We’ve all been there before: you’re scrolling on social media (likely Facebook) when you see a post from your aunt. At first, you brush it off as another cat photo or a chain mail reposting, but upon closer inspection it’s something much worse: #AllLivesMatter. Heavy sigh.
This situation, while flaring recently with the national protests sparked by the death of George Floyd and resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, is not one limited to any one time of year. Having family members that differ in personal point of view is an occurrence that never goes away. Winter through spring, you’re often bound to find at least one family member or family-friend whose world view clashes starkly with yours. And while the desire may be strong to block or mute said family member’s feed, it’s a move that’s counter-productive to activism.
As a passionate supporter of all things equality and human rights, I find that my views have conflicted often with the views of many of my relatives. And, until recently, I wasn’t very vocal about that fact, both out of fear and not wanting to be confrontational. However, in the midst of everything that’s going on in America at current, I’ve come to understand that having discussions with family members (or anyone, really) who hold an opposing viewpoint from yourself is vital to creating change.
Conversing over a difference in opinion opens the door to new perspectives or information shared. And while you don’t have to change their mind or have your opinion sway, having those tough conversations is key to spreading resources and knowledge across party and philosophy lines. In the context of racism specifically, conversing with relatives who don’t understand BLM or don’t believe in equality, while it may feel futile, is a cornerstone of activism.
Step One: Remind Yourself Why This is Necessary
Social media is, for Gen Z at least, the most prominent avenue for spreading information. I know that, personally, the help of digital diagrams and Twitter threads have been integral to my understanding and pursuit of information about the BLM movement and what’s at stake. Unfortunately, not everyone is on social media, and that’s likely the case for many of your relatives. And even then, should your relatives have Instagram or Facebook accounts, it’s highly likely that the content they view aligns with their own political views. Social media exists to amplify the views you are personally comfortable with, and that extends to both sides of the political spectrum.
With that in mind, remember that in talking to people with opposing views, your mission is to share perspective. Not every point you make is going to land, but any point you make is greater exposure than they’re likely receiving at current. Your voice is necessary in their ears because it’s one they seldom hear. The hope is that, when your family members hear an alternate perspective from a member of their own family, they’re more likely to entertain the thought. As futile as it may seem, change will never occur across party lines without controversial conversation.
Step Two: Keep Calm
Once you’ve committed to discussing the given matter with your family member, the most important thing to remember is that a little tranquility from your side goes a long way. You don’t ever want to outright attack them or their views, that’s a one-way ticket to starting a fight (unless that’s what you want?). Remember your position in the conversation and the aim of the topic you’re covering. Even though it’s easy for hot-button conversations to escalate into passionate conversations, keeping a handle on the passion is the difference between a civil conversation and a uncontrollable one.
In my personal experience, keeping calm is the most difficult thing to do when talking to relatives who avidly oppose my views. I can enter the conversation with information galore, ready to make a change with all my exciting facts… just to lose that momentum to an outburst of passion that disrupts and derails the conversation. So, if I’ve learned anything from having these difficult conversations, it’s that you have to keep yourself in check and, above all, stay calm.
Step Three: Listen to Learn, Not to Retaliate
Along the same lines, a calm and civil conversation about opposing views is not a one-sided thing. As much as you may want to bombard your relatives with information to prove your point, it’s also important to listen to what they have to say (not including blatantly racist ideology). If they send you an article or video, take the time to read or watch it. You may come out of it knowing that you couldn’t disagree more, and that’s okay. The most vital key to conducting a conversation with a disagreeing relative is that you both have a chance to share your views.
Though it may seem impossible, when you listen to their viewpoint, see if you can learn something from their words. I’ve attempted to understand the psyche and motivations behind my relative’s speech and ideas, both to see if there’s something I agree with (which, has happened) or to learn why they are the way they are. In attempting to understand their ideologies, I’ve gained more insight into how I can more effectively conduct political conversations with them.
What I mean by this is, in listening to what Uncle James has to say about gun control, I’ve learned that his views are influenced by the news channels he watches. From there, I might take the time to watch the same news channel to see the media he consumes and proceed to have a conversation about the credibility of the source or share opposing news sources that challenge what he knows.
Painful as it is, I’ve found that listening to viewpoints that I disagree with has broadened my personal perspective. By suppressing my knee-jerk reactions to media that opposes my political views, I’ve become more thoughtful in the content I consume and the bias it has. Listening to learn, not to retaliate, almost always guarantees a more civil and educated conversation on a topic that otherwise could spark a fight.
Step Four: Accept That You Can’t Change Someone Overnight
As lovely as it would be, it’s impossible to erase prejudice and racism from a relative in just one conversation. Challenging the views that your relatives have grown up on or always practiced in their lives is a much bigger commitment than a one-time affair. It takes dedication and time, conversations held over months and years to create change. Radicalizing family members, or at the very least making them, you know, not racist, is a process that can’t happen all at once. Be persistent.
It’s going to be frustrating and angering, perhaps even tear-inducing, but it’s your responsibility as an ally to the cause to continue educating the people in your life who don’t support the movement. Keep the end goal in perspective, remember that you are making change, even if nothing is actively changing.
Step Five: Rinse & Repeat
The revolution is not one that will occur over a matter of days. Black people have been fighting for equality for centuries now; this is not a movement that sprang up overnight. Endurance and education are your two greatest allies. Knowing that difficult conversations never go out of style and never lose their relevance is vital to the fight. Make it a point to continue educating yourself on issues of racial inequality and systemic oppression, commit yourself to being an ally long-term.
By devoting your shiniest, most educated activist self to having difficult conversations with the people you love, you unlock a new world of change and knowledge. Maybe you’ll never change your cousin Rachel’s mind, maybe you’ll never get through to your Uncle Joe. That’s okay. The most important thing to remember is that having conversations that challenge your train of thought is for the benefit of democracy and engaging in civil discourse. If you think of it on a broad scale, it actually is quite noble to educate granny Julie on mass incarceration.
Photo: NeONBRAND via Unsplash