The first time I began to suspect that Blake* and I had different views about politics, we were walking back from a grocery store in East Vancouver.
Blake had just spent 80 dollars on organic groceries for breakfast, and when we got home, he cooked me a delicious meal.
Then, he said this:
“I just don’t understand why minorities get special treatment.”
Blake was reflecting on a job he was applying for and how they reserve spots for Aboriginal people and other racial minorities. The alarm bells went off, but I let him continue.
“Everyone should be treated equally. Why should Aboriginal people get special treatment? It’s just sending them a message that they don’t have to work hard in life.”
I nodded slowly, as anxiety began to rise, processing this information. I realized that I had never slept with a man who shared views so drastically different from my own.
Apparently, buying organic did not ensure someone was a liberal.
But isn’t this part of the problem? That we don’t know how to listen to each other anymore, that we immediately close off to the other because we disagree with their opinion?
I decided to hear him out. I’ll give him a chance, I thought. Perhaps I’ll have a better understanding of where his opinions come from and why a lot of the world thinks this way.
A week earlier, I saw on Blake’s online profile a man who looked like a Greek god and with political views listed as “Far right/Conservative.” I literally thought it was a joke. No one I had ever dated was a conservative. He must be being ironic. How funny.
I grew up on Vancouver island on the west coast of British Columbia in a city akin to Portland, Oregon. To me, conservatives were people who lived a few provinces over in the middle of the country, people I had never met. This misassumption might have stemmed from the fact that my parents were two environmental journalists who fought valiantly for the rights of water, trees, and fish, and the people who protected them.
Even though the men I dated in the past had slight differences in opinion, they were all liberal. There was always an underlying assumption on my part that they were.
In dating Blake, I realized that for my whole life I had taken the environment I grew up in for granted. I was living in a beautiful, liberal bubble where everyone I turned to shared similar sentiments. To top it off, I am an attractive, white, straight woman from an upper-middle class family. I never had to truly fight to define what I believed in. In the end, it might have been my own privilege, and lack of awareness of it, that made dating a racist possible at all.
Dating Blake was the first time I actually had to explain some of my beliefs to a man I was dating. I had to critically examine why I felt the way I did about politics. I couldn’t just walk into a room, like I did at my liberal arts school, and feel that everyone there felt the same.
A small part of me thought, If we can find a way to work things out, even though we are so different, maybe there is hope in an increasingly polarized world?
That was the first mistake: when an intimate relationship becomes about a point you are trying to make to the world (or even yourself) and not about your own happiness, something has gone awry.
I shared my views with him—how Aboriginal peoples face generational trauma that we as colonizers cannot comprehend, how, although we all have personal trauma in our lives, some populations face trauma every day from racism, homophobia, and sexism.
When we started to argue, Blake said:
“We both don’t know enough about politics to be talking about this.”
It would be a running theme in our two-month relationship—as soon as I tried to question his beliefs, he would invalidate my opinion and accuse me of being uneducated.
Things were starting to get borderline abusive, but I still felt I could understand this man if I held out a little longer.
One of the reasons I continued to try to date Blake after I realized his views were extremist was that he was kind and available. After a spate of terrible dating, my self-esteem was at an all-time low. Kindness was increasingly all I was looking for.
He made me dinner, drew me a bath, came to visit me when I was out of the city, and encouraged my creativity. Small acts, but they meant a lot. The last man I dated left me stranded on an island where we had met for a romantic getaway. He ignored me in social situations, acted as if we were not together, and barely conversed with me. “I guess I wasn’t as available as I thought,” he said on the phone a week later. I never heard from him again.
Then here came Blake, cooking me dinner and encouraging me to write songs. I felt that having someone care for me meant I could love them.
As I learned, underneath Blake’s racism was an underlying resentment and a belief that if you just work hard enough in life, you can succeed. The scary thing about this sentiment is that it isn’t all that different from a belief that runs through some new-age communities. The whole “manifest your destiny” ethos found on Instagram feeds of pretty white women doing handstands shares a common theme: it comes from the privileged. It’s pretty easy to manifest goals in life if you’ve had a relatively pain-free childhood, have financial support, and are white and upper-middle class.
You don’t see many people of colour talking about “manifesting.” They are usually too busy engaged in social action that directly helps their communities or healing from generational trauma.
The rest of that first week together, we never discussed politics again. Maybe he’s right, I thought. I don’t know that much about politics, really.
Though I never got to know much about Blake’s childhood, he told me his parents had a messy divorce when he was young. He blamed his mother for it.
Another time, Blake told me about a woman he’d dated. They had an abortion and split up shortly after. “She was doing so well,” he said. “She was a yoga teacher making 300 dollars a day, but then she quit to get a women’s studies degree. What the hell is she going to do with that? She should have stayed teaching yoga. She should never have had that abortion.”
