After listening to a NPR segment about Thanksgiving and some anxiety that this very social holiday brings up for folks, I realized that this year may be challenging in new ways. Not only has the economy been stagnant, unemployment is rising, and political movements are taking place nationwide and internationally that put class inequality at the heart of the discussion. What do we talk about when we see each other?
How do we think our relatives will view our second year of unemployment, the decision to downsize or move because of economic stress–and why we never asked them for help? Or maybe our politics are no longer the same, viewpoints driven by many factors, including where we ourselves fall on the social mobility ladder.
This Thanksgiving involves meeting up with relatives that one may not have seen in a year: to reintroduce ourselves and maybe a significant other to the family; to sit around the table and discuss politics (such as why we support Occupy Wall Street) with a lower-middle class Uncle who loves Mitt Romney, with a first-generation West Indian cousin who thinks the only immigrants to the U.S. are Mexican and wants stricter border control; to see cousins who have graduated from Harvard and Stanford compare notes on their rich classmates, while another Uncle mocks their conversation because he feels shut out of the off-balance praise the college kids always get, an affront to his pride of being a High School graduate and successful City employee. And all this with the anxiety of introducing your boyfriend or girlfriend who is another race, speaks another language and is also a immigrant. Oh boy!
The one thing I realized after listening to that segment is that we all have anxiety about entering family situations. Family comes in all shapes and sizes, but we are all seeing family again, reintroducing ourselves and our circumstances in light of the view they once held of us. This itself is stressful no matter our circumstance. There is no idyllic thanksgiving holiday–this is time spent with family and because all families are different, we have to create our own vision of joy and happiness.
The point and the goal is: don’t have others define who you are. Walk in confidently to your cousin’s, or aunt’s or brother’s or in-laws’ or whoever’s home and know that you are not on trial–even if it may feel that way–you are there to give thanks for their presence in your life. Focus on what’s coming this year than on the past, what could have been, what was, etcetera.
We all are strong enough to stand proudly in our own square, and know that although we all are coming from different places and have very different views, we are all connected. That’s what the holiday should be about.
Plus the amazing food that’s been passed down from generation to generation and, for some, the new recipes that you will create as you start your own families and new relationships. Give thanks and eat up.
Nicole Brown is a Class Action trainer and Advisory Board member, as well as a regular Classism Exposed blogger.