We pulled up to their house as we had countless times before. Our lives were fairly intertwined. They were surrogate parents to my parents back in the late ’70s. Their daughter had been the flower girl in my parent’s wedding. We had been at all the important occasions in one anothers lives; births, weddings, graduations, birthdays, divorces, funerals. Every year of my childhood my brother and I received Christmas ornaments from this family. These were people who had lent time, energy, and love to us – unconditionally. But that day when we pulled up to their house, for the first time in my life, I did not feel welcome.
Anger and shock settled over me, but a sense of respect for our shared history carried me out of the car and up the driveway to their front door. I mumbled to my parents, “I don’t think I can be silent about this.” And I couldn’t.
There were the obligatory hello’s and exchanging of “Oh my! So good to see you’s!”, but not long after our welcome, I had to know.
“Why is your lawn a “Make America Great Again” advertisement?”
How could they? It felt to me like a personal betrayal. A slap in the face of our friendship – I can’t even imagine the depth of confusion for my parents, whose friendship with them has lasted twice as long as mine. I just thought they knew better. This man, who had been like an extra grandfather to me, cited the usual right-wing responses.
“Hilary Clinton is evil. I cannot vote for someone who is pro-choice. Have you read about the things the Clinton’s have done?”
I rephrased my question.
“I did not ask why you aren’t voting for Hilary, I asked why you’re actively promoting Donald Trump?”
I never did get a response. Just book recommendations, a personal anecdote about how difficult it was for him to teach at inner city schools in his youth, and a vague request that we agree to disagree. I caught the eye of my half-Nigerian, half- black American cousin and shared a moment. A breath, a sigh, and an eye roll, before we followed her four year old dark-skinned son to the kitchen. I nibbled on grapes, picked at the cheese platter, and drank my Pepsi in silence. My mind was spinning, trying to understand how to love these people who cared more about their (white) American dream than about the lives of real people living as minorities in a country claiming freedom and equality, but spewing hate. They would never admit it, but in that moment, I realized they cared more about working class white folks than they did about me. About my brown-skinned brother. About my black father. About the four year old little black boy running around their house with an invisible target on his back, that will only grow bigger as he does.
How could they?
I’ve read, and read, and read, and read, and read, and read, and read, and read, and read. That doesn’t even scratch the surface of the material out there. I’ve tried to unplug, to drown out, to ignore. When that hasn’t worked I’ve tried to find hope in happy stories; to cling to some sort of truth about the inherent goodness of most people…but these days it doesn’t take long before we circle back to tragedy, hatred, evil.
I’d love to say that I had a heart to heart with those family friends and they came around to seeing the darkness Trump’s presidency has brought to our country, but the truth is – I haven’t talked to them. I don’t know where they stand. I know they would never call themselves racist, but that is no longer enough. You can no longer occupy privileged space, say you’re not racist, and expect me to believe you. Unless I see you actively working to dismantle the systems of oppression that have plagued our country since it’s inception, maybe you aren’t racist, but you are complacent…and therefore, complicit. And right now, that seems worse.
This post doesn’t have a silver lining. I don’t have a pretty sentence I can string together that can adequately summarize the depth of my frustration and sincere desire for some kind of hope.
Right now, all I have left is anger.