What Lives Matter: A Teenager Talks To His Father About Race, Politics

Feb 9, 2018

Today on Dayton Youth Radio we have a story about listening carefully when fathers and sons talk; sharing family history, ideas and politics. Today, we will share one conversation where son and father trade ideas. They are white, and next week, we'll hear from an African American father and son.

Youth Radio Producer John Hahn grew up in Rochester, NY where his dad was an engineer for the Eastman Kodak Company. But when digital cameras changed the way we took photos, Kodak was forced to shut down. In 2012 closed the Kodak plant closed; John's dad his lost his job.

It was a cold winter morning in upstate New York. The snow was over a foot as I left for school. The day went on as I laughed with my friends. I was excited when the final bell rang, I finally felt free. I took the bus home expecting to be alone. However, this day wasn’t like most days. I came home, and I saw my dad’s 1992 Plymouth Acclaim in the driveway. He was never home this early. My dad who had always had a job, had been laid off.

"It's very disappointing to be laid off," he says. "It's something that's happened to a lot of people these days."

Being laid off affected the way he saw our country, our community. It seemed now he was constantly talking about how the ‘Jews controlled us’ and that ‘Mexicans need to be sent back.’ Now he seemed to be talking about race all the time.

"I'm not really a strong believer in affirmative action," he says. "For example in government employment, they have to hire a certain number of minorities as opposed to more qualified employees. I think affirmative action is a major employment scene that needs to be eradicated."

My parents and I moved to Ohio when I was 15. My dad's unemployment and radicalized views had now driven a wedge in my family. My mom and he separated when we moved to Ohio.

"We had disparate views on a lot of things, especially politics and government and economics. Women, tend to be by their nature more liberal, left leaning than most of the men who conservative and more realistic in their attitudes," he says.

I asked him if he thought his political views have gotten more extreme.

"I would think that as you become older, everyone becomes a bit more cynical about things," he says. "And you begin to look at the issues as you get older that are not apparent to younger people."

I remember arguing with him all the time. I would explain to him how white people have held other races back and continue to discriminate against them and how other ethnic groups deserve a fair chance and to be on the same level as us. Growing up, one of my best friends, Matt Kulabali, was black and I never understood why I should treat him lesser.

I asked my dad if he views other ethnicities as lesser than Europeans.

"Yes, I think that in terms of standardized survey test, Europeans do significantly better than other ethnic groups. More so than the Asians, because they have a language barrier, as far as the other minorities like the Hispanics and African Americans, they as a general rule don't have what it takes and it shows in their achievement test as well," he says.

When Donald Trump came around, my dad was all for it. Not only was he an authoritarian just like my dad, he was also white and better yet, had a German last name.

"I think Donald Trump is a very conservative individual who's already proven his success in business," says  my dad. "He's a great communicator, he's a great business man and that's what you really have to have when your president."

My dad cheered when Trump vowed to put up a wall along the Mexican border, and I asked him whether Donald Trump blamed other groups for our country's failures.

"He's done some of that and some of it's been true. But I think that the media is the major culprit here; they are not good at portraying the truth. They predicted that Trump would lose the election because the media was trying to convince the people to vote for Hilary Clinton, and in fact, none of us agree with her, and a lot of us agree with Trump and he's on the right path."

"What would you have to say about his current 37% approval rating?" I asked.

"Well I think that's media generated," my dad replied.

I then asked, "Do you believe that when I attempt to make claims of my political views that you immediately dismiss them?"

"No I don't," my dad replied. "The words that my son espouses and others of his group will never make the US great again, and they're also anti-Trump may I add."

Politically, my dad and I are on opposite sides of the spectrum. It bothers me because I haven't been able to have the relationship with my father that I want. We argue a lot. Racism has never been right with me, why should some be treated differently because of the color of their skin?

While my dad has a lot of prejudices that I don't agree with, he's my dad and has a lot of redeeming qualities. I love my dad. I try to make the best of what he taught me and what my mom has and with those guidelines, find my own lane.

John Hahn is a student at Centerville High School. Special Thanks to Tricia Rapoch, teacher for the Communication Arts Program at Centerville High School. Learn more at the school's website:  http://www.centerville.k12.oh.us/CHS

Dayton Youth Radio is supported by the Virginia W. Kettering Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council.