I Want to Persuade You to Care About Other People

After changing her conservative grandfather’s mind about affirmative action, Danielle Tcholakian commits to trying to get through to people whose politics are very different from her own.

Danielle Tcholakian | Longreads | August 2017 | 23 minutes (5,681 words)

 

A few years ago, my middle brother and I were in Boca Raton, Fla. for Thanksgiving, visiting my mother’s parents. We’re very close with my grandparents, and one of the things I appreciate about my grandfather is that he has taken me — us — seriously for as long as I can remember. I spent every summer with him and my grandmother out on Long Island from when I was born into my teenage years, and I still can’t recall a time when I didn’t feel entitled to vigorously share my opinion with my grandfather, regardless of whether he would agree with it. When he would include me on forwarded political or (debatably) humorous e-mails with his Boca Raton pals — mostly politically conservative, Jewish guys like him — I would reply-all to any I found false or offensive in any way, lecturing men at least half a century older than me. He never yelled at me for telling off his friends and never took me off the email list for those forwards.

During the 2008 presidential election, I was in college, and I convinced him and my grandmother to vote for Barack Obama. It was the first time in our relationship, as far as I can recall, when my opinion wasn’t only given consideration, but prompted real change. I vividly remember running out to my friend’s Chicago porch after watching the vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin to call my grandpa and crow, “Who you gonna vote for now, Papa?” And I remember his good-natured laugh, his heavy sigh, his admission that yes, I was right. He was going to vote for my guy — in Florida, where it mattered.

Another thing I love about my grandfather is how he’s open-minded in a way that’s unusual among men of his generation. He’s no free-love hippie: This is a man who will drink at least one Coca-Cola a day for the rest of his life; who wears his socks pulled up so tautly, I don’t understand how they never fall; who worked hard for every dime he earned; who to this day insists Costco hot dogs are a great lunch; who plays tennis six days a week and pickle ball the seventh; and who spends a good two to three hours every day reading the paper. My grandfather lived through segregation, quietly. He is not a rabble rouser. But he has always been tickled by the rabble rouser in me, always willing to hear my liberal side out. After I worked as a journalist for Metro New York covering Mike Bloomberg as mayor of New York City, the things I learned of Bloomberg from his staff reminded me of my grandpa in that way. Make a convincing argument, and he’ll listen to it.

So, a few years ago, on Thanksgiving, my brother picked me up from the airport and brought me to the kitchen of my grandparents’ condo in Boca Raton, where my grandpa was eager for discussion. Somehow, affirmative action came up. My grandpa questioned why it was necessary, if it was necessary. Things are so different now, he said. My brother and I, rather than dismissing him as an old racist who couldn’t possibly understand if he didn’t just know, engaged with him. My brother described how he and his white friends would be boisterous on New York City streets as teens, yelling and being rowdy. Being boys. Their black friends didn’t have that luxury. They were quieter, more aware of any police around. When they were were stopped by police once, only the black kid in the group was searched.

I asked my grandpa to think about how hard he worked to give his three daughters, including my mother, every opportunity. A Jewish boy from Flatbush, Brooklyn, who figured he’d just go into the family business, laying down linoleum floors, until his father let him work with him one summer, and forced him to do all the hardest, most annoying labor, to silently persuade him to aim higher. He did, joining the Air Force to help pay for college. He went to college in Alabama, where I know he experienced some discrimination as a Jew, though those anecdotes never make it into his many stories. He followed work wherever it was, devoting so much time to it that he missed out on a lot of parenting and husbanding — something I learned only recently that he regretted, after watching him urgently try to explain to a workaholic boyfriend of mine not to follow his path.

During the 2008 presidential election, I convinced my grandfather to vote for Barack Obama. It was the first time in our relationship, as far as I can recall, when my opinion wasn’t only given consideration, but prompted real change.

Sitting under a canopy of trees on the back deck of my grandfather’s second home — yes, the boy who’d slept in a hallway in Flatbush, Brooklyn grew up to be able to afford not one but two homes — I cringed and hissed “Papa!” as he called my then-boyfriend over. I had just finished explaining to him that things were fine, my boyfriend was just stressed, he had a lot on his plate at work. My boyfriend came over, smiling amicably. My grandfather asked him, in his low, deep drone, about work.

“Can you delegate?” he asked.

My boyfriend demurred, said he worked for a small operation and had to step in because his boss had three kids — he only had me, though he didn’t mention that.

