How to deal with your racist relatives this holiday season

A workshop being held in Toronto this week aims to take on a perennial holiday problem: dealing with loved ones who make racist, sexist or homophobic remarks.

Workshop teaches attendees to interact constructively with loved ones who make offensive comments

Equity educator Rania El Mugammar is running a workshop to help Torontonians deal with relatives who make offensive comments... without ruining family dinners. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

A workshop being held in Toronto this week aims to take on a perennial holiday problem: dealing with loved ones who make racist, sexist or homophobic remarks.

The "Shut it, Uncle Bob!" workshop was created by equity educator Rania El Mugammar, who hopes to give attendees the tools to deal with offensive comments constructively.

El Mugammar said it might be tempting to let off-colour or offensive comments slide, but people should speak up.

"I think it's critical to have those conversations," she explained on CBC's Metro Morning. "You might only see Uncle Bob once a year, but Bob is doing damage the rest of the year to other people by saying problematic things."

Diving in? Be prepared

El Mugammar said there are several strategies that can be used to engage with a loved one. 

  • Pick your moment: "You want to figure out if you want to have that conversation in a group setting or whether you have the kind of relationship where can pull that person aside." 
  • Prepare yourself: "Probably [they have] said this before, so you know what to expect, and you can do some research and do some learning, and come at it from an informed place." El Mugammar said its also important to look at what kind of evasive or minimizing tactics the person typically uses when they express their opinions, and to be ready for them. 
  • Focus on the behaviour, not the person: El Mugammar explained on her website that it's important to balance holding someone accountable with demonstrating to them that you aren't throwing them away. Take the time to show your relative or loved one that you are still there for them. 
  • Be understanding: "It's really important to come at it from a place of, you know what, everybody makes mistakes, I have made mistakes too, here's how we can grow together, so you don't come off as self-righteous or preachy."
  • Help them learn: El Mugammar also recommends preparing resources and tools that will help loved ones learn about other perspectives. 

El Mugammar on her own 'Uncle Bob'

El Mugammar said that she too has a family member that tends to irk and offend. 

"In my extended family there's someone who's always at gatherings saying pretty casually racist things. And then following them up with, oh, but you're not like those black people," she said.

When it comes to engaging with her relatives, El Mugammar said the possibility of awkwardness is worth it.

"How am I going to bring a family friend, who might be a trans person, into that space and not address that kind of stuff?," she said. "I want to make the kind of world for my son that I want him to grow up in."

You can find more information about "Shut it, Uncle Bob!" here.

With files from Metro Morning