An open letter to my family who voted for Trump

Dear family,

This is hard…

Maybe I should preface this by saying that this is not meant as an attack. My only goal here is to share how I feel, and ask that you thoughtfully, even prayerfully try to consider my point of view.

OK, here goes.

I know some many of you voted for Trump to become the next President of the United States of America.

As disheartening as that is to me, it’s not that much of a surprise, just as I’m sure it’s no surprise to you that I did not vote for him.

What has been surprising is your reaction — or lack thereof — to an outcome that stunned the majority of our nation. An outcome that has left me saddened, angry, and fearful for my future and the fates of some I love.

In the interest of self-respect and out of the belief that my feelings matter — because I was raised by you to believe they do — I’m going to try to explain why I feel this way. Because I’m surprised and hurt that some of you still don’t get it. Or that maybe you’re not trying to.

I grew up on stories of how our family came to the United States: my great-great-grandparents sought refuge here after fleeing the pogroms in Russia. You know, because we’re Jewish.

And it was a good thing they left when they did, because then something called the Holocaust happened.

(Sorry, I don’t mean to be patronizing, but I mean honestly…)

Fast forward a few generations and there I am, the first black baby to be born into our white middle-class Jewish family. Destined to always be aware of my status as “the other,” not only because of the color of my skin but because of the constant juxtaposition of my mother’s marital status against your traditional conservative values.

But I was loved. You all loved me. Fiercely. And I love you for it.

You were my village. You taught me to honor and practice our family values, which would eventually even be penned into our “Braunstein Family Code of Conduct” featuring our “Responsibilities and Agreements,” including how:

  • We recognize other people’s feelings are as important as our own.
  • We will listen to others without interrupting.
  • We will not communicate words that devalue or disrespect others.
  • We will make an effort to encourage and build up others.
  • We will consider the feelings of all who will be affected by our words and actions.
  • When a conflict of ideas occurs, we understand that respecting the other individual is more important than proving our point.

Wow. How great is that?! But before you start patting yourselves on the back, I’d like to draw your attention to those last two points: the ideas of considering your impact, and respecting others when they disagree with you.

In the two weeks since our election, I have felt betrayed and dishonored by some family members, not because of who you voted for, but because of how you’ve reacted to what’s been happening since he won.

I’m not interested in hypotheticals, because they won’t change anything. So let’s look at some facts:

  • “The incidents, some that bring up memories of the Jim Crow era…were added to the list of incidents that included black children being told to get to the back of the bus and Latino children being taunted about the wall that Trump promised to build between Mexico and the United States.”
    Post-election spate of hate crimes worse than post-9/11, experts say,” USA Today, Nov. 14, 2016

It took me less than a minute to find those articles, and that’s not even the tip of the iceberg.

Here’s the thing: I’m not going to shame you for voting for Trump. I’m not going to call you a racist, or a misogynist or a xenophobe just because you felt forced to “choose the lesser of two evils,” and you chose him over Hillary. Because I don’t believe you are any of those things.

Still, you aren’t stupid. You paid attention to the election. You did your research. You heard the rhetoric. And in the end, you either ignored the latter or decided that it wasn’t a factor in your decision. Either way, your vote speaks to your privilege… your privilege to elect a candidate whose most disgraceful policies will never affect you based on how you look, where you’re from, or who you love.

So now, you bear a responsibility.

(I am not equating responsibility to blame; I’m using it in the same way it’s used in our family Code of Conduct.)

Yes, you voted for a man whose presence — whose very words and calls to action — encouraged a shift from tolerable-but-still-pretty-sucky microaggressions to outright violence and intimidation against people who are different than you.

But I don’t blame you. No, on the contrary, I am now looking to you, more than to anyone else, to help make it right. To stand for what’s right and good.

Our world is irrevocably altered. The very least you can do is acknowledge that, and take a stand. For decency, for morality, for your own family values.

Donald Trump will be our President. OK. Fine. I can live with that. What I can’t live with, what I can hardly even fathom, is that some of our family members and I will now live each day with a very real degree of fear in the backs of our minds, and that other family members refuse to see what’s happening or to consider the impact on us.

This is not an exaggeration. Today, my uncle — your brother, your son, the father of your nieces and granddaughters — was attacked at his place of work.

It didn’t matter that he was just honored for two decades of dedicated service to his company, or that he is known to carry himself with a quiet, respectable reserve, or that he’s the epitome of a team player. No, what mattered today was the color of his skin.

The person who attacked my uncle is an ignorant coward. That is hardly your fault.

The problem is that a significant number of ignorant cowards now feel empowered to threaten whomever they want. And it all ties back to Trump’s rhetoric. (If you try to debate me on that, I’m afraid I’ll have to violate our family’s code.)

So, from where I sit (at my computer, with tears streaming down my face from a broken heart), this is as much my problem as it is yours.

