Surviving Thanksgiving as a Liberal: A Southern Tale

by Katiee McKinstry
Katiee McKinstry

If you grew up in the South, you’re probably a little like me. I was born in Chattanooga Tennessee, but quickly moved to North Georgia to be raised in a deep southern Republican family. Sweet tea is a religion, and Donald Trump pretty much “hung the moon” as my family members might say.

As you can imagine, with Joe Biden taking the election, things around here are pretty tense. While I dance in celebration, my family members feel crushed, angry, and sad. I had dinner at my father’s house the day it was announced and he sat there deflated, not comprehending how his country could have turned against his values. It reminded me of how I felt after the 2016 election. How did we go from Barack Obama to Ronald McDonald?

Politics is not something that’s easy to navigate in my family. Everyone seems to be extremely vocal on their beliefs and for the most part they don’t align with mine. If I allowed their political opinions to dominate my opinion of them as people, I would be left without a family. So, how do I even begin to navigate this? Do I disown my conservative loved ones or do I offer an olive branch? Can it be that simple?

Are there any support groups out there? “I’m Katiee and I’m a liberal at the conservative Thanksgiving table.”

The short answer: yes. But let’s back up just a little bit.

In October of this year, my grandfather passed away from COVID-19. This was devastating for my entire family. I’m the oldest grandchild and during this time I felt I assumed the role of the fourth child. I was at my grandmother’s house every step of the way, helping make funeral plans and big decisions. While I know my father and aunts did much more than me, I feel like I still did a lot. My family are my people. I cannot bear to lose any more time with them. This Thanksgiving will be the first holiday without my grandfather, who I was very, very close to.

My grandfather was the most Republican member of my family, yet we could spend hours “shooting the breeze” as he would say. We chatted for hours about books, debated about the ethics of journalism, and played our favorite music for each other. Politics just didn’t seem to be important because quality time and love would always be the priority. If I had let my grandfather’s views impact our relationship, I wouldn’t have gotten to spend that time with him, so I don’t regret it.

The key is to have an open mind and a sense of humor.

Growing up in the South, you are saturated with conservative politics. From being in the Bible Belt, to seeing a Confederate flag on every corner, you realize quickly that Georgia and Atlanta are two separate entities. However, when you listen to your loved ones discuss their political beliefs, you can start to glean exactly where they’re coming from. It’s like “Gone with the Wind” meets “Birth of a Nation.” Lots of smiles and gravy but not much progress. There used to be a cordiality to it all but the divisiveness is jarring. No jam intended.

I could see that my grandparents were raised in a way that created a conservative environment for them, and they proceeded to raise their children the same way. I understand their views on money, taxes, and the like. As they tell me what they believe, I download that information, and share my opinion too. Same thing goes with my conservative father and brother as well. We have open, healthy discussions, and that’s the trick. We don’t love each other any less, but we move on and we grow.

When big family events roll around, politics does seem to come up quite often. I know that the election is still fresh, and my family is going to have some thoughts on it. So, I’m prepared. I’ve done my research on all the candidates, and formed my opinions on what I value, and voted accordingly. I don’t think it’s any secret I’m more liberal, as I get teased about it from family constantly. However, I choose to have an open mind, and I’m willing to listen to anything that they throw my way. I love them, and they are all incredibly smart people I’m honored to have in my life. They deserve the opportunity to share, just as I do. You know, within reason.

The basis of politics is education. If you’re well researched on your candidates, what they stand for and the plans they have, you can make an informed voting decision. A lot of southerners tend to follow along with what their family says, rather than educating themselves and forming their own opinions. That’s the name of the game, but you can be prepared. Know your stuff and come at it compassionately. Stay calm and be open to a healthy discussion. 2020 demonstrated the impact of blindly voting based by party. It tugged at all of our heartstrings.

If you’ve made it this far and you’re wondering what in the world to do on Thanksgiving, I’ll tell you. Avoid it. Give new meaning to the word stuffing as you keep your mouth full and shut between bites! Enjoy the time with your loved ones, and be thankful they are still here on this planet. We are going through so much this year. Tell your loved ones how much you love them and how much they matter. You never know what day could be their last, and sometimes you have to put your differences aside.

For one day. Just one. Then, maybe, open the floor for some healthy dialogue where you both have the opportunity to share, download, and understand. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. Oh, and volunteer to pour the wine! A splash for you! A splash for me! Make that sweet tea with a twist!

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