By ELISA OGOT
Leading up to the 2016 Presidential Election, the advice many people gave to liberals who come from conservative families or have close relationships with conservatives was to talk to them on a personal level and try to sway their votes away from Donald Trump. That strategy either wasn’t followed or didn’t work out the way many had hoped because, as we all know, the end result of that election was Donald Trump becoming our 45th president.
Now, as a Black woman living in America, it’s not much of a surprise that not many people who identify as conservative are in my close personal circles. So, the “try and dissuade your conservative pals!” strategy was never one that I could employ. Both my parents are immigrants from Kenya and at election time were not eligible to vote. However, in 2018, my situation has changed a bit…
In 2018 Elisa has a boyfriend! A white boyfriend. He is very smart, kindhearted, and most importantly, open and willing to learn about all kinds of issues. Politically, he is liberal-leaning and supported Hillary Clinton in 2016. About half of his immediate family, however, voted the other way. When I learned this news, I was understandably shocked. For me and many people who look like me (According to exit polls, 89% of Black people voted for Clinton) the choice for president was a nobrainer–Donald Trump’s frequent racist remarks, his recorded gloating about committing sexual assault; his complete lack of governing experience; I could go on and on…I truly didn’t understand how they could vote for a man like that. I still don’t!
In the almost two years since the 2016 election, the country has become even more divisive. On social media and in the print and television media, certain characteristics have been ascribed to those on either side of the aisle: Conservatives claim liberals are weak and want our country to fail. Liberals claim conservatives are evil, dumb, racist, and are doing away with democracy.
It’s hard to shake those negative stereotypes about Trump-supporting conservatives. So when faced with the chance to meet my boyfriend’s family, I was very nervous. What would they think of me? I’m a liberal, Black woman and unapologetically so. Would they offend me? Would we be able to talk about anything??
Fortunately, his family was very welcoming. We’ve been together for a significant time now, so I interact with his family on a semi-regular basis. Every time I come over they are incredibly kind to me, cook for me, include me, and make sure I am as comfortable as possible in their home. We actually get along!
So, the question has become: What is my responsibility in this situation? My boyfriend’s family is an increasingly larger part of my life and the president that many of them voted for is taking our country down a dark, law-ignoring, and embarrassing path. Every day his decisions are negatively impacting women, immigrants, people of color, and the LGBTQ community–the minority groups who have already suffered for centuries under the forty-four other male presidents. I have a burgeoning personal relationship with a handful of conservatives, and according to the “try and dissuade your conservative pals” brigade, shouldn’t I be having conversations with them about our current political climate? Shouldn’t I be pushing them to vote for Democratic candidates who support the issues important to people like me in upcoming elections?
Historically, Black women (cis, trans, and queer women) have been at the forefront of American political and social change, and as a result, we feel an intense pressure to shoulder the burden of doing the work to make America a better place for everyone. But girl, it’s EXHAUSTING. And it’s unfair! Why should we have to be on the front lines fighting for people when barely anyone is fighting for us? On the flip side though, if we give in to apathy and decide to only look out for ourselves, who else will step up and do the work?
Ultimately, I want to talk to my boyfriend’s family about politics, but I’m scared. I’m scared to open up a political Pandora’s Box and not like what I find in there. I’m scared that I’m going to get frustrated and upset and not be able to conduct myself in the way I want to. I’m scared that if I have a meltdown that it will negatively color their perception of ALL Black people. I’m scared that I will hear something that I can never unhear and I won’t be able to bring myself to return to their home.
It’s not fair that I have to think about all of this, but alas, that is the reality of today’s world. For now, I think that conversation will remain untouched; maybe as I get to know them more, I will feel comfortable enough to make the first move. Acknowledging I’m not comfortable enough yet makes me feel like a coward…and I hate that. However, as of this moment, “a coward” is all I feel secure enough to be.
Elisa Ogot is a NewPeople Fellow.