You voted for a man who embodies the opposite of literally every single value in the covenant that you expect your children to respect.

Does he recognize other people’s feelings as important? (No. He is a bully.)

Does he listen without interrupting? (No. Did you see the debates?)

Does he value and respect others? (No. Unless you look and think like him.)

Does he make an effort to build others up? (No. His entire campaign was aimed at taking people down, professionally, politically, and personally.)

Does he consider how others will be affected by his actions? (No. Especially not if you believe his surprise at what’s been happening since his election.)

Does he understand that respecting others is more important than proving his point? (No. And I think I’ve made my point.)

So this my reality now. I’m living in a world where a vocal minority insists I am less than worthy, and a silent majority refuses to prove otherwise.

Well, I need you to break your silence. I need you to prove them wrong.

They are using more than just their words. So for you to sit back and act like I’m exaggerating or that things will calm down on their own, that’s incredibly disrespectful to me. I need you — our family and our country needs you — to do better.

So the next time a friend shares an insensitive joke about minorities, picture me as the butt of that joke. The next time you read about someone who was attacked, picture me as the victim. If you drive by a building vandalized with swastikas, picture your own home.

Stop pretending this doesn’t affect you. You helped create this reality. It’s time to face it.

Sincerely,

The Black Braunstein

PS. Putting your faith in G-d is all well and good if that’s who you believe is ultimately in charge, but that doesn’t absolve you from taking responsibility for your actions on this earth and for giving a damn while you’re here.

Advertisements

7 comments

  1. Oh my god! this is an absolutely wonderful letter. Thank you so much for writing it!

    1. Thank you, Michael!

  2. So well said! God bless you!

    1. Thanks, Robin! Hope you and the family are well! Merry Christmas 🙂

  3. Teresa Cole · · Reply

    I just haven’t been able to get this letter out of my mind. Would it be too personal if I asked how your family has responded? I have little hope that my own extended family will ever understand why I’m so upset at this election.

    1. Hi Teresa — thank you for your comment!

      I appreciate the interest in how things have turned out, and I totally relate to feeling hopeless. To be honest, I’m still debating about whether I’ll write a follow up post, given how this one has been received. Without getting into too many details (some people weren’t thrilled that I’ve aired their dirty laundry and “shamed” the family), I will say the outcome has been extremely painful all around.

      Luckily, I’ve been blessed to have a core group of supporters, including several aunts, cousins, and my mother, upon whom I’ve relied heavily to be my crying pillows and verbal punching bags, and they’ve taken it all in stride, quite phenomenally. In fact, I was encouraged by some of them to email this letter to the extended family, since it was my genuine desire to attempt to foster constructive dialogue and build a sense of community and togetherness at least for our family unit. Unfortunately, aside from my support group, I was met with responses that basically amounted to:

      – Outrage toward the single incident that I’d mentioned involving one of my uncles, and nothing else.
      – A slew of direct replies requesting one-on-one or one-on-few meetings with me, which went directly against my attempt at a family-wide conversation.
      – A fixation on politics and desire to either justify their voting choice or be offended that I think they’d voted for Trump, even after I expressly called out in my email that politics wasn’t the point, and I was including people I knew didn’t vote for Trump because I wanted to have a conversation as a family about how we would unite to acknowledge and fight against the increased risk of social and political oppression of at-risk groups.

      Overall, it seems no matter how I try or have tried to express myself and communicate my pain and fears, I’ve found most people are either unwilling to move past feeling attacked or judged by me, and/or incapable of practicing empathy for my point of view, even as they demand nothing less of me.

      OK, that was a bit more detailed of a response than I had planned, and I’m sorry it’s not more positive or hopeful… the only other thing I’ll say is that to be fair to them, I haven’t yet actually engaged in a dialogue with everyone who’s replied to me, or even given myself a real chance to process through it all.

      I tried to use my Thanksgiving vacation as a time to unwind and take a breather from it all, with the intent of coming back to the conversation when I got back home. But then, the day I returned, I ended up in the ER with a really bad injury, and I’ve been focused on my recovery ever since. So, I really haven’t given this issue the attention it deserves. However, a direct result of the fallout from this letter is that I’ve decided that I will not be attending the family’s traditional Christmas Eve dinner, which is now bringing these conversations back to the surface. I will continue to try to communicate my heart, but I have to be mentally and emotionally prepared to do so, and I came to the realization that Christmas is a time for celebration and joy, two things I would not be able to experience if I were to attend a family gathering at this time.

      I do continue to hope that we’ll all heal — my family and our nation — and I hope that you’ll find strength and comfort in the knowledge that you’re not alone as you attempt to navigate the fallout of this election.

      Warm wishes,
      T.

      1. Teresa Cole · ·

        Thank you so much for your reply. It was a beautifully written letter and I thought fairly gentle and tactful, especially under the circumstances. I guess I was hoping it would make people think a little. I’m so glad you have some support among your family.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: