The holiday season is once again upon us. While for some it means cheery meals and warm conversation, for others it can mean the dread of awkward conversations with our family members.
We all hear the stories of racist uncles or sexist grandparents: the relatives we just can’t bring ourselves to say something to simply because they’re family. But we know we should.
I recently was brought face-first with this issue myself. A young cousin of mine used the term “that’s autistic” on social media in the same vein as “that’s retarded” or “that’s gay.” To say I was shocked that my cousin said this is an understatement. We have someone in our family with autism. What if my cousin had said it out loud at a family event rather than on social media?
I spent the rest of the night fuming, trying to decide what to do. Should I respond to the post? Should I contact my cousin’s parents?
You can argue that my cousin is a teenager, and that teenagers say stupid things. But teenagers that get away with saying stupid things now grow up to become adults who think they can get away with saying inexcusable things.
I know for a fact that when I was a kid I said stupid things. The reason I remember is because my mom would always call me out on anything I said that perpetuated negative stereotypes. She wouldn’t wait until it was just the two of us, she’d call me out as soon as it came out of my mouth. This was thoroughly embarrassing to my teenage self, but it also taught me a pretty valuable lesson. Just because it’s a “trendy” thing to say, does that make it right?
In the age of social media, people increasingly believe that they are free to say anything they want online. While freedom of speech does allow you to say, for example, nasty things about your boss on your Facebook page, it does not protect you from the consequences — i.e. getting fired when your boss sees the post.
With family gatherings, we are more willing to protect those we love from the consequences of what they say. We tell ourselves that our older relatives are just set in their ways. Or, we are protecting ourselves from the unpleasant interaction of telling your cousin, your aunt, or even your own parents that something they’ve said is not right.
But unless those conversations are had, the people around us will not learn. Sometimes we need to have someone embarrass us, to call us out when we say something. We need to learn that the first thing that pops into our head is not always a nice thing.
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