Notes from Alternatives Narratives for the Holidays Call

The call starts at minute marker 18:50

Here's the link.

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Introducing alternative narratives at holiday time with children toolkit:

Alternative Narratives for Holidays


Presenters: Rebecca, Julia, Zoe (Colen & Julia)

Name, city and why are you here?

Keri T- Greensboro, She, they y’all. Wanted to be more involved with SURJ but in grad school. Anxious about holidays, this is timely.

Chris. Boulder, excited this is happening to support biracial families like ours

Vivian: Pasadena, CA. Just learned about SURJ, excited because this is accessible learning opportunity. Strategies for communicating with families, sister & brother, and adjust strategies about problematic things.

Who is SURJ Families and what are our goals and values?

SURJ Families team, Julie, Rebecca & Coleen, 500 people engage in Facebook & more who are parents, caregivers & teachers, have children and young people in our lives and want to work on racial justice issues as part of our caretaking and in partnership with the next generation.

Goals: To help families take action in our communities and create tools together to support each other.

SURJ is Showing Up for Racial Justice, Core values: Calling folks in, not calling folks out. Calling people out might feel good in the moment, but it’s alienating and doesn’t get us towards our goal.

Mutual interest, understanding we won’t get anywhere if we’re perpetuating the white savior framework, we’re all in this together, racism dehumanizes all of us.

Take risks, take action, won’t be perfect, that’s how life is, we learn as we go.

Take action: keep learning, don’t get bogged down in analysis paralysis.

There’s enough for all. How things have been distributed and parceled out is the problem.

Agenda for the rest of the call:

Julie, frame the issue. Why it’s important that we talk about the holidays & issues connected to them.

Panel discussion.

Brief survey.

Q&A - richest part of these calls.

  1. Framing: Thank everyone for taking their time on Sunday to be here! Why we are on this call and what our goals are with sharing these histories.  (Julie, 5-7 mins total)

    1. Author and SURJ leader Paul Kivel talks about how holidays can be a time of connecting and rejoicing, but as progressive parents we struggle with how our country has a history of lifting up just White, mostly Christian holidays for celebration and above all, for spending money. We know we don’t want to replicate that, but sometimes get stuck in figuring out what to do instead. There are a wide range of responses, but one that we want to lift up in particular here is the idea of introducing alternative narratives. By adding holidays and stories to the cultural mix, we’re challenging the idea of a single, White, Christian, colonial American story. For me this feels promising because:

      1. It’s a joyful strategy of “enough for all” there is room for all our cultural traditions -- adding more doesn’t take away from any other.

      2. it’s not color blind, it gives us an opportunity to explore, see and celebrate other traditions - sometimes traditions from our own cultural background that had been left behind as our people assimilated into being White

      3. I find it easier strategically than asking people to remove their holiday, especially in rural communities

      4. it challenges the very idea that there is only one story, one truth and it builds our children’s ability to think critically

    2. At the same time, it feels a little scary. How do I as a White person talk about Native nations or the Hindi (Sikh and Jain) holiday of Diwali when I wasn’t taught about them myself? What is cultural appropriation and how do I avoid doing it? Our panelists are parent who are doing this work and will share their experiences navigating these dynamics.

    3. Note - we are intentionally all White parents, this call is focused on the work we can do as allies and co-conspirators. Native people and other people of color have already done a lot of work in pointing out that the way we celebrate holidays can create damaging stereotypes and make people invisible. Now it’s our turn to do the work of interrupting this. This call will only lightly touch on political conversations around the Thanksgiving table - SURJ has some resources related to calling in other adults. This call will focus more on our conversations with young children.  

    4. Our goal for this call is that you walk away with a sense of what you can do in your family, schools and communities to interrupt the single stories that we tell around the holidays which flatten and oppress a variety of American people and make us all poorer as a result.

  1. Panel introductions:

    1. We have three panelists who have been doing this who will share their experience and strategies with us:

  1. Rebecca Frederick is one of our SURJ Families organizers and a parent from Louisville, Ky.  In addition to organizing with SURJ Families she organizes with her local Louisville SURJ chapter and local Black Lives Matter organization.   She will be talking about what we can do in our families to expose accurate histories of holidays throughout the year, the importance of challenging the white, colonial, christian holiday structure in front of our children, and ways to incorporate uplifting all cultural holidays in our social and educational communities.

    1. break down the silence with our own kids. within that silence is where racism is bred & implicit bias grown. When we uplift only certain holidays, they think that’s normal. When we talk about other cultures, holidays we give power back to other cultures. When Rosh Hashanah, Diwali and other holidays come around, we can teach our children about them as beautiful traditions we don’t celebrate (cultural appropriation) but do appreciate.

