Showing Up for Racial Justice took inspiration from the Butterball hotline.
If you need help with your Thanksgiving turkey, there's a hotline for that. Now there's one for your Thanksgiving dinner conversation, too.
That's the idea behind Showing Up for Racial Justice's Holiday Mobile Hotline, now in its second year. Created for white Americans who want to help fight for a more racially just society, SURJ's hotline is a great resource to have handy for potentially awkward race-related dinner-table conversations during upcoming holidays.
"We thought it up last year after hearing so many white folks really freaking out about seeing family after Trump was elected," explains SURJ co-director Heather Cronk in an e-mail. "The original idea was built on the Butterball hotline — the service provided by Butterball turkey each Thanksgiving to help folks get answers to their turkey-cooking questions."
You simply text "SOS" to 82623, and SURJ will forward some key talking points that might come up in conversation.
The goal isn't to treat this as some sort of ideological battle to be won against a sworn enemy (these are your family members, after all) but to provide you with the tools necessary to keep conversation productive by asking a question. Once you text the number, you'll be prompted with a menu of topics ranging from immigration to sexual assault.
For example, if you select the topic "Trump isn't racist," SURJ will reply with a question you can ask your relative: "That's confusing to me because I've heard Trump say things about people of color that sound racist, and he has surrounded himself with people who are racist. Are there things he's said that you disagree with?"
The whole process is quick and simple enough that you can easily just send a text during a bathroom break or under the table during a lull in the conversation.
As hard and as awkward as these conversations can be, it's important we don't shy away from them. Silence is a statement of its own.
If you have a legitimate reason to fear your family — maybe you're LGBTQ in an unaccepting household or the survivor of violence — it's totally understandable if you sit quietly and avoid rocking the boat. There's no shame in that. If that doesn't describe you, however, and you feel comfortable doing so, consider leaning into these discussions.
"Often, white folks avoid tough conversations with family in order to preserve relationships or avoid controversy — but to do so also contributes to the silence that allows white supremacy to thrive," Cronk writes. "White silence is what contributes to and excuses white supremacist violence — and even conversations as informal as dinner table banter are really important mechanisms to end white silence."
It's OK if you don't change any minds at the dinner table. Just try to plant the seed of an idea.
Will some of these conversations be inconvenient and awkward? Absolutely, but the payoff can be well worth the trouble. Maybe that uncle who thinks undocumented immigrants are a drain on the economy (they're not) will leave the dinner table with not just a full belly but a fresh perspective on what it means to be American. Maybe that aunt who thinks victims of police violence wouldn't get shot if they just complied with orders (they often do comply) will enjoy a bit of nuance with her pumpkin pie.
No matter what, it's important to remember that this isn't some sort of battle that can be won by bludgeoning your relatives with a string of confrontational facts. You probably won't cause anyone to do a 180-degree turn on their beliefs. But with a little bit of care, you can help plant a few new ideas along the way.
For more information about Showing Up for Racial Justice's Holiday Mobile Hotline, as well as links to its annual Thanksgiving discussion guide and printable placemat, visit their website.