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Show up to your family as your true self this holiday s...

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Opinionista

Home truths: Show up to your family as your true self this holiday season

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Lwando Xaso is an attorney and a writer exploring the interaction between race, gender, history and popular culture. She is the author of the book, ‘Made in South Africa, A Black Woman’s Stories of Rage, Resistance and Progress’.

For many of us the holiday season can be a time of reprieve from the real world. It’s a time of reunion with our loved ones. But it can also be a time of conflict. For many it is an anxiety-inducing time.

For some of us, going home means bracing ourselves for the intrusive questions and interrogation from family and friends who have not seen us in some time. “Do you have a boyfriend yet? When are you getting married? When are you planning to have children? Are you pregnant or did you just gain some weight?” Some relatives mean well but others are just downright mean.

And if you are a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, going home can mean concealing who you are. It can be a time of taking on an acceptable persona that will placate those around you who do not want to deal with your difference.

Going home can be a terrorising time, especially for those who have not quite found the courage to shut down the bully of an aunt who has deemed it her responsibility to monitor your weight. The family Christmas lunch offers the perfect setting for a collision of ideology and politics among family members. For some of us it’s a time to be reminded of how racist, homophobic, fatphobic and misogynistic our family members are. Even those who consider themselves “woke” can find themselves guilty of offending a relative’s politics, religion or culture. A way to navigate these testy moments would be to just bite our tongues and endure it. But what if we didn’t?

The Christmas lunch table is not just an opportunity to offend or to shame. It can also be an opportunity for growth and change. We spend so much of our time calling out trolls online but fail to call out our loved ones when they espouse the same bigotry that we push against online. Leaving harmful words, ideas and behaviour unchecked would be a disservice to ourselves and our families. It could be a missed educational moment that could go a long way in changing our family dynamics for the better for generations to come.

As empowered as we may feel out in the world, the family dinner table can be where we revert to old and harmful ways. The true value of family is having people who can call you out when you have done or said something harmful. Sometimes we do not realise that the lovelessness we experience in the broader world begins in our homes.

One of my favourite historians and black feminists, Brittney Cooper, says we have this mistaken belief that the moments of our transformation happen because of our own insights or from the books that we read. However, some of the greatest moments of change happen relationally. Friendships and, in my opinion, family, force us to relate to one another and to witness the impact of our thinking on the people we say we love and respect. The holiday season is an opportunity for us to have our greatest moments of change if we are brave enough to engage deeply with our people.

We all hold views, including about politics, that may be harmful to our loved ones. As Cooper says, we cannot think our politics are radical if they are not deeply relational. She says part of the problem with those who consider themselves “woke” is that they may have the right ideas but have no idea what it means to live those ideas communally with real flesh-and-blood people. Cooper says her politics have everything to do with having people in her life who tell her when she is wrong or when her thinking needs to be challenged.

This holiday season can be a moment of great change within our families. It can offer a space to live out our values communally with people we love. Everyone at the dinner table will be better off if we show up as ourselves rather than as our fearful selves set on being compliant and fearful of being disruptive. But our families need to be disrupted if they are to change for the better. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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