By Kirsty Griffiths
Older generations will tell us to be happy we ‘have a roof over our head’. Younger siblings can’t yet fathom why we’re not exactly enjoying time with our parents over lockdown. And we, are sandwiched in between, trying to navigate heated debates over the dinner table.
We, being a mixture of Millennials and Gen Z that were forced back to childhood homes at the end of March this year by you-know-what. We, the unlucky ones who, as riots broke out all over the world in response to the murder (yes, murder) of Black American George Floyd, had our eyes opened to the ridiculous and outdated opinions of numerous relatives.
From personal experience in this situation -and I know I’m not alone- I am constantly torn between two options when backed into a corner by archaic opinions of relatives. These are, in their simplest form, to ignore, or to educate.
Ignore. Easy to do. No effort required. Simply observe the racist, sexist, homophobic behaviour, and do nothing about it. Avoid the unnecessary conflict, move on. I can admit I used to give in to this desirable sounding reaction. I used to force down the guilty feeling in my stomach and tell myself it’s just “how they were raised” or “it’s a generational thing” when the people I love would make racist comments at the news or get offended at the ‘forced diversity’ in a yoghurt advert (and we’re the ones labelled as snowflakes?).
The lure to ignore is inviting, until you grow up and begin to notice the injustices in the world that aren’t reported on BBC News. You begin to question everything, you educate yourself, your eyes are opened much wider than your parents’. You surround yourself with the right people, you show support for all manner of causes and communities, you spread the word on social media. You try your best to show up as an ally.
It seems the more and more you learn, the less easy it is to reign in your emotions when you’re faced with the same comments you’ve ignored all your life.
At least, that was my experience. I remember once getting mad at my own sister; she hadn’t voted in the General Election as she said politics ‘didn’t affect her’. I remember telling her she was blinded by her own privilege. This was of course met with anger, as is always the case, accountability can seem like an attack when the individual isn’t ready to acknowledge that their actions can hurt others.
Choosing to challenge racist opinions and educate where you can sounds great, not only does it take the burden off of the oppressed communities to do so, you can even change a few minds for the better along the way. The above-mentioned sister has since shifted her way of thinking and now understands and accepts her privilege, making it her mission to use it for good. Even one mind changed is a step towards a better, more inclusive and understanding world.
This route can, however, also be the catalyst for family fallouts, disowned relatives, declining mental health, and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness.
Speaking to some people who responded to an Instagram story of mine about living with or simply having racist relatives, I was saddened by the sheer number of people that suffer when they try to open closed minds within their family. “I try and educate but it’s never taken seriously…it always ends in tears (mine)” one girl answered, another told me “whenever I bring up anything ‘political’ I’m immediately yelled at, doesn’t matter how calm I am or even what I’m saying most of the time, they just shout racist shit until I cry and give up”.
Instances likes these, especially when they aren’t just one-off occurrences, can be severely damaging to your mental health. You begin to feel helpless, powerless, lonely, like nothing will ever change. I know this because that’s exactly how I have felt, on too many occasions to remember.
So, what do we do? Do we ignore racism and label it as self-preservation? Avoid the nasty arguments and remain silent for the benefit of ourselves? Or do we make a choice to use our privilege for something other than a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card? Use it to attempt to educate those around us, even in the face of rage?
Reni Eddo-Lodge, in her bestseller ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’, says –
“I don’t want anyone, of any race, when faced with the insurmountable task of challenging racism, to collapse into despondency…I know how much it can paralyse, how the feeling of hopelessness works to utterly crush creativity, passion, and drive. But those are the three things that we will definitely need if we’re ever going to end this injustice. We have to fight despondency. We have to hang on to hope”.
I will personally always try to do just that. Hang onto hope. Hang onto hope that my attempts to educate those that I love will one day stick. Hang onto hope that I might soon make it through a political conversation with my parents that doesn’t end in me being branded immature/too young/uneducated (the list goes on) or end in my tears as I struggle to explain why we should simply care about other people.
I will not choose the ignore option anymore, when so many are unable to do so. I hope you won’t either.