My grandpa looked thoughtful and a little sad. “I didn’t delegate as much as I could have,” he said. “Looking back now, would any of those companies have gone under if I’d let someone else take care of something? I don’t think so.”

My boyfriend nodded, but my grandpa didn’t release him. Instead, he looked right at him. “I loved work. I don’t think I ever had a bad day. So it’s hard to say I regret any of it. But I missed out on a lot. I wasn’t a very good husband, and I could’ve been around more for my kids.”

Age is a funny thing, and so are grandkids. In my experience, grandkids let you be self-critical in a way you might not be inclined to normally. I worried when I broke up with that boyfriend that my grandpa would be offended, because they’d been so similar. But he was relieved. He referenced more than once a compromise the boyfriend had been unwilling to make for our relationship, something I’d thought was small. My grandpa agreed. Don’t give anyone your love if they won’t give back in kind, he signaled without saying. Out loud he said only, “You’ll be fine,” then lovingly lied, “I don’t worry about you.”

He worries a lot, you see, about all of us. So I asked him that Thanksgiving to think about how all the opportunities he created for my mother, all the money he was able to earn and save because of the career advancements he sought and earned, carried on down the line to my brothers and me. How his whole life had helped shape the lives we would have, the comfort we would take for granted, the relative ease with which we could try and sometimes succeed and sometimes fuck up, and still rebound.

Then I asked him to imagine if he’d been black. I knew he worked hard for everything he had, that wasn’t a question. But if he’d been black, would he have even had access to the opportunities in the places where he worked so hard? Would my mother have had access to the opportunities she did? And if they hadn’t had that access, where would I be, today?

He listened and considered and then nodded, smiling a small, impressed smile of understanding and recognition.

***

After the 2016 presidential election, I reeled. I reeled the night of it, when, as a local news reporter, I was parked at the New York City Board of Elections headquarters from 9 p.m. onward and my boss called to tell me the “How to Celebrate the First Female President in New York City” feature some colleagues and I had pre-emptively compiled probably wouldn’t run. He reassigned me, directing me to find a bar where I could get quotes from shell-shocked Democrat voters. I stood outside a bar in Central Brooklyn, typing the forlorn words of fellow smokers into emails on my phone to send to the newsroom. I went into the bar once all my quotes were in, and saw a graphic projected onto a screen showing that 53 percent of white women had voted for Donald Trump, a man who I, as a native New Yorker, had grown up thinking of as a joke, a man who said terrible things about women and had reportedly done even worse things to them, whose campaign promised awful outcomes for Muslims, Mexicans, and immigrants in general. I looked at that 53 percent statistic and felt a tremendous sense of personal responsibility and guilt.

In the days after the election, news outlets rained down analyses and think pieces illustrating the ways in which journalists had failed, and were continuing to fail, at the most fundamental aim of our profession: communication. These complaints predated Election Night, but they surged in its wake. It was not journalists’ fault in a vacuum, most media-savvy people understood. Journalists were up against at least one candidate who lied more blatantly than politicians normally do and was intent on dismissing anything he didn’t like as “fake news,” and his supporters were perplexingly on board with that behavior. “Journalists ran into a combination of falsehoods and media bashing that set 2016 apart from other U.S. presidential campaigns,” Kristen Hare and Alexios Mantzarlis wrote at Poynter.

“The job of journalism is to inform the public,” Jeff Jarvis wrote in to Poynter. “The candidacy of Donald Trump and the quality of political discourse is evidence of our failure. That should be no surprise given that we devote most (of our) journalistic resources to predicting races, not to informing voters.”

My grandfather lived through segregation, quietly. He is not a rabble rouser. But he has always been tickled by the rabble rouser in me, always willing to hear my liberal side out.

The plague of “fake news,” particularly on Facebook, was partly to blame, but it isn’t true that good reporting wasn’t done during the election. As Joshua Benton wrote for Nieman Lab, “The problem is that not enough people sought it out. And of those who did, not enough of them trusted it to inform their political decisions.”

Trust was the real problem. In September 2016, a Gallup poll found that Americans’ trust in the media was at its lowest in the polling organization’s history, with a mere 32 percent saying they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust.


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I reeled because I love journalism. I love it in a way that, especially for the first few years I did it, I’ve never loved any person. Doing it has made me happier than I’d previously thought was possible. It was the glass slipper to my Cinderella, a calling I’d fallen into relatively late in life, at 26, but which I felt so acutely lucky to do. The idea that it was broken horrified me. I was intent on figuring out how to do it effectively, how to achieve that fundamental goal of communication.

