My therapist said I need to stop checking my boyfriend’s dad’s blog.
I nodded, pretending to agree, knowing full well that I would probably refresh the tab in my phone’s browser sometime within the next few hours. Not past five, though. He rarely updates in the evenings. He sticks to mornings, perhaps when his mind is fresh with the latest right-wing talking point of the day.
The blog isn’t anything special. It’s a simple Blogspot account with a spare layout and a post every few days or so, daily when he’s particularly heated about Obama the Marxist or excited about Trump the Savior. I try not to mention his latest entries to my boyfriend anymore. It depresses the crap out of him, and I can see why. But for me, it’s a matter of survival.
I’ve grown up in left-of-center spaces my entire life. I’m the black daughter of two equally black card-carrying Democrats. I was born and raised in blue-as-fuck Los Angeles, California, went to a historically black college in Washington, D.C., and I currently live in Brooklyn, New York. I’ve never had a right-wing relative, and I’ve never had a right-wing friend. The closest I came to having a conservative friend was when I was studying abroad in London—Oliver.* Oliver was a friend of some friends; he was pro-UKIP (the political party of Brexit fame) and always came off as a little too posh and uptight to be attending a university full of artists and leftist history majors. He liked golf, button-down shirts, and Margaret Thatcher. One day, Oliver told me how much he hated walking past the curry shop down the road; he said it smelled “ghastly.” That was the last time I had a conservative friend.
This isn’t to say that I can always count on people on the left to be my allies. I’ve experienced far too many racist and sexist microaggressions from other seemingly progressive-minded people to buy into that. But right-wing politics go against everything I believe in, and when an ideology finds no problem putting my own humanity up for debate, I know that they’re not the type of people I want to deal with.
My boyfriend is from a rural, working-class region of New York where it’s not uncommon to come across towns with white populations of 90 percent or higher. His hometown: 96.5 percent white. This is what people refer to as “Real America,” where conservative values are the bread and butter and everybody and their dog knows how to shoot a gun. But what really threw me off about Real America: Northern Edition was the prevalence of the Confederate flag, innocently peppering front porches with its stars and bars, as if it wasn’t the most ironic, ahistorical sight on earth. The symbol of so-called Southern pride—which experienced renewed popularity during the Civil Rights Movement—has a stronghold north of the Mason-Dixie line, in a state that was ardently against the Confederacy. But it’s not just about Southern pride anymore, it’s not even about racism! It’s used as a marker of solidarity among those who have grievances with the tyrannical influence of the powers that be over the civil liberties of good ol’ Constitution-loving Americans. At least, that’s what my boyfriend’s dad says. Let’s call him Jack.
Jack is a retired veteran in his 60s. He loves animals, Shakespeare, CBS soap operas, history, small roles at the local playhouse, and overalls. He taught me how to shoot a gun. He gets a kick out of showing me the weird things his chickens do. He always gives me a big hug whenever he sees me. He’s a squeezer, it’s sincere. He comes across as eccentric and goofy, kind and loving. He doesn’t necessarily come across as racist. But he is; he’s racist.
Of course, he would deny this assertion. Sure, he made excuses for the Confederate flag, warned my boyfriend against groups of black people when he was a teenager, called hip-hop criminal music, and sent a letter of support to a white police officer who killed an unarmed black teen, but he can assure you that he’s not a racist.
I know better, and so does his son, who let me in on some of Jack’s worst transgressions and most cringe-worthy racist gaffes before I even met the man. I’m glad, because I wouldn’t have known otherwise. Like I said, Jack seems harmless, the exact opposite of the monstrous image I’ve always had of die-hard right-wingers who think abortion is murder, feminism is a cancer, Jane Fonda is the devil, gun ownership is a basic human right, and a black person is, more likely than not, a danger to be approached with caution.
I thought people like this didn’t have enough sense to keep their true feelings under wraps, that they couldn’t keep their contempt to themselves, that at the very least they would let their repugnant views slither through their lips with the poise, calm, and nauseating superiority complex of a Fox News host. Jack does none of these things. He rarely talks about politics at all, and even if he does, he listens to the counter arguments my boyfriend and I make with respect, a nod, and a “you make a good point.” Sometimes I wish he was nastier around me, that he would slip just once. It would make it easier to find him despicable, confirming my own beliefs that bigots don’t deserve niceties, that seeing them as anything other than willful oppressors is complacent, enabling.
Around the election, there was a lot of talk from marginalized people, myself included, imploring white friends and acquaintances to stop being cowardly and keep it real with their racist relatives: “The silence of good white people aids my oppression. Fuck hurting your grandma’s feelings. Fuck your bigoted uncle. You’re either with us or against us. You have the power to educate the ignorant people in your life. This is your job, your requirement as an ally. Why are you patting yourself on the back for unfriending your aunt after she posted some Breitbart link? You should be challenging her instead!” I thought if I was given the opportunity to school a bunch of racists, I’d make sure my voice was heard. I’d never be a pushover. I’d never be someone who could stand to make nice to someone who buys into racist nonsense and right-wing propaganda. Yet every time I’m upstate, I charm the man who thinks my people are dangerous because he’s just so damn nice. My parents didn’t raise me to talk smack to someone’s daddy. I hate that I don’t hate him.