Two years ago, as part of an assignment, I was white. I didn’t change my skin color or anything, but I drove across country for three days into Mexico in a van with eight white men.
After three days, we camped out in a remote, untouched wilderness for 12 days, hiking 75 miles total, with nothing but the items we could carry on our backs. It was simultaneously the whitest and the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
Until this week.
Since Sunday, the only news I have watched on television is from Fox News. I have read Breitbart and the Daily Caller every day. While becoming a black conservative seems like an insignificant thing, imagine that the only information you received was from someone who you knew was a liar. It was like living in “the upside down.” It was a 24-hour, never-ending gaslighting.
But, like surviving in the great wide open, I learned a great deal about myself and the world. Everything I thought about the conservative mindset was upended, and I have actually gained a newfound respect for the people who live in the parallel universe that we call conservatism.
1. They are not liars.
Although Fox News and its derivatives are some of the greatest propagandists in the world, I have come to understand that the mistruths they spread are not necessarily lies. I think they honestly believe in what they are saying, in the same way that some people have faith that their fate is determined by the whims of an invisible man in the sky.
I have never personally experienced what white privilege is like, but I can imagine believing that all of my success is due to my intelligence and hard work, so all of my country’s and my own failures must be due to external factors: Shiftless Negroes. Violent and lazy immigrants. Evil Muslims.
If I voted for a half-wit racist who undermined the entire democratic system, if I had to watch white kids repeatedly slaughtered in schools and if I saw minorities constantly excluded from the American dream, there would only be two ways I could sleep at night:
- Maybe I’m part of a group of people who are genetically smarter, who work harder, who raise our families better and who perform better at every facet of life; or
- Maybe I’m wrong about everything and I’m complicit.
2. They are unapologetic.
One of the more fascinating aspects of conservatism is that they don’t even try to hide their disdain for the other side of the aisle. We would like to believe that mainstream-media outlets like CNN and MSNBC are more fact-based, but I have learned that the opposite is true.
If you’ve watched shows like Morning Joe or Anderson Cooper 360, they often demonstrate their uselessness by engaging in the pretense of objectivity. CNN will slap Paris Dennard on a split screen with Angela Rye; let him spew his bullshit alongside her unfiltered, unapologetic truth; and leave it to the audience to decide which one of them is the liar.
The New York Times will write about gun control, show the statistical data that states with tougher gun laws have fewer deaths and, in the next paragraph, explain the National Rifle Association’s viewpoint for the sake of objectivity.
While you, as an educated individual, might be able to separate fact from fiction, what they are doing is presenting two opposing arguments as equal, thereby validating falsehoods as being equivalent to verifiable facts.
Breitbart wouldn’t do that bullshit. You’d never see Sean Hannity allow Van Jones to dismantle his argument, because some rational thought might spill into the brains of Fox News viewers.
They would never broadcast the fact that immigrants are less likely to be criminals and are more likely to work full time. They wouldn’t allow their servers to post an article about police killing black people disproportionately regardless of the crime rate. They would never say that Chicago is not the most dangerous city in the country and that most of the cities ahead of it are in Republican-led red states.
They are unapologetically white.
3. Conservatism is a mental illness.
I’m not saying this just because I’ve been living in Bizarro America for the past few days.
Pseudodysphagia (an irrational fear of choking) and astraphobia (fear of being struck by lightning) are medically diagnosable anxiety disorders. But even though choking on food and being killed by sky electricity are both more likely to happen than being killed by a foreign-born terrorist, only one of these phobias has inspired a travel ban or a billion-dollar border wall.
Hallucinations and delusions are common symptoms of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. But if someone claimed that he saw Muslims celebrating after 9/11, or believed that former President Barack Obama scaled the walls of the Trump Tower in New York City to plant listening devices, that there was a secret child-sex ring in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria or that kids rallying against gun control were actually trained actors coming to take our guns, we’d have him committed.
And there’s no one who can tell me that the people who vote against their self-interests to further the agendas of billionaires like Donald Trump, or who mindlessly heed the instructions of the NRA, to the detriment of the lives of their own children, aren’t a little bit suicidal.
4. They’re not all racist.
Some of are desperate. I now understand that “working-class whites” don’t all hate black people. Some of them are just poor, uneducated people who believe in the American dream. All they have is their whiteness, and they think that should mean something, in the same way that a person with an associate degree in art appreciation can’t understand why he can’t get a job.
Some of them are #TeamWhitePeople. I am a graduate of Auburn University and our biggest rivals are the University of Alabama. I don’t hate Bama. I hope their graduates can get jobs and live happy lives. I hate the idea of Bama. I dislike the arrogant way they say “Roll Tide.” I want to take diarrhea shits the consistency of a McDonald’s milkshake and wipe my ass with anything with a houndstooth pattern. But I don’t hate Bama. I mentor a kid who is a race-and-gender-studies student at the school, and I love him. But when Alabama plays Auburn, I will always pull for my team.
Some of my best friends are from Bama.
5. Being conservative is easy.
You don’t have to know facts. You aren’t required to examine anything. Why have any regard for your fellow man when you can just believe he isn’t trying hard enough? Conservatism means that you can lie back and trust in the accepted narrative. You can believe that the Civil War was about your heritage and that guns don’t kill people. You can say “Fuck the Negroes” and not lift a finger to stop their oppression.
But most of all, being a conservative means that you can rest peacefully every night living in a fantasy world constructed from white supremacy and privilege, knowing that it has lasted for more centuries than you have fingers and toes. And if that beautiful, protected empire ever falls, at least you had it good when you had it good.
And yes, it will fall.