By Quintez Brown —
Reuniting with your family for the holiday means you’re no longer able to hang with your college buddies who think the same way you do. You’re probably going to be in one too many uncomfortable conversations with family members you probably don’t want to be with.
For many college students, this is the case especially since this is a time of our lives where we may begin to distance ourselves from the ideologies of our family members. Many students may have picked up on the liberal, urban environment of Louisville and have to travel home to a more conservative, rural family. They may notice a change in your attitude.
The frustration is understandable. Ignorance is difficult to deal with especially if it’s your own family speaking on matters that you’re passionate about. However, you can’t be a social justice know-it-all on campus but complicit to the racism, xenophobia, homophobia, or Islamophobia that may present itself at home.
Whether it is explicit or implicit, the holiday season is a great, (maybe not-so great) time to educate and inform your family with the truth about the different matters they speak about.
It’s important to engage in these conversations because unless you have a diverse family, there may not be a diversity of people or opinions at the table. Lack of diversity breeds an environment where prejudice, bias, and hatred can roam freely and unchecked. There may be younger family members in the room who feed off of this and grow up with the same attitudes that you’re trying to change.
It’s not easy and there are different ways you can deal with your family members because not all people are the same. You may have a family member who’s so stubborn and in their ways that there’s no sense too engage with them because it will only lead to a hot, ugly conflict. Many people simply just avoid or endure these people because their ignorance is clear as day and they simply don’t care.
You might have family members who are not willfully ignorant but simply confused or misled. They may express how they feel threatened by their black neighbor so they refuse to let their kids play with each other.
Now you, hopefully somewhat educated about bias and ignorance and how that leads to negative stereotypes of African-Americans, should engage and maybe ask why they feel this way.
You might get a response like “I just know many black people are aggressive and violent because of hip-hop music. I’m not racist though, my favorite coworker is black.” You may just want to leave after a comment like that. However, you have a civic responsibility to address it.
Say your relative is obviously using fear to drive their actions and words. For many Americans, this is sadly the case. Fear of terrorist attacks, fear of “Mexican rapists” or fear of losing their jobs lead many people to succumb to a hazardous prejudice that can have a significant impact on other people.
You have to be emphatic and understand why your relatives say the things they do because it may simply just be fear, which can result from ignorance, which can be cured by education. So teach them.
Don’t downplay or disregard people’s feelings or emotions. Instead, understand them and try to reason with them. Find some common ground. Maybe you had this same fear because you might’ve come from an all-white high school and you’re now on an urban campus with black students.
Share this experience and shift and how you overcame it. Then proceed to share how harmful and wrong such an assumption is with actual facts.
For this example, here are some supporting facts from The Sentencing Project.
“White Americans overestimate the proportion of crime committed by people of color and associate people of color with criminality. For example, white respondents in a 2010 survey overestimated the actual share of burglaries, illegal drug sales and juvenile crime committed by African-Americans by 20 percent to 30 percent.”
“Racial perceptions of crime, combined with other factors, have led to the disparate punishment of people of color. Although blacks and Latinos together comprise just 30 percent of the general population, they account for 58 percent of the prison population.”
Even before being arrested or punished, blacks are more likely to be pulled over, searched, stopped and frisked. All of it stemming from implicit bias. That’s why you have a moral responsibility to educate your family member whether you’re an active advocate or regular college student.
Prejudice often stems from implicit bias. That’s why you have a moral responsibility to educate your family member whether you’re an active advocate or regular college student.
If you consider yourself an advocate or an ally, this should be the perfect time for you. Instead of complaining about being part of an oppressive group, asking “Why are all men labeled as sexist? or “Why are all whites labeled as racists?” you can work to end racism and sexism by engaging in discourse with your family members.
It’s a process, but it’s worth it.
Graphic by Shayla Kerr / The Louisville Cardinal