A MAGA Meltdown: How My White Family is Letting me Down in the Age of Trump
Being Black in a White Family during an Age of False Equivalency and White Grievance
By Christian Felix
I should preface this deep dive with the following: We all represent things that are larger than ourselves and inform our identity. Racial difference between my white family and I has never felt more pronounced – and never been more painful. That does not discount the other noble aspects of their character or the deep love I still have for many of them as difficult as it may be right now; and there are those who I lost hope for a long time ago. We know race is not real. We are one race, the human race. I used to say proximity (i.e. just get a Black friend); could solve it all, now I’m not so sure.
So, on the heels of that deeply emotional experience, upon reading my uncle's email, I naively, and albeit reluctantly, hit the “reply all” button and offered a somewhat unfiltered, yet slightly watered-down response of my own. I said I agreed with everything he said; however, I do not make the distinction between Trump and his supporters in respect to who is racist. I have trouble seeing how those of you who support this man, the rest of you who normalize his supporters and the expectation of me to respect their position and still feel respected will not negatively impact my relationship with the family collective moving forward. Full stop.
This missive of racial vulnerability I sent to the elders of my white family and a few others was swiftly met with a chastisement rooted in Christian faith provided by a cousin in the heartland, a more forceful shaming rebuke from one of my uncles, who ironically was a Tai-Chi practicing anti-Vietnam war “woo woo” hippie back in the day. By and large there was the all too familiar collective silence. A handful did reach out offering some words of reassurance and solidarity, a few others owning up to their confusion and sense of being rudderless when it comes to addressing racism. Yet the vast majority of these intelligent, faith-abiding, white people chose to remain silent, something I will never forget.
I have very fond memories of my white family during my childhood. I’m lucky this white American family accepted my sister and me despite the long secret/repressed tradition of white people rejecting their Black family members like it was nothing. I could only imagine the horror of being a mixed-race child born into to the family of a Laura Ingram, Ann Coulter or God forbid Tucker Carlson. (Perhaps a super amped up sequel to the brilliant cinematic encapsulation of our current racial dilemma, Get Out) Or even Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barret, and Irish Catholic, who actually has two adopted children from Haiti. Many conservative writers have written high-minded exhortations to their liberal counterparts, expressing outrage at the “attacks” the left is making on these innocent Black children who were miraculously saved by a white American family. While I most certainly commend Justice Barret's efforts to provide a better life for these two orphans, I condemn her support for Donald Trump, and ultimately it will be detrimental to the mental health and well-being of those children. I know because I have had try and reconcile my own family's support of this racist politician and their professed love for me. Just as with some members of my white family, those children's humanity comes second.
The good memories of my childhood and other positive experiences do not atone for the absence of collective action right now. My uncle sent that letter in 2016. Since then, Trump’s racism has only grown more rampant. My family has had four years to come together and figure it out, four years to right the wrongs of their silence: collectively shout from the rafters and march in the streets in support of my sister and me. They have had four years to repudiate Donald Trump and the MAGA bullshit he stands for. If they had offered a collective response or created a space for communal dialogue, I would not be writing this article. The reason I am writing it is because what they are currently doing is not enough. I’d liken it to a form of passive supremacy and if they don’t change, nothing will.
I’m sure many within my white family upon reading this will think it unfair, that my assessment of them is inaccurate, that this airing of our family’s racial dirty laundry is one sided - and a bit tawdry. I can accept that. Although, I write about them, it is not necessarily for them. It’s for all of us. Nor does it discount or diminish the many, many wonderful moments when I have felt loved and appreciated by my white family. Essentially, I know in my heart of hearts that my white Irish grandfather and grandmother, Bob and Margaret, would have had a BLACK LIVES MATTER sign in their well-appointed suburban home just north of Chicago, most likely tucked into a corner of their front bay window, above the flower beds dutifully attended to by my grandpa, and occasionally me - under his watchful eye. A tasteful yet prominent enough sign for their mostly white neighbors to see. They made it abundantly clear that my life – their grandson’s Black life mattered to them. Too bad I can’t say the same for all their children and their progeny.
*Ironically, Fond-des-Blancs is home to many people of Polish descent who had fought for the Haitian Resistance during the Napoleonic Wars after switching sides from fighting within the French regiments. My Haitian grandfather, Papi Nene had skin and eyes as light as my Irish grandfather.
Postscript: Since I wrote that article Trump’s presidency ended even worse than I imagined, with lives lost amid the first insurrection I’ve witnessed in my life. However, our democracy survived and we now have a new President. I should note that I am still waiting for some collective action and dialogue from my white family. Yet, there have been murmurs of progress with smaller groups of cousins and a couple aunts and uncles who are trying new things, like supporting non-profits that help the black community, expanding their knowledge about the history or our country, participating in workshops about anti-racism, and most importantly, encouraging the rest of the family to do the same. The highlight of all of these various initiatives, was an invitation from my white cousin to speak at his prestigious business school about Black Lives Matter. It went well. Might be baby steps, but I’ll take em.