Tuesday, 21 February 2017

One American woman's Journey from Conservativism to Liberalism: thoughts on religion and racism

The following is a guest blog post from an American woman, Christine, living in London for whom Donald Trump's presidency has been a life defining moment. I met Christine recently and while we were having a chat it dawned on me that her story will resonate with many Americans who must be having similar introspections. 

I believe that everyone has an interesting story to share, if only we take the time to listen. It may be one of the reasons I became a social worker. So today, I would like to share a little bit about my story with you.

I grew up in the US with both of my parents, and my brother who is 6 years younger. My family originally lived in an old steel town just outside of a major city. However, following my parents’ separation, my mom, brother and I moved to another area. I should explain that in the US, you attend the local public school according to your address unless your family pays for private school. 

I was really upset with my parents for selling our house, and for having to leave my friends in order to move to a new school in the middle of 4th grade (age 10). My first elementary (primary) school was quite diverse, with a student population about 50/50 white and African American. 

So my first thought when entering my new predominantly-white elementary school was “where are all the black kids?” 

I thought maybe they were hidden somewhere. I spent the rest of my schooling in this district, and while there were some minority students, I can imagine that it was a challenge as they stood out. Two of my friends were mixed race sisters but,at the time, we never talked about what it was like for them being two of the handful of minority students in our high school (secondary school). Thankfully, I never witnessed any racially motivated bullying. It was only later that I learned my mother chose our new home, in a mostly suburban and semi-rural area, intentionally.

Apparently there was a lot of what my mom called “racial tension” in our hometown, and she wanted us to grow up outside of that. But the reality is that our old steel town experienced a significant economic hit at the time and this led to rising poverty and crime. Looking back now, I think my parents may have been uncomfortable with minorities and may even have blamed them for the issues in the area. 

My mom’s parents were from the South, in the heart of Appalachia. Mom was very clear about her awareness that her parents were racists. She had had an experience after a school dance when her parents weren’t happy that she was socialising with some black students. 


I always thought that in the case of both my grandparents and my parents, their ideas about race were based on ignorance and fear but that my parents could acknowledge that racism is wrong.


During my parents’ separation, my mom started taking us to church. They later reconciled and my dad moved home when I was about 13. I embraced the Christian faith for myself during this time but, unfortunately, the church we attended was very legalistic. 

For those not familiar with this term, it essentially amounts to individuals trying to force their own personal convictions onto everyone else as biblical mandates. Personal convictions are meant to address an individual’s own area of weakness. What resulted was a great deal of a “religious” facade that adults in the church presented when, in reality, hearts were very far from practising actual Christian principles. There was judgement for things like dancing, and the pastor even made an argument for why people shouldn’t have the internet in their homes. The hypocrisy between church members’ words versus their actions was unbearable to me.

When I reached adulthood and went off to university, I chose a Christian university 8 hours away from home in another state. It was where I needed to be at the time, and definitely helped me to identify religious legalism when I saw it. The social work programme was really amazing, and one professor in particular really inspired the idea of cultural competence in my professional practice. 

This and my group of friends at the time led to a lifetime love for learning about and enjoying other cultures: everything from the food, to the music, the language, fashion, social norms, etc. Along with this, one of my biggest passions has always been social justice. Learning about other cultures has helped me to understand how injustices have occurred around the world and impacted vulnerable populations, particularly throughout modern history and into the present.

When it comes to politics, my Christian upbringing in the States meant that I usually fell right-of-centre. 

I voted Republican plenty of times, although I was always unhappy with both of the major parties and constantly changed my party affiliation depending on who was running in which election

I should explain that in my home state, the primaries held earlier in an election year only allow a voter to choose a candidate from the party one is registered with. 

My parents have always been solid Republicans, and seem to have drifted further and further right as time has passed--perhaps because they watch Fox News. 

Nearly everyone I went to church with (white, middle-class Americans) would almost always be Republicans and therefore politically conservative.

In 2009, I was recruited by a Local Authority’s Children’s Services in London. Having been looking for a new job for over a year following a long period of burnout in my work, I was anxious for a change of scene and took up the opportunity to move to another country.  As you may have discussed with anyone who has moved to London, the amazing multicultural aspect of this great city has been one of the key things that have kept me here.

Although it wasn’t in my plans, I met a charming Muslim man and we started dating. 



I had always wanted to marry a Christian guy with similar beliefs to myself, and wasn’t prepared to change this particular conviction. In the end, I did and we were married in 2011. We have a gorgeous little girl who gets the benefit of a multicultural environment at home and at school.

As you might expect, my views about Islam have certainly changed since I met my husband. This is mostly because I didn’t know much about it before he came into my life. I understand a lot more now about politics and sectarianism in the Middle East. In the meantime, my political views have changed as I differentiate between my conservative moral views as a Christian and conservative political leanings in the role of government. I have also seen how the Tory leadership has single-handedly destroyed the effectiveness of Local Authority social services, which is a massive injustice to a disenfranchised, vulnerable population in which minorities are overrepresented. 

Im now left of centre on the political spectrum and, of course, I still feel very strongly about social justice. 

