Should I Invite My Racist Family Members Over For the Holidays?

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We know that every holiday season, parents have lots of questions – whether it’s how to deal with stress-inducing in-laws or ways to keep their kids healthy. That’s why, this year, we tapped four advice columnists and experts to help us. Enter: The Holiday Nightline, where we’re answering your most burning questions about parenting during the holidays. Keep reading for a Q&A advice column from Doyin Richards, an anti-racism facilitator and the author of several children’s books, including “You Matter to Me.”

Dear Doyin,

The holidays are approaching, and my uncle and in-laws have been known to have racist viewpoints towards Black people. I’m a white woman married to a white man, and our twins will be 5 in a month. They are definitely old enough to pick up on what the grownups around them are saying, and I don’t want them to be influenced by those words and actions. On the flip side, I know my uncle and in-laws are good people, and having a few backwards beliefs won’t change that. My question is, should I confront them about their behavior or should I let it pass? They’re coming to our house for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

– Holiday Hatred

Dear Holiday Hatred,

Let’s say your uncle and in-laws hate puppies. Every time they saw one in person, on television, etc., they would say how disgusting puppies are and how the world would be a better place if dogs never existed. Now, let’s pretend that these adults spew their hatred of puppies in front of your kids whenever they visit your house.

I’m going to pose your question back to you – would you confront them about their behavior, or would you let it pass? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you wouldn’t hesitate to put your extended family in check if they were acting this way around your kids. Why? Because pretty much everyone loves puppies and dogs (including you, I bet), and you wouldn’t sit idly by while all of this canine slander was flying around your airspace. In other words, if your letter included “German Shepherds” in the place of “Black people,” you never would’ve sent it in the first place. It would be a no-brainer for you to stand up for our beloved four-legged companions.

As a Black man, I’m not naïve enough to believe that Black people are in the same category as dogs in terms of being endlessly loved by the general public. In fact, if we weren’t catching touchdowns, slam-dunking basketballs, dropping bangers for people to dance to, or entertaining people in some way, we would be at the bottom of the list. I’m not just any Black man, though – my day job is to fight against all types of racism as a consultant for corporations and universities across the globe. In doing so, I constantly see people make excuses as to why they won’t fight against the world’s most pervasive mental illness (and yes, racism is a mental illness), and it usually comes down to one simple phrase:

“I don’t want to rock the boat.”

It’s so odd to me, because racists have no problem rocking the boat in polite society. They say and do so many vile things – and people are actually concerned about hurting their feelings? Really?!

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described this phenomenon perfectly while sitting in the Birmingham Jail in 1963:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.'”

He wrote that letter 60 years ago, and the shameful thing is that not a lot has changed since then. This letter encapsulates just how true this is.

In terms of answering your question, I wish it was as obvious as what you would probably do for a puppy, but unfortunately, here we are. Because it’s not clear to you, I’ll respond with another question: would you have a problem with your twins harboring the same racist viewpoints as your extended family members? If the answer is “no,” then by all means go about your life and enjoy a very bigoted holiday season, and we can be done here.

In my experience, good people aren’t racist.

If the answer is “yes,” then you truly need to do whatever you can to not expose your kids to people who spew out this type of nonsense. With that in mind, I’m going to challenge you to do something very difficult. You need to confront your uncle and in-laws and tell them that the only way to gain entry into your home this holiday season is to leave their racism at the door. Not only that, but if they don’t take your warning seriously, then you will tell them to leave and not come back until they get their act together. That means they can’t come over for holidays, birthday parties, or any family gathering, because as I often say, some people are best loved from a distance. Any significant change is an inside job, and sometimes you have to separate from a person in order for them to gain the self-awareness as to how offensive their behavior is.

Related: How Do I Deal With My In-Laws Undermining Me as a Mom During the Holidays?

By the way, you mentioned that your uncle and in-laws are “good people,” but in my experience, good people aren’t racist. Also, if they hold anti-Black biases, good people will do the inner work to eradicate them. This is where you’ll find out what’s truly important to your extended family members: do they want to hold onto their racism at all costs, or do they want to have a relationship with your family? If they decide to continue being racist, then you should ask yourself, “I set a boundary with them and they ignored it. Why would I want them around me or my kids?”

I’m telling you, racism would be over by the end of the year if every good white person leveled up from being quietly non-racist to actively anti-racist. You have the opportunity to become that person right now, but it will require you to be incredibly uncomfortable in the process. Hopefully, you’ll step up and do it. The world will be a much better place if you do.

– Doyin

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