift my family thinking in ways that aren’t drag out fights. (We’re relatively politically aligned but, like, has my family member’s black secretary gotten a promotion in 20 years while other white people around her have been given the benefit of the doubt in terms of ability to do higher level work? right. that’s the kind of internalized racism I’m thinking about.)

  • Jan

    I work in politics professionally. Specifically, I’ve spent the last five or so years teaching people how best to effectively engage with voters. On campaigns, we rate voters on a scale of how supportive and unsupportive they are for your party/candidate/issue, and if they are totally unsupportive– like, nothing I say would ever change their mind, no matter what– we just don’t bother. We end the conversation. “Thanks for your time, goodbye.” My family fall into this category. I try my hardest not to engage, ever. The trouble is that as soon as someone knows you work in politics, they want to tell you every political though they’ve ever had and ask for your opinion. Holiday political talk is My Least Favorite Thing.

  • Ceka

    George Lakoff has really great advice about this. He suggests that you help prime the caring/nurturing circuits in your relatives’ brains by asking them about a time they have selflessly sacrificed for others. As they tell the story, they are actually practicing the cognitive patterns that foster kindness, giving, reciprocity and empathy. This kind of “nurturing parent” (vs “strict father”) mindset has implications for political and voting behavior. It’s one more thing you can do to help someone be a little less stuck in domineering or hateful attitudes and politics.

    • Cellistec

      I love George Lakoff’s writing! His blog keeps me sane when the world seems to be on fire. Highly recommended.

  • Fundamentalist Anonymous

    “How to Survive Talking Politics with Your Family Over the Holidays”?

    Don’t. Just don’t.

  • Not a parent. MockMyInsights.

    Do.Not.Engage. I have literally used the phrase “I love you. I want to continue loving you. I do not want to and will not talk about this (politics, social protest etc.) with you.” Repeat as necessary when they try to engage you.

    I love talking about politics with people that have different views than me. I do not love shouting matches, ugly slurs, and name calling. Therefore, if you engage in these practices, I will not engage in these conversations.

    Another example: I have a relative who has racist views. When they use the wrong terminology for an ethnicity, I literally pretend I can’t hear them until they use the correct term. “Oh, you meant African-American! Didn’t understand what you meant before”.

    It’s honestly life changing.

  • Cellistec

    This can be a problem even in like-minded families. My in-laws are liberal Democrats, as are we, but they also grew up with a different…discourse…on many topics, and still say things like “Orientals” and “the transgenders.” When my husband and I try to correct them, they get offended, like we’re questioning their morals instead of just updating their vocabulary. Then they accuse us of picking on them, and things devolve into an argument. It’s a losing proposition every time. But I can’t stand to disengage and let outdated, offensive words slide.

    • Maybe kinda weak-sauce and too my-family specific, but when I run into this I sometimes go with and giving them shit over the outdated part… Like “yikes, haven’t THAT term in a while.” Sometimes it’s just less fraught to target vanity/not wanting to seem uncool.

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