Survive Thanksgiving With Your Conservative Relatives

Believe me, I know. I have them too. I have cousins who call me a socialist hippie and I have uncles who still yell ‘Run N*gg*er! Run!’ during a football game.

Now I have the luxury of being far, far away from family in California…eating my elitist, ivy league educated turkey…while I’m sure they shot and killed theirs from Sarah Palin’s helicopter. But whatever our differences, family is family, and sometimes they all have to be in the same room together.

First and foremost prepare the kids:

The final word on #muppets

Of course we know that sort of talk is wrong, and we would never speak like that at our house, our school. I’m not sure why they believe that way, but they do, so we just try and be as polite as possible and tell them as nicely as possible they are offensive and wrong, and then we go home. But hopefully we won’t talk about those sorts of things at all and we can just discuss how nice the fall leaves look and how great you are doing in school, ok?

Of course that will lead to the discussion about their hippy, progressive, charter school….but let’s just take one issue at a time.

Luckily the great folks at NPR have your crazy Aunt that sends all those crazy e-mail forwards covered. You know, the ones in all caps that claim Obama is a secret Muslim and the Democrats are really building concentration camps to lock away all the Christians…or something. Check it out:

You should start by telling tell him that the emails are nearly always wrong. PolitiFact has checked 104 claims from emails and rated 80 percent of them “False” or “Pants on Fire.” Only 4 percent of the claims have earned a “True.” …

The chain emails cover a few broad themes:

Obama is unpatriotic! E-mails have said Obama complained that the troops were whiners (Pants on Fire), that he refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance (False) and that he wants soldiers to take a loyalty oath to him rather than the Constitution (Pants on Fire).

Democrats have passed a secret tax! Some recent emails claim that because of “Obamacare,” monthly Medicare premiums will more than double by 2014 (Pants on Fire) and that home sales will be taxed 3.8 percent (Pants on Fire) to pay for the new health care law. Another one in this genre says Obama’s finance team is seeking a 1 percent tax on all financial transactions (Pants on Fire).

Perks of office. Another theme in the emails is that members of Congress get excessive perks. The emails say members of Congress get full retirement pay after one term (Pants on Fire) and that congressional staffers and members don’t have to repay their student loans (Pants on Fire).

The government is coming for your guns/health data/light bulbs! Some of the conspiracy theories are truly wacky. During the health care debate, one claimed that under the public option for health care coverage, people would be implanted with data-storing microchips (Pants on Fire). A more recent email claimed the government was mandating that everyone get rid of their existing light bulbs (Pants on Fire). Another email said you must list your guns on your tax return (Pants on Fire).

Not enough to convince your Grandpa that he’s NOT about to face a death panel? Try this one on for size…the DCCC Thanksgiving Cheat Sheet!  it’s got everything from Health Insurance Reform (they call it ‘Obamacare’) to how to really appease your far right Tea Party relatives with FACTS:


· Three times, House Republicans pushed our government to the brink of a shutdown to put their radical agenda ahead of the American people’s interests. · Voted to repeal health insurance reform; Voted to defund NPR, PBS and Sesame Street; Voted to classify pizza as a vegetable for school children; Voted to defund Planned Parenthood and stop them from offering cancer screenings; Voted to protect companies that do business with the Iranian regime

· Pushing plan to privatize Social Security · Forced the Supercommittee to fail because they insisted on more tax breaks for billionaires and Big Oil at the expense of the Medicare guarantee and creating jobs.

And if that weren’t enough, and things get REALLY ugly, Colorlines put together a nice guide on how to discuss RACE:

Instead of just being reactive, why not be proactive? Start with a question. Use plain language. Set the frame and tone you want. Create an opening for some constructive dialogue. For example, “Did you see that video of the police cracking down on the non-violent student protesters?” Or, “What do you think of the plans to shut down the neighborhood health clinic that serves mostly low-income people of color?”

Remember, if you get flustered, I’m home on Thanksgiving and if you have to, you can tweet me or text me and I will talk to Grandma and tell her that I’ve sat in the West Wing, looked these people in the eye, and they are NOT out to take her money, her 401k, or her guns.

I am a mother. I am disabled. And I have every reason to believe there are good and bad people in government -just like there are good and bad people in the world. In our own families. But at the heart of it all, we want the same thing: the American Dream. We are not that different regardless of if we show up with the big turkey or the vegan casserole. We want to make sure those we love get what they deserve and those we care for are taken care of. We may just not agree on how to get there. But make it clear that no one wants anyone to suffer. I know that one is hard to swallow when we all could swear those conservatives really do not care if we live or die, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt this holiday, and tell them you expect them to give you and their President the benefit of the doubt as well.

The First Lady isn’t trying to take their burgers. She is simply trying to help kids exercise and eat better- right along with moderation in many things she enjoys her fries and her ice cream and allows her kids to have treats just like we do. Her overall goal is to just make sure kids know what brocoli is and that it’s better for them than a chocolate bar. No biggie, right?

Now, with that in mind, and some ammo in your pocket (the factual kind I provided above, not the real kind your Uncle has behind that glass hunting case you’ve told the kids they aren’t allowed to go anywhere near) try and enjoy your family. Give thanks that our country is so diverse that we can argue and not be thrown in jail for speaking out. Tell them you stand by the PEOPLE not the BANKERS (if they dare bring up OWS) and that you would expect they too would be for hard-working citizens, not heartless foreclosure mongers who give out billion dollar bonuses while charging them extra claiming they aren’t making enough money.

