I haven’t been speaking to my aunt for most of the year. Politics and religion have always been a bit touchy, but my mother learned early on just to roll her eyes and not take Thanksgiving too seriously. Everything changed when Donald Trump was elected.
My aunt and her family left the Mormon Church several years ago so I might have been holding out hope that their “Republicanism” wasn’t as strong as their religious faith. I was wrong. I made a decision immediately after that crushing blow in 2016 that I was finished talking about politics entirely with my extended family, even when they would band together to bait me like I was the entertainment for the afternoon. Things had become much too serious, even if it involved making people laugh, which is my Achilles heel.
Last summer, when it became glaringly obvious that Donald Trump was undeniably a racist and Biden had secured the Democratic nomination, I decided to stick my toe in the water. There was no way she could continue, especially now that she was going on and on about not liking him. Biden was a moderate, a former dear friend of John McCain. I am from Arizona, which most Republicans will still argue is McCain territory. My overall assessment was so wrong.
I should have ended the call when she denied the coronavirus and kept espousing that it was a hoax. “But, I had it in March,” I reminded her. “Your daughter had it, you were terrified.”
“Oh, I know, I know,” she breezed right over it, not listening. She continued, “I just don’t know about Trump, he’s either the worst man to ever live or the greatest.”
I decided to take a chance, but to be honest — I really needed to know if she was finally willing to draw the line with the racism issue because I knew I was finally ready to take the ultimate stand and cut out anyone else from my life who was not.
“So, I take it you’ll be voting for Biden, then…” Silence. I repeated my question, and she said with complete fury, “Oh! I would never in a million years vote for that pedophile.”
That electronic sound from the older video games telling me I was out of lives played in my head. There was no perky barbershop start-up music to Pac-Man that I could cue in, either. This was the end of the road.
The worst part in all of this is not that I hung up on her after screaming, “Got to go, I love you!” really loud to keep myself from saying something unforgivable. Apparently, after I hung up on her, she looked in shock at my cousin, who was in the car with her, and said, “Amee just hung up on me.”
“No, she didn’t — the call dropped,” my cousin told her. “Amee would never hang up on you.”
My mom has been trying to broker a peace settlement while attempting to respect my boundaries. The biggest issue at play is not the apology, but the idea of moving forward. How do you explain to someone, who still tells people she “doesn’t see color,” that if you don’t actively speak and act out against racism at this stage, you are collectively racist. It would just be me talking in circles, and I have no more patience for explaining things to someone who thinks church gossip constitutes a credible source that even the most reputable law journal would use in a citation.
So, for months, my mother has been relaying to me her conversations with my aunt. They include my aunt repeating QAnon rhetoric and my mother patiently explaining that the information is not credible. How did both my mother and my aunt come out of the same woman?
When the January 6th attack on the Capitol happened, my aunt didn’t call me to make sure I was safe. She knows I am only a few blocks away and typically she would have been the first one to latch on to the inside scoop of the drama, but she never called. She also never called my mother to talk about it, and this made my mother hopeful.
“She knows how wrong she is,” my mother said reassuringly. “She can’t face it and it’s a good sign.” Either way, I was now justified in continuing my stubborn strategy, so I was actually fine with the silence.
I am going to start the adoption process soon and I am constantly thinking about what I would tell my child in any given situation. You don’t get to choose which baby the universe sends you and I could very well be raising a child of color and I welcome that. As offended as I get at racism now, I also know it’s nothing compared to the idea of someone inflicting it directly on the child that I don’t even have yet. How am I supposed to navigate all of the ignorance when each incident could leave a lasting scar? How am I supposed to keep learning so that I can be the best parent to my child, no matter their background or color? How do I child-proof my life before I even have the child?
On the Fourth of July, I decided to just make amends and call my aunt and ask her if we could move forward and make a moratorium on all things political. I explained that I couldn’t hash out all of the reasons why I got so upset, but the truth was, I didn’t want to say what I really felt: that she and her past behaviors had reached the designation of “racist” in my mind, and I couldn’t risk that in my future.
I dialed my aunt with my mother already on the phone, a trick I learned years ago when I needed a witness to a heavy conversation and a moderator at the same time. After my mother carefully explained the terms I was proposing, my aunt agreed and she had a hurt sound in her voice that made me think I had made a mistake.
Then she started to tell me about my lesbian cousin’s engagement, which gave me hope that she would be able to uphold our new “no politics under any circumstances rule.” She excitedly began to tell us the story of the engagement, and I was excited to hear about how brave my little cousin, who had been raised Mormon, had been to be with the woman she loved.
“You’re not going to even believe this,” my aunt started. “They are having dinner after they are married, so no one is at the ceremony and they are making everyone show their vaccination cards as proof to get in…”
I have no idea how this ceasefire is supposed to work.
Amee Vanderpool writes the SHERO Newsletter and is an attorney, published author, contributor to newspapers and magazines, and analyst for BBC Radio. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @girlsreallyrule.
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