Four days after the election, my friend and fellow opinion writer, Maura Casey, asked me to post a question for a discussion on Facebook after she’d had troubling encounters with two of her conservative friends.
“I think we have to have a rational conversation about politics,” she wrote in an email. “I’m not looking forward to it, but silence isn’t working for me anymore.
“I really cherish having conservative friends because I think we all need to dip our toes in views that we don’t agree with and try to see things — even in passing — the way they do. It helps keep the conversation going and keep us from dehumanizing each other. But I’d like to hear from your other Facebook friends who have people in their lives that they disagree with politically. How do they stay friends? How do they manage the relationship?”
Her timing was impeccable. The day before, my husband and I were on the receiving end of an out-of-state relative’s post-election email about President Obama. In our view, it was indisputably racist. When we said so, he was astonished. He thought he was showing a sense of humor after his guy had lost. What was wrong with us, he wanted to know.
We all but hyperventilated. How could he have thought that was funny? How could he not see that it was offensive? Would he have felt comfortable sending that email to an African American friend? Does he even have any African-American friends?
We threw up our hands and kept all those questions to ourselves. We don’t see him often, but the man is family. We couldn’t see how to push back further without alienating him, and other relatives in the email chain who, for all we knew, were silent because they thought we were the ones who were insufferable.
I did post Maura’s question on Facebook, and the lively discussion that unfolded made it clear that, when it comes to politics, family can be rough going. That’s true of friends, too, and colleagues we’re forced to work with, day in and day out.