A political dating saga

I met one: the elusive Black Trump Voter.

Kayle Kaupanger @notaphotographer on Unsplash

Actually, we met five months ago. We had been kind-of-sort-of, more-or-less dating-ish for those five months. (It’s hard to really “date” when there’s a pandemic going on. I mean, right?)

When I met this guy, I wasn’t really “looking” for anyone. But there he was, asking for my number on a glorious summer day. And I was curious. Something about him felt compelling to me.

He told me he worked as a CNA, a certified nursing assistant, doing long overnight shifts, sometimes doubles. I thought the worst that could happen was that it would eventually turn out that he didn’t really have time for me.

The first three months were just fun, your standard summer fling. It was nice to have someone to spend time with, to take my mind off things. And yes, there were actual hugs.

In general, he seemed like a chill guy from Cameroon, a naturalized American citizen, who strummed his guitar, singing about romance and struggle, who just wanted to enjoy life and find love. He told me he named a star after me, and wrote me long, poetic texts.

Early on, he told me he was sort-of Christian, but mostly talked about being Rastafari, how listened to Bob Marley, and was into peace, One Love, etc. I thought it was kind of sweet, actually, that he carried a Bible around with him. I, too, am religious in my own way.

In the last two months, I tried to end it, more than once. My gut was telling me something, but I guess I wasn’t totally convinced. Whatever that compelling force was that held my curiosity would nag at me, urging me to give it another chance. Why do I give up on love so easily? Maybe because I push people away with no reason… So, if he texted, I would think about it, and then usually respond.

Voting for who?

It came out on a video call in late September. It was after I had broken things off with him the first time. As I sat on my bed folding laundry, he asked who I was voting for. “Um, who do you think? Joe Biden, of course.” I already had my mail-in ballot, headed for a secure drop-box.

“Oh, for real?” He said. “I’m voting for Trump.”

Wait, what? “Are you serious? You’re joking, right?”

He was not joking.

I asked some follow-up questions, which he answered with standard Fox News talking points. “Oh, someone in your house watches Fox News, I see.” He just smiled.

Weirdly, I didn’t hate him for it. I was too shocked, too dumbfounded. He is a Black man in America, and an immigrant — the two demographics that I was sure were mostly (but not entirely) skewing Democratic because of how negatively they’ve been impacted by the presidential administration over the last four years. It had never occurred to me to even ask whom he might be voting for, because I had assumed without even realizing, based on the information I had available to me, that it would be Biden, for sure.

I was wrong.

The Follow-up Questions

I told him how confused I was, and asked his reasoning. The response was, again, a little unsatisfying, and I wondered if he had simply been exposed to Republican messaging, and didn’t see what was happening all around him — the fact that communities of color have been hit so much harder by COVID-19; kids in cages on the US-Mexico border, separated from their parents; the refusal of a certain president to denounce white supremacist groups. I thought he would hate all of these things because he railed against racism, and told me of all the times he’s been called the N-word, and how bad it felt.

I asked how he could support a candidate who won’t denounce white supremacists, who even gives them a license to come out in the open by putting racist, anti-immigrant sentiments on blast, regardless of whether the president has racist views himself behind closed doors.

I got nothing. The Cameroonian man poo-poohed this concern. About the clip from the first presidential debate, when the president reacted with crickets to the question of denouncing white supremacy, he said, “But he didn’t actually support them.” Okay, well, what about telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by?” He found it funny, for some reason.

Still, I didn’t give up on him. I didn’t think I could change his vote, but I had some notion that if I just said the right thing, maybe he would realize that a vote for the man currently in office was really a vote against his own self-interest. At least, that was the way I saw it.

You’re not going to see him anymore, right?

I told a few friends and close family members about the revelation of this man’s politics. “So, you’re not going to see him anymore, right?”

“Oh, no, no, of course not.”

But the truth was, I was starting to feel like I could suddenly understand George and Kellyanne Conway. Whereas a partnership like that, with such diametrically and publicly opposing views had been so mystifying to me before, I was beginning to see how it could be possible to separate someone’s political opinion from who they are, or who you know them to be, in relation to you. What if it could work?

In the four months that I had known this man, I no idea he thought this way at all, and suddenly I had to try and reconcile my idea of who I thought a Republican person was, or a Democrat, or the kind of person I thought I would get involved with, with the person who loved my hair, would send me cute texts, and bring me random little gifts. Or name a star after me.

As we talked over the next few weeks, it became increasingly clear that this man’s adherence to conservative Republican rhetoric and to Trump himself was not an accident of socialization in Midwestern America. He had not been “duped.” He actually chose those views, embraces them, believes them. He passionately enjoys who Trump is, and admires him; maybe wants to be like him. (Though he is a bit of a better dancer.)

On podcasts, in articles, I heard some political analysts talk about the push that the Trump administration had made to appeal, with some success, to Black male voters. I could see how some of that machismo and male bravado might appeal to this guy, but it didn’t answer all of my questions.

