“Avoid scraping stuffing out of your hair;” Perspectives on surviving uncomfortable holiday conversations
(CNN) — Millions of Americans from all walks of life will gather this week to celebrate Thanksgiving, and many find themselves asking what it will be like to gather for the familiar holiday after the divisive experience of Election 2016 and the first weeks of the Trump transition. We asked a diverse group of writers who have shared political commentary this year to offer their thoughts on how to navigate our national day of thanks this year. The views expressed here are their own.
Dean Obeidallah: Avoid having to ‘scrape stuffing out of your hair’
This Thanksgiving could be less a family gathering and more a scene from the movie “Fight Club.” That is at least if your dinner guests include supporters of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Emotions are still raw and tempers are still simmering.
Now, in the case of my family, we may get angry but only in trying to make a point of how much we all detest Trump. But for families more politically diverse, the only hope at avoiding a good ole fashion food fight is to not talk politics. Instead focus on things that bring you together, such as how much you hope the Dallas Cowboys will lose badly on Thanksgiving. (At least my New York Giants-rooting family will be doing that.) Or actually talk about what you are thankful for this holiday season, from health of family members to personal accomplishments to the fact Trump is limited by the Constitution to a max of eight years in the White House.
For most families, though, this Thanksgiving is truly a choice of either avoiding talking politics or having your Thanksgiving dinner resemble a “Real Housewives of New Jersey”-type brawl. True, the latter is more fun, but it’s never fun scraping turkey stuffing out of your hair.
Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, writes frequently for CNN. He is co-director of the documentary “The Muslims Are Coming!” editor of the politics blog “The Dean’s Report” and a columnist for the Daily Beast.
Brett J. Talley: ‘Practice some humility’
Holiday gatherings can be stressful even without the most contentious election in modern history. My family is as strong-willed, stubborn and opinionated as they come (I get it honestly), and I won’t condescend to you and tell you how to handle yours. But if you’re asking, I’ll give you the advice I follow myself. When you get the urge to correct, to teach, to instruct, to enlighten — don’t. Practice some humility instead. Assume, for a second, that your position might not always be right, that you might not know everything, that the life experiences of others might have led them to a different truth than the one you hold so dear.
Now that doesn’t mean you aren’t right. Uncle Gary might not be just wrong but dead wrong. But ask yourself this: Does it matter? Those people at the table, the ones who sometimes can drive you up a wall? You love them, and they won’t be around forever. When Granny breathes her last, it won’t really matter whether you got in the final word on the value of trade, or the beauty of diversity, or that the cast of “Hamilton” really were being rude to a guest. But the moments you spend together will matter. They transcend party and politics, and they are far more important than either. And if you can take that love and apply it to the rest of your life, to your friends and co-workers as well as your family, then we can start to rebuild the civility that should bind us all, no matter where we come from or what we believe.
Brett J. Talley is a lawyer, author, one-time writer for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and former speechwriter for Sen. Rob Portman. He is deputy solicitor general at the office of Alabama’s attorney general.
Angela Pupino: Survive when ‘my two Americas collide once more’
I’m the first person in my family to go to college, so I’m used to navigating delicate dinner table conversations. As an international relations major, I discovered freshman year that most of my family doesn’t want to hear me talk about schools of international relations theory or colonization in the Congo. Explaining to a relative why calling someone an “illegal alien” is not OK often leaves both of us unhappy. My relatives have no frame of reference when I talk about my friends who are Muslim, non-gender binary or undocumented, so conversation quickly become awkward. My life is emblematic of how this nation has been cleaved into two distinct worlds. I have my life at a politically engaged East Coast college and my life in my working-class Rust Belt hometown.
This holiday season, my two Americas are going to collide once more.
So, how do I plan on surviving my time at home during the holidays? I’m going to focus on the quiet moments with my family. I’m going to play with my little brother, cook dinner for my father and hug my grandmother. I’m going to eat too much food, go to the mall with my aunt and hang out with my sister. There are a million ways a relative could say something offensive while we’re together, a throwaway racial slur, a backhanded derogatory comment against gay people or a political statement about the greatness of our next president. And when they do, I will engage with them. I will try my best to see their point of view and help them to see mine. But I’m not going to seek out a fight, and I will do everything in my power to have a great time with them. Come January, I will begin my semester abroad, and it will be months until I can be with them again. Plenty of people cannot stand their families. I don’t want to be one of them.
Angela Pupino is a junior at American University and a fall writing fellow for the Center for Community Change Action.
Roxanne Jones: Don’t let politics poison your turkey
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday of the year, no matter who is sitting in the White House. It’s not that I love the Black Friday frenzy that’s taken over the holiday, nor the need to commemorate the day the Pilgrims took time off from slaughtering Native Americans to sit down and share a meal. As wonderful as that tale sounded in grade school, it just never seemed cause for celebration, because even children understand how that bloody story played out for America’s indigenous tribes.
