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The Carletonian

The Carletonian


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My mom’s a very liberal, fiery lobbyist, and my dad’s a down-to-earth, sensitive conservative. Whenever I tell people this, their first reaction is to make a joke like, “Wow, you must have heard them fighting a lot when you were growing up.” Some will even just flat out ask how they’ve managed to stay together for almost thirty years. Before coming to Carleton, I really didn’t think too much about the fact that my parents have different political leanings. It just seemed normal to me that my mom went to the Democratic caucus and my dad went to the Republican one. I thought everyone had unrestrained political debates around the dinner table. It was expected that we were to be respectful, but they often got pretty fierce. The only rule was no personal attacks, and at the end we would agree to disagree and then move on. It was only when I got to Carleton that I realized how unusual my family’s perspective on life is.

My parents taught me to question everything, especially my own opinions. I was taught to read more than just the headlines of articles and to get my news from multiple sources with differing political leanings. Whenever I’d bring up a political opinion, my parents made sure I could back it up with credible sources, not just rhetoric. But more important, my parents taught me the importance of listening and respecting others viewpoints, but this lesson took a while to learn.

When I became more politically active and conscious about the world in high school, I began to get in arguments with my dad. However, unlike the civil debates we’d always had at dinner time, these were definitely not friendly, at least on my part. I’d dismiss my dad’s more conservative perspective, and while he was talking I wouldn’t be listening, but instead formulating my counter-argument in my head. I convinced myself that I was in the moral right, and therefore didn’t need to listen to what he had to say because nothing he could say would possibly make his opinions valid. I’d let myself be influenced by the hateful, seemingly open-minded Internet activists, and thought if my friends were reading these articles and having what I thought were meaningful discussion on them, they must be legitimate. Looking back, I can’t believe how close-minded I had become to my own father.

I hear people at Carleton complain about how conservative and uneducated some members of their families are. Now, I understand being frustrated at family members when they say some problematic things; there are times when I really want to passive aggressively e-mail some of my family articles that completely obliterate their opinions. I’ve gotten into arguments at Thanksgiving and Christmas with some aunts and uncles, but it’s never been worth it. I’ve felt briefly vindicated and triumphant for knowing my facts, but once these feelings wear off, I’m always left feeling awkward for disrupting time with family. Even if they were the ones who brought up the topic in the first place, I now know that “winning” an argument is not important compared to family. Letting things go and knowing when to speak up is the true test of intelligence, and not whether you “won” the argument or not.

Everyone has a story behind their beliefs. It might be that they grew up in a time when such beliefs were widely accepted, or that they spend their formative years in a very homogenous environment. Not everyone is lucky enough to come from a politically active, well-educated family, something that’s easy to forget inside the bubble that is Carleton. This doesn’t mean their opinions aren’t discriminatory or unrealistic, but it does make them more explainable. Viewing people with different perspectives than you as robots being controlled by the fear mongering media and “yes man” political commentators is dismissing their humanity. It’s refusing the see the reasons behind their beliefs, because people without stories are easier to demonize. I know most of us have some older relatives that are subtly (or not so subtly) racist/sexist/homophobic, but think about how much things have changed since our grandparents were our age. When my grandparents were in their early 20s it was the 1950s. The Civil Rights Movement was happening and the Voting Rights Act hadn’t been passed yet. Women were expected to stay home, raise kids and cook and clean for their husbands. Having an abortion would be illegal in most states until the the early 70s. Homosexuality was considered a crime by most state until the 70s and 80s. Now, there is still so much progress to be made. People of color are systematically discriminated against and segregated through housing ordinances, poor schools, the criminal justice system, and voter ID laws. Women face the pressure to “have it all,” are labeled “bossy” for wanting to be leaders and have access to proper reproductive health rights are becoming more limited across America. The LGBTQA community still faces hate crimes and are more likely to be homeless than other teens. The fact that this level of inequality still exists, despite the progress that’s been made in the last fifty years, is a reason to be angry at the system and the people that represent it. That being said, we must understand how dramatic these changes have been. Two hundred years ago, there was not much difference in social norms from one generation to the other, and people lived very similarly to their parents, grandparents, etc. Nowadays, the difference between how a millennial grew up and how their grandparents grew up is astronomical. Our grandparents listened to the radio and wrote on typewriters. My grandmothers were an exception in that they were able to go, and were in fact encouraged to go to college. Even the differences between us and our parents is substantial; the Internet wasn’t controlling their lives, cellphones didn’t exist, and social justice movements were not nearly as intersectional. Just imagine not having grown up with these things, and how different your life would be without them. For your grandparents, life is just as different with them.

We live in a tiny bubble in a very big, very diverse world. We’ve made our bubble so thick that it’s difficult to pop. The majority of people have never heard about intersectionality or had the chance to read about how systems of oppression still chain people down in ways that are often unnoticeable without closer examination. Learning about how complicated our world truly is is a privilege very few people have. Inviting others to join the discussion is difficult and requires you to let go of your pride and bring into question your own opinions. Allowing your opinions to be questioned is scary, because it means you are fallible. However, if you feel confident in your opinions, having them challenged will seem like a chance for personal growth. My parents, brother and I still argue around the dinner table. We still let our emotions get in the way at times, but we know when it’s time to leave the table and the politics behind. I’ve learned to respect my father so much for his willingness to confront his liberal family members and hold his own when it’s three against one (which it usually is). Although I still disagree with him on some political issues that are important to me, I know I can respect him as a person and respect his right to his beliefs. I just learned from my mom that he stood up during his Republican caucus and challenged the person who had spoken before him in praise of Trump. I couldn’t be prouder, because this shows that there is such a thing as a moderate Republican who will fight for justice and against the problematic viewpoints of some of those who identify with the Republican Party. He showed that conservatives should not all be grouped together. By grouping people together, we fail to recognize the small but important differences between them. These differences are what challenge our stereotypes against people the most. The only real way to win a debate is for both people to learn something from the other person…that’s why we’re here in the first place.

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