I also have a much better understanding of racism in the present, and how my own biases have impacted my views in the past.  It’s not so much a debate about the “wrongness” of racism, but of recognising it when others dismiss it as something else entirely.

My parents were certainly surprised at my choice in partner, but they presented with acceptance. My mom has been to London several times to visit us, but my dad hasn’t met him in person. In the first few years, dad was convinced that my husband was keeping me captive to prevent me from travelling and would someday kidnap me and move to Lebanon.

In reality, it was my husband’s immigration status which kept us from getting a passport for our daughter. So I didn’t go home to visit the US for about 4 years. When we were finally able to sort this out, my daughter and I visited twice in 2016. In the meantime, my dad was finally able to have a conversation with my husband over Skype, and dad seemed to be won over by how much my husband loves me.

However, I was really thrown when discussing the 2016 election with my mom.  

I was completely shocked to learn that my parents supported Donald Trump once he got the nomination.  


We have differed on political views for a long time, but I thought that surely they were intelligent enough to not fall for his lies and that their moral views would turn them off to his obvious corruption, let along his misogyny, racism, xenophobia, etc.  So mom and I had exactly one conversation about this before the November election before it became an off-limits topic. I was disgusted when my mom posted a photo of my dad wearing a Trump t-shirt on Facebook. I have never seen them support a candidate this strongly before.

I was also really surprised at the number of (white) evangelical Christians who voted for Donald Trump. 


It’s as if all people cared about was to stick to party affiliation. Their defense of him is absolutely disgusting and reprehensible. I’m happy to say that many of my own friends back home who fall into this demographic did not vote for him and openly speak out against his nonsense.

My daughter and I went home for Christmas especially to see my new nephew. I noticed that my dad immediately shut off the television when there was a report about police brutality against a black person and I made a comment about it. His reaction implied that he didn’t believe this is a real issue. Later during our stay, the issue of Trump’s proposed Muslim Ban came up and my mom insisted that he wouldn’t do it because, “it’s illegal.”



So fast foward to about 2-3 weeks ago. I couldn’t stand not talking about this issue with my mom, given everything that has happened and all the insane things that Trump has already done and said. So I tentatively brought it up by asking if she still supported him. To my horror, my mom said that she did. When I asked what exactly she supported about what he’s doing, she replied “everything.” 

This was after the Muslim Ban had gone through. I then tried to explain why I felt we couldn’t return to the US to visit them until after this is settled (and hopefully he is out of office), as I posted on Facebook about it. She cut me off, which is totally out of character for her, got a terrible edge to her voice and said “that’s your choice.” I was crushed. Completely devastated. I ended the conversation and haven’t spoken to her since.

For the record, of course my daugher and I could go to the States any time. 

I simply don’t want to visit the US without my husband yet again. I want us to be able to travel together as a family. 

Although my husband’s country is not included in the (currently suspended) travel ban, I was already on edge about the idea of trying to get him through US immigration. He has a very obviously Muslim first name and would be travelling on a passport from his home country. I think there’s a pretty good chance he would be stopped, if not detained, given the current climate under Trump. There is no way I would put him through that, nor let my young child witness that. So for me, it’s not a “choice” as my mom puts it so much as a sensible need to keep my family safe.

Trump’s rise to power, and the continued support from his party in Congress, has been absolutely traumatic to me. 

To see my country divided, and right on the brink of fascism, is so shocking. 

Not only is it infuriating but I also have to grapple with my own family. Their stance is a source of tremendous shame. I’m frustrated that my attempt to discuss it with my mom failed so miserably. Their particular support of the Muslim travel ban (let’s face it, that’s what it is) communicates a very clear message to me that my parents’ acceptance of my husband has been superficial and obligatory all along. 

They may not have meant it that way, but their failure to speak out against the Trump/Republican racism and xenophobia, to even acknowledge it, is incredibly painful. 

Although I don’t believe that every Trump supporter is racist and/or xenophobic, I have suddenly come to terms with the likelihood that my parents are indeed racist and xenophobic. I could previously accept our political differences but I cannot accept this as it is deeply personal and so far beyond politics. 

I have no idea how things are going to get better from here in terms of my relationship with my mom, because there is absolutely no acknowledgement about the impact of Trump’s policies on my own family (not just my opinion). But it breaks my heart to think that my daughter might not be able to continue the same relationship with her grandparents that she has had up until this point.

I do have hope that things will get better on the larger scale, however. I’m getting more involved with events that are happening around London in response to both the US and UK politics, and it’s been a joy to involve my daughter as well. I’ve needed it for personal reasons in addition to wanting to do something about social injustices. We attended the Women’s March in January along with the march against the Muslim ban earlier this month.

I feel that given the state of things, the words of Desmond Tutu apply now more than ever: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”  

Christine
London mum and social worker
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P/S Jane, author of this blog, and I are hoping to start up a women’s group for mums who want to get involved to make a difference in their local communities. We’ll be attending the Stand Up to Racism march on 18/03/17 alongside a few other mum friends. I hope to see you there. Let us know if you want to join us specifically under the banner of Mothers Against Racism.Please email Jane at ambitiousmamas@gmail.com

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