Relax, I’m not going to ruin our evening by calling out the casually racist comment Carol just made. As someone who picks her battles, I know when to stand up and right a wrong and when it’ll just make a dinner party uncomfortable, and also business meetings, bottomless brunches, book clubs, sporting events, 2-for-1 nights at Olive Garden, and Uber Pools. The timing has to be just right, and unfortunately, the time is not now, later, or earlier.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m passionate about the fight for racial justice and equality. But when it forces me to confront friends, family, and my own unconscious bias through a simple conversation over pot roast, well then, that’s when I say, “Carol, could you please pass the mashed potatoes?”
Sure, I could speak up when Carol refers to immigrants as “criminals and rapists” to make my home a safer place for people of color, and by extension, incrementally chip away at racist ideologies entrenched in society. But what if Carol dies of embarrassment? Not die in the literal sense, like the six migrant children who have actually died after being detained in camps at the border. More in the sense of storming out and never speaking to me again. I think we can all agree that an intimate three-course meal among close friends isn’t the time to get “political.” So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be in the kitchen checking on the rolls.
I know how much we need to discuss problematic behavior if we’re ever going to change it. But at the moment, I’m more concerned with centering my own comfort and Carol’s feelings. Also, I never pick a battle within thirty minutes of any meal. Otherwise, I could cramp up, get indigestion, or get the side-eye from Carol. As my personal hero Dr. King once said about those lunch counter sit-ins, “We all deserve to eat.” Now, who wants pie?
Besides, Steven doesn’t look offended. As the only person of color here tonight, if a little unsavory remark DID strike a nerve, surely he would say something. But as just one white person surrounded by a group of other mostly white people who can pick and choose when to deal with the pervasiveness of racism, I prefer to wait until after we finish eating, everyone has left, and my chakras are fully aligned. Then I will personally interrogate tonight’s volley of offensive statements, to prepare for the vital confrontation to come.
Some people just aren’t as woke as others! Ken doesn’t realize that saying, “I don’t see race” refuses to acknowledge the very existence of racism, which does nothing to solve it. While pointing that out could inspire a meaningful discussion about how racism persists both systemically and through individuals, right now to avoid the responsibility of addressing his remark, I’ll accidentally trip over the rug and send this roast chicken flying across the room.
The battles I pick are fun, upbeat, and look good on social media. They don’t interfere with my work schedule or circadian rhythm, and they are aligned with the phases of the moon. Do you honestly think that Rosa Parks would have started those bus boycotts if she wasn’t on her way home during a waxing crescent?
What happens to the battles I don’t pick? Nothing. They don’t normalize racist ideologies or further cement the stronghold of white supremacy or anything like that. They just float off into the air like balloons being carried by the wind of non-change.
So tonight, when Clark calls Colin Kaepernick “unpatriotic” for kneeling during the national anthem, I won’t drag down the whole evening with a long, drawn-out diatribe on systemic oppression and police brutality. Instead, I’ll escape the stress of a potentially unpleasant exchange by faking a seizure and falling to the floor. And when Christy tells another racist joke, to keep the peace, I’ll thrash my body into the table, knocking the candles over and setting the tablecloth on fire.
I know we’re all concerned about this country’s alarming rise in hate crimes, white nationalist terrorism, the children locked in cages at the border, and the use of violent, racially charged rhetoric. We need to get to the roots of these issues, and we will when the time is right, and the dinner table isn’t going up in flames.