And then something changed.

I can pinpoint Saturday, November 7th, the day the election results were announced in favor of President-Elect Joe Biden, as the day something started to feel different with him.

We spoke on the phone that night, and he seemed angry, though he didn’t admit it. And I understood, or thought I did, because I was very disappointed on November 9th, 2016. But he was making me feel uncomfortable, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see him again.

After some texts back and forth, I finally agreed to see him a few days later, but only because he seemed to be on good behavior.

A Revealing Conversation

He showed up at my house that morning wearing a Jesus T-shirt. During the conversation, he kept interrupting me to go on religious tangents, and I had to pull a Kamala Harris on him multiple times, reminding him that I was, in fact, still speaking. But even besides the interruptions, a lot of what he was saying just didn’t make sense. Except….

Even besides the interruptions, a lot of what he was saying just didn’t make sense.

I had all but forgotten that, back when we first met, and I told him that I am Jewish, he said, “Me, too. I’m a Hebrew” — meaning, I guess, a Black Hebrew Israelite. It didn’t seem like a big thing, and he didn’t say much about it. Actually, it seemed like a point of connection.

But now — now, it was something different. He said that there were the “ancient Hebrews,” and “modern Hebrews.” He kept trying to preach Jesus to me, while swearing that he’s “not religious.” And then he told me that I’m “not Jewish, because [I am] white.” There was a look of disdain in his eye when he said it that I tried not to feel.

I had heard about the Black Hebrew Israelites (or Hebrew Israelites), but I have to admit, I didn’t know much until I looked them up later, after he was gone. And even if I had known, or if I had connected the dots, I try not to hold people up to stereotypes.

Many of them — like anyone in any religion — are just kind, normal people who want to go about their day, I’m quite sure. Others may have views and take action on them that can be damaging. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has a page on the them, in which they say, “Some, but not all [Black Hebrew Israelites], are outspoken anti-Semites and racists.” There are descriptions of attacks by a few, classified as hate crimes.

According to this article, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that black supremacist groups have had success recruiting in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election in 2016. And white supremacist leader Tom Metzger once said of extremist Hebrew Israelites, “They’re the black counterparts of us.”

I don’t know for sure if the man who had been preaching to me from my couch was (or is) part of an extremist group. What I do know is that, multiple times over, I thought of simply asking him to leave. But for some reason, I didn’t do it right away. I suppose some part of me wanted to believe in the connection we had had before, and to reconnect with him on a human level, despite our differences.

So I asked him to pray with me.

He’d done it once before. We’d had a fight over something silly one time, and he sat down and prayed with me. I don’t even feel super comfortable praying with people in that way, but it was nice when he did it. So now, I thought it might ease the tension.

Instead, he stood in front of me and raised his hand, like he was going to hit me. He did it twice, locking eyes with me, testing to see if I was afraid. I didn’t speak, and he mocked every gesture I made, every twitch, every facial expression, anywhere my eyes moved. He laughed. He was having fun.

He pretended like he was going to hit me.

I stood up and told him he wasn’t going to hit me. Then, as if to prove something, he touched his fist to my upper arm and said, “That didn’t hurt.” It didn’t. But that wasn’t the point. It crossed a line.

I picked up his bag, put it by the door, and said he could leave. As he gathered his things, he hurled insults at me. And I saw what looked to me like a mental calculus of him deciding whether or not to hit me for real.

Finally, as I was pushing the door closed against him, he forced his way back in, spit in my face, and left. “Fucker!” I yelled after him, and slammed the door. The spit didn’t even bother me. It was like a cleansing bath.

And I’m grateful that it wasn’t much worse.

Mystery Solved

It would be possible for me to regret letting him come to my place to talk. But now, at least, his voting choice makes sense.

Once I knew, the puzzle pieces fell into place, and I saw the man I had been involved with — nearly seriously — for who he really was. I was no longer confused about why a Black immigrant American man would passionately back a party candidate with hateful views: he has them, too.

I am disgusted and horrified.

And certainly, he does not represent all Black voters in the Republican party. Each one, I’m sure, has their own reasons, and is surely a valued member of their community, wherever they are. This sample size of one, it just so happened, was secretly harboring xenophobic hate, possibly even about me.

At least I had the satisfaction of kicking him out of my house, slamming the door, and blocking his number. I hope to never see him again.

And I’ll know better now. I know that I can no longer assume that because someone looks a certain way and has access to the same information I have, that there is something similar about how we think.

People can surprise you. Trust, but proceed with caution.

Ask more questions.

And trust your gut; she’s smarter than you are.

Jessica Tan on Unsplash @whaleitsjessica

Epilogue

I think it’s time for another guyatus.

Taylor is reconsidering her personal life, and writing things in Chicago.

Private exhibitionist.

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