Why My Non-American Relatives Love MAGA
I was only four years old when my family left the U.S. Virgin Islands to pursue the mainland American dream in Florida. Since then, I’ve been back just once, for my cousin’s wedding in 1994. I’m sure it was a beautiful ceremony, but I don’t recall much about the nuptials other than something the bride’s father, my uncle, said during his reception speech. He warned the local guests — particularly the ones prominent in business, as he was — not to allow White people to disrupt the Black heritage of the island of St. Thomas and infringe upon their Black success. The future of the predominantly Black island depended on it.
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I recently thought about my uncle’s words while watching the Netflix documentary series Amend: The Fight for America, which featured decades-old newsreels of White political leaders and civilians pleading with their constituents and communities to uphold segregation. As they saw it, the future of their majority-White country depended on it. I’ve grown accustomed to sentiments of White supremacy — but until my uncle’s speech, I’d never heard it in reverse.
Back on the U.S. mainland, Black people had no collective upper hand for protection and still don’t. Living in a U.S. territory with a Black majority and a largely Black-run government had created a different racial dynamic for my uncle, one that seems to have influenced the political ideology of so many of my Caribbean relatives. It’s especially apparent in the non-American relatives and has led a disturbingly large number of them to Team Trump.
Yesterday, my sister told me about a tense phone conversation our mother had with her baby brother, who lives on the island of St. Martin. They talked about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s nursing home Covid-19 controversy, and my uncle insisted that Cuomo needs to be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
They can afford to overlook the racism — it’s not really their problem.
When my mother pointed out his statement’s hypocrisy, considering his love of all things Trump, he went on about what a great president Trump was and how he hadn’t done anything wrong. To him and so many of my Trump-hailing relatives on Black-majority Caribbean islands, where Whiteness — and, by extension, everyday racism — isn’t as in your face as in the mainland United States, Trump still represents the power and success that once made him the great White hope of rap. They can afford to overlook the racism — it’s not really their problem.
My mom wasn’t having any of her baby brother’s BS, so she ended the conversation. I inherited her gift for marathon grudge-holding, so I’m pretty sure things between them won’t be going back to normal anytime soon — if ever. It’s been nearly a decade since she quietly stopped speaking to her youngest sister, who lives in Florida but was raised on St. Martin, over warped, out-of-touch political leanings.
I continued to associate with my aunt a few years longer, until 2015, when, a few days after marriage equality passed in the United States, she posted something on Facebook urging her fellow Christians to pull together to stop the evil spread of homosexuality. This from a woman with multiple divorces and at least three gay nephews. I’ve communicated with her only once since then — but I hear she, like so many in my extended family, is quite the active Trump stumper.
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As someone whose nuclear family is firmly anti-Trump, I wonder how so many of my non-American Caribbean-bred relatives on both parents’ sides came to be taken in by MAGA. (My mom is Antigua-born. As a tween, she moved to my dad’s native island, St. Martin, where they met.) I have a few overlapping theories. One is that among the ultrareligious stock from which I come, some have foolishly bought into the illusion of Trump as a man of God.
Another theory is that they see him and the Republican Party as being the embodiment of American Whiteness and, by extension, the American dream. They believe that loving Trump brings them closer to what they perceive to be the American ideal. As outsiders looking in, they’re more likely to romanticize the version of a pure, powerful, patriotic America that Trump and his conservative allies peddle.
A third theory is the one I think holds the most weight. It involves how removed the Black experience on Caribbean islands with a Black majority is from the Black American experience. Of course, Black people on Black-majority Caribbean islands still have to deal with racism in a post-colonial world. But even when White people hold the bulk of the financial power, they don’t necessarily see the threat of discrimination in a steady succession of white faces every time they walk out the front door.
I don’t know what my uncle from the wedding thinks of Trump, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a fan. His comments at the reception 27 years ago betrayed a keen understanding of the push and pull between Black and White. But the Virgin Islands is a U.S. territory where the majority of elected governors since 1970 have been Black. (Its citizens do not get to vote in U.S. presidential elections.)
The racism Trump endorses might not resonate among Black people on Caribbean islands the way it does among Black Americans, who spend their lives in constant proximity to White supremacy.
My mother, who moved our family from the Virgin Islands to the U.S. mainland in 1973 to give her children a better life, recently surprised me by admitting that the recent resurgence of racial violence in the United States has her second-guessing that relocation. It’s probably easier for my Caribbean relatives, who probably don’t worry about being stopped by a racist White cop every time they get behind the wheel of a car, to shrug off the January 6 Capitol riot and Trump’s race-baiting tactics as boys behaving badly.
Maybe their MAGA love is due to something else entirely. I won’t lose anymore sleep agonizing over it, though; instead, I will pull out the big broom and sweep them away. It’s what my friend Dave, a White American, did after his entire family voted for Trump in 2016. He hasn’t spoken to any of them since.
It took me a few years to follow my mother’s lead when she severed ties with my aunt. I won’t make the same mistake with my uncle or any other relative who waves the MAGA flag in my face.
Sometimes Mother does indeed know best.