This is the third in a series of articles that I started in April. I’m not sure how many more articles in this series I will write. Some parts of these stories are not only my stories. They are sensitive and personal to other family members.
In Part 1, I alluded to reasons why people who aren’t white supremacists or even overtly racist could be motivated by Donald Trump’s rhetoric about building walls, keeping Muslims out of the country and putting Muslim communities under surveillance to support him. In this article, I will explore some of those reasons with some familial examples.
But first, I will say that there are many racists in the part of Florida where my family lives. There are racists in my extended family. I don’t think you could grow up white in post-Reconstruction Alabama and not absorb the miasma of resentment and sense of stolen pride, stolen class, and stolen means for self-betterment that had been passed down for generations in the White South. But, these are the struggles of a generation that is not mine, and not all families passed resentment down from generation to generation ad infinitum. For Southern whites, there was a great playing field leveler that came into existence after World War II. A new road to success via joining the professional class was opened by the GI Bill for my dad and his brothers, and for their peers. The road was a wide thoroughfare before crippling student debt opened up gaping potholes. I’ll stop belaboring the metaphor, but a college education is too often now a road to indentured servitude. By contrast to my father’s family, on my mother’s side, several family members were left behind, literally and figuratively, while others went to college after serving in the military and then moved out of the South.
This is Part 2 of a series of articles I will post this month. Part 1 is here.
My first day back in Florida is mostly a blur. I flew to the Pensacola airport, where my brother met me. It was an hour’s drive to the town where my parents and siblings live. Our conversation on the drive, and later at the restaurant where we had lunch was probably the best preparation for seeing my father’s current condition one could have. My brother mentioned that my dad was concerned there was something wrong with his computer. He’d been so concerned about it one night that week that my mom finally called my brother at 2 or 3 in the morning to talk about it. Bro drove over to their house to see if he could find the problem, but there was nothing obvious. Being there and working on the computer was enough to calm my dad for the night, at least.
The change in my dad was stark. Physically, he didn’t seem all that different. He still had the taut, stringy musculature of a long distance runner. Though the line from tautness to gauntness had been crossed, it wasn’t obvious through his khakis and t-shirt. The thick, fine salt and pepper hair had gone pure white. The stark change was in his alertness, his finely honed sense of humor, his wit, and his facile use of language. When he talked, there were long pauses as he struggled to find the right words. Sometimes, his attention wandered before the words were found. Other times he was visibly upset, fighting against the brain fog, determined to communicate, to be there.
This primary season’s excesses and carnival atmosphere have led me to examine the histories and beliefs of family and friends living in North Florida who voted for Donald Trump. They are not white supremacists. They are not racists. They are not haters. It’s easy for me to project those beliefs onto them as a simple answer for why they’ve supported a clown of a millionaire turned politician whose rhetoric attracts white supremacists, racists, and haters to his cause. But, it’s not what they are. They are afraid. They fear terrorists, they fear “unrest”, they fear anger directed at law enforcement, and they fear the very social changes that I embrace as advancements in human rights and justice.
This is Part 1 of a series of articles I will post this month.