But everything I encountered told me it was a lost cause. I read a book, Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism, by Thomas E. Patterson, published in October, 2013, which served mostly to show me how so-called “fake news” had been a problem well before this disastrous election cycle. I learned from the book how reluctant people are to even consider straight reporting — not even opinion pieces — that contradict their own personal views. The book was informative, but it didn’t answer the critical question keeping me up at night, and I couldn’t bear the thought that there was no real answer to it. There has to be a way to communicate with people who think differently than you do.

***

For a while, I had a “quality filter” on my Twitter notifications. It allowed Twitter’s algorithm to decide whose responses I saw, ostensibly to weed out internet trolls, people who are vile and vulgar seemingly just for the sake of being that way. A male friend who also works in media told me that he didn’t use that Twitter feature because he wanted to decide for himself who was a troll and who wasn’t — who to listen and respond to, and who wasn’t worth engaging. I decided to disable my quality filter and unmute and unblock most of the accounts I’d been protecting myself from. I knew the consequences were likely worse for me than for him — women who write publicly on the internet face much more aggressive and hostile criticism than men who do the same — but it struck me that if I really cared about communication as the fundamental mission of journalism, I had to be willing to communicate with everyone.

Four months in, I can report that it hasn’t been as bad as you might expect. I had a sort of political, joking tweet go viral and followed its consumption long enough to see it retweeted by Billy Bragg, before muting the notifications for it and subsequently missing most of the hateful responses. (I’ve learned there’s generally a bit of lag time before haters discover something to pile onto.)

When President Trump made awkward comments to an Irish female reporter in the Oval Office, I opted not to tweet about it, instead tweeting at the reporter that I was sorry she had to deal with that experience and that she handled it well.

Trump supporters lashed out at me, and I decided to respond. I made an effort not to be snarky, to make real points, to address their arguments seriously. They argued that Trump was just being nice when he commented on the woman’s appearance, that I had no right to assume she was uncomfortable in that moment, being objectified by the most powerful man in the world in his office while she was trying to do her job. I tried to explain how frustrating it is, as a woman, to feel as if your appearance both supersedes and discounts your credibility, how uncomfortable it is to have someone compliment your appearance in a setting where you’re trying to be professional, how her eyes at the end of the video clip conveyed to me a visceral discomfort that gave me deja vu. They argued that she smiled and laughed; I replied that laughter is often employed to diffuse uncomfortable situations. They argued that her relatively conservatively-cut red dress was meant to get the president’s attention; I gritted my teeth and continued to try to reply as calmly as I could. A male friend of mine also interjected, tweeting less respectfully to some of my more aggressive critics.

I ended up muting that thread later, when the notifications became too much of a distraction, but it appeared some of the people who were angry with me predicted that move, so they either emailed me their screeds or took to tweeting replies at my pinned tweet, or other tweets.

“Lucky that you are not representing women, if women would be like you, humanity would [be] extinct in a decade,” one Twitter user said, in what I assume was a comment meant to insult my physical desirability.

“You are an IDIOT if what the President said to her was wrong !!!! Was a compliment !!!!!” tweeted another.

“Kill yourself,” tweeted a third.

I showed my male friend one of the hateful emails and jokingly asked if he’d gotten as much vitriol or if it was “a ladies only kind of thing.” He replied that he had gotten almost no backlash. The worst anyone had called him was “a foul-mouthed punk,” which, if you knew this particular friend, is an accurate description he probably revelled in. Meanwhile, I had gotten more tweets and emails than either of us could count, almost all telling me I was ugly, stupid or both, as well as the catalyst for the decline of Western civilization. (It’s a heavy cross to bear, being so wrong and hideous and yet so powerful, like if Atlas were replaced with Quasimodo.)

Somehow, affirmative action came up. My grandpa questioned why it was necessary, if it was necessary. Things are so different now, he said. My brother and I, rather than dismissing him as an old racist who couldn’t possibly understand if he didn’t just know, engaged with him.

This scenario is not new to anyone who spends much time on the internet, especially not to women. But my earnest desire to communicate was somewhat naive. And I found I was censoring myself in a different way: I was swallowing the emotional response I had to that Irish reporter’s video clip, the surging of long-swallowed anger from various professional encounters with men who made me feel uncomfortable, and then all the self-protective anger that surged at people’s tweets accusing the reporter of asking for it, of wanting it, of enjoying it. Those tweets reminded me of my own response after being in similar situations, of all the times I told myself I should’ve worn a different shirt, or not worn lipstick, or not been so friendly, all the times my own default was to blame the woman in this situation, when that woman was me.

