The nice thing about getting together with family for the holidays is catching up with loved ones you haven’t seen since last year. It’s lovely to hear about your sister’s new job, watch the kids play with their cousins, and grit your teeth through your racist relatives’ awful comments. Okay, wait—that’s actually no very fun. In fact, it can be rather distressing and depressing.

How to deal, you ask? Depending on your goals, you’ve got four options.


A totally unscientific survey of friends with racist relatives shows that this is the vastly preferred method of dealing with conversation about “these people,” welfare queens, or my favorite, the faux outrage about blue lives mattering. What’s the point of engaging in an argument, the thinking goes—no one is going to say, “Oh you’re right! I now hacer totally understand that Black Lives Matter is a legitimate protest movement calling attention to police brutality, and not a race-based extremist group murdering cops!” because you out-debated them at Thanksgiving. For the older members of your family, if there’s no hope in changing minds, this might be the best strategy.


Last fall, right after the 2016 election, I interviewed a former Jesuit missionary about how to engage productively with people who hold very different cultural values. His primary instructions were to practice reflective listening (“it sounds like you’re really worried about immigration”), to “meet people where they are,” and most importantly, to not expect to change anyone’s mind in a day. He briefly described what bad missionaries do—operate with a kind of tone-deaf pushiness—and emphasized showing generosity to even the most repugnant worldviews. I myself am firmly convinced that a kind of (social, not religious) missionary work is what’s needed to combat the the country’s social divisions. In the long run, maintaining relationships with people with ugly views isn’t condoning those views, it’s letting people know that there is another way to live (again, especially important for children). Will you enter the new year with newly non-racist relatives? Likely not. But keep giving it your best shot.




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