Ed. note: We are re-posting this guide, from Tuesday, in light of Thursday's holiday. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!
With the arrival of the holidays each year, political Web sites looking to wring a last few clicks out of people waiting at airports dutifully put together "how to talk about [CONTROVERSIAL POLITICAL ISSUE] with your [CRASS UNCLE/SNOTTY NIECE] at Thanksgiving" articles.
We are a political Web site.
We would like a last few clicks.
And so here is our offering.
1. Your obnoxious uncle speaks approvingly of something you think is racist. Maybe about Syrian refugees, for example.
It is very much the case that there are explicitly racist people out there in the world. It is also the case that many more people hold beliefs or attitudes that are tinged to some degree with racist undertones.
What bears mentioning in this context is that language is itself a constraint that is simply how humans approximate how they feel about the world. There are few sentences that can entirely convey a complex message, so we do our best. We use language and its limitations to get our points across with the understanding that we can never truly know one another any more than we can know what it would be like to be a rabbit. How you look at and assess the world is necessarily different than how I do, and you could never use our word-count-limited English language to fully express your consciousness.
So maybe that's part of the problem: you're misunderstanding.
Or, also: I am an uncle, and I think it is funny to annoy my nieces and nephews. So maybe your uncle is intentionally riling you up because he thinks it is funny. Sounds like it worked! So maybe chill out and have some pie.
2. Your niece is insisting that you simply don't understand Bernie Sanders's arguments.
The neat thing about college students (which we're just going to assume your niece is) is that when you're in college, it doesn't matter where the school ranks on the U.S. News and World Report index. Any college which features 1) dormitories and 2) aggressively thought-provoking freshman philosophy professors will create a bumper crop of self-confident young people ready to challenge everything they have ever known -- and who are more than willing to assume that their elders are ignoramuses, even if they don't say so explicitly. If they go to Yale or if they go to DeAnza, it doesn't matter. They have gotten their first taste of intellectual and personal freedom, and it's intoxicating. For so long, their parents and those idiots at their high schools kept them constrained to standardized tests or to their bedrooms. No longer. It is time to be heard!
So your niece comes home from college, busting at the seams. She's been studying socialism, so she gets Bernie in a way you don't. Hillary Clinton is old news, and Bernie Sanders will address income inequality and finally crack down on Citizens United (which was decided when she was 13).
The appropriate way to deal with this is simple: Express non-sarcastic appreciation for her enthusiasm and engage with her political arguments in a mature and sensible way. If she makes a good point, tell her so. If she's misunderstanding something in your view, tell her that. She is an adult and you are an adult, and adults are able to engage in nuanced and respectful conversations, particularly in social situations. And at the end of the day, even if you agree vehemently on everything, your votes cancel each other out anyway so it doesn't matter. Besides, you probably live in one of the 45 states that will make no difference in the 2016 general election, so don't get all excited about it. Who cares.
3. Your grandmother uses a derogatory term for gay people.
If you are having a conversation with your grandmother at the dinner table, I will assume she is aged somewhere between 40 and 90. If she is 40, she and your mother or father wasted very little time in moving around the board in the ol' Game of Life. But she was also born in 1975, only a few years after Stonewall. She grew up watching Eddie Murphy telling horrible homophobic jokes on HBO specials. Slurs about gay people were just everyday slurs.
Not that our present society is free of that. There's not a black/white split on attitudes about gay people, but a scale of gray transitioning between the two. We're closer to end of the scale opposite where the country was 40 years ago, but this is still an ongoing evolution in how America looks at a group to which it used to try very hard to pay no attention. (If your grandmother is older than 40, which the odds are very good she is, this is even more true.)
There are two little tricks to how the world works that you only realize as you grow older. The first is that you at some point suddenly realize that all of the damage that's been done to your body over the years is permanent: All the little scars and chipped teeth and whatever are long-term irreparable damage that you will carry with you until the moment you die. It's a weird thing, that moment, like stepping over the top of a ladder and climbing down the other side. Perhaps that moment came as you were reading this! If so, sorry.
The other is that as you deteriorate, the world keeps roiling and changing around you. You are blessed with wisdom over time, yes, but that wisdom is exclusively about history. You will be presented with some new band or book or movie that is so obviously idiotic that you cannot believe that anyone would ever enjoy it, and then it will become very popular and you will feel like an out-of-touch idiot. Eventually, you may grow to appreciate aspects of that band or book or movie, may even legitimately like it. But that's learned. That's adaptation. It's your old chipped and scarred worldview trying to find its place in unfamiliar environs. And I can assure you, with a barely stifled chuckle, that it will happen to you.
So. Maybe your grandmother used the slur because she has always used that slur and it's never occurred to her that it is a slur. Or maybe she sincerely hates gay people, because she has always hated gay people. Lots of people hold opinions that are different than yours and which you find unappealing -- perhaps are even objectively unappealing. But the point of a society is that we figure out a way to live with one another despite constantly finding each other unappealing. In this case, of course, the person you find unappealing is the person who gave birth to the person who gave birth to you, so it's worth spending a little extra time to be kind and thoughtful in how you deal with your grandmother, accepting that she might never come to see the world your way even as you gently try. Maybe your way is to your grandmother what Five Seconds of Summer is to me: inscrutable and dumb and not worth my time. But maybe, even as she worries about the ache in her hip or as she looks into a mirror and sees more wrinkles than she has years, maybe she'll try once again to understand this new thing that the world has presented to her.
She is old and wise enough to know that sometimes, it's worth adapting. One hopes you are, too.
4. Your husband Donald is running for president and he won't stop talking about his great rally in Columbus on Monday and what total losers the media are.
I mean, divorce, I guess?