Part of me wanted to yell at her detractors that they were stupid and wrong and just didn’t get it and should be ashamed of themselves. But a bigger part of me really, really wanted them to understand. I wanted to believe that I could convince them, that if my writer-brain could just come up with the perfect string of words, the internet heavens would break open, visible sunbeams would shine down, and at least one person saying mean things on Twitter would suddenly stop discounting women’s experiences — or even just this one woman’s experience. I would take that as a win.

I probably didn’t persuade anyone that day, though I got a couple of slightly nicer responses from a few people. I’ve kept my notification settings open, though, and haven’t blocked or muted anyone new. Sometimes it feels like an exercise in developing thicker skin, like when therapists make patients confront something that upsets them over and over until it doesn’t affect them anymore. But most of the time, it’s fine, and I’ve realized that I really want to know what people think of what I say and write, even people with 22 Twitter followers. That guy still gets to vote, you know? That guy is still a reader; I still want to communicate with him. The number of Twitter followers you have doesn’t make you any less or more valuable to our current electoral system or to me as a writer.

Then I noticed a Huffington Post article being shared a lot by my liberal friends, with the headline, “I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People.” They often shared it with some variation of “THIS” or “YES.” It made me sad when I read it.

The writer, an NYC-based video editor named Kayla Chadwick, was battling “arguing-about-politics fatigue,” understandably. She felt that the difference between her and people who disagreed with her on politics was that her opponents lacked empathy. She wrote:

If you aren’t willing to fork over an extra 17 cents for a Big Mac, you’re a fundamentally different person than I am.

I’m perfectly content to pay taxes that go toward public schools, even though I’m childless and intend to stay that way, because all children deserve a quality, free education. If this seems unfair or unreasonable to you, we are never going to see eye to eye…

If you’re okay with thousands of people dying of treatable diseases just so the wealthiest among us can hoard still more wealth, there is a divide between our worldviews that can never be bridged.

I empathized with her frustration, but I disagreed with her premise. I believe there are people who support charter schools or who oppose a higher minimum wage who aren’t sociopaths devoid of feeling. I may not agree with people who don’t prioritize public school funding or universal healthcare, but I don’t think their reasons begin and end with, “Keep your hands off my money.” In her post, Chadwick provides excellent reasons for her values, ones that resonate with me, and which I’m eager to test out on the next conservative I meet. Maybe they’ll be interested in the evidence that workers who make a decent wage perform better, that not being able to read by third grade is strongly correlated with future incarceration, that the government providing universal health care could actually save businesses money and time and keep our employers away from our medical records.

After the 2016 election, the idea that journalsm was broken horrified me. I was intent on figuring out how to do it effectively, how to achieve that fundamental goal of communication.

Or maybe they won’t! I won’t know until I try to have the conversation. Maybe it will be exhausting and frustrating. But I want to try, both in-person and online, with people who have thousands of followers and people who have a handful. Because it’s my job and I love my job, because they are colleagues and neighbors and voters, and because we all have to live here on this Earth together, and if we’re not communicating, what the hell are we doing?

***

I spent a weekend with my grandparents recently, a few days after The New York Times reported that the Trump administration’s Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, would devote civil rights resources to investigating “discrimination” against white applicants by colleges with affirmative action policies.

My grandpa didn’t bring up that report, though I’m sure he read it, as he reads the Times cover-to-cover every single day, devoting a couple hours to being one of the most well-informed people I know. But the first night we sat down to dinner, he said, apropos of nothing, “There’s no question that the whites in this country are at an advantage and have been for a long time.”

I looked up, put my fork down. He was looking at my youngest brother and me, and he gestured at my grandmother as he continued, “During my and grandma’s lifetime, the Blacks and Latinos have made great progress.” (Should I have corrected his use of “Blacks” as a proper noun? Perhaps, but my writer-brain was distracted by how pleased I was that his sentence construction gave credit for progress to the people who had really fought for it, rather than the nation that had only sometimes begrudgingly ceded it.)

He went on to explain how even though that progress had been great, it was so very, very recent. Implied was the sense that there was still so much corrective work to be done. “Whites used to only have to compete for jobs with other whites,” he said. “There’s more competition now.” My grandpa had isolated the reason why progress was inextricably linked to a spike in racism, in grasping desperately at the straws of old ways: Progress and fairness are a threat to that relative white ease, all that unearned access to opportunity that had enabled my grandpa to be the patriarch he was so proud to be. He could see why other whites balked at losing it, even as he disagreed with fighting to maintain it.

