My first jobs were at the country club where my mother worked and on the golf course where we lived—a working-class family of rednecks who saw building a house there as making it, achieving the American Dream.
On rainy and cold days, all the pro shop and greens-keeping workers mulled around the club house. I vividly recall one of those days when a member of the grounds crew explained to me in careful detail that black people (he preferred the racial slur) were the consequence of Cain being banished for murdering Abel and then mating with apes.
It’s biblical, he proclaimed.
This experience, I must emphasize, was not an outlier. This was normal for my life, having been born in 1961 in Woodruff, South Carolina.
Such blatant and casual racism was pervasive among my white family, friends, and community.
So Roseanne Barr’s recent racist Twitter rant and the entire rise of Trumplandia—these are not in any way shocking while they are incredibly burdensome, a heaviness that will never approach the weight carried by those who are the targets of racism and bigotry but that certainly drags me closer and closer to fatalism.
I also know fatalism quite well.
In my late teens and throughout college and young adulthood, my relationship grew increasingly antagonistic with my father, often punctuated with heated arguments spurred by his racism.
Over years of arguing, I simply gave up, became a quiet and passive visitor to my parents’ house. Increasingly, I called fewer and fewer times; I visited almost exclusively on required holidays.
The ennui was the tension between the natural love felt for parents—and the incredible debt I felt to the many sacrifices they made for me—and the inexcusable ideologies my parents espoused, often relentlessly.
My parents were Nixon apologists, faithful Republican voters their entire lives.
They also were increasingly strapped for money, and their last decades were characterized by heart disease and just surviving the consequences of being working-class children of the 1940s-1950s (smoking and eating as many Southerners did).
My parents were the poster-couple for self-defeating politics, decades before the mainstream media became obsessed with understanding the disenfranchised white voter. And finally, my parents paid the ultimate cost for grounding their political and economic lives in racism.
At the very least, a healthcare system connected to universal insurance and a robust social safety net would have extended my parents’ lives, lives that ended very badly and with their life’s earnings nearly exhausted.
The house that represented their achieving the American Dream is the very last thing remaining—a depressing monument to their stubborn self-defeating ideologies, their racism.
Our last decade together is the most depressing. My daughter dated, married, and then had a daughter with a black man.
I am now the grandfather of two biracial grandchildren.
It wasn’t a hard decision, but it was hard—to give up on your parents as you recognized this family of yours deserved your complete devotion. Passive and silent were none the less complicit.
Everyone in my immediate family, except me, became entirely estranged from my parents as I attempted to meet some extreme minimum obligations as my father’s health deteriorated dramatically, and then my mother had a stroke.
The last six months of my parents’ lives thrust them once again into the center of my life, the fatalism to which I had resigned myself set aside as their reduced circumstances demanded we all recognize their essential humanity despite their own role in having come to these unnecessary and desperate ends.
No one wants to admit their parents are flawed or even horrible people—just as most white people do not want to admit they are complicit in white privilege and racism.
My parents’ deaths during the beginning of the Trump administration carry an awful symbolism in the same way my parents’ house does now as we rummage through all my parents’ stuff—throwing away most of it—in preparation to sell this crumbling statue dwarfed by the desert of their tarnished beliefs.
I carry in my 57 years another layer of exhaustion at the mainstream media trying to understand Trump voters—white angst grounded in the racism that social norms refuse to acknowledge—and the current wrestling with Barr, including some who are calling for explaining her rant as somehow connected to her mental health.
That layer of exhaustion has the face of the grounds crew member explaining to me that black people came from Cain mating with an ape; it has the face of hundreds of white people in my family, my community.
I do not need anyone to explain this to me. It is my life.
A life already well acquainted with fatalism resting against love and deep appreciation, a life rendered heavy, nearly too heavy to carry, certainly too heavy to move.
Yes, I gave up on changing my parents’ minds, shaking their souls in the name of human dignity as I looked into the eyes of my grandchildren.
How, then, to make strangers see the inhumanity in their racism, see their hatred and bigotry as self-defeating as well as entirely unwarranted?
Fatalism is a powerful narcotic.