My Dad was a Casual Racist and White Supremacist.
The deep cold of an east Tennessee winter’s night had settled in. All was still save for the whooshing of the wind in the craggy branches of old trees outside the house. I was six years old, far away in a sound sleep under the warmth of my blankets.
A light clicked on in the hallway outside my bedroom door. What happened next is a streak of sheer terror running through my memory, but in my mind I can still relive it play-by-play as if it were happening right now.
Without any warning, the door violently burst open. Standing in the door frame was my dad, drawn up to every inch of his six-foot-tall, former college football quarterback frame. It was as if he had ceased to be human, completely overtaken by some overpowering, superhuman, demonic rage. My mind raced to piece together what was happening, from unexpectedly awakened to fight-or-flight mode in seconds.
“DANIEL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” he roared in a voice loud enough to shake the entire house. “I’M GOING TO KILL YOU RIGHT NOW!”
My mind reeled and something inside me broke. Rational questions of Why? Why are you angry at me? I am a child asleep in bed. What could I possibly have done? capsized into a dark stormy ocean of sheer primal terror. In those moments, time ceased to exist. There was nothing, only a formless void of pure, smothering, all-consuming terror.
In an attempt to somehow shield myself from him, I dove headlong under the covers. To this day, I have to give my mother credit for what happened next. As my father charged toward the bed toward his son shaking under a pile of blankets, my mother had been awakened from all the commotion. She leaped into the room and physically inserted herself between my crazed, raging father and me.
“That’s enough!” she screamed.
And just like that, the oncoming freight train had been braked. At least for that moment in time, the waking nightmare was over.
It might surprise no one to learn that a violent, unstable man like my father was predisposed to racist ideology. Even his closet was a dangerous place: my dad stored racks of guns, cases containing ammunition, Confederate flags and memorabilia, and even an undetonated bomb from World War II in his closet. His deeply-cherished belief was that the South had been “cheated” during the Civil War. He would casually spout off his racist-tinged opinions, telling us that Nathan Bedford Forrest and Robert E. Lee were “heroes”, the KKK was “not that bad” and had really been “misunderstood.”
As I reached highschool age and my liberal leanings were solidifying, I’ll never forget one occasion when I confronted my dad point-blank and asked him whether or not he was a white supremacist. He could neither look me in the eye nor answer me — which told me everything I needed to know.
Although we haven’t spoken in over a decade at this point, again, it’s probably not that surprising to learn that my father is now a huge Trumpette. He was one of the first in line at his polling station on that morning in November 2016 to cast his ballot for Donald Trump.
Like that portrait of Robert E. Lee that sat in his closet collecting dust because he somehow never got around to having it framed, the casual racism was always there, ready to be dusted off and rolled out at a moment’s notice.
My father is a tragic representation of the angry white Christian conservative American male demographic. I understand how these people think on a fundamental level, because I was raised by one. To some, this mindset would come as a shock; growing up in a household such as ours, in many ways the mindset is all too familiar.
My father believed that the world had cheated him, that the world owed him something, and that Democrats were always trying to trick him. This comes from a man with a staggering degree of white privilege. Not once in his life did my father ever have to worry about paying for college, having enough food to eat or where he was going to sleep that night. Throughout his career, he earned multiple six figures.
I think in every young boy’s life there comes a moment of decision; either we think to ourselves I want to be just like my dad when I grow up or conversely, we find ourselves thinking I want to be absolutely nothing like my dad when I grow up. For me, my dad came to serve as a cautionary figure — I might not have known yet who I wanted to be, but he became the antithesis of everything I knew I wanted to become.
Perhaps we too can learn something from my father’s failed example. We can realize that abuse of power is actually weakness. We can identify problematic beliefs and behaviors in ourselves and work diligently toward rooting them out before mature into old age. We can discern that racist ideology and beliefs, no matter how carelessly or casually held, are every bit as damaging and dangerous as actively participating in a hate group.
I leave you with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who instructed us to “Carve a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.”