Tonight, my dad and I got into a pretty bad fight. It was the worst one since I told him I changed my major from engineering to psychology. Tonight he made a comment in front of me about reverse racism, and I lost it.
I am a white person who has never had to worry about keeping a roof over my head or where my next meal is coming from. I have a lot of privilege in this society. However, I am also a gay woman, which sometimes means I have a little bit less privilege.
My dad, on the other hand, was brought up very poor, and gained economic stability later on. He is a straight white man, and he’s in a position of reasonable power. By no means will I say that he’s always had privilege, or that he doesn’t work hard, but today, and for most of my life, he has privilege. He has a lot of privilege.
I can’t say I want him to have less privilege. There are very few people that I want to have less privilege. (Donald Trump, Brock Turner, and Brett Kavanaugh come to mind.) I do want other people to have more privilege.
I am a feminist. I believe that black lives matter. I support gay marriage. I want to end poverty.
But once again, I have a lot of privilege. For one thing, I can put all four of those statements out there, and I don’t have to worry that I’ll be physically attacked for any of them.
My dad, is not a feminist. He believes “all lives matter.” He does not think gay people should get married. He wants people in poverty to “pull themselves out of it.”
Obviously, we disagree on some points.
The problem is, he’s still my dad. So while I may be one of the four people with the best chance of changing his mind, I’m also one of the four people who he can get really, really pissed off at.
So, we try not to talk “politics” because that’s what family does. We put it to the side and talk about my grades in the college he pays for. (Yes, I know that’s another point of how privileged I am.) Usually, that works pretty well.
Sometimes though, one of us opens our mouth and says something like “reverse racism” or “universal healthcare.” If it’s just one comment, we let it go.
Then there are the rare nights, the nights like tonight.
I was on my laptop, trying to finish working on something. I wasn’t really doing much, I’m not often home for the weekend so I was just trying to hang out with them. My dad and his mom were talking about something over the television. I couldn’t even tell you what, just that it had something to do with overcompensating for racial biases. His mom agrees with him no matter what, so he kept talking.
I tried to be civil about it, nice little girl, complacent little girl. “Please stop.” I could feel my jaw grinding as I said it. I had been biting my tongue all weekend and the metaphorical blood was about to start pouring.
He didn’t stop. I can’t remember what he said, but it set me off.
“You are so privileged and you don’t even recognize it! How can you act like that? There is so much bullshit in this world happening to other people but you can’t even open your eyes and try to get someone else’s opinion.” I definitely wasn’t eloquent, but I made my point.
“Actually I have gotten others opinions.”
“Give me a break.”
“If you don’t like it, then go.” He said the words but it didn’t hit me. He would never kick me out.
“Why are you so sure of yourself? You can’t see the other side.”
“If you don’t like it, you can go.”
That time, it hit me. He told me to leave. So I did.
“You want me to go? Fine. I’ll go.” The plan had been to return to school tomorrow, but I ran to my room and started shoving what I needed into my bag.
My mom texted me, she had witnessed the fight and was furious with both of us. “He’ll stop. I asked him to.”
I ignored her text. He and I had agreed to stop plenty of times before, but it never worked. There was always another comment.
I started making up a plan in my head. It was too late and I was too tired to drive the three hours back to school. I’d call my best friend as soon as I got on the road and ask to stay at her house for the night. I’d come back home in the morning after my dad left for work so that my mom would know everything was fine.
I had to pass them to get out the door, and I could hear my mom calling after me to stop. I didn’t listen. I was throwing my bags into the car when my dad came out.
“Your mom wants to talk to you before you go.”
I looked down to see that he was standing in the driveway without shoes on.
“Fine.” I wasn’t doing it for him. My mom deserved better than me running out like that.
I went back in and gave my mom a hug. She held onto me, pulling me away from my dad and into her room. I let her. “It’s late and wet, you’re not driving back tonight,” she said. “You planned to stay one more night, just stay. You can leave tomorrow. You have a dentist appointment in the morning.”
“He told me to go.”
“He doesn’t mean it.”
“Well he isn’t taking it back.” I was crying. “He isn’t asking me to stay.”
“It’s our house too.”
I shook my head, “It’s not my house.”
“Well it’s my house and I’m telling you to stay. He’ll stop with the comments.”
“Mom, he’s never going to stop.”
“He will. I asked him too.”
“It doesn’t matter, he’s not going to stop.”
“He loves you.”
“He doesn’t respect me,” I told her.
“Why do you say that?”
“He just doesn’t. My opinions mean nothing to him. He thinks they are so below his.”
She almost laughed. She was sitting on her bed now. She knew before I did that I wasn’t going to leave. “I don’t know of too many people who’s opinions he values on the same level as his own.”
“I believe that.”
I could hear his footsteps approaching, loud and clear. My brothers and my mom shuffled. My dad and I stomped.
“Oh, and now he’s coming in here,” I whispered. I was trying to stop crying. It wasn’t going well.
He knocked lightly on the door before opening it, even though it was his bedroom. “I’m sorry. I never meant to insult you. I really don’t say things intentionally to make you upset. I don’t want you to go. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
He said, “When I see inequality, I have to say something. I know it’s the same way with you, we just have different views of equality.”
My mom and I stayed in her room, but he went back to the television.
She told me that she understood feeling that lack of respect from him. She said she just deals with it. She told me that I was never going to change his mind. I already knew that. She told me that he was afraid, terrified of how the world around him was changing. I knew that too.
I told her my opinions, and how I never expected to change his mind, but maybe make him hesitate before he calls reverse racism next time. Maybe that’ll be enough to cause the other white guy he’d be talking to, to not think about it like that for another month. Maybe him not thinking about it for that much longer, would lead to his kid not hearing about it from his dad, before he learned about all the horrible things Christopher Columbus actually did. Maybe that would change his kid’s mind. Maybe the kid would grow up to be a wonderful leader and help to bring about a more equal society.
Most likely, the fight I had with my dad tonight didn’t change anything. It certainly didn’t change his opinion. But maybe it did.
Now, sitting in my bedroom in the house that my dad pays for, I’m left feeling guilty. I don’t do enough. I let too much slide. I don’t call him on the one liners just like I don’t call out people in my classes or my friends. I don’t march because I have classes or work or it’s cold outside and I can’t find my winter coat. I make posts on Facebook that get liked by the people who agree with me and ignored by everyone else. I am complacent.
I feel like that a lot. I’m complacent. I tell myself, “I have to do better in the future. I have to do more.” But I continue to do the same things.
It’s 11:59 on a Sunday night. I am a young, able-bodied, straight-passing, white, well-off woman. I am going to do something better.
I’m voting for people who I’ve researched. People who I think will do the right thing.
I’m going to protest, the next march or rally possible. Even if I’m tired or have better things to do.
I’m going to advocate and elevate the voices of people who don’t get that bullshit white privilege I have. What they have to say is more important.
I’m going to continue to fight against the systems that keep the 1% on top. I’m going to educate myself and anyone who will listen.
I’m going to do better, not in the future, not tomorrow, today.
“Happy people plan actions; they don’t plan results.” -Denis Waitley
If I have said something that you disagree with, or if you have a correction, please leave a comment for me. Just be nice.