There is that famous old saying that one should never discuss politics or religion at the dinner table. But an organization created to help white people talk to other whites about race is urging the opposite approach this Thanksgiving.
Many Americans have expressed anxiety over attending this year’s holiday meal if the company’s politics will be mixed. But Showing Up for Racial Justice, or SURJ (pronounced Surge), is urging that people not shy away from uncomfortable conversations.
And if the conversation hits a stalemate, SURJ has created a hotline that provides real-time support to keep the dialogue going.
Inspired by Butterball’s decades-old hotline that provides turkey-cooking help over the holiday season, SURJ’s version invites anyone to text SOS to 82623 to receive a menu of hot-button topics including immigration, the economy, a “Muslim ban” and when someone says “I’m not a racist.” Then SURJ will send a brief talking point on that topic to help guide the conversation.
If the text prompt won’t do, there will also be representatives standing by to call the person and coach them through how to respond thoughtfully and not aggressively.
SURJ, a Washington-based nonprofit, was created in 2009 by white people to respond to anticipated racial backlash after President Barack Obama took office. Its mission was to educate and organize white people to understand their role in confronting racism.
Since Donald Trump’s election, interest in the group has increased, as many white people have wondered what they could have done, and now what they should do going forward, about racism and bigotry in America.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the hotline had already received 1,000 texts and 27 requests for calls.
The nonprofit has also created a discussion guide for starting or responding to political conversations over Thanksgiving.
“Most folks will shut down if they feel like they are being attacked,” SURJ’s guide says. “Try thinking about what you know about this person. Are they a parent? Do they volunteer in their community? What are their values? Approach from this place, not from one of disagreement. Also, if it feels safe, consider sharing your personal story. Often times, personal connection to an issue is what creates transformation.”
The aim is not to get into a back-and-forth argument, or to win a debate, said Heather Cronk of SURJ.
“We’re trying to give a little bit of a way to redirect the question back to facts,” she said, “and evoke some empathy.”