Last week, Americans saw one of the most contentious and revealing presidential elections in U.S. history, and political results aside, it highlighted a gaping need for a change in moral mindset. As Eddie S. Glaude Jr., chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University, put it in an election-focused interview with MSNBC, “[Americans] are not unique in our evils… Where we may be singular is our refusal to acknowledge them… We hide and cover and conceal so we can maintain the kind of willful ignorance that protects our innocence.”
In the aftermath of the election, every American has not only an opportunity but an obligation to draw this history of “willful ignorance” to a close. To do that, we’ll all need to pull up a seat at the table and get used to having uncomfortable conversations with friends and family who voted differently than we did. Whether via Zoom, at the Thanksgiving table, or within the walls of your own home, we all have the chance to speak our minds and talk about politics with friends and family in a way that could make a difference in 2024 (and every election after that).
Below, Melissa DePino, co-founder of From Privilege to Progress, and Arianna Galligher, LISW-S, a licensed independent social worker supervisor and counselor, break down how to talk about politics with family and friends who voted differently than you did in the 2020 election. Because there’s no honor in or progress to come from staying politely quiet.
Before the conversation
The first step is being able to accept that people you love and care about voted in a way you fundamentally disagree with. “We have to be able to accept [their vote], even if we’re a little bit surprised to learn that someone that we really care about supported a different candidate,” says Galligher. “Otherwise, you’re going to get trapped in this quagmire of trying to convince the other person not to have done it, [but] it’s already done.”
Next, consider why you cast your vote for your chosen candidate—and plan out how you want to talk about it with the other person. “If you’re going to have a conversation with family or loved ones that involve politics, stay focused on why you chose the candidate instead of bashing the other guy,” says Galligher. For example, perhaps you share with them that you voted for Joe Biden because of his climate plan and his promise to protect abortion rights. That way, you’re centering your values and morals at the heart of the conversation rather than opting for a narrow argument about the candidates’ character (although, that certainly matters, too).
Your last bit pre-conversation homework is to decide if someone’s open to hearing your perspective. By introspecting along that line, you’ll be able to approach the conversation with a clearer intention and goal. A closed door is a closed door, and Galligher says you should look for the ones that are cracked open. “Be prepared to set some boundaries and limits, especially if you know that person is going to start bashing the candidate that you liked. Be prepared to say, ‘You know, I have a different perspective on this person. We’re probably not going to agree on this point. Let’s just not go there,'” says Galligher. This isn’t dismissive, says DePino, but rather an act of self-preservation that allows you to save your energy for folks who are willing to, as Brené Brown, phrases it, “step into the arena with you.”
During the conversation
Politically-charged conversations can seem to pop up out of nowhere—and that may be especially true this year. DePino says to prioritize remembering that when someone’s comments are racist, homophobic, sexist, or xenophobic, acting as an ally means learning how to interrupt. You can use phrases like, “That’s not okay with me,” “I’m not comfortable with that,” or “That’s not funny.” Then, decide whether the person is open to having a discussion about why that’s not okay.
“There are plenty of people that you can have these discussions with that actually are ‘in the arena’ with you and that are open to you. You have to decide if that family member in front of you is actually open to the conversation, or not,” says DePino. If you’re not sure, Galligher says you can ask targeted questions like, “Are you open to having a discussion about why that’s not okay with me?” or “I don’t agree with you on this. Can we talk it out?”
“When someone tries to bring up politics in relation to race and gender and any issues of equality, what I say is, ‘Those are not political issues. Those are human rights issues.'” —Melissa DePino, co-founder of From Privilege to Progress
Once your family member has agreed to have the conversation with you, DePino recommends actively de-politicizing any remarks surrounding race or gender. “When someone tries to bring up politics in relation to race and gender and any issues of equality, what I say is, ‘Those are not political issues. Those are human rights issues. Those are issues about people being able to live their lives and be able to live equally in a country that started with the ideal that everyone was created equal. An ideal that we have lived up to it yet,'” she says.
Although these rights have been politicized by both political parties, you will gain more traction with your loved one by reminding them that you believe these rights supersede any name on the ballot. “Your candidate is racist” may be a true statement—but it won’t get you anywhere.
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We posted these last month, but because it is so important that we interrupt racism when we hear or see it, we are sharing again. ➡️ Whether you just started on the path to antiracism, or if you’ve been here a while, you know that interrupting racism is an essential part of showing up. If you’ve ever just stayed silent because you didn’t know what to say, from this moment on, just say something. From racist “jokes” and “all lives matter” to “I can’t be racist. I have a Black friend” and everything in between, interrupting racism requires a simple statement, even if you don’t yet have the knowledge to get into a deeper conversation. Choose one or a few of these “racism interrupters” and have it ready for use in your everyday life. Share others that have been effective for you in the comments. #ShowUp
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After the conversation
Galligher says to remember that you’re not locked into any conversation (or any relationship, for that matter) that seems like it’s run its course or has turned ugly. To end it, “just say, ‘I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by this conversation,’ or ‘I’m getting a little too upset. I was really hoping to be able to spend this time enjoying each other’s company, so I think it’s time to change the subject’,” she says. Alternatively, if the conversation goes well, you can ask for permission to send your friend or relative any articles, books, or podcasts you found useful in learning about the subject at hand. If they give the go-ahead, write that email. If you send a barrage of information along without their agreement, they may feel attacked and less open to continuing your talk in the future.
Finally, keep in mind that talking about politics with friends and family doesn’t end when a single conversation happens to stop. As Anti-Racism Daily founder Nicole Cardoza wrote in an Instagram post the day after Election Day, “Have conversations with your family and friends about who they voted for and why. Do not let their actions go unchecked. It is a privilege to avoid that conflict. And if that person is you, sit with your complicity for the terrors this nation inflicts, and why you find them less urgent than whatever you choose first…”
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