As I was scrolling through Facebook the other day I stumbled upon a shared link by a conservative Facebook friend entitled, “I’m a Republican, Not a Moron: Being Conservative in a World That’s Not.” Intrigued, I read through the article, the general gist of it being that everyone just needs to respect each other across party lines and that we have to learn that agreeing to disagree is okay. While I agree that respect and valuing others opinions, even if they differ from ours, is important, the extremely racist statements of current politicians such as Donald Trump make me skeptical in simply agreeing to disagree.
I have several friends who support Trump and our conversations about him – particularly regarding his statements on immigrants, women, and race in America – have led to very heated debates that escalate past the level of intense political debates and that have put a strain on our respective friendships. Given my academic background on racism, I see Donald Trump as a symbol of the racial problems in America today: he is connected to and emblematic of the deeply rooted racial ideologies that saturate America and its institutions. However, to them from their largely color-blind perspective of America, Trump may be unpolished and impulsive but the things he says are not truly meant as racist comments. I struggle with our disconnect, with the level of escalation of these conversations, and the unsettling feeling of simply “agreeing to disagree.”
As I grapple with our differences the ideas presented in D.W. Sue’s book Race Talk come to mind. When I bring up the racist comments Trump makes, I am turning a political conversation into a racial one which, as Sue explains, violates the politeness protocol and the color-blind protocol. While to me it may seem obvious that politics and race are inextricably intertwined, to my conservative friends bringing race into our conversation is violating social norms, is inappropriate, and is often met with strong uncomfortable reactions. Furthermore, when I condemn Trump and label the things he says as racist, I am activating my friend’s fears of being perceived as racist and realizing one’s racism. If you support a political leader who expresses racist sentiments, you are also labeled as racist. Therefore, you either have to downplay his racism or acknowledge that you support what he is saying and own his racist sentiment. My friends become incredibly defensive of Trump and their support of him by down-playing his racism and viewing racism as a grander, institutional problem. If Trump is not racist, then their personal morality and egalitarianism cannot be called into question either. This leads to conversation stalemate, leaving us both angry and frustrated. As a friend, I don’t want to push the issue and risk insulting them or jeopardizing our friendship, however as an ally, I am left unfulfilled and fearful of the larger implications with simply “agreeing to disagree.”
This brings me back to the points expressed in the article shared on Facebook and leaves me with the question: When it comes to discussion around racialized politics and Donald Trump, as an ally, is it acceptable to simply agree to disagree?