Content Warning: This article contains references to violence and inflammatory comments on religion and race.
The house I grew up in has always been divided. My mother, liberal, and my father, conservative. My grandmother, older, white, and wealthy, is also conservative, dismayed by the views of her only daughter who has then passed on these irrational tendencies to her grandchildren. Despite not living together, we have all silently agreed to carefully maintain a balance of sporadic arguments, muttered comments, and ultimately deciding not to talk about it, until the cycle begins anew.
The problem with this practice is that ultimately no one is satisfied. I am frustrated at having to hold my tongue when my great-uncle remarks that Wheel of Fortune gave a black contestant an easy final puzzle because of Affirmative Action, or when my (other) uncle posts about “the fat bitches” at the Women’s March. As a family, we love each other. Yet how can we when we are so diametrically opposed when it comes to politics?
Before the November 2016 election, this question was not nearly so interesting. Of course, maintaining a strong relationship was more important, and being considerate of other’s views was part of that. But we are no longer disagreeing about mere trifles like the national debt, healthcare, or gun control. We have come to a place where who you supported, and continue to support, calls into question the very values which you hold as a person.
I was fortunate enough to travel to my grandmother’s home in the North Carolina mountains this past week, avoiding Hurricane Irma yet unknowingly walking into a storm of a more personal nature. Regrettably, I forgot that my great-uncle was staying with her as well. I dutifully ignored each jab about the many failing of Hillary Clinton, the subtle attempts to get me to see the light (so to speak), and the many, many ways in which we can continue to blame Barack Obama for our past, present, and future shortcomings.
I dodged and pivoted for four days, but in this case, that was not enough. All of the residual tension and anger in this privileged white man, that had been simmering unreleased, came out at the dinner table when he asked me if I thought my college would expel me for shooting an intruder, who had slit my roommate’s throat, with a gun that I illegally brought to campus.
Naturally, I was stunned. Of all the worries and concerns I had about starting college, this scenario had never crossed my mind. As if this was not enough, when I was unable to come up with a suitable answer to his first query, he moved on to the next, deaf to the requests of my grandmother to please stop this. “What would you do if you had a Muslim roommate, and you came home to find her father beating her senseless? You can’t stop them, right? That’s their culture!”
The sheer ignorance, Islamophobia, and hatefulness present in that question would be genuinely unbelievable if we weren’t living in Trump’s America. We live in such a state that a 60-year-old man feels utterly comfortable attacking his 17-year-old niece over steak and potatoes. The most difficult part of this is the sheer frustration of an unsolvable dilemma. He wasn’t interested, as my father is, in a (somewhat) calm exchange of ideas. He wanted to “know how liberals think” at any and all costs. There was no circumstance in which he would have changed his mind or mine. He set out with the goal of making me feel small and stupid, but instead he made me angry.
So that I might prevent myself from screaming obscenities or things I would come to regret, I excused myself to my bedroom (a snowflake who needs her “safe space!”). Thus my grievance is this: To remain downstairs would have been opening myself up to a spiteful attack on my beliefs. Yet by leaving, I confirmed his view that liberals have no ground to stand on and are entirely unable to support what they think as soon as anyone raises any sort of counterpoint.
What is our duty to our principles? Surely I cannot say that anyone deserves to be verbally battered, but if we are going to believe it, we must be willing to defend it. My decision to exit the conversation was the one that was best for me, in that situation, but even now I look back on it with irritation and doubt. In other, less volatile circumstances, it is absolutely your duty (and mine) to stand with your ideas, whether you are a liberal or a conservative. If they are worth believing, then they absolutely must be worth furthering in every way that you can.
For a long time, I tried to stay out of politics, memorably saying during the 2012 election that I wished Mitt Romney would win because I had grown tired of saying President Obama. But as my mother is so fond of reminding me, if you stand for nothing, then you’ll fall for anything. A person without convictions is not a person that I want to be. It bothers me when friends my age tell me that they don’t follow the news at all, because it can’t always be someone else’s problem. Politics are not impersonal, but now largely deal with what rights you have as a human being, depending on your gender, sexuality, faith, or nationality.
These issues are no longer contained to which party you vote for every four years. Now, they cause familial splits and ruin the prospects of ice cream after dinner. To borrow a common phrase from second-wave feminism, the personal is political and vice versa. Regardless of leaning, at the end of the day you must be comfortable with the person you’ve chosen to be.
I have been blessed with parents who encourage me to think for myself rather than parrot their ideas back to them. Inflammatory conversations simply cannot be avoided. I have found that the best approach is to treat people like people. Refrain from name-calling and raised voices, no matter how hard it may be. Most people will admire a strong conviction. If all else fails, you can always go to your safe space.