I’ve already failed as an ally, what do I do now?
I am not a good ally. I don’t know how to speak to my family about Black Lives Matter, police brutality, Trump’s dog whistles, even COVID-19. I’ve tried and I usually end up more upset and angry than before the conversation started. And they go about their day, believing their beliefs.
This election has beaten me like no other, feelings I’m sure I share with just about everyone in America. Regardless of the outcome, I’m nervous for the coming holidays. The Trump disinformation machine is going to be a wrecking ball. How do you fight a giant piece of equipment crashing repeatedly into your life?
Maybe this is one of the reasons why I write — to have a voice when my family — the people you should feel the most comfortable around — so effectively shut mine down. Sometimes I even feel swayed by them. I adored my grandparents growing up. I idolized my fashionable aunts. My hard-working parents gave me everything to get where I am now. I want to see the best in them. But I can’t look past their unwillingness to learn.
I remember the first time I mentioned Black Lives Matter to them. It was the day after Thanksgiving in 2013. We were all together eating breakfast. I think the news was on and I said something in support of BLM. All heads swung to look at me, like puppets controlled by a puppet master, eyes wide like I had just said something blasphemous against God.
I don’t recall what was said, but I was effectively sat down and then told how all lives matter. At the time I didn’t have the words to fight back. I shut my mouth and went back to eating pancakes. I didn’t know how to fight the racism in my family or even in myself. Not yet, anyway. Years later, and many lessons learned, I have better language but still falter around my family.
Things used to be debated in my family. I’ve always been sort of left-leaning, even as a kid when I refused to make dinner for my dad and grandpa. I wasn’t some little woman to be ordered to the kitchen. When I was younger, I think my family, especially my grandpa, enjoyed our verbal sparring. As I got older and things got more serious, as I shelved book after antiracist book, after feminist book, after philosophy book in my head, the verbal sparring turned into barbs that stuck under my skin. To me, lives were on the line with our politics. Just look at the horribleness of 2020. Fuck a few burned buildings if we get closer to progress. When lists of things white allies could do to further POC equality started showing up online, I took those lists to heart and donated and read and tried over and over to speak to my family.
These futile efforts lead me to put up a wall between my family and me. I no longer spar with my grandpa. We seemed to have arrived at an uneasy truce during holidays. We don’t speak about politics or social movements. They accept that I’m just “liberal” like it’s some sort of character defect. I didn’t even realize how much of myself I walled off from them until my aunt came to visit recently and through the grapevine, I heard she thought I was mad at her. No idea what I did to give her that impression, but I think it’s because of that wall. If you don’t listen to me, you don’t get all of me.
And it hurts. My family are good people. They are kind and willing to help anyone, but in a world where they hang in the middle of not having enough and just enough privilege to have enough, they hunker down with the things they do have and dare anyone to lay a finger on it.
Right now it looks like Biden will win the presidency, but Trump will still have won in the eyes of his followers. I don’t feel happy enough to celebrate, because this isn’t over. Maybe this is one of the reasons this election season has been so heavy. Even if Biden wins, there is still so much to do. And I still have not found a reasonable, calm way to talk to my family about it.
I have spent the last four years trying to understand why they feel the way they do about Trump and Black Lives Matter. My well-meaning questions are met with anger or, in the case of one relative, literally walking away from me mid-conversation. Never once have they tried listening to me.
This is why I’m not a good ally. I’ve tried and failed. As the election results are still coming in and seeing how red the country is, I’m not surprised, but I am sad.
Thanksgiving is weeks away. I took today off work to write this, to think, to sleep, and to come up with a game plan. Do I shut myself down even further around my family and try to effect change in other ways (and how to do that) or do I still throw myself at the brick wall of their beliefs? Honestly, after a little break and some sleep, I will probably do both, because equality is more important than my feelings or my family’s feelings.