Triggering Travel Conversations in the Era of Trumpito
One thing I enjoy about travel is random conversations with strangers on planes, in taxis or Lyft rides, or on public transit. A lot of people despise this but often I interact with folks I might never engage with and see it as a learning opportunity. It’s Trump’s America so it’s really a crapshoot these days who you will chat with and these encounters challenge my preconceived ideas about people.
Last night on my red eye, I sat in first class (thanks Alaska Airlines 🙏🏽) next to a (white) South African man about mid-30s who was friendly and curious. We chatted about Los Angeles where he lived for many years, why I left New York, his dope (Black) “mixed race” wife who is a doctor and fashion designer (okuuurrrr!!), and politics. He shared how shocked his community was that Trump was elected and how America truly is a model for the world. We discussed the way education here is not about critical thinking but regurgitating information and training people to be capitalist worker bees. We talked about Black/African political power in his country, and I shared that it was hard for me to wrap my head around the divisions between “Coloured” people and Africans in his country and commiserated that here both designations equal Black. He also said he thought America was the hardest place to be Black in the world from his time living here.
I went to sleep thoughtful and also grateful that it wasn’t a conversation based in America-bashing but that I was able to have some international context for what the US looks like from the outside of my European friends. I was also pretty psyched that I didn’t have any triggering racial conversations and then have to sit next to this guy for 5 hours stewing.
Fast forward to when I land in New York, I get in a cab that my Pops ordered for me. The cab company is based in Westchester and I never know who will pick me up but usually it’s someone generally chatty and kind. Being a woman and a Black biracial one at that you never know what kinds of shit men are gonna say to you especially when you’re stuck in their car for an hour. Anyhoo, I get in the car after half-sleeping for 3 hours with my Dunkin Donuts coffee and bagel in hand ready to go home and see my folks. I was initially entertained from his very New Yawk brash attitude and energy because it’s home. But then somehow he wanted to talk about how everyone is so divisive these days (agreed) and that even when Trump does something good (which I’m still unsure what those things are) the media always doubles down on how terrible he is.
*insert record scratch*
I sipped my coffee and took a deep breath.
He then tells me he’s all for abortion and gay marriage but is conservative on immigration and economics. I breathed a little easier knowing at least I wasn’t going to have to defend reproductive rights and my LGBTQ fam at 8 am but prepared myself for something racist about Mexicans in 3, 2, 1…
I honestly wanted to hear what he had to say because here’s this lower-middle class middle aged white guy whose lived in New York his whole life but is socially “liberal” so considers himself middle of the road. In the strategic communications work that I do, we know that we’ll never sway the hard core right (nor are we trying to) but that we have an opportunity to connect with the middle, the “persuadeables.” I thought maybe he’s part of this group and may offer me some valuable insight into what people outside of my liberal bubble are thinking and grappling with.
What I mostly learned is that Trumpito’s language and messaging are sticking. They are impactful and I’m more frightened than ever because I see how much work deprogramming this nonsense has to be done.
He talks about “illegals,” and when I asked him if it’s okay for Trump to call Mexicans rapists he tells me how the people of Tijuana don’t even want them there. Lord give me strength because how do I assert that no one is “illegal” furthermore explain that racist and classist Latinx people exist? Not to mention that he completely discredits my comments that many of the people are families, women and children by saying that he’s seen the videos and it’s mostly middle aged men military looking men whatever the fuck that means. This was followed by a trite analogy that this if someone is illegally entering his house then he has every right to shoot them, and that America is his house, his country so basically shoot these criminal invaders. Mentioning that people are seeking asylum from danger in their countries that was perpetrated by American politics led him to remind me we spend a lot of money on foreign aid each year. I shake my head and look out the window.
He boasts how the economy and jobs are booming. I flash back to the conversation with my South African friend on the plane who told me 2020 is gonna be a hard sell for Dems because the economy looks good. Inside I groan. He’s right. Was this foreshadowing? By this point I’m tweeting SOS signals and texting my Pops that we need to never use this company again. Everyone was telling me to be cool and stay quiet but it was about to be too late for that.
