Cannon: Thoughts on overcoming toxic family relationships during the holidays

Coming from a multiracial family, especially in the midst of this polarized political climate, I’ve found myself in conflict with my father’s side of the family. The complex relationships I share with relatives on the White side of my family have deteriorated more and more since the initiation of modern pro-Black movements. These family members don’t necessarily identify as Republicans, because they’re definitely aligned with Democratic principles, but they do hold subtle anti-Black ideologies that directly conflict with my being and identity.
They live within the illusion of ignorance, leading them to create a false and utopic representation of the United States. They distance themselves from the reality of the Black experience. I’m not even sure if they’re fully capable of comprehending the extent of our shared trials and tribulations.
They’re so disconnected from the reality of the world; I believe that they feel threatened by my outspokenness. They feel threatened by the appearance of an America with a broken and poisoned sociopolitical and socioeconomic infrastructure. They feel threatened by the lawlessness of racism that has simmered for hundreds and hundreds of years. My relatives are much more comfortable with accepting an “old-fashioned” vision of the United States.
I recently decided that I would distance myself from these individuals, because I do not have the time or energy to maintain toxic relationships. Balancing these relationships was once a source of immense stress and anxiety for me. For the sake of my father’s happiness, I had tried to maintain civility with these relatives. But I refuse to hinder my own happiness to maintain the outward appearance of a structured family.
To be honest, I have found myself feeling guilty in the aftermath of cutting ties with these family members. I can’t help but to think my sense of regret is a reaction to challenging an internalized archetype that is central to our society. Our nation values the traditionalism and visual presentation of family over the mental or emotional stability of the individual.
My father probably expects me to accept the faults of my relatives in order to maintain some order and continuity of family, but there is no amount of love that can overlook racism. I won’t sacrifice my self-respect and self-love. I am not responsible for teaching adults how to be decent human beings. No one should have to reiterate the importance of being conscientious. I shouldn’t have to fight for the love of my own family: My humanness is an inalienable right. I don’t need to prove it to anyone.
As someone involved in activism and radical politics, I have never strayed away from the strength of my voice in the face of being disowned by family and friends. If you affiliate with cultural or political ideologies that essentially denounce my humanness and jeopardize my well-being, then I will cut you out of my life without a second of hesitation.
Others will say, “You need to listen to the other side,” but I cannot afford to listen to anyone that upholds cultural or societal values that have thrived off of black and brown bodies. I cannot entertain rhetoric that dehumanizes and marginalizes people of color. I will hold you accountable; if there is blood on your hands, then I am going to illuminate it. Far too many innocent people have died to be inactive in the presence of politicized hatred.
My life is not a game. The lives of my peers are not playthings. I am not here to reinforce the actuality of my self-worth to those that will never value it. I don’t owe you anything. My peers don’t owe you anything. We will not beg for your love—we do not require it. Your acceptance will never dictate our dreams and passions.
Many of my White friends have found themselves in conflict with their parents’ political stances. I always urge my friends to hold their families accountable, even if there are risks involved. Enforcing accountability doesn’t necessarily have to translate into being permanently estranged from your parents, but you must take the appropriate steps to rebuke behavior that is conducive to forms and factors of institutionalized discrimination.
Your silence, in the face of any injustice, allows these values of hatred and prejudice to survive generational cycles without critique and sets a dangerous precedent. The risks that our allies take to confront their families are substantial. But for allies, these risks are unlikely to result in the viral and widespread presentation of your unjustified murder. These risks do not compare to the modern-day killings that echo the ungodly lynchings of the Jim Crow era.
Don’t be afraid to confront these toxic family members.

Christopher Cannon is a third-year student studying English and history.