I know it is only early November, but because my schedule operates wholly around the next break for school, I am, of course, already thinking of Thanksgiving. What a wonderful time! Can you name a more American holiday? A gauzy guise of gratitude wrapped around a history of colonization and contemporary commercialism. I do love America.
“Heart beat” is all about relationships. And some of the biggest relationships in our life aren’t romantic but familial. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to run into those family members we normally do not associate with. That’s right. I’m talking about The Racist Uncle™ (Don’t let the male-implying “uncle” confuse you, The Racist Uncle™ can be anyone).
So what do you do with these difficult family members? Family members who might even negate your existence, like The Racist Uncle™ who is a giant homophobe, or The Racist Uncle™ who thinks all atheists are going to hell, or The Racist Uncle™ who is literally a racist, Heart beat is coming through to write you a brief survival guide (Note: This is mostly for entertainment purposes. If you need further help with The Racist Uncle,™ I recommend you seek help from a professional at Boe House, a good friend or a trusted mentor).
The first thing you can do about The Racist Uncle™ is spend some time reflecting on your past interactions and how you want to act during future Thanksgivings. It sucks, but at the end of the day, you can’t really control them – you can only control your reaction to them. So how are you going to react? Do you want to get into an argument or discussion? Or would you rather avoid it? What started your poor interactions in the past? Can you avoid the situations that instigated them?
Use this time to set some healthy boundaries for yourself. Maybe decide you are not going to talk about politics or you are going to pick your battles. Because yes, Thanksgiving is a great time to start important conversations. You could try to talk to Grams about why Black Lives Matter is an important movement. If you have the energy for it, that could be really good! But you need to place yourself first. Sometimes it’s better to take care of your own needs and well-being before setting out to change the world. Chances are, you won’t change that person’s mind over one dinner, and you shouldn’t put the pressure of trying to change them on yourself. As the incredible Audre Lorde once said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Choose yourself over fighting an ideological battle across a stuffing-filled table.
The next thing you can do is assemble your allies. Talk to the sibling, or partner, or cousin or parent who is going to have your back. Tell them how you’re feeling about The Racist Uncle.™ Maybe set up a signal for them to step in and provide an escape route if you are getting overwhelmed. If nothing else, this gives you someone to exchange bewildered glances with across the table or gossip with later on in the evening. If this person doesn’t exist at your Thanksgiving dinner, have a friend on standby to text later.
Of course, we all know that sometimes, The Racist Uncle™ is not just one person and texting a friend is not always enough when it is your whole family – if Thanksgiving is that bad, don’t go home. Stay on campus and take advantage of the cool opportunity of some professors opening their homes to students on the holiday, or head home with your roommate instead. If nothing else, it provides more data to inform your life-long quest for the best sweet potato recipe.
Finally, remember the literal meaning of Thanksgiving. Thanks, giving. Giving thanks. Take some time to be grateful for the amazing people and communities in your life that are not The Racist Uncle.™ Those relationships are our fuel and our fire, keeping us sane and moving every day. So take a moment to thank them and be grateful. You can survive the holidays!
Having trouble navigating the St. Olaf dating scene? E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe one of our love columnists will answer them in next week’s issue. All submitted questions will remain anonymous.