Here’s the thing about my grandpa. Even though he wants everyone to be able to see doctors and go to good schools and drive on safe roads, he still insists he’s a “socially liberal fiscal conservative,” a political archetype that I recall being extremely common in my Bill Clinton era youth, but which seems to have since gone extinct or at least become endangered. I don’t want to mislead: He’s not some woke old man unicorn. He doesn’t listen to Frank Ocean, I’m positive he would never even consider attending a march, and he probably doesn’t know how to refer to any of my transgender friends (though he would happily welcome all of them to his home because, as an extreme extrovert, the man lives for new people to talk with). When I told him the tennis player Andy Murray was a great feminist ally, he was confused. He doesn’t do dishes or cook, has never laundered so much as a sock, and would really appreciate it if I would stop getting tattoos. The day after that dinner conversation about white privilege, we were in the car, and he told us of a friend’s son, “He’s studying to be a male nurse,” prompting my middle brother, whose wit is Sahara-level arid, to interject, “Technically, I think it’s just ‘a nurse.’”

He’s basically a normal American octogenarian, if somewhat unusually well-informed about current events.

Even so, I know not everyone is like my grandpa. Not the people online, not the people I’ll meet in person. Last Thanksgiving, after the presidential election, I was in Boca Raton again, but without him. My grandmother’s brother had died, and they had to abruptly go to Iceland, where my grandmother was born and raised and met my grandfather. One afternoon, I decided to go to the hot tub in their condo complex. I tried to wait out the other grandpas in the hot tub, but Florida men of a certain age have an uncanny ability to remain in a hot tub well past the recommended 15 to 30 minutes. Eventually I gave up, and got in. There were two older men in there already, one with his grandson. We got to talking, mostly about New York City real estate.

“How do you know so much about this stuff?” one of them asked me. “You’re what, 22?”

I was 30, and I told him so. “I’m a reporter,” I confessed. “I cover local news, and politics and real estate are very closely connected in New York City.”

The older men smiled at each other knowingly, then made comments about how our politics were probably different. They professed to having both voted for Trump.

More than half of the women in this country who look like me and voted chose to maintain their racial superiority. I think my privilege, as a white-appearing albeit multiethnic woman, means I can and should shoulder this attempt at communication.

That 53-percent-of-white-women-voters statistic floated to the top of my overheated brain in that hot tub. I smiled tightly and shouldered my duty to engage in earnest. I felt an obligation to try and break through. I asked them how they thought things were going. We were in the thick of Trump’s first Cabinet appointments, in which it appeared the swamp he was so set on purging was being welcomed in with open arms. They dismissed me, insisting that to get anywhere in politics, you need people who know politics. Same with money. The man whose grandson was with him responded to everything I raised with “Of course you’d say that!” At one point I mentioned that unemployment was at a low and jobs were at a high. He replied by telling me those numbers were cooked. I asked him why he could believe Trump’s numbers, but not Obama’s.

“Of course you’d say that!”

I lost my patience a little then. With a forced smile that I doubt looked sincere, I said, “You know, it’s interesting. I’m trying to listen to you, and engage with you, but anything I say, you reply, ‘Of course you’d say that.’” He sputtered; his grandson announced that the conversation had probably run its course; and I nodded, got up, and vacated the septuagenarian stew in which I’d been simmering.

I felt as if I’d failed. I wondered if I could have tried harder, if I could have broken through. It left me feeling existentially anxious and sad to think it was impossible, that it would never have worked, so I decided that it was just too soon. Tensions were high; they were still reeling from their surprising win as much their opponents were reeling from a stunning loss. I still wonder if now, nine months later, I might be able to make more progress. I think about how the other older man, the one without a grandson to mediate the conversation, stopped by my deck chair on his way upstairs to his own condo and asked me if I wanted to join his family for dinner, since I’d mentioned that my grandparents had been called away. He was worried that I was all alone. I declined — my brothers and I were enjoying what I’d dubbed “Boxcar Children Thanksgiving,” hearkening back to my favorite childhood books about four orphaned siblings surviving on their own — but I am comforted by the memory of his openness and generosity, his willingness to expose his family to my liberal ways. Given the chance to have the hot tub conversation again or skip it, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

***

This essay was written before white supremacists, galvanized to leave the shadows and show their faces, took to the streets of Charlottesville, Va. and chanted about Jews and gay people, beat a black man with poles, and rammed a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a young woman and injuring 19 other people, including children, on a sunny Saturday in August 2017. Fewer than 50 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Fifty-three years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted, outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin, and King was awarded the Nobel Prize. Sixty-two years after 14-year-old Emmett Till was kidnapped and murdered in Mississippi.

