My Tufts Daily Column (2/21) – Where is the symposium on family diplomacy?

Brionna Jimerson | Respect Your Elders

Where is the symposium on family diplomacy?

Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013

Brionna Jimerson column

Welcome to spring symposium season at Tufts. In the coming weeks, you will be flooded with scholars, panels, invites, experts and roving students in search of their next free lunch in the Cabot Auditorium lobby or catered reception in Alumnae Lounge. No judgment here: I will most likely be beside you, eating my fill of cheese squares and pita pieces.
But where is the symposium that teaches us how to navigate our family lives and emotionally one-sided relationships while keeping independence and self-esteem intact? I’m starting to feel like I need a conference on what I call “family diplomacy.”
To me, family diplomacy is the careful and strategic implementation of obligatory phone calls and feigned interest for the sake of some semblance of peace. I have studied alongside the best (equally despondent friends) and I have practiced in the field (Tufts — keep up!), but I still feel like a novice when I make small talk with my Midwest relations.
I treat home like I treat the annual Emerging Black Leaders (EBL) Symposium or Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship (EPIIC) Symposium: I go, sit, absorb, listen, smile politely, ask a question and then off to the airport again. I’m a few hundred dollars lighter and a couple of weeks older, emotionally and fiscally spent, wondering if the consequences of enduring a less-than-thrilling jaunt to the Midwest are worse than the judging that accompanies choosing not to go home.
It is a constant side-eyed cease-fire. The battle lines are drawn via Skype, passive-aggressive Facebook comments or tense texts. Or, if you are like me, you do not draw lines at all and hope that that brilliant explosion on the horizon distracts everyone … but it doesn’t.
A recent conversation I had with an amazing friend reaffirmed to me the significance and complexities of kinship and how family does not always connote positivity. We mused on our mutual sacrifice of our sanity for the “greater good of home.” The alternative of asserting yourself can be worse and potentially more dangerous, especially if you depend on family for social or financial support.
“I’m tired of being hopeful and being hurt in the process,” he said. When he left, I cried and then watched “Scandal” because that’s kind of where my life is right now.
So, what do you do when your warped sense of familial respect and duty is one-sided and all-encompassing, with no room for growth or adaptation? What do you do when being “respectful” to your blood is being repressive towards yourself?
Answer: You take care of yourself. You love yourself so hard and so deeply that you can’t even stand it. As Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I have found, in my misadventures of only-childhood, that when there is an artificial sense of obligation to family, it’s hard to separate my own thoughts from those projected onto me. I try to remember that I have to live with myself for the rest of my life and that I make any of my peripheral relationships on my own terms. That is why I am in the middle of breaking up with key members of my immediate family. It is not me, it is them.
It’s toxic and dangerous and we need to talk about it, because it’s so multifaceted and because I have no answers. But I have a feeling that we are all walking around with these questions. Now, fill out an R25 for The Danish Pastry House and email me, and we will find the answers together over carbohydrates and tea.

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