The Dinner Table

Bystander Intervention at the Dinner Table, from our friends at iHollaback

Things can get escalated at the dinner table for some folks. The holidays are a time to connect with family — people who may or may not share your views — which can be healing. It can also be deeply triggering, particularly in family spaces when you are targeted for being who you are.

Does your dinner table look like this?

There are lots of resources available for how to connect with people across differences (check out these resources on race and intersectionality from SURJ – Showing Up For Racial Justice), but today we want to talk about what to do when you see another family member in distress. The overall question being: How do you take care of them?

First things first, you probably already know who at the table is the most vulnerable. Before dinner even starts, have a conversation with them. Tell them you’ve got their back. You can even come up with a special code word, or tell them to text you SOS if they need help. Offer to sit between them and the person most likely to target them.

The next steps are things to do in the moment, once the disrespect or harassment has begun:

  • Direct. Take a deep breathe, and plant yourself (put your back on your chair, your feet on the floor, and your butt in your seat). Calmly tell Aunt Nancy, “I know you care about Jordan. I think there is a better way to show it.” Or if that’s too on the nose try a question instead, “Aunt Nancy, what did you mean by that?”
  • Distract. In the SNL piece we see the kid putting on Adele. Brilliant. This is all about de-escalating the situation in the moment. You can try butting in and saying something, say “it smells like something is burning, can you help me Jordan?” or start up a conversation with Jordan about literally anything to get them out of the conversation they are currently in. Try, “do you have any travel coming up this year?” or even, “what are you grateful for?” It is the reason for the season, after all.
  • Delegate. This is where Uncle Jim comes in. If you’re worried you won’t be taken seriously, tag team with someone at the table who will. Ask Uncle Jim before the meal starts to be on team-Jordan, or elbow him during the meal to say something.
  • Document. Our brains are wired to forget the details of trauma. Then later when we’re trying to address it — family members will say “I never said that!” We’ve all been there. Avoid it by writing down exactly what people said. If you think you need to, consider recording the conversation. In the words of Jorge Arteaga, our Director of Operations, “sometimes you just can’t see yourself.”
  • Delay. OK, this is the one we all can do.  Check in with the person who was harassed. This can take the form of texting them in the middle of dinner, or asking them to help you with something so you can ask if they are OK. You can also just wait until the meal is over for a longer, more meaningful check in. Just don’t leave them to think they are alone in this.

Worried about something specific that wasn’t addressed here? Email us at and we’ll try to help.

Have a great holiday season!

With love & gratitude,


P.S. Know someone else who needs this information? Feel free to forward it.