What’s with all the "racist uncles"?

It’s holiday season again, that magical time of year when families gather, feasts are prepared, and media outlets tell you how to argue with your racist uncle. To judge by these articles, millions of Americans heading home for the holidays are dreading a confrontation with an uncle — always an uncle — who expresses heinous opinions during an otherwise congenial supper. And yet people don’t want to spoil the holidays for everyone by fighting.

There are many peculiar things about this genre, which has taken the shape of bots and hotlines that promise to assist you in outsmarting your uncle. Strangest may be the implied conviction that if it weren’t for racial politics, families wouldn’t get into ugly rows over Thanksgiving dinner. But perhaps more striking is the way this trope papers over the existence of broader familial racism. Racist parents are nowhere to be seen in these fables, nor are racist brothers and sisters. There isn’t even a whisper of a racist aunt, never mind a racist niece or nephew. In the happy world of the racist uncle, bigots stopped reproducing in the 1960s and survive only in the form of childless, middle-aged males who go to their siblings’ houses for the holidays.

Of course, “Seven Ways to Argue With Your Racist Mom” is an inherently more depressing title, and in the name of fun holiday fare, it’s tempting to just let this pass. But, especially at Thanksgiving — a holiday that already requires us to overlook quite a lot of ethnic baggage — it’s worth pausing to look at the ways these articles perpetuate common fallacies about racism.

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