No, for me Thanksgiving is about celebrating family, friends and community and giving thanks to God — in good years and bad — that we’ve all made it back to the dinner table. We remember loved ones who have passed and help those who have less on this holiday weekend. There’s no stress to out-shop anyone, dress fancy, or wow dinner guests with your latest success. Won’t work. The only way to truly impress me is to top Aunt Rosie’s mac and cheese, or Grandma’s pecan pie, two things that will never happen.
These are anxious days for America. Many of us still are walking around shell-shocked from the hate and fear-mongering we just witnessed during the presidential election season. But “puff up,” as I often tell my son. Regardless of who we call President, each one of us still has work to do every single day to improve ourselves, support our families and communities, and, hopefully leave this world a better place than when we arrived. President-elect Trump changes none of those responsibilities. So this year especially, I am humbled and thankful for my blessings and I will continue to allow love to trump hate in my life. Happy Thanksgiving.
Roxanne Jones is a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and a former vice president at ESPN. She was named a 2010 Woman of the Year by Women in Sports and Events, is a co-author of “Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete,” and CEO of the Push Marketing Group.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat: ‘We are entering into a new phase’
On November 9, I woke up and looked out the window. Everything looked the same. And yet everything had changed. I looked at the Freedom Tower, and I thought about how differently our presidential candidates thought about America’s future. Greater protection of diversity and inclusion had just lost out to defense against that diversity in the name of restoring America’s strength.
As we gather with our friends and family this Thanksgiving, these two starkly contrasting visions of America may seem impossible to reconcile. Some families will have an empty chair at their table, the fruit of political disagreements too strong to permit physical togetherness. Other families will agree to avoid the subject of politics. Still others will celebrate or commiserate, the latter perhaps growing closer over a common sense of threat. Will President-elect Donald Trump deport me, or put me into a camp? What’s happening to our democracy?
We are entering into a new phase in the life of our country. The stakes are higher than many can imagine. So this Thanksgiving, let us all take a deep breath and a step back. We will need our strength in the coming months and years. And we will need to be clear-eyed and honest with ourselves. We take many things for granted in America. This year, we can reflect about what we are thankful for and how we would feel if those things were lost to us. We can show love and resolve, in the face of hatred driven by fear.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a professor of history and Italian studies at New York University and a cultural critic.
Jeff Yang: ‘Look at the present as just a moment’
Thanksgiving in my family has always been the time in which my extended, hugely diverse and predominantly immigrant family gathers together en masse. Many are not Christian, only a handful are white, not all are US citizens, and some of them adamantly refuse to eat turkey, so the holiday’s white-Protestant Americana roots end up being slightly lost in translation. But its core message of being thankful for having one another never is.
Most of the younger members of our clan voted one way in the election; we don’t know how the older members chose to vote, or even if they voted at all, but based on past precedent, it’s likely most voted a different way. And we won’t talk about it. We have more important things on the table and around it, for that night at least.
We’ll share our memories of the past, and discuss our hopes of the future. On Thanksgiving, we’ll look at the present as just a moment — one that will, as all moments do, eventually pass.
Jeff Yang is the author of “I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action” and editor of the graphic novel anthologies “Secret Identities” and “Shattered.”
Bakari Sellers: Family’s faith will offer renewed strength
This Thanksgiving, as my family gathers around the table, we will uphold our tradition of paying homage to the heroes before us. From Harriet Tubman to John Lewis, we will express our gratitude for the many sacrifices and roads they paved. And like family tradition, there will be plenty of football to watch and macaroni and cheese to gobble.
However, despite our usual tradition, this year will be vastly different. Sadly, 2016 has sucked.
Thanksgiving’s holiday cheer will be replaced by angst and worry. Questions will flood the dining room table. How did this happen? How did she lose? Where do we go from here?
Then without fail, my parents will remind us that we’ve been through this before. And as our ancestors once said, “You can’t fall off the floor.”
My parents’ eyes don’t pop like they used to, after shedding countless tears over the years. And their shoulders aren’t as upright, after carrying the burdens of generations past. Yet they smile and say, “Keep the faith. Be the change you want to see and always give a voice to the voiceless.”
On Thanksgiving, despite the clouds that hover over our country, my family’s faith will offer renewed strength for the many battles ahead. And most important, that distant relative whose date voted for Trump gets no sweet potato pie.
Bakari Sellers is a former member of the South Carolina legislature.
Jeff Pearlman: ‘Look at the people who have made the biggest impact in your life’
A couple of days ago my son’s elementary school teacher lost her sister after a long and ugly battle with cancer. I had a lengthy discussion with the teacher, and then my son. Emmett, who’s 10, and I spoke at length about how hard that must be, what it’s like to go through something like that, the toll it takes on a person.
As we sit down as a family for Thanksgiving, I don’t want to hear a thing about Donald Trump or Mike Pence or nasty tweets. Honestly, I don’t even want to deal with the trivial nature of sports. I like that, on this one day, you can look left and look right and look across the table and stare at the people who have made the biggest impact in your life. You can be thankful for their presence and take solace that you’re all together, presumably healthy and happy. That doesn’t mean someone’s death should make you feel good about yourself. But it can — and should — serve as a reminder that, on this day, you’re lucky. And what’s a better topic to discuss than your collective good fortune?
