The Birds and Bees of 2020: Having A Social Justice Talk With My Conservative Parents
by Mike Lambuth
I have been repeatedly burying my head in bullshit these days.
Breaking news of more implosion in the Trump camp. Articles about how the polls have it right this time. Signs that the dumpster fire in the White House will soon be extinguished.
This has become an incredibly unhealthy addiction. A quick key bump every 30 minutes to satisfy my fix. It makes me angry. It makes me anxious. And it's nothing more than a distraction from the real problems that have been happening to real people for a real long time right in front of our eyes.
This has been a very difficult piece for me to write because it requires a little something from me: work. The bare minimum of work. It's been a painful reminder of things left undone and an acknowledgement of my complacency.
This election is not an end all. Regardless of which old white man emerges victorious, our work is just beginning. BIPOC & LGBTQ+ citizens still live in a country ripe with systemic racism and prejudice. They still persevere among a populous that considers them expendable. They still remain in a society that puts white/cis male/hetero people, like me, above all others. This is the bigger picture, the reality. I've known for far too long and done little about it.
As a person of overwhelming privilege I need to think about my role in that bigger picture. And as the folks I've been learning from have said repeatedly, I need to start with what I know; with who I know.
And at the top of that list are my parents.
Discussions revolving around politics and social issues with my self-proclaimed "fiscal conservative" parents have been vacant for quite some time. When I moved back to Boise in 2014 it took 3-4 spirited conversations that devolved into shouting matches to realize that this type of dialogue with them is indeed difficult. So what did I do? I retreated. We “agreed to disagree” and all became experts at carefully skirting these discussions at birthday parties, holiday celebrations and family dinners. As the years passed, I began to use this as a tool to distance myself further and further from them. Monthly get-togethers turned into every other month. Then into a couple times a year. Boise is small. And during a pandemic it feels a lot smaller. It’s become increasingly difficult for me to excuse myself from their soirees (except during a pandemic) and come up with viable excuses to avoid seeing them. And I'll be honest: no good has or will come from my actions.
Over the last several months I've spoken with many people that seem to be in a similar boat to mine. And we're all taking on water. Their approaches range from “I’ve cut off my family entirely” to “I’m trying to find some time to have ‘the talk’ with them.” For me, the reluctance, hesitation and tiptoeing around the quagmire of opposing viewpoints has reached a crescendo. How can I be an active participant in anti-racism work when I choose to do only what is easiest? How can I be honest with myself and not honest to those closest to me? What change will come if I decide to do only what is convenient and comfortable for me? My parents and I both spend time filling in the blanks about each other in our heads. This needs to stop. I need to, at a minimum, come back to the table.
Maybe the best place to start is for me to try and fill in some of the blanks they might have in hopes that they respond in kind. And maybe, just maybe, we can go from there.
I will tell them that I support the Black Lives Matter Movement. That it, contrary to what Sean Hannity says, it does not mean “All Lives Don’t Matter” or “Blue Lives Don’t Matter.” How Black people have always been oppressed, how we are the oppressors and how I am done being a party to that. How the work is ours to do. How it's not about equality but about equity. I'll tell them what I saw at a BLM protest against a rising police budget. Where unarmed activists were greeted by men in full tactical gear with semi-automatic weapons, nazi flags and KKK emblems. How the Boiseans that were supposedly there in support of the police gleefully chanted along with white supremacists. How they shouted down an Idaho-born Black service member and told him to go back to his country. How they booed a Black child who shared her own personal experiences with racism. How they threw around the n-word, threats and punches. How if we can't stand against this we are a part of it.
I will tell them that I support defunding the police. That it’s about redirecting funds to vital mental health and social services. That an armed 25 year old with combat training should not be the person to show up when someone is in crisis. That we need to understand the correlation between inherent racial profiling and harassment/arrests/imprisonment/death at the hands of law enforcement. That being a police officer is a choice. They can take off their badge but a person can't change the color of their skin.
I will tell them that I believe in reparations. Remind them that enslaved people built this country for FREE. Mount Vernon. The White House. The U.S. Capitol building. The foundations of Wall Street. Harvard Law School. Georgetown University. UNC. That these are just a fraction. That we can’t forget that almost a million Americans died in battle believing that they should remain enslaved; that they should remain subservient and sub-human. And how our system is still fighting this fight. How we’ve worked tirelessly to prevent generational wealth within the Black community. That I was able to go to college, buy my first car, make a down payment on my house, etc, etc, etc. because of generational wealth. Money that I did not earn. Money that was handed down. From them. From their parents. From their grandparents.
I will tell them that the land on which we reside rightfully belongs to the Shoshone-Bannock people. That our ancestors stole it, massacred men, women and children to keep it and forced the Shoshone-Bannock people to an 815 square mile piece of land in Southeastern Idaho. How we took everything from them and forced them to assimilate or be destroyed. That we must own this and it is our obligation to make it right. That it is a debt we can never repay but we must try. And how I’m done with Thanksgiving. That I refuse to celebrate a “holiday” that twists government sanctioned genocide into a happy, symbiotic relationship with the indigenous people of the land on which we lay claim.
I will tell them that I respect everyone's right to determine their own gender identity. That your identity defines your life. And there is nothing more real. That it's how we separate ourselves from each other. And it's how we find each other. How we fall in love. How we evolve. That nobody should be forced to be anything other than who they are.
I will tell them that I believe these things, believe it or not, because of the way they raised me. That they taught me to treat people equally. To not be a bully. To be respectful and listen. To not judge or generalize. And that fairness not only means me sharing these things with them but for them to be able to share how they feel with me.
And I'm going to tell them all of this today over lunch.
No more "tomorrows." I’m done dragging my feet. It's time for me to finally do a small part of what is being asked of me. Time for me to do start doing the work that actually needs to be done.
*A thank you to a few of the people who have helped to teach me so many important lessons through their words and actions. And this list is far from complete: