How to Give Thanks AND Call Out Racist Shit

Jakob Owens photography

offerings for hard but necessary convos

This week marks the offish opening of winter holiday season in the US. American Thanksgiving is coming in hot and aside from the holiday itself being a celebration of White Supremacy (yah I said it), getting together with fam and friends can also mean keeping close quarters with Aunt Regina the Racist.

I personally won’t be celebrating this colonial holiday, partly because I’m Canadian and live in Sweden and mostly because it is FUCKED UP. If you are celebrating Thanksgiving please do ensure you honour the brutal truth of the occasion, and recognize that unless you’re Native American, you’re almost certainly an uninvited guest on territories that are not your own and those traditional lands deserve acknowledgement at your dinner table and elsewhere. But I digress…kinda.

If you're walking into a spicy situation this holiday and want to best protect yourself and your heart, it's best to set clear intentions well-before you're scarfing down stuffing.  Here are my suggested offerings for taking care of you, giving thanks AND calling out racist shit…

#1 - Set Boundaries…

First and foremost, set tangible boundaries for yourself - emotionally, mentally, spiritually, verbally and physically. Get clear on your dealbreakers and let anyone + everyone who needs to know in on what they are prior to the day. This helps you know when you need to call yourself into action and how.

For example, I have ZERO tolerance for racist or misogynist jokes, statements, commentary, whatever. Its a hard NO for me dawg, and if they're said in my presence I will call it out on the spot. If I have the energy and feel sufficiently safe, I’ll explain why what was said or done was problematic and why I refuse to be around it.

Note: if you’re White, this is one of the eight million times per day when you get to choose if you will act in allyship or not. As a Black womxn I am exhausted at calling out and educating on race/racism all day everyday, and there are tangible consequences for my life and livelihood when I do so. As such, I bow out at times.

But White folx have a LOT more work to do (like hundreds of years worth) so I really implore you to speak up and out, even and especially when it feels uncomfortable. All that said, also remember that you aren’t an anti-racism educator and you don’t need to head into these situations guns blazing ready to change the minds of every last oppressor you encounter. If that’s your mission, well, you’re setting yourself up for failure friend. Your role is to follow the lead of the Black + Indigenous womxn leading this work, call White folx on their shit when you see/hear it and let them know why it is not okay.

Okay back to it! So if I set out my boundaries but Uncle Reg the Racist refuses to rectify the harm he’s causing - then I make it clear that my boundaries have been crossed and that I refuse to be in that person’s company for the remainder of the event. If the behaviour is particularly egregious, I may make it clear that one of us has gotta go. I also ensure that after the fact, everyone who needs to know is aware the boundaries that were crossed and that I will not be in situations with said person moving forward so long as their oppressive behaviour continues, no matter who they are (sharing bloodline with someone does not excuse their bullshit behaviour).

Seem harsh? So are racist and oppressive beliefs and perspectives that uphold a system of White supremacy whereby people of colour are being murdered every day without repercussion. Where educational systems are set up to send our children to prison, medical systems allow pregnant Black womxn to die at a rate 3-4x higher than White womxn and a justice system that permits men, womxn and children of colour to be slaughtered on camera by police without fault.

Make no mistake - shit is dire and there is no time to waste. You’re either contributing to change, or you’re not.

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#2 - Discuss Values Not Issues…

If you're stuck in a disagreement with someone who is genuinely willing to learn about their racist ways (and worth your time, energy and free emotional labour) it can help to approach the conversation from a values-perspective rather than honing in on a specific issue.  

For example, I value social equality for all, freedom and fairness and these values inform why I find anti-racism imperative. Sometimes we have similar values as others but are trying to have them met differently based on the issue so we're just talking past one another.

Many conservatives value justice and liberty, and though they usually apply those values to their right to bear arms and say whatever the fuck they want (major eye roll), you may be able to appeal to those values with respect to anti-racist efforts. This isn't easy, and certainly not always warranted, but if you're in the mood to really try with someone it's worth a shot (and god speed!). Do note that sometimes your values simply will not align on any level and that’s a good time to call the convo quits. You can’t change the minds or hearts of those who are committed to to disagreeing with you and that’s why having clear boundaries is the most important piece.

#3 - protect your energy…

I also suggest mindful tactics to protect your energy before hitting up the fam jam, such as partaking in a culturally-sensitive form of meditation, breathwork and/or visualizing yourself protected by a healing cloak of white light that serves as a buffer between you and unwanted energy.

If I get into challenging convo over dins (or wherever), in addition to sticking to my values and explaining problematic behaviour whenever warranted, I ensure I do something to release that energy as soon as possible. This could be a mindful washing of my hands and forearms envisioning the energy being rinsed down the sink, a few deep, cleansing exhales and/or body movement such as dancing, running on the spot or punching the air. 

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Takeaways…

So my majah takeaway is this: if you are genuinely committed to dismantling racist patriarchy then you will call folks out, even your next of kin, however and whenever necessary. This does not mean you lose your shit or cause yourself or others harm, but it does mean that staying quiet or allowing racist statements or behaviours to go unaddressed is a choice to prioritize your comfort and/or the comfort of racists.

If you’re a POC, sess out the sitchu and do you. Lord knows we do enough every other day of the year, not to mention that we are subjected to actual, tangible harm if and when we do call it like it is. But if you’re feeling sufficiently safe, I encourage you to stand affirmed in who you are and what shit you will allow around you. You deserve to be seen, heard, supported and BELIEVED. Especially around friends and fam.

If you’re White or White-passing, this is a great exercise in spending your privilege. POC are dying every single day, we are subjected to incessant emotional, mental, spiritual and physical violence at the hands of White Supremacy, so don’t forget that having a choice as to whether or not to engage with racism at all is a major privilege that many are not afforded.

Get clear on your values and why they're important to you long before turkey time, then engage with others in a mindful manner that prioritizes your values, your wellbeing and, most importantly, the wellbeing of the most marginalized.


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