And always, always, eat the dark meat. It’s the best by far, and it will piss off your racist Grandpa when you tell him dark is best.

Good luck.

*updated on Thanksgiving morning – it’s been pointed out that I have not mentioned how to handle the ‘gay’ issue with your family. It saddens me because I’d hope that we’ve come far enough where even the craziest of families HAVE GLBT at their TABLE helping cut the turkey, so they’d keep it civil…but alas I am probably giving too many families the benefit of the doubt that they even acknowledge their family who prefer the same sex or are transgendered people…so here is what you do…and buckle up, this is where it gets really ugly:

Listen, Aunt Betty, in our family all men and women are created equal. That means they get all of the same rights you and Uncle Bob do. Now, you might not believe in that, and your God might not believe in that, but this is America- and in America we have many Gods and many different kinds of people. So if you are a GOOD American, you will make sure everyone is EQUAL under the law. Believe me Aunt Betty, if I could take away you and Uncle Bob’s marriage I would…considering he’s been an alcoholic and has been beating you or threatening to abuse you for as long as I was a baby, and why you two get to be married and some of my best friends don’t seems like a real shame in the eyes of the Lord….but I digress. Oh, what’s that? You say ‘why do they have to call it marriage and can’t they just have some civil rights marriage or something?’ …you see it doesn’t work that way for real. Marriage and civil unions come with VERY different rights. In fact, marriage has over 1049 rights while civil unions has 300 with NO FEDERAL protection. What does that mean? It means if Chris and Chris get married in Vermont, legally, and they decide to go vacation in Mississippi…and Chris ends up in the hospital, her partner can’t make her medical decisions for her in Mississippi. There is also the problems with immigration, child support and adoption (think of all those NOT aborted babies that you want to have homes…and the LOVING homes they could go to -instead of the fucked up homes like yours) and many, many other unequal problems. Now yes Aunt Betty, I know, it all comes down to God. But again, this is America…and if I have to tolerate your God- you have to tolerate mine…or my lack of one. Was this nation founded on Christian values? Yes. But our founders were smart enough to know we’d abuse that and put protections in to make sure we didn’t. So please Aunt Betty…go get Uncle Bob another scotch and piece of pie, so you don’t get a black eye tonight and just don’t tell him you voted in favor of same-sex marriage in your state. I won’t tell if you don’t.


  1. Say hi to my parents!!! HTD you guys. Love and miss you!

  2. Love, love this and am so glad I will not have any of these relatives over tomorrow. God bless all who will. 😉

  3. Lynette Young says:

    Holy shit. You described my aunt to a T. Welcome to my own private hell. And oh…. Happy turkey day! Xoxo

  4. Kerstin!!! We’re in CA not WV!


    Text this post to your Mom. FAST.

  5. Go, Erin! This is just the perfect thing to hear on Thanksgiving day. I hope all your readers take it to heart and are prepared when their third cousins bring out the rant with Aunt Martha’s nine bean casserole. Or whatever won third place at the state fair in 1965. Have a wonderful holiday!

  6. This post makes me thankful that my family is already respectful of others. Even my conservative, 80-year-old dad has always demonstrated inclusiveness and tolerance in his dealings with people (even if he does still occasionally use words like “Chinaman”).

  7. Thanks so much, Erin. I’m about to head to my mother-in-law’s trailer, where the kitchen wall features photos Dubya, Pat Robertson, and Benny Hinn, and where the phone is always answered, “Praise the Lord!” The politics are decidedly red-state. It’s another culture, and I try to approach it as an ethnographer rather than as a combat opportunity. Still, I appreciate the tips on how to respectfully hold my ground and retain my sanity. 🙂

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I’m grateful for all the work you do, and for the truths you speak.

  8. My father in law forwards that kind of crap to my husband. Until our current president got elected he never did that and was a serious democrat. I don’t think it has anything to do with the “democrat” part of it.

    It really irritates the hell out of my husband. Yes, we’re in the South (and continually feel like we’re in the minority, which, of course, we are here).

    Love NPR.

  9. Brilliant. like usual.

    Thank GOD my relatives are extremely liberal. we actually toasted to that on thanksgiving! However, I did have my head explode last week when a fbook friend called Obama “the most unamerican president”

  10. Oh Geez, its nice (???) to know that we aren’t the only ones who face the crazys during the holidays! (not nice that there are so many mis-guided folks out there, but nice that we are not alone!)

    It makes me so sad that my MIL really believes so many scary and false things. It makes her upset to believe these things, and makes her upset that we don’t understand why she is so upset and scared. There is no rational discussion about facts, just emotional reaction. Last year we quit trying with the facts, just leveled with her emotions and told her that it made us sad to see her so scared and that even if these awful things were ALL true that SHE was going to be okay, that we were always going to be here for her and make sure that her needs are met. She responded better to that approach, so we’ll likely be sticking with it again this year.

    If only I could figure out what approach to take with my dad!. yikes!

  11. I had a totally awesome Thanksgiving and didn’t even need this … my in-laws joined me in making fun of Michelle Bachman who was doing a book signing in Cedar Rapids a few hours after a family friend signed his picture book about a cute dog. ha!

  12. Mike M (trinculo73) says:

    This Thanksgiving was amazing. My dad and I have disagreed on many things for a long time, and actually didn’t speak to each other for about 4 months over a particular email forward that I took huge offense to – but this year we found something to agree on. He brought up Occupy Wall Street and I prepared for the worst – then he started talking about how they were different but protesting exactly the same things that the Tea Party started with, and things that he had been complaining about for years. It was fantastic to find common ground for a change 🙂

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