After a solid couple of years where I managed to mostly avoid drama in my personal life, I had a major falling out this week with my extended family.
Normally I wouldn’t write about something like this on my blog because it involves blood relatives who have not given their consent, but in this particular situation I think it is important to talk about what happened because it is so common — especially given our current social and political climate.
The event, which is a really nice way of saying “the crazy fight with my family on Facebook” was a result of years — a lifetime, really — of unspoken, clashing opinions about everything from politics to boundaries, until it all came bubbling to the surface in one of those spectacular social media trainwrecks that cause people to pull over onto the side of the road so they can safely upload screenshots to Reddit.
So, what happened?
Well, it’s a lot to try to boil down into a digestible explanation, but essentially I am related to people who do not understand how racist they truly are. Or maybe they do know, deep down, but they keep it sorta tucked away and ignored because they have the luxury to do that.
This relative is one I don’t know very well, but when he sent me a friend request on Facebook months ago, I accepted it. I have a sneaking suspicion that he extended that request because he enjoys the company of the rest of our family and probably, erroneously, assumed I share his views. And the thing is, this is typical — right? All of us are just trying to make it through the day. We are all human beings with our own thoughts and feelings.
But his comments. Oh, his comments. Just so much increasingly offensive racism. At first, I engaged. Then, I stopped and chose to ignore. That was a lot easier. I wondered, should I unfriend this guy? But I didn’t, which I now regret, because I have never censored my social media accounts. If people fight, they fight. If they call me names, I don’t hide their comments. I let the chips fall, because I am not in the business of trying to curate my image or the image of my family. That would make me a fraud.
Additionally, I’m in weekly therapy to unlearn codependency. This is an important thing to note because through a lot of intense work I have come to understand that I am not responsible for anyone else’s words or actions. Only mine.
One day, I received an email from a woman of color who took the time to school me. I didn’t like what she had to say because she was calling me out, and it stung. She said, “You call yourself an ally, but you won’t even deal with your own family.” She’d lost respect for me, and the longer I sat with it, the more I realized that she was right.
Over the summer, I started a job with Upworthy writing branded content. Shortly after, George Floyd was killed. The protests started and my work shifted in nature, giving me the opportunity to interview and really dig into the major racial and social issues in America.
Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
My non-white friends raising boys have different conversations with their sons than I have with mine. For them, it’s terrifying when their husband leaves the house at night to run to the grocery store. They dread the day their children learn to drive. My friend with a LGBTQ child was outed by kids at school. My son’s friends. My daughter’s friends. My friends. Their fear is legit; the things Maverick comes home and tells me that other kids say, the things they think, drives the point home.
“Why are kids so hateful?” People ask that all the time.
It’s because they’ve learned it. Full stop.
We are faced with a choice: perpetuate the problem, or address the problem.
On the day that Joe Biden announced his running mate, I posted a Facebook status about how much I look forward to voting this November. Most of the comments were from friends who are similarly excited to restore some semblance of sanity to the White House, and other friends had questions about why I am voting for Biden rather than Trump.
But then, here comes my relative, dropping racist comments. After months of ignoring him, I snapped. Now, let me be clear: I REIGNED IT IN when I addressed him. I did not say so many of the things I wanted to say so many of the times he commented and called me a “baby killer” (because I think women deserve the right to make decisions about their own bodies) or a “libtard” (I’m a registered Independent).
This time, when he started, it wasn’t about political differences. He was insulting me and my family, because his comments were about race.
Racial issues are not political issues. Why are we mashing them together?
I don’t understand how we got here, but I do understand one thing: calling out my white relative was my responsibility. You’ve heard the saying “get your people,” right? That’s what it means.
I called him out and my family lost their ever-loving minds, publicly, for all to see. They called me a hypocrite. They said I don’t understand where I come from. They called me elitist, and said I just don’t understand tongue-in-cheek humor.
They said I should be ashamed of myself.
Apparently, I failed to fulfill my family role and shield my racist uncle from the consequences of his actions, and they are very disappointed in me. As a recovering people pleaser, I didn’t enjoy it. My nerves are shot, my stomach is upset, and I’m fairly certain I’m giving Robbie nervous diarrhea. But also? I sleep really well at night.
The family dysfunction explosion was so bad that all kinds of people texted and emailed and said “WHOA.” And I was like, “YEAH.” The shock and awe was hard to pinpoint: was it because of what I said or because of what was said to me? No way to know for sure, but no matter how you look at it, the situation sucked.
I love my family, and what I am about to say is complicated, because while I do love them, I am also so deeply disturbed by their thought processes that I’m not quite sure I ever want to be in the same room with them again. Which leads me to my next point: just because someone is related to you, doesn’t always mean they should be in your life.
The hill I chose to cut off my family on is the hill of white supremacy. They don’t know that they’re white supremacists because they refuse to acknowledge that it’s even a thing.
If I didn’t have children, I might not be bothered by racial issues, but guess what? I am a mother who has a responsibility to do the right thing. In the words of a friend, I am not here to make other people comfortable. And neither are my children.
Maverick is almost 12. He’s got a diverse group of friends. They talk about stuff. He has questions. We dig. We talk, because brushing it away or shutting down isn’t communicating and teaching — it’s actually the opposite. When I got sober, I leaned in real hard to being uncomfortable almost all the time. Because frankly, if I don’t teach my three children how to go out into the world and establish their boundaries, how will they ever be happy, joyous, and free?
Robbie and I teach our kids that if someone makes a comment that is inappropriate, it is okay put up your hand and say “That’s enough.” It lets the other person know that you have a boundary. That you aren’t willing to participate. If enough people would just SPEAK UP, maybe, just maybe, something would change. Maybe if enough white people said to other white people, THAT ISN’T OKAY, then we might be able to heal this unfathomable rift in our country.
But, if white people are not willing to acknowledge the problem, the problem only grows. If I shut my mind to the experience of other people and refuse to acknowledge my part in the perpetuation of racism, then my kids will absolutely continue the cycle. Nothing would ever change.
I only have one life. I want to make it count.