Politics at the dinner table: addressing racism in our families

As my mother put the dishes away into the dishwasher she became more and more frustrated as my sister shared her views on this year’s election. It was only a matter of time before my mother raised her voice to win the argument. Meanwhile, my father and I sat on the sidelines watching the situation unfold.

For millions of teens around the country, the recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests have been an opportunity to self-reflect upon their views and build up their own opinions rather than becoming influenced by their parent’s views on these “political issues.” As children of immigrants start to speak to their parents about their political views, they are finding it more and more difficult to talk about issues regarding races and politics. For example, Asian immigrant parents have a very prejudiced view of Black people in the United States, seen when some of their children talk to them about the BLM movement: their children are faced with a strong backlash from their parents.

As a result, many people who hold different views will argue back and forth nonstop with family.

Conversations about politics and other forbidden topics can easily make the atmosphere awkward or heated; therefore, many would choose to avoid those topics. However, there are still some instances when politics come up in a conversation. If a person were to ever talk about politics with family, there are multiple ways to approach family members who may have different political views without filling the atmosphere with tension.

So why is it so difficult to communicate with immigrant parents about politics or race issues?

It is easy to forget that people most likely have different opinions for a variety of different reasons and processes. Whatsoever, it is more beneficial to try and understand why your parents might think that way rather than never touching on the topic at all. When talking about politics, one should not focus on trying to change the other person’s mind. To be brutally honest, it is practically impossible to try and convert someone’s mind within a 30-minute conversation when they have held their political views for years.

Additionally, American physiologist Tania Israel, the author of Beyond Your Bubble, states that being realistic will help avoid the frustration that results when trying to communicate ideas with those who hold different political views

Other than being realistic during a political debate with family members, it is important to practice active listening during a conversation. Rather than listening to respond to the argument, it is better to listen to what the person is trying to say and understand why this person has this opinion. This is something people have trouble with because they listen to one another reply to their commentary on the issue.

Another issue people have a hard time with is stopping to think that they are being rational because they think their opinion is correct. When people have political debates they are motivated to seem well-informed. However, they will always be driven to try and prove that their opinion is right. If both sides of the conversation are doing so and thinking that they are being unbiased while still thinking that their opinion is correct, can quickly turn the conversation sour.

Lots of people do not talk to their family members about politics in order to avoid situations that can often lead to them getting yelled at or even kicked out of the house for having a different political perspective. This goes back to the statement that people should be open-minded to other people’s opinions and opposing political views because at the end of the day an opinion is still an opinion. People should always learn to respect other people’s opinions no matter how much you might disagree.

However, parents, teenagers and other family members should also acknowledge that gaining information from social media is not always the most accurate way to gain information. For example, many Chinese parents use the Chinese app, WeChat, in order to keep up with recent news and political topics as well. What Chinese parents might not be aware of is the fact that WeChat like many other social media apps can be just as biased or inaccurate as any other news source out there like Fox News. This issue can easily be resolved by providing them educational pamphlets or a reliable news source such as the Associated Press News app instead of social media apps like WeChat, Instagram or Facebook.

Additionally, when people are given facts that support their argument, they will not believe in any other facts that another person with a different political view might give. This really just helps one avoid undermining their own opinion. At the same time, this also shows people that trying to argue with “facts” doesn’t really resolve the issue at hand unless those who are debating over the topic are open-minded to other facts that might undermine their arguments.

With all that information in mind, perhaps next time during dinner you could talk to your parents about how you felt about the election this year without the heat and tension. Rather than trying to change their minds, hear what they have to say and why they think that way. This way you can easily avoid an argument and rather, have an actual civil political conversation with your family members.


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