AS I SEE IT - Understanding the Fallout of Confronting a Family Political Division By Amber Penter

This article was written in November before the 2020 US Presidential Election

I have always hesitated to express my feelings about American politics until the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. In my mind, it was never truly a topic that I had the right to talk about. Whilst I could join the bandwagon and complain about the hypocritical comments and self-serving policies being dished out in Parliament, I could never see the direct effect of American politics on the people around me. This, too, seemed to be the viewpoint of primary and secondary schools, teaching students about the electoral system in the U.K but never bothering to mention the impact that global politics have on us as well.

The reality of this rather privileged outlook became far clearer over the course of 2020, when a close family member of mine living in America reached out about the election.

Issues of politics had never been something that our family ever really spoke about. There seemed to be an unspoken rule that we should not be disrespectful and contradict another family member. Maintaining this ‘comfortable’ state of relations had always been the priority. And so, when my auntie began speaking about the ‘corrupt’ left, I let it pass. When she began posting photos of her husband and her at Trump rallies, I stayed quiet. When she insulted members of the Democratic Party, who I admired, calling them ‘American-hating, left leaning extremists’, I didn’t make any comments. This was all until the Black Lives Matter movement.

When I confronted my aunt on her perspective on BLM she engaged in discussion. She said she was proud of me for ‘standing firm’ in my convictions (whilst admittedly refusing to relent on her opinion). This surprising reception gave me the courage to talk about my dislike of Trump after years of complacency. I felt that if I were to be heartfelt and genuine, that maybe she might open to talking about it, even if it meant that we didn’t agree. I told her that I understand why she supports Republican policies that align with her religious beliefs but that I struggled to understand why she so vehemently supported Trump as a person. This ‘discussion’ became far less productive than our last.

It seemed that by attacking Trump’s actions, I was directly attacking her own sense of identity. By pointing out that his actions didn’t correlate with his Christian values, I was falling into the category of those left-wing media fanatics that she so vehemently hated. It felt as though I had insulted a member of her family (rather ironically), and that, by simply questioning her point of view, I had immediately cut myself out of her bubble. And so, she blocked me after I had sent just one message. Not only that, she began blocking members of my family who had not even participated in the conversation but who she had associated with me by default. This to me, was a defence mechanism.

Whilst living in America she had surrounded herself with individuals who all hold the same beliefs as herself. She only followed Republican-supporting social media accounts; only had Trump-supporting friends, and completely placed her trust in news outlets that confirmed what she already believed. Even though her sources of media were being flagged as misinformation by the social media platforms themselves, she still continued to believe those false claims, deeming the platforms as ‘corrupt’ and ‘leftist’.

This intolerance and fear of change is precisely what we should be confronting, not only with regards to the American election, but social and political debates as a whole. It is incredibly difficult to engage in political discussions, especially with those who are close to you (and even more so if you don’t hold the same beliefs). As members of the university population, we are responsible for how these discussions will continue and as it stands, we seem to be steering conversations in a positive direction.

In a recent poll conducted by Ipsos Mori, it was found that support for BLM was significantly higher among younger generations in the UK with 69% of 18-24 year-olds supporting the movement in comparison to only 35% of 55-75 year olds. On a similar note, when asked whether legalised same-sex marriage made individuals feel proud to live in Britain, 70% of the younger population answered ‘yes’ in comparison to only 24% of 55-75 year-olds. This refusal to conform to the traditions of older generations is a hopeful sign of what is to come.

Regardless of whether you are left or right leaning, I would encourage you to discuss your standpoint with those around you. To not inject the vitriol of inflexibility and intolerance into conversations. To have convictions and beliefs but also, a curiosity to understand why other people may disagree with you.


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