This Thanksgiving holiday comes at a time when many Americans are afraid. With hate crime rates soaring in a way they have not since the aftermath of 9/11, it is important that we take this time to acknowledge the horrors that are taking place in our society. People from all sorts of marginalized groups are facing threats of violence, deportation, persecution, and discrimination.
As girls, we may feel as though we cannot make a difference. We are unable to vote until we are 18, and are thus rarely taken seriously by people in positions of power. But those who think that we cannot change our communities are proven wrong time and time again thanks to our passion for justice.
Across the country, resistance is growing to the Trump regime. From the movement to prevent the media from normalizing the presidency of Donald Trump, to the Native American water protectors camping at Standing Rock, to the mass movement to establish college campuses as sanctuaries for people with undocumented status, and to the Black Lives Matter organizing taking place nation-wide, people are standing up and refusing to be complicit in a system that supports patriarchy and white supremacy.
Even without an election that makes us feel helpless, Thanksgiving can be a very difficult time for girls who are passionate about equity. While some family members may be on the same page as you, many of your family members may have very different perspectives and experiences. But talking with the people closest to you about these issues, though difficult, is essential in order to pursue justice.
If you believe that we can live in a more just, more equitable society, help those close to you see what you see.
Over a year ago, we created a toolkit called #StartTheConvo that offered tools to begin difficult conversations about gender justice with a variety of different types of people. Those tools are more important now than ever, and we wanted to provide you with some other tips for productively discussing social justice issues as well as some arguments to help you make your case.
Having constructive conversations about social justice requires:
Listening. Don’t spend the whole time the other person is talking crafting a response. Hear them out so that you can understand where they are coming from.
Asking clarification questions when someone says something that you think may be prejudiced (“What do you mean by that?” “Can you explain why you think that?”)
Acknowledging someone’s good intentions without dismissing the impacts of their statement. Find the parts of what they are saying that are positive (“I know that you feel this way because you care about other people/want to do right by people/etc”)
Affirming people and bringing them into the conversation. In order to help people relax, appeal to the values that you both share and note that you value the conversation you are currently sharing with them.
Grounding your points in the relationship you have with the other person. This can make you feel more vulnerable, but it also is important to show that you value the relationship and are sensitive to their experience.
Humility. It can help in these kinds of conversations to acknowledge times when you have done things that are problematic and discuss how you have worked to change over time. This can also be important because often when these topics are brought up people feel like they are being condescended to, and that is no way to work for justice.
Sharing personal, relatable anecdotes. By telling stories that have happened to you, you are able to turn a topic that may seem very distant into something that becomes much more personal and powerful. Perhaps share a story about how excited all of your female peers were when they realized that the glass ceiling could be broken, and how that created a sense of unity among friend groups. Or (and only if you’re comfortable) share an anecdote about someone’s actions or beliefs that have been influenced by Trump’s campaign.
Realizing that this takes time. Changing an opinion won’t happen over the course of one dinner. Acknowledge this, accept this, and prepare to keep working at it!
Knowing your facts. Make sure you fully research both sides of the argument; educating yourself on the topics discussed makes for more well rounded conversation.
Providing and recommending resources to people if they would like to learn more about the topics you are discussing.
Checking in with yourself. If you cannot continue to have this conversation, stop yourself. Don’t let it get ugly, because this will not change hearts and minds. It will only drive people further apart. Also, self-care is vital in situations like this. Make sure that if a conversation becomes too emotionally draining or hurtful to you that you can take a step back.
Here are some statements that may come up at a Thanksgiving meal that you could find upsetting, and some ways to respond to them that are constructive and compassionate:
“Just because I supported Trump does not mean that I am racist/sexist/Islamophobic/xenophobic/etc.”
I’m glad that you are against racism/sexism/Islamophobia/xenophobia/etc. That’s really important to me, too. I’m concerned only because of things I have heard Trump say about people from that group. I understand that you don’t agree with me. Have you thought about ways to show those people that you are on their side? What does it imply about Trump if he keeps on saying these things?
Trump might not be so bad. He didn’t mean a lot of the things he said, he might not actually do what he said he would do.
A lot of people agree that Trump probably does not mean a lot of the things that he has said. Sadly, that does not mean that other people - both voters and those working with him - don’t believe those things. I imagine people of color/women/Muslims/immigrants/etc. are feeling very afraid right now, as they/we wait to see what ends up happening. If you were one of these people, what would you do?
“Well if [Muslims/refugees/immigrants] don’t like how they’re treated here, why don’t they just leave?”
In many cases, these people are in America for the same reasons Europeans came here hundreds of years ago: they were looking for something they couldn’t get in the country they were born. Many immigrants came here looking for a better life. Refugees come here looking for safety, because this is safer than the countries they escape. I think it’s important to try and empathize with why they are here.
"Trump tells it like it is. At least he’s honest."
I understand wanting politicians to be forthright. I can also have a hard time navigating all of the jargon. But, at the same time, Trump has changed his position on almost everything on his platform. I don’t think that anyone knows what he really thinks, and that is just as dangerous. Do you have a favorite position of his? Why do you support that position?
“None of us like Donald Trump, but Hillary Clinton is worse. I mean, she’s a criminal!”
I know a lot of people feel like neither of the big party options this year were very good. But it is important to remember to take both of them as what they are. Clinton has done some things that she shouldn’t have, but so has Trump. It is important that we are mindful of both what the media tells us and what others say who have experience with both candidates. Also, shouldn’t we consider how James Comey, the head of the FBI, has always favored the Republican party?
“Hillary is bad for women! After all, she stayed with Bill even after the Monica Lewinsky affair went public. How could she not respect herself?”
I know that you may have acted differently if that happened to you, which makes complete sense. However, we also need to think about how all of Hillary’s moves were in the public spotlight, due to her and her husband’s major roles in politics. It may have looked bad for their political careers if they chose to separate. This one decision of Hillary’s doesn’t just automatically mean that she is a bad feminist. She’s repeatedly voiced her support for equal pay and other crucial women’s issues.
These are only some of the points individuals might bring up. What is more important than having all of the facts for every possible response, though, is following the tips we listed above. Connect with the people you are talking to, try to see the world through their eyes.
While healthy conversation is important, what is crucial after this election is taking action. Day of the Girl has created a resource that has a bunch of different ways that you can help make change.
Showing Up For Racial Justice, a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice, is also offering a hotline this year for people who get stuck during these conversations at Thanksgiving. If you feel stuck, text “SOS” to 82623. If you can’t text, you can also call (201) 691- SURJ (7875) and leave a voicemail.
“The Liberal’s Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving 2016” by Robb Willer (Huffington Post)
“Don’t Try To Win The Argument” by Olga Khazan (The Atlantic)
“A Handy Self-Care Guide For When Politics Come Up At Thanksgiving” by Lindsay Holmes
The Day of the Girl-US Action Team
Art created by Pearl MacLeod, age 17.