Jeff Pearlman is an author of the new book “Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre.” He blogs at jeffpearlman.com; follow him on Twitter.
Haroon Moghul: If you can bring folks together, then make them talk
This Thanksgiving, many Americans will wonder how many of the things Trump promises he’ll deliver on. Will our families be ripped apart? Will our relatives be allowed to visit us? Will we lose the rights to our bodies, to marry who we want, or health insurance for ourselves and our dependents? He promises us jobs, but guarantees tax cuts for the wealthy; for the many of us who live paycheck to paycheck, it’s very possible life is about to get a lot harder. Fewer dollars from the well-to-do mean even less money for our education and infrastructure.
While the rest of the world races ahead to claim leadership on climate change, we’re settling into our own Dark Ages. If your only concern this Thanksgiving will be how to manage Trump and Clinton supporters reunited over cranberries, stuffing and the bitter aftertaste of a vicious campaign, good on you. For to those whom much is given, much is expected. I don’t know any Trump supporters personally. I fear some of them, especially the ones who “seig heil” in the capital of the country that helped defeat Nazism.
Many Trump supporters know nobody like me, and some seem to hate me. So, if you’ve got the chance to bring folks together to talk, make them talk. And make them hear. You wouldn’t tolerate Donald Trump’s language at your Thanksgiving table, so why would you vote for it? If it’s not OK to talk to your guests that way, how is it OK for him to talk to people that way? If someone came to your home hungry, and in need of food, would you slam the door in his face? Happy Thanksgiving, America. May we not be forced to realize how much we had to be thankful for.
Haroon Moghul is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy. His next book, “How to be a Muslim,” will be out in 2017.
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner: Step up despite the discomfort
It’s time to talk turkey. As we come together at tables across the country this Thursday, some will be mourning, some will be celebrating, some will be organizing, and many will be coming together from multiple perspectives on the election all at the same table — but no matter what place you’re in, the table talk is sure to include the election.
Many of these conversations are going to be tense: The hateful rhetoric that dominated this election cycle has fomented (with good reason) a deep fear among many immigrant families, people of color, women, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, people of other faiths, LGBTQ+ people and disabled communities, and has created tension within many families. We are a deeply divided nation, but that doesn’t mean we can’t come to the table with our families this Thanksgiving and try to bridge this gap.
Despite the discomfort, we have to step up. After all, our diversity is our nation’s strength. The current division hurts our hearts, our families, our economy and our democracy. So what DO you say? Here are some suggestions on how to move the conversation forward across the dinner table and nation:
Simply ask: “What are you thinking about the election?” Studies show that calling people racist, xenophobic, or sexist often leaves them further entrenched in their point of view. If you truly want to move someone to see your perspective and hear your experience, take a deep breath. Try to listen deeply to understand where they’re coming from so you can have a genuine dialogue with a greater likelihood of eliciting empathy. That doesn’t mean you’ve lost your moral compass, just that you’re listening. You can (and should!) share your perspective when it’s your turn.
When you share your perspective, it’s always helpful to share a personal story of how you or a friend has been affected by the election.
And also consider sharing how you’ve struggled with addressing your own bias: “I’ve realized that even though I work hard to be against sexism/racism/xenophobia/homophobia/anti-Semitism (pick one), I have work to do. For example, one time, I did __________ and I learned/realized __________. Have you had similar experiences?”
Be aware that the turkey talk is just a start. The goal over the cranberry sauce is to open the door for a long-term conversation. It won’t be easy, but don’t give up. The old adage of “the personal is political” is true. In fact, often times a personal connection is what creates transformation.
This Thanksgiving, I’m committing to starting conversations I’d normally avoid, to being both courageous and kind, and to keep talking past the point of disagreement so we can move our nation table-by-table toward finding a common ground that lifts everyone.
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner is an author, radio host of “Breaking Through,” and executive director and co-founder of MomsRising.org, a nonprofit national organization that supports policies to improve family economic security.
Alison Stine: ‘Maybe this is the year to start new traditions’
My parents and siblings are progressive, as I am. My extended family is another story, but we tend not to talk about these things. We don’t bring them up. We’re from rural Indiana. We’re farmers or the children of farmers.
The last time my extended family all got together, in the fall before the election, I worked outside, gathering black walnuts to sell to the produce auction, and soon my aunt joined me. We worked for a while in silence, filling garbage bags full of nuts, which stained our hands, before she told me that relatives back in the house had brought up politics; she had had to leave the room. It’s OK to leave the room, the house, the unsafe space. It’s OK to gather walnuts. It’s OK to remind yourself what matters to you. It’s OK to surround yourself with your reasons for standing up, for resisting, for staying strong.
Maybe this is the year to start new traditions. Maybe this is the year to make a family of friends. This year, I am going with someone I care about to see the migration of sandhill cranes on Thanksgiving Day. Maybe this year, we all need to see something rise.
Alison Stine is a single mom raising a son in rural Ohio. She is a writing fellow for the Center for Community Change.