After that weekend, I reeled once again, and felt that weighty 53 percent guilt drape itself around me. Nobody needs a white woman writing that we should engage in discussion with people who disagree with us right now. I watched the Vice News Tonight special on Charlottesville and sobbed, twice, hard enough to incur a disdainful glance from a previously sleeping cat. I watched people thirsty for violence, fueled by a hate I could not comprehend, and felt scared and confused and sad. And I called my grandpa.

He had just come home from playing pickle ball. No, wait, tennis. It was tennis he played that morning. He laughed. He confessed to being tired.

“I’m tired now, when I come home from tennis, or pickle ball.” He sounded fatigued and also a little worried, the way he sounds when awareness of his age strikes him suddenly.

I encouraged him. “You get more exercise than I do!” My voice cracked and he asked what was wrong. I told him I was sad about Charlottesville. He murmured sympathetically and I thought about the differences between us. Our voices: his a little droning, deep, slow, considered; mine thinner, higher, smaller, faster. I pictured us suddenly as animals: him a lumbering bear, big and solid and steady; me a flighty butterfly, flitting around him, jabbering, fast-talking, wise-cracking. I thought about our different lives: him as a little boy in Brooklyn, educated in a neighborhood public school, his whole world spanning just as far as the local bus ran (“All the way to Jacob Riis Park!” he tells me today, still sounding awestruck, as if the Queens peninsula were a distant Atlantis); me as a little girl in Manhattan, educated in an international private school, surrounded by technology that enabled my world to span farther even than the edges of the globe I lived on. I cried a little, quietly, and asked him, “What did you think, when you saw what happened this weekend?”

My grandpa is measured, thoughtful, rational. He cleared his throat. “It’s kind of ugly to see.” He criticized Trump’s response. “He could have expressed himself better. You don’t hold back because these are your voters.”

He reminded me that this rise of the ultra-nationalism isn’t only happening in America, but in Europe, too. I didn’t find that to be much of a comfort. I struggled to figure out what I wanted to ask him, how to phrase it. Are we going back? Is this it, is this who we are forever? Are we doomed to get worse every time we get marginally better? Finally I blurted, “Does it feel like watching what you lived through before?”

He paused. “I didn’t see it when it was happening before,” he said finally. “I lived in a neighborhood with Italians, Irish, Jews. We didn’t have media access like we do now.” I remembered asking him recently if there were segregated bathrooms for black people when he went to school, and how he thought for a while before he said, “There weren’t any Blacks in my neighborhood, and everyone at my school was from the neighborhood.”

He tried to come up with some sort of explanation of that weekend for me, something that meant the world wasn’t just a dark and incomprehensible mess. He speculated, like the northern city boy he is, that those white supremacists were all people from the rural South, uneducated and without much money. I pointed out that wasn’t true, many of them came from cities or nearby suburbs, had wealthy parents, graduated from good colleges, had jobs. He was tired and I needed too much. He thought for a while then said, “You know, there’s a lot of wealth now, actually. There wasn’t so much, when I was younger. Maybe people weren’t so inclined to their own bottom line? There wasn’t such a great difference between the people who had money and didn’t.”

I thought about that, about the new wave of socialism, about the wealthy Americans who glommed on to the president and didn’t let go even after he said journalists were bad people but Nazis weren’t. I let my grandpa go because he was tired, and I kept thinking, about privilege and communication and how more than half of the women in this country who look like me and voted chose to maintain their racial superiority. And I still think that my privilege, as a white-appearing albeit multiethnic woman, means I can and should shoulder this attempt at communication. I watched the Vice News Tonight reporter Elle Reeve, white and blond and young and pretty, set her jaw over and over and ask question after question to reveal interesting truths about the intentions and plans of these desperately misguided people and I saw a good faith attempt in a dark time. People of color, black women, Muslims and refugees and immigrants, have to field this toxicity all the time, whether they want to or not. The least I can do with my privilege is attempt to take some of it on, to engage, to try.

* * *

Danielle Tcholakian is a freelance reporter and writer based in New York City.

Editor: Sari Botton