The moment of truth came one day when I sent Blake an email. I was living away from the city at the time. Blake had just visited, and we’d had a good time. We shared a love of the outdoors and went swimming together in the ocean. Everyone there liked him, and I felt relieved. Maybe it’s all in my head. I should give him another chance, I thought.
A few days after he left, I sent the email, knowing it would provoke him: a quote about immigration and how we should open our borders to those in need. He completely blew up. He told me to f*ck off, that my views were a product of the liberal university I went to, that I was basically a clone of a kind of woman he seemed to date, that immigrants were fine but did I really want them in my house and bathtub, eating my food and taking up my space and money?
Okay, I thought. This is it. Goodbye.
Except I was still curious. The anger and bigotry and sexism had come out in full force. I knew what I was really dealing with now, but I still didn’t know what I thought was the essential thing: Why did he feel this way? What happened in his childhood? What sort of personal trauma lay at the root of this view of the world?
In my heart, I want to understand people and be able to relate to them and empathize with them. I want to believe in forgiveness. I want to believe that if we were just given the tools to go back to our past and unlock the seed of our suffering, we could all be loving and wise.
A part of me still believes that. But at the same time, I had enough sense to know this was not my role with Blake. So I asked him to see a counsellor. I told him I wouldn’t talk to him again unless he did. It felt like I could bide a little more time with this.
A few weeks later, Blake saw the counsellor. When I asked him how it went, he said something jumbled about thought patterns, and then said, “I wanted to think more about how the session went before you called, but I ended up cleaning my gun instead.” (Blake owned a vintage World War II gun that he shot at a range, another thing which made me extremely uncomfortable.) How utterly symbolic, I thought. He tried to have a moment of introspection but instead chose to fixate on a tool of violence and aggression.
At that point, it hit me: Blake may have anger issues he will never be willing to look at.
Though I listened to Blake and ruminated sleepless nights over his beliefs, weighing them in my mind with the experiences I had had with him, which had been, on the whole, loving and kind, I wondered if he was doing the same.
After the blow-up email, he texted me one day: “Maybe I should just be dating a conservative Christian.”
“I’m definitely not that,” I wrote back.
Later, he took it back. Underneath Blake’s views was a deep desire to be with a partner, for me to be “his woman.” He craved a relationship. As did I. We met each other in a vulnerable time, when, for good or bad, we were able to overlook the stark differences in our views.
Certainly, though, Blake did not respect me. He thought my views were a product of my education, and, of course, in part, they were.
“I don’t want to hear about patriarchy,” he’d say, with a barely concealed tone of rage. “It just doesn’t exist.” Neither did institutional racism, homophobia, sexism, or transgendered violence. It was all a lie put forth by “left news.”
This was when I began to understand how sexist he was. He could be with a woman he didn’t respect, because it made him superior. Blake had shared that he had always been attracted to liberal women. As far as I know, he had never dated that “conservative Christian” he said he desired. Maybe it was a sexual thing. A liberal woman had a higher sex drive and appetite, which he liked. It was something to be conquered, whereas a conservative woman, in the true sense of the word, would not need a man to keep her sexual needs in check.
Looking back on our conversations, I am amazed at why I didn’t call it off sooner. I spent two months in a dark maze trying to grapple with Blake’s views, trying to understand him. On a spiritual level, I agreed with Blake that at the end of the day we need to take responsibility for our lives and our own trauma. But a government is not an individual. A government is responsible for many people, like a parent. Would a parent give equal treatment to all their children, or would they give different care according to the different needs of their children?
I suppose with Blake, as with other relationships with men in that period of my life, I wanted to be the one who figured him out. Even as I am writing this, I want to say how his beliefs were a product of the divorce of his parents, not enough love and support in his childhood, and a general unfairness in what life had provided for him.
I want to neatly explain why I dated a racist.
He’s wounded, I want to say, just like the rest of us!
But that would be concocting something, something neat and able to be made into a statistic, something that might help me better understand all the hatred I see in the world today. If I could understand Blake, maybe I could understand why a man in Virginia drives a car into a mob and kills a woman at a protest, why a man like Trump gets elected, why the KKK still exists, why we can’t just love each other as human beings on this precious planet already.
But what I am left with is the unsettling reality that I really don’t know why Blake thinks the way he does. If I stayed with him longer, would I have figured it out? And, if I were to figure it out, to pinpoint his hatred, fear, and anger to some incident that happened in his childhood, would I be able to be with him then? There is a part of me that is saddened to admit no. I still would not want to be with him.
We don’t need to understand the roots of violence to know we disagree with it.
We don’t need to know how a racist became a racist to know that hatred is immoral.
We can say no first.
We are in such a critical time right now, that every amount of space we hold open to people who hold hateful views is time that could be spent doing something constructive.
And as for relationships, Blake taught me that, although I didn’t consider myself a political person, in fact, I do have strong beliefs and will stand up for them.
I certainly will never date a racist again.
* Name has been changed.