(originally posted 05/08 at wordpress)
by mae stephenson
A few weeks ago, Sally Eck gave an inspiring lecture on interrupting oppression as part of the Faculty Favorite Lecture Series that happens every Thursday. An interruption is something you do when you notice someone making an oppressive statement or action. It could be any action you take from stating something like, "That's sexist" and walking away to sitting down and having an in-depth conversation with someone about the effects of oppression in our society. The lecture made me think of my father, whom I've always had a tumultuous relationship with, but of course, love dearly. Despite our frequent disagreements, he tries really hard to maintain a relationship with me and truly listen when I call him out on an action I disagree with (even if he doesn't always understand my point of view).
I'm not the best "interrupter," especially when it comes to my father. I often get upset and show frustration instead of calmly explaining how his statement is oppressive. But recently, when I interrupted him after making a racist joke, he actually apologized and said that he hadn't said a particular racist phrase since I had called him out on it several months ago. He explained that it's hard to "unlearn" all the racist jokes he's heard since he was child. It was definitely inspiring. But it was nothing compared to the way he made me feel this past weekend.
For Mother's Day weekend, which also happens to be my nephew's birthday weekend, my family stayed at my sister's house. Her husband's family stayed there as well. It's the most common place we celebrate holidays, and often, both families are present; you could say we've gotten to know each other relatively well. We generally play a board game or a round of Texas Hold'em, and during such a game, Gramps (my brother-in-law's grandfather) told a racist joke. Before I could even open my mouth, my own father did an interruption. It. Was. Amazing. He managed to smoothly and tactfully let Gramps know that he didn't appreciate racist jokes, but that he himself was known to let them slip now and again because he heard them so much growing up and they were ingrained in his memory. He managed to relate to Gramps while interrupting him. I was speechless, and I was so proud of my father. Not only was I proud-- I actually felt educated from watching such a skillful interruption.
Do you have any stories about particularly inspiring interruptions? What are your family dynamics like when it comes to understanding oppression?