“You’ve really drunk the Kool-Aid, haven’t you?”
Something inside me stuttered at these words, losing its footing before stumbling to a stop. I looked at my dad, who was sitting at his desk as I had paced back and forth, unable to keep still as my thoughts poured out of me. I looked at him and realized that he stared at me as if I was a stranger. I looked at him, the father who I loved, and knew that he would never see me the same.
I was poisoned now.
My parents have always touted themselves as conservatives, though leaning on the side of socially liberal. The follies of government and “the War of Northern Aggression” was a common conversation topic in my household. Fox News was the news outlet of choice and my father often listened to Bill O’Reilly and scoffed at Anderson Cooper. My mother was less political but was no less conservative, frowning at Hillary Clinton and disapproving of Al Sharpton. There were a handful of golden truths that I was raised by: taxes should always be cut, government should always be small, and nothing was worse than “handouts.”
I never questioned these principles. In fact, I counted myself as one of the few who overturned the old adage: if you’re young and not a liberal, you have no heart. If you’re old and not a conservative, you have no brain. I considered myself a young person with a brain, laughing at my peers when they lauded expanding welfare (so you just want people to be lazy and dependent) and rolling my eyes at the idea of systemic racism (pulling the race card just perpetuates racism). When I entered college, I considered myself an enlightened libertarian, expounding about free trade and reduced government interference and strict interpretation of the Constitution.
The journey from libertarian to feminist liberal was a long and painful one. There were classes in sociology and psychology that challenged my basic assumptions, forcing me to delve into research rather than brush the surface. I was surrounded by people of all different backgrounds, people of color, LGBT+ people, people with different nationalities and religions, whose experiences were so radically different that I had to wonder “why?” There were stories in the news I couldn’t ignore, crying over another person killed by ignorance and realizing that I was also ignorant.
I didn’t realize that, while I was growing and learning and moving forward, I was breaking the mold that my parents had made for me.
The first fight was in a Chinese restaurant when I was home for Christmas. It was just a few months after Michael Brown was killed, his body left in the middle of the street, and even less time since Tamir Rice was gunned down less than two seconds after police arrived on scene. I remember becoming more heated, defending these boys against my parents, flabbergasted that my mom and dad would doubt their innocence.
“Tamir Rice was only twelve years old,” I snapped. “He was a child playing with a toy. There is no defending his murder.”
My dad clenched his teeth. “He wouldn’t have gotten himself killed if he had only—”
It was a plea forced through bared teeth.
“Don’t say anything else,” I begged. “I can’t hear my dad, my dad, supporting the death of a child. I can’t handle that.”
The check was paid and we left in separate cars, my mom trying to explain and soothe away the sharp edges while I sobbed in the passenger seat, burying my face in my hands and wondering when this had happened. When had my politics veered so sharply from my parents’? Maybe it was when the personal became political, when I realized how my own life and self were up for debate, when I realized that I could not escape and erase myself out of the fabric of American culture and pretend I wasn’t affected.
It’s been a few years since that night. There have been shouting matches and heated silences. There have been calm debates and agreements to disagree. It has become clear that politics is a topic that is best left at the wayside. Sometimes, the best way to avoid screaming at your family over dinner is not to bring it up at all. And, if it is brought up, sometimes the conversation is a pleasant exchange of ideas (even baby steps are progress). But, when it devolves, I employ the one-two-I’m out rule.
“Hey Ren, don’t you agree with this super awful thing?”
“No, I don’t. I agree with the opposite thing.”
“How could you not agree with super awful thing? I thought you were a patriot/an American/a smart person.”
“I’d rather not discuss it. Did you hear about the Cubs getting into the World Series/the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2/the new Bruno Mars song?”
“You’re an idiot/communist/terrible human being if you don’t agree with super awful thing.”
“Again, let’s not talk about it. How about all these other subject changes instead?”
“But socialism-reverse racism-voter fraud-religious freedom-bathroom bill-abortionist-Obama!”
“Alright, since the subject changes aren’t working, I’m literally going to leave the room/get off the phone/go home and drink. Love you, bye!”
This system doesn’t always work perfectly, but sometimes self-care is more important that making sure your family doesn’t feel awkward. My parents know that my politics are part of me and are unlikely to change. If anything, I become more radical and more progressive with each passing year. That old adage seems to be in reverse, but I’d like to think that, as I get older, my heart grows alongside wisdom, rather than shriveling with it.
And, that has nothing to do with drinking Kool-Aid.