      1. Decolonize halloween, christmas, easter. Don’t do crafts that are appropriative of the culture

      2. Set an empty plate for a stolen life that we can honor and uplift at the table. Ask children and family members to write the names of Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, others.

      3. Boycott Black Friday, donate to BlackLivesMatter or other youth of color group.

    2. Working within our social and educational communities to uplift all cultural holidays in an equitable way.

      1. Host a playgroup or dinner that surrounds a holiday that we don’t typically celebrate, not appropriate by reenacting, but instead educate ourselves. Educate with reading stories, learning if it’s a secular or religious holiday. Prepare some food, sing a song. Uplift rather than borrow. This is what they do, who celebrates it. We don’t celebrate it, here’s who does, and it’s a beautiful tradition.

      2. Youth can lead campaigns to have a day each month to talk about holidays that aren’t recognized, question the curriculum more broadly.

      3. Empower our children to share information about new cultures. Plants seeds for other kids.  

    3. speaking up in to change structures in front of our children and dismantling the idea of one holiday structure

      1. take kids with us to talk with teachers, administrators, so they are able to take that knowledge and do it themselves

      2. At the table, don’t see us arguing with our family at Thanksgiving dinner. The goal isn’t to find the bigots, it’s to share our stories and explain how we feel & why.

  1. Julia Tibbetts is a parent from Sioux Falls, South Dakota who has a 10 year old and another on the way - she currently works at local nonprofit within the mental health sector and is facilitating an organization to address and combat racism within South Dakota. She will be talking about her experience offering educators alternative narratives of Native Americans in her daughter’s 1st grade class, the conversations they shared, and more on how to support Native Americans today by rejecting old, false, dehumanizing stereotypes within these stories.

    1. 10 year old daughter now. In 1st grade, Thanksgiving project came up. She came home talking about the typical Indians & Pilgrims thing. Volunteered with the class. Talked to a native friend, brought in a project about medicine wheels. Would have done some things different, but glad that she jumped in.

    2. Conversations in the call after, her daughter talked about Indians, Julia explained that we want to recognize people, now her daughter talks about Native Americans. South Dakota, 9 different reservations. Before these conversations, daughter thought about the stereotypes of loincloths & feathers. Moved to talking about people in their lives who are native, make it less invisible. For them it’s really easy because large native population, but anywhere you can learn about the native tribes who lived there before colonization & genocide. If there are events that you can go to with kids, pow-wows. Talk about local, national and international (aboriginal/indigenous) issues. Advocate for oversight of local issues, go to demonstrations and protests with kids.

    3. A lot of things you’re not taught in school are real things that happen here. For example, look up the Dakota 38. On December 26, President Lincoln ordered the massacre of 38 Lakota people. Talk about that around the winter holidays.

    4. Find local native artists for holiday gift giving. Make sure that magazines and books in house reflect living Native cultures. Daughter does a great job of bringing this things up with other families and adults.

  1. Zoe Williams is a parent from Denver who has two children (Aster and Oriole). They have 16 years of organizing experience. Currently Zoë works for 9to5 Colorado and organizes in Denver SURJ. They will be talking about lessons they learned from taking action (both successfully and unsuccessfully) from disrupting racist or culturally appropriative events.

    1. Been active with multi-cultural organizing.

    2. Heard that there would be a pageant, teaching White kids to sing songs from Pocahontas. They talked to the staff and said you shouldn’t do that, the staff disagreed, they went to the administrators, and it was cancelled, but they didn’t meet their goals, because staff didn’t learn more about the issue.

    3. Instead, there was a Dia de los Muertos event with mostly White students planned. Concerns about cultural appropriation, white artists making money off of another tradition. Thought about a lot of strategies, pulling student fees, etc.

      1. Talk to educators as early as possible, before they have plans or are attached to them.

      2. Approach with mutual interest & shared values. Some teachers have never been in a classroom where you don’t make a hand turkey and

        1. I know we both care about: teaching alternative perspectives,  

        2. Create an alternative: opt out of harmful behaviors and show them alternatives. Solen festival, family’s education story or labor movement.

        3. Make space for


How to talk in front of kids without tokenizing kids of color in the room. What if it gets heated?

  • Talk from your perspective, why is the confederate flag flying bad for you and your children to see?

Can you give an example of mutual interest?

What can I do as an auntie? I live far away, I’m concerned with what my niece and nephew are being exposed to. How to have conversations without making the whole relationship be about that or being seen as the crazy auntie.

  • Family book club. Offering alternative narratives

  • Planting seeds, never know where people are in their journey. Share our perspective. Long term relationship building.

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