If the thought of Thanksgiving dinner conversation is already giving you the sweats – we got you. It’s hard enough trying to remember what not to talk about around aunt Deborah after the divorce, care about the Cowboys and Chargers, and stumble through a vague description of whatever it is you do for a living, without having to confront your family’s not so hidden racial biases.
Immigration is on everyone’s minds, and unfortunately, the facts aren’t well known. It’s much easier for uncle Cody to repeat a talking point from America’s least favorite perpetually bewildered headmaster than do a little research. As we’ve learned, even “liberal” Hollywood has a terrible way of representing immigrants. A recent study from our friends at the Opportunity Agenda showed that half of all Latino immigrants on scripted TV are shown committing a crime.
So, before opening a can of righteous vitriol on poor aunt Karen – pump the brakes. There’s a chance not everyone has thought deeply about this issue, or have asked themselves, “How do You Define American?” Start with these strategies to facilitate a healthy conversation about immigration on Thanksgiving.
1. Use the power of story.
AKA don’t put cousin Marty to sleep at the coin toss. He’s already full of loaded potatoes and mayonnaise, you DO NOT want to lead with the data. If you want to talk about how undocumented immigrants pay taxes, or are involved in their communities, look no further than the Define American story platform. You can search for stories in your state, or by subject matter. Say their names, and put Marty in their shoes. If you can maintain his interest through the halftime show, mission accomplished.
2. Listen actively.
Uncle Eldon has a lot of needs, some of which can be explained by the sun entering Sagittarius – but mostly he needs to feel like he’s being listened to. So this conversation can’t end with one side winning and the other losing. Maintain your attention throughout his point – stay with him. Ask him questions, and repeat back what he has said to confirm. Don’t interrupt, let him collect his thoughts, even if you know you’ll disagree because after all, you ARE infallible. Regardless, you’ll need his powers of divination to place bets on three games today, so try and stay on his good side. For more ways to improve your listening skills here are 6 ways to become a better listener.
3. Avoid name calling.
Ok, so you’ve had a few too many glasses of the finest Franzia, and you are sick of grandma Nance’s hot and fresh takes about “the Blacks and the Hispanics.” Calling her a racist or xenophobe may feel justified. But if your goal is to reduce the amount of prejudice that a person feels, labeling them may have the opposite effect. The words are highly politicized through context today, and may derail the conversation entirely. You’ll be able to have a more constructive conversation if you remain calm and friendly in the face of adversity.
4. Paint a positive alternative picture.
Just because your brother Austin has gotten deep into conspiracies about Greek yogurt and the illuminati doesn’t mean you need to follow him down that dystopian rabbit hole. What do you want your neighborhood to be like in ten years? What kind of future do you envision for immigrant children and their families? Focus on the here and now, and the policy debates will become much more tangible. After that, you can talk about why putting all of your savings into Bitcoin TONIGHT is a great long term investment.
5. Emphasize points of agreement.
One thing everyone can agree on is that you’re both jerks for distracting from a perfectly good meal and trying to resolve your deep-seated cultural differences in an evening. While the rest of the family is enjoying Philip Rivers down eight points with one minute left, attempting to go the length of the football field with no timeouts, you are revelling in the equally sisyphean task of making the future less scary. Have hope. You’ll find that, given the right amount of time, “most people are empathetic, somewhat tolerant of diversity, and occasionally open to changing their minds.” If you find enough ways to align, you’ll nurture a more regular conversation, and open each other up to a future that is brimming with possibilities. Which is more than Philip Rivers can ask for, that guy is screwed.