Words by Mia McKenzie
Drawings by Ritapa Neogi
When I was a little kid, I was always the first one up on Christmas morning. I’d lie in bed for a few minutes trying to telepathically communicate to my sleeping family members that it was time to wake up, but it never worked, so I’d creep up to my sisters’ beds, stare at them really hard, then, when that didn’t work either, I’d shake them.
Good Christmases have far outnumbered bad ones for me, so my feelings about the holiday are overwhelmingly positive. As an adult, I still get excited at Christmastime, especially now because I have a wife who also loves Christmas. This year, we got our tree the weekend after Thanksgiving. That’s how eager we were! It died like three days later because we possibly suck at choosing trees BUT THAT’S SO BESIDE THE POINT OMG WHY ARE YOU EVEN BRINGING THAT UP, BRUH?
The thing about having a Christmas-loving wife—or I guess any wife—is that she also has a family. Which means I have in-laws. In-laws are a phenomenon I haven’t quite figured out how to navigate yet. They’re these people you don’t really know that well who are suddenly related to you and who you now spend time with during the holidays. It’s weird.
Don’t get me wrong. My in-laws are generous, funny, warm, loyal, loving people. I like them a lot. I’m not just saying that because they might be reading this. There is much to like about them. But many of my in-laws are white. Puerto Ricans but…still. White Puerto Ricans. I have Black in-laws, too, but I don’t see them as much. My wife is currently one of only two brown Latinx in her immediate family.
What does this all mean? IT MEANS THERE ARE A LOT OF WHITE PEOPLE AT CHRISTMAS, Y’ALL. And I’m not gonna lie, I don’t entirely know how to handle it because—and I think we can all agree on this—white people have questionable ass views.
One of my in-laws, for example, tried to argue at a family cookout this summer that Donald Trump isn’t racist and that we “shouldn’t believe everything the media tells us.” When I was like, “Erm…‘Mexicans are rapists’ is racist doe” he pointed out that Trump “wasn’t talking about all Latinos.” Just Mexicans. Um…ok but…THAT DOESN’T MAKE IT BETTER, SIR. He somehow seemed to think it did, so I was like pardon me while I go eat this burger close enough that you can still see me but far enough away that you can’t talk to me anymore.
Luckily, he’s the only Trump supporter in the family, as far as I know. At least in the immediate family. The rest of them are liberals. They like Hillary Clinton. They like Barack Obama. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but if you know anything about me, you know I do not enjoy liberals. I’m a radical Black feminist. Liberals mostly fill me with murderous rage. My in-laws don’t necessarily fill me with rage…Well, except that one time one of them brought mac and cheese for Thanksgiving and THAT SHIT HAD VANILLA WAFERS CRUSHED ON TOP.
Mac and cheese with vanilla wafers on top is an abomination on the same level as:
- Vienna Sausages (nothing that looks like a baby’s dick should be consumed as food)
- ventriloquist dummies (how many times does Satan have to communicate through one of those things before y’all learn?) and
- people who say “over-exaggerate” (WHY. ARE. YOU. DOING. THAT?)
It’s not okay.
But what’s worse—yes, even worse than mac and cheese with cookies baked onto it—is that same in-law loves to make wink-wink jokes about how much he likes “dark meat” when he’s asked what kind of turkey he wants. Which makes me want to spit in his food. Just spit alllllllll up in his nasty ass vanilla wafer mac and cheese. Or at least, you know, yell at him. But as one of my friends pointed out, the weird thing about having in-laws is that they’re supposed to be your family but you’re not supposed to yell at them. OKAY BUT WHO AM I SUPPOSED TO YELL AT THEN???????
Even my non-white in-laws say questionable shit. For example:
- One of them, a brown Latina, says it should be All Lives Matter, not Black Lives Matter because that’s ‘divisive’ (Oh, if only Black people were as smart as non-Black people who have our struggles all figured out, amirite?)
- Another one, a bi-racial Black woman, likes to differentiate between “ghetto Black people” and whatever kind of Black people she thinks she and I are (I’m actually from the ghetto, so this one is both troubling and confusing)
So, yeah. It’s a lot. Is what I’m saying.
People who only “know” me from my writing probably imagine that I go around arguing with people all day every day, just getting all up in their faces and shouting “woke” stuff at every opportunity.
But that’s not reality. I’m actually a person, not a badass Black concept. And as an actual person, I don’t enjoy perpetual conflict. I especially don’t want to spend time and energy arguing with non-Black folks about my humanity and the humanity of my people. It’s at the top of the list of things I don’t want to argue about. (Farther down on that list, but still relevant:
- Whether or not it’s okay to fart on a plane. It’s not. Nobody wants to smell your fucking farts, okay? And yes, by the way, the person in the seat next to you knows it’s you, you stinky fuck.
- Whether or not “irregardless” is a word. It’s not. You sound ridiculous, Tyrone. Trust me, I’m just trying to help you.
- Whether savory grits are better than sweet grits. They are. But, you know what? In a pinch I’ll eat the sweet grits, too, so, upon further consideration, I don’t really have a dog in this fight.)
I also just really don’t want to be in constant awkward conflict with my in-laws. Like, yeah, I want that one in-law to know that she doesn’t get to tell Black people how to do activism and that her uninformed ass opinions on our struggles are paternalistic and anti-Black as fuck. And, yeah, I want that other in-law to understand how gross and offensive it is when he fetishizes dark-skinned people. BITCH, WE’RE NOT MEAT! AND AS LONG AS I’M ALREADY YELLING LET ME REPEAT: MAC AND CHEESE WITH COOKIES ON IT IS SOME DEVIL SHIT.
But I don’t call them out. Because, honestly, it’s fucking tiring. Instead, I complain about it all to my wife when we get home.
My wife does call her family members out on their questionable shit when I ask her to. And sometimes when I don’t. It hasn’t really made much of a difference. But she does try.
In the end, I’m left half-dreading holidays with my in-laws. Why only half-dreading, you ask? Because I really do like most of them. My abuela-in-law is one of my favorite people to be around because she’s eighty-nine and curmudgeonly as fuck and it’s hilarious. She will legit lean over and whisper some shit-talk in your ear about somebody’s hair or outfit or beard or really anything about them that she deems ripe for critique in the moment. If you, like me, lowkey enjoy hearing shit-talk about people, it’s great. My mother-in-law would legit cut a bitch for me and, honestly, that’s one of my favorite qualities in a human being. And you know what? I also really love my “ghetto Black people”-musing in-law. She’s great when she’s not doing that. I even like my vanilla-wafer-mac-and-cheese-dark-meat-jokes in-law. I laugh with him a lot when he’s not being an annoying, fetishizing ass white boy.
But what I’d love to feel, as a radical Black woman, is that I don’t have to worry that an important topic will come up over Christmas dinner and I’ll be traumatized. What I’d love is to feel safe around my in-laws. That would require them to take a harder look at some of their views and take the time to try and understand some things better. If I have a Christmas wish, it’s that they’d do that.
So, yeah. There are things I love and things I don’t love about my new family members. Which I guess is a lot like how I feel about my actual blood relatives. I gave up on not being traumatized by my blood relatives a long time ago, though. I still have some hope for my in-laws.