Suggestion: Imagine a world where conservatives are a minority and liberals go around justifying their discrimination by saying “I have friends who are conservative, but…”
“All I’m asking,“ Ellen delicately explains, “…is that we tone down our usual style of conversation, just for this evening. A little less talk of income inequality, the housing shortage, pro-choice campaigns, that kind of thing… James hasn’t ever really met people like our family. So, please, give him a chance. He’ll be nervous enough as it is…”
Across the island unit in the centre of the kitchen, Laura appears a little uneasy but at least she is trying to understand her daughter’s request. Ellen’s father, Ken, pretends to be distracted as he chops vegetables for this evening’s meal at the kitchen counter while clearly eavesdropping on the conversation.
“Sounds like censorship to me,” Ken pipes up, not turning around from the chopping board.
“That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about,” Ellen responds, gesturing in frustration in her father’s direction. “You can’t leap to claims of censorship when all I’m asking for is polite conversation!”
“What your father means to say, dear,” Laura says quietly, “is that we’d like James to meet the real “us” as much as we’d like to meet the real James.”
“I’d like that, too,” Ellen says, “but it’ll take a bit of time.”
“Oh, I think I get you, now,” Laura replies. “James is a bit of an introvert, is that it?”
“No, not exactly…” Ellen hesitates. “It’s… just that, he’s more comfortable talking about certain things than others.”
“Like what?” Laura asks leaning in, arching her arms on the island counter and resting her chin on her interlocked fingers.
Ellen thinks for a moment. “Well, he only recently finished his Masters in Economics and he’s working in – “
“Ah!” Ken starts, turning away from the counter and towards his daughter, “So James would be happy to talk about vulture funds ruining this country…”
Ellen’s gaze shifts away from her father to her mother and back again.
“Actually,” she explains, “I was saying… he’s working in an asset management role in his company at the moment… sometimes, he likes to talk about that…”
An awkward silence occupies the kitchen. Ken, realising that he still holds the chopping knife in his hand, returns the knife to the board and leans with his back to the counter, facing the island in the middle of the kitchen. He visibly mouths the words “asset management” to himself, repeatedly, with a look of sad confusion on his face. Laura tries to re-gather the conversation.
“Any other topic that James is comfortable with?” Laura inquires, her wide eyes pleading with Ellen to move the conversation along.
“Eh…” Ellen struggles to think in the circumstances, “he’s really interested in roads and motorways being built, that kind of thing…”
Laura nods along. “Oh, that’s nice. Has he any interest in art or music?”
“Not really, no,” Ellen replies. “He doesn’t see the point of all that, to be honest. He sort of follows Gaelic games, but he’s not a super fan or anything like that…”
“Ellen…” Ken begins in a grave tone, “what kind of man are you bringing into our home?”
Ellen is taken aback by her father’s bluntness. Laura turns to scold her husband.
“Honestly, Ken,” Laura rasps, “that is not appropriate.”
“Look, I am sorry,” Ken replies, “but it seems to me as though our daughter is trying to say that her partner is a con-“
“Really Ken – there’s no need-“
“I’m calling it as I see it, Laura – James must be a con-“
“Look here, you’re upsetting Ellen…”
“It’s nothing to get upset about – I mean that – I have friends just like James – in fact, I know quite a few people who would call themselves con-“
“I just want to know that our daughter knows that her partner is a con-“
“CONSERVATIVE. HE’S A CONSERVATIVE. I KNOW. I KNOW THAT JAMES IS CONSERVATIVE…” Ellen roars, with tears streaming down her cheeks. As Ellen sobs, Laura glares at her husband and shakes her head. Ken feels ashamed for causing his daughter to cry.
“Ellen, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have…” Ken says, his trembling voice trailing off as Ellen wipes the tears away.
“I just thought that you’d understand,” Ellen says, sniffling. “You’ve both always been so understanding, always so progressive… I thought it wouldn’t be an issue for either of you… that you’d make the effort to get to know James as a person…”
Ken walks over to Ellen and puts an arm around her shoulder to comfort her.
“I’m sorry,” Ken repeats. “It’s not right for me to be so judgemental. I only want you to be happy, I don’t care what race, creed, ethnicity, gender, whatever or whoever the person is that makes you happy is… I guess I just never thought, of all the people in the world, that you’d want to be with a conservative…”
“I know, dad,” Ellen says, forcing a smile. “But he does make me happy. So what if James thinks fixing the economy at any cost is all that matters? He makes me happy. So what if James measures the success of society in terms of motorway construction? He makes me happy. So what if James thinks trickle-down economics and capitalism are working for everybody? He makes me happy. So what if James thinks anyone on any form of welfare is trying to commit fraud against the state? He makes me happy. So what if James thinks homeless people are just rough sleepers? He makes me happy. So what if James doesn’t accept there’s a systemic gender gap in this country that is depriving women of equality and basic human rights? He makes me happy. So what if he hates poor people? So what if he’s a member of Fine Gael? So what if he believes that white people are the uber-mensch-“
Ken and Laura’s eyes meet, communicating an unspoken distress signal.
“Oh my,” Laura groans, as she crosses her arms “so, you’re bringing a Blueshirt in to our home.”
A scandalised look crosses Ellen’s face.
“I can’t believe you’d call him that word,” Ellen gasps, “that’s extremely offensive!”
“Well, that’s extremely what James is, my dear,” Laura says, “it’d be wrong to pretend otherwise.”
“Ellen, there are limits,” Ken continues. “Are you sure a right-wing Tory is the sort of person you want to be with?”
“First of all, calling someone a ‘Tory’ is incredibly offensive…” Ellen states, agitated, “and secondly, politically-speaking, James considers himself to be in the centre.”
“Sweetheart, that’s a lie conservatives tell themselves to not feel guilty for their extremist views,” Laura says.
“But look,” Ken offers, “you think he’s a good person, so we’ll keep our minds open and give him a chance. We’re always honest with each other, though… aren’t we?”
Ellen sits quietly, fuming under her calm exterior. She nods in response to her father and thinking everything to be settled, Ken and Laura start cooking dinner. But Ellen knows that her parents have already made their minds up about James without having even met him yet. She feels disappointed in her parents. After all, prejudice is prejudice, whatever form it takes.
“So much for the tolerant left…” Ellen mumbles under her breath.