By Chad Moore
I was born and raised in a family of conservative Christian Republicans. Democrats were evil and attempting to dismantle everything good in our society, and Republicans were God’s soldiers here to protect what was sacred. This was never actually spoken to me, but it was always an underlying tone during any political conversation at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or the occasional breakfast that I would attend mid-Saturday mornings. This was the world that I knew and I was encapsulated in it. I knew nothing else and I never questioned this until I took a step out of the conservative bubble of the town I was living in to further my education and attend a state university.
I'm not sure how I thought I had a diverse friend group or life experience when everyone around me looked and thought the exact same. To be honest, I'm sure I didn't think much about it because at the time it “didn't affect me.” This was another mindset that was perpetuated by my extended family. Every man for themselves unless your actions are negatively affecting me in some way, but the reverse was abhorrently wrong and a “stretch of the truth”. I started to ask questions and ponder larger life issues with college peers who came from different parts of the state and country. Through various late night conversations, I began to see a world outside of Lancaster, PA. They had childhoods and upbringings that were very different from the ones inside of my bubble. I began to see my privilege. Being white and middle class were the two most blatant of my many privileges. I saw that things I once deemed as issues or problems in my life were truly nothing more than minor inconveniences. My father was recently laid off from his job and, from my eyes, times were tough, but there was still enough money to ensure we never went hungry and the bills were paid in full each month. Meanwhile my peers’ parents were both employed full time and struggling to keep the lights on. Suddenly the “struggle” of my parents having to finance my MacBook Pro, instead of paying cash, seem quite trivial. I began to see everything my family was taking for granted and overlooking. I could no longer un-see my privilege and felt the need to listen and stand up for those who lacked the privilege I had, until recently, taken for granted. My (political) views were forever changed.
As the Presidential campaigns started to get off the ground various family members began to become more outspoken about their political candidate and their conservative values. It started out as showing support, and quickly changed the dynamics of who they were and how they treated those around them. This was most evident in my interactions with a particular family member on Facebook. For someone who claimed to love and care for me, it was clear that things were changing and the anger and hatred being disseminated from this political figure was now acceptable and being embraced. With my newfound outlook on the world and compassion for those around me, paired with family members’ unconscious racism and not so subtle bigotry, many of the relationship that were once light and comfortable were now forever augmented and disfigured.
In the spring prior to the election, the posts I had liked proved to be too much and I became a target. The post which was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” was one in support of a same-sex relationship. This family member had seen a picture of two men (in a relationship, who I knew) kissing. This was on their feed because I had liked the image, along with about 400 other people, and as I would soon find out, it would send them into a rage. What added fuel to the fire was the fact that in order to post a comment riddled with passionate hate they would have had to like the image first. In their mind they would have had to “condone that behavior” by liking the image in order to rant about how it was biblically immoral.
I was substituting that day. I had just dropped my students off at computer class. When I returned to the room I checked my phone and saw that I had been tagged in a post by a family member. I was immediately concerned due to my knowledge of the type of content and aggressive confrontation they had been posting as of late. As I opened Facebook, my jaw dropped and I froze. I knew that we had not previously seen eye to eye on issues, but I had not realized that what this person would have once called a caring relationship had completely withered away. The post on my timeline read: “sorry to see you turning your back on the biblical truth in support of the homosexual lifestyle. You may not agree with it, I don’t know, but when you put your name on a post supporting it, questions arise!” I could feel my anxiety kick in and it felt as if I was shaking. I had no idea what to do or how to handle this situation because, while I had previously dealt with anonymous bullying on twitter, I had never experienced someone acting in such a brash and heartless manner, signing it with their name as if proud of one’s literary accomplishment. I was frozen in place staring down at my phone. I was frozen, but it felt as if my entire body was vibrating violently. A few moments later, an immediate family member of this person messaged me apologizing for his words and included an incredibly sweet message to follow. This was my saving grace that pulled me back to reality, back to the responsibilities I still needed to complete within the school day. Never the less, I was still shaken.
My phone blew up for the remainder of the school day as my friends and people I did not know went back and forth offering words of protection and those of ignorance. By the time I got home, the situation had taken its toll on me and I reached out to my parents for support, only to get a response along the lines of “what do you want us to do about it?” Already beaten down, I had hoped to walk into an environment that would be uplifting and nurture me through this. I was wrong and crushed, but not surprised. Having endured events in the past with little guidance from my parents, I am not sure what I was expecting but, clearly, I did not find it. I did, however, find the power and strength of friendship and the ability to take care of myself emotionally. Without knowing, I had managed to surround myself with a group of strong and educated people who truly had my best interest at heart. What was even more profound than the number of people was the names of some of them. Evidently I had impacted people’s lives in such a way that they felt compelled to stand up against reckless words quickly typed back and forth without the thought of the effect they might have on the person helplessly caught in the middle. This was not something I found quickly that night while the comments continued, but rather it was a long journey of overcoming self-doubt. I am not sure if I would have been able to overcome such circumstances on my own without the people who fully support me, love me, and remind me of it often.
For the following days, I had people reaching out with kind words and one slightly aggressive offer “to take care of the problem”, which I quickly declined. But through it all I also found my inner confidence and strength to endure, forgive, and establish appropriate boundaries for my own comfort. I have learned that these are critical skills to obtain in order to endure and overcome many of the difficult situations one faces in life. Through brief messages on Facebook, this person apologized and things seemed to come to an end. This was short lived as their true colors again came to the surface with similar heartless and rude remarks.
Since then, they have been blocked from all social media and any ability to contact me by phone. I have limited interactions at family gatherings to a “hello” and “goodbye” when I choose to return them. I took the power back. This was not about revenge or getting even. It was about protecting myself and realizing that sometimes those close to you do not deserve the right to be there. It was about ensuring I had people in my life who wanted to be there not because they felt obligated by blood, marriage, or some other possibly meaningless connection. Through these relationships I found the ability to gain enough respect for myself to stand up against those who did not share the same respect for me.
I shared my story and used my experience to prevent others from having to deal with similar situations with family members, and also to have strength to endure them. It was far from easy and the opposite of pleasant, but because of this experience, I am stronger, more outspoken, and more educated on various topics close to my heart. It has forever changed me, but I chose how it changed me and now I hope to change the world around me.
“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” - Maya Angelou