by Justin Rosario
My wife Debra’s mother and stepfather are coming down from New York this weekend to visit. They used to come down in February but we had to insist they start coming in March. The problem was they would come for Anastasia’s birthday to take her out for her “special day” but then they wouldn’t come back until June to take Jordan out for his.
Jordan’s birthday is in April and, not coincidentally, Jordan is autistic.
This is not meant to prejudice you against my inlaws so much as it is meant to give you an understanding of what kind of people they are.
When Jordan was about 4, Grandma and Poppy took Anastasia and their two other neurotypical grandkids out to the circus. The year before, they had brought Jordan but it was too much for him and he had to stay outside with one of the grandparents until it was over. Instead of finding a different activity all the grandkids could enjoy, they decided to leave him behind. Deb and I didn’t think this was a great idea but we were pressured into it. Once we saw the look on Jordan’s face when he realized he wasn’t going with everyone else, that was the first and last time that happened.
When Jordan was even younger, we kept trying to get the same grandparents to childproof the doors to their bedroom and workrooms. They had a lot of breakable decorations and spending three hours chasing Jordan around the house to keep him out was unnecessarily exhausting. They refused for over a year until, finally, we stopped chasing Jordan and let him have at it. After he dismantled a lovely model airplane, they decided that perhaps they might want to get those childproof doorknobs after all.
They found the entire concept of Jordan having his own routine that they couldn’t control to be bothersome and the less they had to acknowledge it, the better.
During this period, Debbie’s stepfather sank further and further into the Fox News bubble and started forwarding those racist emails we’ve all heard about. That’s a real thing if you haven’t been exposed to it and they’re awful on every level. After a few months of anti-Latino emails, I reminded Lou that I am half Puerto Rican, making his grandkids 1/4 Latino. After he sent another one, I explained to him in no uncertain terms that if he sent me one more of these racist emails, we were going to have a very serious problem. They stopped coming but Lou kept devolving, dragging Debbie’s mother Elaine with him.
But don’t view her as a victim, Debbie’s mother already had quite a bit of her own bigot baggage already. We had a friend house sit for us to watch our cats while we went out of state for a few days. Deb’s mom told us to hide our valuables. Why? Because our friend Carlos was Latino and you know how they are. We swallowed our anger and just chalked it up to the ignorance of that generation of middle class white people.
Eventually, we had to start throwing two separate birthday parties for the kids. One for our friends, many of whom are minorities, and one for the grandparents so they wouldn’t embarrass us. Debbie’s mother also did not take it well when she was informed that I was going to be the donor daddy to our best friends, a Latina lesbian couple. It’s been going on like this for over 15 years now. But we put up with it as best we could.
Then came the election.
I knew they were going to vote for Trump and I made it abundantly clear that they should keep that information to themselves. I would have happily pretended they voted for Gary Johnson for the sake of family unity. But for some unknown reason, Debbie’s mother felt the need to make sure we knew they voted for Trump. And that changed everything.
Before, I was willing to tolerate the drip drip drip of obnoxious bigotry. But this crossed a line I wasn’t even aware I had until Trump mainstreamed white nationalism. Before, they had voted for run of the mill racism. Now, they had voted for people who quite literally want anyone that’s not white to be removed from the country. As a Puerto Rican Jew, I knew that meant me and my family even though we have no identifiable ethnic features beyond white skin. As I’ve written before, when it comes to white nationalism, they always get around to the Jews.
Debbie’s mother is very confused by the whole thing. She thinks I’m angry because we lost an election, that this is just politics. She knows I’m furious through a series of Facebook posts not particularly directed at her explaining that a vote for Trump was a vote for people who actively wish harm on me and my family. In these posts, I’ve pointed out that Trump voters, no matter what stories they tell themselves, chose to embrace the exact same kind of hatred that gave us Nazis and the Holocaust. I’m sure they’re brushing it off as hyperbole because it’s a comforting lie Trump voters have been telling themselves. The problem is that while they can lie to themselves, they cannot lie to me. The number one indicator of support for Trump is racism. Period. End of story.
