When I was home over Thanksgiving, I knew I would be facing difficult parents & family members in terms of politics.
Mom voted for Hill, but doesn’t consider herself “very political” and doesn’t exactly understand deeper concepts of societal constructs, etc. so she’s able to love and live with my Stepdad who voted for Trump and has a history of imposing his point of view on others and not taking others’ feelings seriously (you know the type). They both came from a tight-knit community in Northeast Philadelphia where everyone was relatively similar…low income, blue collar, white Jewish suburbs. (Read: It offered the inherent racism, sexism, etc. that comes with that territory for many of our parents and grandparents.) I’m the 30-something who’s grown up in the time of the internet and spent my young adulthood coming up in NYC & LA, blue liberal bubble land (Read: I’ve had generally diverse human experiences?), who is still in major self care mode.
So in order to preserve the sanity of the occasion, we decided to not broach political subjects over the holiday. Somehow, it came out while we were out at a nice dinner anyway. I did have a deep desire to have this conversation. I wanted to know I could come out of self care land and have conversations with people who thought differently than I did. I wanted to understand better how a Trump supporter’s brain worked in order to better craft my action plans moving forward. And I wanted to hold my family accountable for their words and actions.
So in we dove. I heard points of view about pussy grabbing and all of the sexist Trump remarks being delegitimized and shoulder shrugged because ~*the media is crazy*~. I heard an attempt at reasoning how a Trump administration would benefit the world his 1 year old granddaughter would be growing up in. And I heard that all of the hate speech and crimes and white nationalist Neo-Nazi shit that has been surfacing so much more since election day “has always been happening” and he hasn’t seen it in person or on the news (what news are you watching???), so…another shoulder shrug. Giving my mom credit here, she lost her mind with these remarks. Yes, you say you don’t agree with Trump’s whole platform when casting your vote (he thinks America should be run more like a business and that the business plans are good……..what plans?), but don’t sit around discounting what is.
All in all, however, I felt good. Good is a strong word. I felt…like I had done good work. I felt productive. I felt I made solid points. I kept my cool mainly, except for when my parents weren’t sure of the exact definition of sexual harassment and my mom had to google whether or not it was actually a crime. And then they asked me if I had every been sexually harassed & I counted all the ways… Then I needed some air…
But I had spoken my piece. I had uncovered some truths that would undoubtedly help my mom feel a little more moved to hold my Stepdad accountable on the day to day, as maybe now she will turn off Fox news for NPR or something… Maybe she would hear, actually HEAR, what was being said and not said as it comes out of my Stepdad’s mouth…as she listens maybe a little more actively to the news and accidentally becomes “more political”. I’m in this for the long game, you know? Awareness happens in stages, and my mom is the front line of what I care about, but also the front line of my Stepdad’s point of view.
We got up to leave. I went to use the restroom as we exited, and a girl ran into the bathroom handing me a folded note that said, “Please read later.” Then ran back out. Why was she running? I recognized her as the girl sitting at the table next to us with her family. Maybe she didn’t want her family to know she was interacting with me for some reason? Emotionally spent, feeling somewhat frustrated and alone, sad for my Mom and sad to have certain realizations about my Stepdad be cemented into reality, and a little drunk as that second martini was very necessary after the sexual harassment conversation…I read her note:
I want you to know that it gave me great comfort to know that there are people like you in the world. Your passion, eloquence and sincerity are an inspiration. Listening to you has given me faith that somehow with all the pain and horror of this election we will be ok. Thank you for standing for us.
Ugly crying ensues.
I wasn’t sure why she had ran away, but I had to go over to say thank you in spite of her quick exit. Turns out that her (a 30-something African American woman, maybe just a smidge older than I) and her family (her mom, aunt and dad?) were sitting and listening to our ENTIRE conversation. They had commentary and insight on the whole conversation, on my Mom, who apparently when I had to step out and get some air post-”pussy grabbing” shoulder shrug went majorly to bat for Team What-The-Fuck-Are-You-Talking-About. And we all verbally hugged each other. We all cried a little (or a lot). And then the woman and I exchanged info, became Facebook friends, and had a further in-depth conversation about the front lines of our families later on.
Here’s the thing: After the election I was paralyzed to say or do anything for weeks. Some still are. Some aren’t and are loud as ever. Some feel helpless either way. I don’t know much, and I still mostly feel helpless on the day to day, but what I do know is that there is value in self care: in making yourself — the only entity you can control — emotionally strong, mentally well, and intellectually and educationally informed in ways that equip you to function at your highest level as you navigate situations day to day…be it with our families, friends, or your car mechanic down the street. Every situation will call for something different. And our families are the most difficult because they (hopefully/probably) aren’t going anywhere. So no rush, take care of yourself. If this holiday isn’t the time to engage, don’t. But maybe, if you feel strong enough, do. Or try. Dip your toes in the water and see how it feels. Because you might surprise yourself, and you might find learning and solidarity in the places you least expect it (like an Atlantic City seafood restaurant). This is a long game, a very long game, and it’s going to be hard and exhausting and sad and, let’s face it, some relationships are not going to last…but there’s going to be a moment or many moments where we have to go with our gut and take risks to fall out of that comfort zone in order to hold people accountable. In this moment, I had someone pick me back up in a way I could’ve never imagined and reminded me that I’m not totally helpless. Because I’m only me…but also I am absolutely me. And the more each of us can feel the immense power in that, the stronger we will be together in navigating this incredible dumpster fire of a situation. So maybe if you find yourself in that type of situation this holiday and decide to go for it, pretend I wrote this note for you. ︎︎
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