A Letter to My (Now Former) Friend
Dear Friend and Neighbor,
We have lived in the same community for almost 12 years. My family is African American and yours is Caucasian, but I never had reason to believe that this was an issue for our families. Our kids are in the same class, and we have attended school performances, choral concerts, athletic events and so much more together. Our children have been invited to each of our homes, sent without hesitation. And we even attended church with you occasionally, unified for an hour on Sundays in our collective humanity and presumed similar values.
But for me, everything came to a crashing halt today when I saw that your family has chosen to place a polarizing political sign on your front lawn. Your home now represents to me and my family, a place of secret racism, homophobia, and priorities that don’t reflect the values that I presumed we shared. For me, and for us, your sign lets us know how you really feel, that any safety that we previously may have felt with you was a farce.
I remember during the last election, when my kids had friends to our home frequently. One child in particular was at our house all the time. I gave him rides to and from events, fed him dinner, and welcomed him into our home. Then I learned of a conversation he had with my child which indicated his political stance, a position he fiercely defended to my black son. After learning this, I saw this child’s mother at an event, and she said hello, but I could not muster the words to reply. All I could think about was how I had taken care of her child many, many times, and I now knew with certainty that she would not have done the same for mine.
I’m sure that some will say that I am overreacting. That you can’t judge a person on their politics, that a person is more than who they vote for. But here’s the thing, when your family is of color, that’s just not true. We operate with heightened sensitivity all the time, on the lookout for racism and oppression. Everything is about race. And for us, the political is very personal indeed.
I’m not sure what to do now. Part of me is glad to see your lawn decor, and know who you really are, so that I can avoid you. I have already stopped our social media connections but am not sure at all what to do when I see you. And we will see one another, as our town is small, our kids are connected, and we live in an active community with regular contact with one another.
In my mind, I imagine being able to say something to you. To let you know that you have hurt my family with your political position. And I ridiculously hope that I might be able to change your mind. But I know this is magical thinking, as I have met your comrades, and there is little that can be said to change minds among those that are aligned with your political position. You will point out some feature that is a larger issue to you and your family, than the many, many issues that my family sees, feels and experiences in contemporary American life. I know that you have no reason or motivation to understand what it means to be us. There is now an invisible fence between us.
So, I wait in dread for our encounter, and for the encounters with others who are aligned with your beliefs. I dread the signs on front lawns, the red hats, and the election season division that will come this fall. I want to avoid it all. But it’s not possible to avoid what is so very real to me and to those I love so deeply.
Lisa Eible, DSW, MSW, LCSW is a social work administrator, consultant and educator with over 28 years of social work experience. Lisa has advanced certificates in Cultural Competence and Trauma. Professional interests include social work in healthcare, administration, leadership, supervision, Relational-Cultural Theory, and diversity issues.