Order! When family fights get political

5 mins
08 Sep 2022
Order! When family fights get political

Is there a way to move past political differences?

words Louis Staples

What do you do when you disagree with your family politically?

It’s a question people have been talking about this week, because of an overblown controversy involving Sydney Sweeney, the actor who you’ll likely know from HBO’s Euphoria and The White Lotus.

What happened? Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll know that Sweeney threw her mother a surprise 60th birthday “hoedown” party and posted the pictures on Instagram. Some people took issue with the pictures, because quite a lot of Sweeney’s family were wearing, shall we say, “MAGA-adjacent” attire.

Sweeney went on Twitter and urged people not to make assumptions about her family’s political views, calling the controversy “absurd”. And it must be said that the costumes at the hoedown seem to be semi-ironic. So while there’s definitely a debate to be had about whether anyone should be wearing “Blue Lives Matter” gear “ironically”, we still don’t know Sweeney’s family’s views differ from her own. Regardless, Sweeney’s fans have been out in force defending her this week, with many sharing stories about how they disagree with their own family on political issues.

They aren’t alone. A report by NPR found that Americans are more polarised than ever, with both Republicans and Democrats saying they don’t have many friends with different political views. Friends are one thing, but family members – who we don’t choose – are another. It’s much more common for people to disagree with their family members, particularly across generational and urban vs rural lines. In the UK, a report found that one in 20 people had lost contact with family and friends over Brexit, specifically, with young people most likely to sever ties over political differences.

But what if people don’t want to cut ties completely? (Or simply can’t afford to, for financial reasons?) Is there a way to move past political differences? Woo speaks to young people who have done just that, to find out how they did it.

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“We agreed to disagree”

I first started to become politically active about five years ago, when I was at uni, when the Brexit referendum had just happened. My parents live in rural Essex and are pro-Brexit Tories. Until I went to university I wasn’t very political, but when I moved to study in Brighton I met lots of different people and learned a lot more about politics. Brighton has a Green MP and I went to the university hustings in 2017, which led to me campaigning for Caroline Lucas in 2019. My parents were not happy about this and definitely come from the generation where you don’t really discuss politics at the dinner table. It created quite a lot of arguments between us at first, but we eventually learned to agree to disagree. (But this was helped by Boris/Brexit turning out to be a total disaster!)

Tanya, 23, London

“We found an issue we agree on”

My dad and I used to argue all the time about politics and the economy. But one thing that has helped is the climate crisis being one thing we really agree on. We (definitely) have different views about exactly how to address it, but we both feel very strongly about it and have even attended climate demos together despite being at opposite ends of the political spectrum. I’d say it can help to focus on one big issue you agree on, if there is one, rather than all the many things which you don’t agree on.

Martha, 24, London

“We don’t discuss it”

My parents are the type of people who buy into the idea that young people are “snowflakes” who can’t handle a debate. But whenever I challenged them on their deranged right-wing takes on things that were never based in the real-world, they could never handle it! They would blow up at me. After a very bad row about the BLM protests in 2020 we had to decide never to discuss politics or anything political, because it always led to a fight. It’s not ideal but what else can you do?

Luke, 22, Manchester

“Try to fact check”

I used to get so angry with my mum and dad about their political views, until I started realising there was a direct link with the type of media and social media they were using. Now, whenever they come out with something that sounds outlandish or incorrect, I try to find out where they learned that from and fact-check it. There has been a few times where it has turned out they’ve seen something on Facebook or an unreliable source and I’ve either fact-checked it myself, or shown them a fact-check on something like FullFact. If you can go about it the right way, it can change their minds on some individual issues, even if you still don’t agree on lots of other things.

Damian, 26, Birmingham

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