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Four Tricks For Navigating Your Conservative Family’s Opinions This Thanksgiving


Raise your hand if you’ve got a few relatives who make you cringe. Does your Thanksgiving table include a Trump supporter or two? Perhaps a racist uncle who thinks Syrian refugees seem “suspicious”? An aging parent who keeps making snide comments about how they were married and owned a home already when they were your age? A clueless aunt who doesn’t understand why you don’t want a passel of babies? A cousin or two who doesn’t understand why it’s not okay for them to say racial slurs “as a joke”?

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Breathe deep, and inhale another slice of pie. You’re among friends here. We can do this. Here’s some tips.

1.) Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Good news: the facts are on your side. I mean, unless they’re not, in which case you should probably change your mind anyway? Research is fun, folks.

Last year, you probably had to deal with correcting a lot of your relatives’ misconceptions about Ferguson, right? Well, this year, that’ll probably be Syrian refugees. So, do a little reading first, and get prepared with some “well, actually” statements to keep in your back pocket.

Here are a couple of links to get you started:

  • FactCheck.Org has a list of common misconceptions and corrections about the Syrian refugees. If you have a relative who can be swayed by statistics, that’ll serve you well.
  • If emotional appeals work better with your racist family member(s), then give them a little history lesson about Thanksgiving. The Puritans, being an extremist religious group, might have had more in common with ISIS than with the Syrian refugees — we all know how they treated the Pequots who initially welcomed them. Except that the difference is that the Puritans’ behavior towards the Pequots stemmed from their own racism: they saw the Pequots as “savages,” and that racism justified the eventual genocide of indigenous people across the Americas. That past inhumanity does not justify the continued inhumanity of racism today. If anything, it only reinforces how much more we could all stand to change.

2.) Agree without really agreeing.

If arguing directly with your family isn’t going to work, then try this old trick: start out by saying you agree with them, and then repeat back a statement that contradicts their own. Here’s how:

Uncle Ted: It’s too bad President Obama has utterly destroyed the the economy. We need someone to step in and clean it up!
You: I absolutely agree – it’s a shame that Bush created such a massive budget deficit. The work towards cleaning that up is a massive undertaking and definitely needs to continue.

If you’re real good at this, you might even manage to get your relative to agree with you, even if only by accident … at first. But they might figure out you have a point if you keep it up.

3.) “Don’t say that stuff around me.”

This sounds like a hollow victory, I know – but it works. The only way I got my cousin to stop saying slurs “as a joke” was to tell him, every single time, “don’t say that stuff around me. You know that it upsets me.” I couldn’t convince him to stop saying the words altogether, but I did manage to convince him to stop saying the words around me – and if he slipped up, he’d say, “Oh, right, I forgot — I’m not supposed to say that around you.”

This is a small way of indicating to your relatives that their behavior is actually inappropriate and unacceptable, and that saying slurs casually can be hurtful to others — even if they don’t realize it. After all, if they aren’t “supposed” to talk like that around you, then maybe on some level they’ll realize that other people might not want to hear it either … and that, maybe, just maybe? They shouldn’t be using those words at all.

4.) Pick your battles.

Sometimes, it’s not worth fighting a relative if it’s only going to stress you out, or even give you a panic attack, depending on how close to your own heart the argument in question is. Take some time for yourself. Take a long bathroom break. Pretend to make a “work call” or suffer a “personal emergency” if need be. Fall mysteriously ill and go home early.

Your own self-care matters more than whatever backwards views your relatives might still hold – and you’ve done your best with them. That’s all you can do.

Best wishes to all of you this holiday season. Know that my heart is with you in this dark time. And I was serious about that second slice of pie. You deserve it.

(vImage via Huffington Post)

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Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (, and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (