Dear Amy: At a family gathering, I completely lost it when my brother-in-law started spouting birther conspiracies.
I called him a racist effing moron and stormed out.
I know I did not handle this well. But what else could I do?
I try not to talk politics with that side of the family, but I believe racism must not go unchallenged. Should I apologize for my heated response? — Not (Usually) a Hothead
Dear Hothead: Let’s stipulate that your assessment of your brother-in-law might be 100 percent correct. However. You should have read the room (likely crowded with family and, I assume, children), and chosen to behave better than he.
As we enter the holiday gathering season, many families (including my own) are facing these relational challenges. It is a huge lift to gather with family members who have extremely divergent political views — and yes, some people seem emboldened to express genuinely bizarre — and hateful — beliefs.
Ideally, we would all be able to gather as families and engage in spirited but respectful conversations regarding the news of the day.
I don’t know any family that actually manages to do this (including my own).
Your brother-in-law spouted a demonstrably false conspiracy theory directed at our former president. You responded not by attacking his views and debunking them, but by attacking him personally and directly, using a profanity, and then storming out.
In leaving the way you did, you turned the conversation away from him and his obnoxious beliefs, and onto you and your obnoxious behavior.
Who do you think really “won” that encounter? He baited the hook and you bit.
Must you tolerate the intolerable? Absolutely not. In the future, shut (or shout) this down, but don’t surrender your own humanity.
In terms of apologizing, I do think you should at least acknowledge your behavior: “Donald, I realize I blew up the last time I saw you. Your views are deeply insulting, but I responded by attacking you, when I should have attacked your point of view.”
I suggest holiday hosts this year might want to announce a moratorium on talking about topics that might lead to this sort of exchange (are there any topics left?).
I assume that many families will have gaps at their holiday table, as some people will choose to stay away, rather than face the sort of scene you’ve described.
Here’s a quote I saw today from the Dalai Lama: “A fundamentally positive approach is to take account of the oneness of humanity. Dividing the world into “us and them” might have worked in the past, but it doesn’t work anymore. We have to talk through our problems with our opponents, thinking of them as fellow human beings.”
Dear Amy: I am curious about how to choose which of your nationality/races you should claim — or whether you should go with the one you mainly are.
According to an Ancestry DNA, I am of Scottish, Irish, Australian Aboriginal and Maori descent in that order of percentage and I refer to myself as American Irish.
I have been told off by African Americans for not “claiming” my Aboriginal or Maori ancestry.
Am I wrong in the choice I made? — Wondering
Dear Wondering: You shouldn’t have to provide DNA percentage to stake a claim to your own identity. I was not previously aware of an official ethnic group called specifically “Irish-American,” but in researching your question I see that according to the 2017 American Community Survey an estimated 32.6 million Americans identify as Irish-Americans, so you are part of a very large group. (Knowing this puts the mad celebrations surrounding St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago into perspective.)
Your Aboriginal DNA sounds particularly intriguing. You must have claimed this ancestry in some context, which is why others have commented on your choice, but without any personal or cultural experiences to link it to, I can understand why you don’t identify with it.
Dear Amy: “Stuck” was a military wife whose husband lived elsewhere. You described her as “a single parent.” I take great exception to that. She has a husband in the military. Like many military families, they are separated, but he is still her husband and the kids’ father. He may co-parent from a distance, but she is not a single parent. — Military Wife
Dear Wife: I understand the distinction you are making, but “Stuck” never mentioned her husband participating in their parenting life. Her question was about doing it alone. “de-facto single parent” might have been a better word choice for me.
You can email Amy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.