Red Table Talk: A Model For All Thanksgiving Tables

Thanksgiving is notorious for being a day where time with family is marred by everyone's clashing politics, especially in today’s political climate. We all have to resist the urge to throw a drumstick at the relative who refuses to criticize a president who has repeatedly discriminated against Americans of all races, sexualities, and genders. From trans erasure to putting migrants at the border in cages, there is a lot to be on edge about this Thanksgiving, and perhaps not so grateful about. We know taking up these conversations with family can be difficult, especially in an age where everyone is talking at each other, instead of really conversing. Finding a way to mediate your family Thanksgiving table may be challenging, but it is not impossible. The Red Table Talk Show by Jada Pinkett Smith is the perfect example of how we can navigate tough conversations across generations.

Jada Pinkett Smith’s new show, Red Table Talk, includes three generations of women—Jada, her daughter Willow, and her mother, Adrienne. Covering a range of topics such as motherhood, sex, and surviving loss. They recently tackled one of the most burning hot topics of our time—The Racial Divide: Women of Color & White Women.

As an extension of this episode, Jada created a Facebook live post to further discuss race relations.

Image from Facebook Live Post

To begin the discussion, the three women tackle the concept of race, honing in on the fact that it has been socially constructed, not proven or created by science. So much hangs on this misconception that has plagued American race relations and politics that Jada presses with conviction, “We are one human race!” As the women explain, race is simply the different names we (as society) have labeled different hues of skin color, it is not a scientific fact of division. We’ve allowed the concept of color to permeate our ways of relating to one another such as creating laws of divide over it, and inferiorizing people’s voices while prioritizing others. Jada and Willow cannot stress the point enough, “We can always appreciate culture, but still understand there is only one human race.” On this point, Jada tries to soften the hard ties we have to our individual cultures, while still always remembering that it should not be a reason for division, but rather of appreciation.  

To this end, I believe Jada and Willow want to stress that we all come from various backgrounds that can embed themselves in specific experiences, and while we are entitled to our individual experiences we must also be sensitive to the ones we are unable to speak for. Each Thanksgiving brings this challenge—knowing when to share and when to listen. Sometimes it’s can be hard to share, and sometimes it can be even more difficult to listen. But this is where the work and change happens.

Later on, the three tackle the fine art of having conversations among people of different races and how to position ourselves despite the anger that may arise. From my own experience, I understand that I have to be aware of my body as a white female and how it reflects itself to the world. I have to remind myself of my historical positioning and walk through the world accordingly. However, at times this awareness does not stop me from experiencing others’ anger towards my body. The anger that arises from institutional oppression cannot be the solution to a problem that has risen from violence. As Willow explains, “Nobody—nobody, wants to feel wrong, and that’s the main problem. When you come into a situation, and you’re like, you hurt me—even, if deep down they know it’s true— that sets them off.” Our egos are part of the problem—on both sides. From anger creates a situation in which fingers are being pointed with no direction towards finding common ground or resolution. Instead, it creates a situation in which both parties begin to dislike one another and out of it flows anger.

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When a hot-button issue like interracial marriage comes up in the conversation, Willow always seems to become a mediator between Jada and Adrienne. Though they may have differing opinions, Willow interjects with kind calming strokes on her mother’s arm, buffered with laughter, and “okay, okay, okay” that seems to reel Jada’s passion back a couple notches. When Jada finally gets a moment to be perceptive towards her mother’s (Adrienne) reactions she calms down and creates the space for her mother’s words. Adrienne then says, “Hear me, when I say...” as a phrase that gets to the crux of her needs for the conversation to develop. It’s these moments where you see the real effort in the debate to create a conversation that is worthy of everyone’s time and attention. In hard conversations, we must know what to ask from our company to make the time meaningful, and know when to step back and give room for others to contribute.

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Americans can be so set in their opinions that they hoard their hate (to what really may be directed towards themselves) for others and refuse to admit when they are wrong. We as a society have become incapable of really speaking and relating to one another because of this fundamental insecurity. Jada breaches the subject in discussion with Adrienne by offering an answer to the roadblock:

“At the end of the day we have to be in a place of emotional maturity. This is really about what you are trying to achieve. And I know it’s difficult, I know it’s hard, Gam (Adrienne), but at the end of the day, our anger only creates more of that. I’m not saying we can’t have it. I’m not saying we can’t be angry.” Dissolving anger, from people who appear different from us, and from our own self-hate is a way towards being compassionate for others in the world and towards reaching the truths of the subjects at hand. It may sound simple—listen more, speak less, and love yourself but clearly that is what we all still need to work on.

Annie Price, a producer for the show, joins the couch with a beautiful revelation on privilege. She says, “To me, privilege  has always meant something extra. To me, having white privilege, as a white woman, means things that don’t happen to me. The things that I do not experience [in effect of having privilege]. That’s where I feel like I don’t understand and would come back to this conversation and say—tell me.”

Image From Facebook Live Post​

Annie really wedges a knife in the discourse on privilege. As many of us might have heard before, and perhaps relayed to us, “Check your privilege.” But what if some of us aren’t even there yet? As Annie illustrates, those with privilege don’t experience oppression, discrimination, or violence, which would leave a gap in the discourse. What needs to happen is a general openness to have discussions to share experiences, and for others to be willing to listen so that we can learn from one another rather than labeling each other as ignorant. It’s one thing to willingly dismiss the conversation, it’s another to be completely unaware of it. In this regard, we may want to take a step back from calling our relatives names when there is a huge learning gap that needs to be filled that requires patience, understanding, and emotional maturity to handle.

Some may argue that the oppressed shouldn’t have to educate the oppressor. And while this may be true, to altogether deny a discussion with people who are willing to discuss only feeds into the problem and divide. I truly believe, people want change, but they don’t want to talk to anyone who’s opinion differs from their own. We have failed to invest in others experiences—of fear, of hurt, or guilt—on both sides. The change, the understanding, has to happen at a table like Jada’s, in which those from different generations, with differing opinions and experiences still meet to tackle the issues of today. In other words, engage with people at your Thanksgiving table and save your drumstick and cranberry sauce for your stomachs.

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