In the weeks after the election, I wondered if I was being a sore loser. I thought very hard about it because it was important that I understand my reaction as clearly as possible. It occurred to me that while I was disappointed after the losses in 2010 and 2014, I didn’t resent my in-laws. I didn’t take it personally; it was what it was. This is not the case this time. I felt, and still feel, personally threatened and afraid for my many Latino friends and all of my family. None of them are undocumented but that hardly seems to matter to the police eager to harass them or the white people eager to hurt them.
So no, this was not about my candidate losing the election. This is about a direct and immediate threat to my loved ones. This is about a spike in hate crimes. This is about white people taking it upon themselves to scream “Get out of my country!” and shooting brown people. This is about government sanctioned racism. This is about Jewish cemeteries being desecrated. This about bomb threats targeting Jewish schools and community centers. This is about neo-Nazis openly threatening Jews in Montana. This is about having a white nationalist controlling the president of the United States.
We are way beyond politics.
Although even on that lesser level, they’ve still inflicted harm on us as Betsy DeVos seems intent on doing away with services for special needs children. Because why should Jordan be treated with dignity and respect by the public education system? This is Trump’s America and if you can’t afford to pay for a special needs education, too fucking bad.
I took the time to explain to my wife, who is not as politically engaged as I am, what her parents have done and once she understood it, she was appalled. She was already offended that her parents had voted for a man that has vowed to crush government workers like Debbie and the white nationalism aspect made it infinitely worse. But I haven’t pressed her beyond that. These are her parents and how she deals with them is not for me to say.
For my part, I won’t deal with them beyond hello. They can come into my home. They can eat my food. But that’s it. I will not speak to people who stand with Nazis unless it is to tell them how repulsive I find their presence. And as much as I want to, I will not stop them from seeing their grandchildren. Even if I thought Debbie would tolerate such a thing (she would not), I wouldn’t ask. A child should know their grandparents, even if they’re horrible people.
But if they decide my indifference is a problem, if they push the point, then I will happily explain to them, in great detail, why they are dead to me. I will explain to them who they are supporting and when they squawk about it, I will read them the sewer of hate that is the comment section of Breitbart.com. Then I will explain to them that the man who created that sewer is Trump’s top adviser. I will explain that the sudden rise of anti-Semitism is due entirely to the election of the man they voted for and why that is. I will explain to them that it doesn’t matter what bullshit reasons they give, they voted for a sexual predator. They voted for a man that mocks people like Jordan. They voted for a man that is criminalizing people who look like my family. They knew all of this because Trump never hid it; he bragged about it and they still voted for him. And that’s fine. It’s a free country and they’re allowed to vote for whomever they want for whatever reason they want.
But there are consequences.
One of those consequences is that I will no longer engage with them beyond the bare minimum of politeness. I will not sit with them and break bread. I will not pretend their presence is not offensive to me. For the rest of their days, they are nothing to me but a source of loathing. As far as I’m concerned, they’re nothing more than collaborators.
Another consequence, and I will absolutely make sure they know this if they decide to make a scene, is that when Anastasia and Jordan are old enough to understand, they will know what kind of people their grandparents were. I will show them the horrible things Donald Trump said before the election. I will show them the even more horrible things he did as president. I will show them the hatred and violence he inspired and condoned. I will show them how he appealed directly to white nationalists and how those white nationalists talk about Jews. And then I will tell them that this is who their grandparents voted for because they were OK with all of that.
Debbie’s parents will know that their legacy will be their grandchildren looking back at them with the same kind of disgust and pity my generation has for the bigots that fought against progress during the Civil Rights era. They will not be remembered fondly as the kindly grandparents, they will be remembered as hateful people that despised their half-brother Kyle for being the “wrong” color and their Aunts Maria and Jenny for being both the “wrong” color and gay.
They will find this unfair and cruel. But the monsters that threw bottles at black children going to white schools thought they were the victims, too. Everyone is the hero of their own story, even when, by any objective measure, they’re the villains. Sadly for them, how they lived their lives tell their true story and my inlaws have chosen to live their lives by a code of intolerance and petty cruelty. But that’s their problem and I’m done making it mine as well.
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