Then he shares how there was a witch hunt against Kavanaugh. This is where I couldn’t be an active listener anymore. He said that it came out that these women were lying and I’m confused like who? I said that I believe all of them and that women don’t win coming out as rape survivors, and Ford got death threats. He was yelling at this point that Kavanaugh’s family did too and while I wanted to say was “Good for his ass,” I knew that wouldn’t get me anywhere. I wish I reminded him that Kavanaugh still got a SCOTUS seat and that his life wasn’t really ruined. Instead I was triggered af as he tells me that he’s talked to women who are survivors (he didn’t use that word) and they told him that they remember everything including what they wore and confirmed to him these women were lying.
I told him that as a survivor, I don’t remember what I was wearing but I remember specific details and that our minds are programmed to survive so you can’t paint every woman’s experience with a broad brush. I reminded him that women are scared to speak up because they aren’t believed. That Kavanaugh’s crew had a history of flashing women, being inappropriate and these teen girls wanted to fit in. He argued that because he knew “right from wrong,” most people do too and wouldn’t let their friends get gang raped. Everything I said, there was a “but”…it was perfectly case in point. Too many men don’t want to believe women or really even listen to women.
At this point, I told him journalists were noting how he perjured himself and told him I would look it up. My hands were LITERALLY shaking from deep anger, trauma and probably the caffeine as I google searched some talking points. As I read some facts, he asked what site they were from. When I said Vox, he was like “Say no more. That’s liberal media.” JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL.
I laughed out of sheer exhaustion, said “Actually they’re not,” but I was over it. I told him I was upset and didn’t want to talk anymore, he apologized. He tried to change the subject and then meandered back to some bullshit about the 14th Amendment and gun rights of freed slaves and missed the fucking exit. I just was quiet and said “Um hmmm.” He took a call with his girlfriend who he was very kind to on the phone. He tells me she apologized to him for not working out today but that he doesn’t care and just wants her to be happy as she is. I wonder how he really treats her because he’s convinced he’s a “good guy.” It’s all a mindfuck.
I’m sitting here writing this about 12 hours later and it’s making me angry as I type. I’m angry because I wish I had better retorts and more facts. I’m angry for being angry with myself because fuck that guy, he won’t steal my joy. Nothing I said would have been good enough. I’m angry that I had to sit in a car with him and listen to him raise his voice at me spitting out Fox News talking points even though he says that’s not where he get his news from, and that they are critical of the President sometimes. Boy, bye. I’m angry that I even engaged with him about topics like rape. I’m angry at men’s entitlement. I’m angry at too many white men’s lack of racial and gender analysis. I’m angry that this is happening to me in New York City, my fucking home. I’m angry that I couldn’t eat my bagel in peace and take Instagram stories of the Whitestone Bridge.
The more I travel, leave home and return to home (or really the places I grew up), I’m confronted with my own stereotypes. My own myopic worldviews and also my own intelligence and perspective. And that it’s often the people that I’m most suspicious of that surprise me. I learn not to assume things about people. I learn that as a global citizen and a freedom fighter I need to do my homework, be prepared for whatever or whoever comes at me, and to also protect my energy at all costs. These are the few things I can control.
I’m still processing these experiences because I’m sensitive and analytical. I always want to show up as my best, and to listen to understand different points of view. I want to plant seeds of compassion by speaking up against the horrible misconceptions about my communities and the people I love. I want to foster understanding even when it’s challenging. I don’t want to throw people away. This is the work. But I’m seeing that in Trump’s America and today’s world, I need to pick my battles and BE an example since I don’t always have the words to express myself.
I made it home finally and my (African-American/Black) Mom met me outside. I hugged her, got my shit out of the car and we booked. I didn’t want her to get riled up. When we got inside, she told me he’s an idiot. I laughed and she looked me in my face and replied, “No Janna, he’s seriously stupid.” Perhaps it’s reductionist but it was simple enough for the moment. I hugged my (white) Pops and he said he was sorry that happened to me. I sat with my folks and chatted about mundane things and my first class upgrade which is always a good look. And I ate the rest of my sesame bagel in peace.