I clearly remember driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountains shaped the road, and the sun reflecting through the trees was bright and clear. I rolled down my window and let the sun caress the bare skin of my arm while lighting up the wooden tip of a Black & Mild. Inhaling the fresh mountain air and cigar smoke was a perfect combination.
Close to my destination, Madison County, I pulled up at a gas station. Trucks with confederate flags and “Trump” stickers were pulled up at the parking lot. Entering the shop connected to the gas station, I instantly noticed how different Madison County is to Asheville — all the people were white, dressed in camouflage shirts and a lot of them had faded tattoos with no or few teeth.
They all seemed to know each other, talking and laughing in a very Southern accent. I clearly remember how it got dead quiet when I approached the counter to pay for a cherry Coke and gas — many eyes were observing every move I made, and the laughter eased out to a serious grimace.
I quickly tucked in my septum nose ring and tried to force a friendly smile, but I felt like I had dropped down from a foreign planet and I did not blend in with the locals.
I was meeting my — at that time — good friend at the gas station. He is black and I am white. While I was about to pay the cashier he entered the gas station, went toward me and hugged me — if I had felt like an alien, I do not know how he must have felt, but people’s stares were digging angrily into him. People behind us started to whisper words which I do not want to recall, but they made us get out fast.
After all, I know the people at the gas station thought we were together as a couple, and they did not approve. That was not my first time realizing how a lack of acceptance is still a huge problem in America, especially in very conservative families. For instance, I have friends who have told me if they were to bring a black guy home, they would be dishonoured — some friends do not even see interracial dating as a possibility, at all because the consequences would be too significant.
Growing up in Copenhagen, the capital of personal liberty, freedom of speech and liberalism, I was always allowed to do pretty much everything I wanted. Danish parents are extremely open-minded and carefree, and Danish children have lots of freedom to be and become whoever they want to be regardless of sexual preferences, religion, political views and academic goals. Happiness and personal growth are key elements for Danish people, and acceptance is very important in Danish society.
Personally, my father would have zero power in who I would want to bring home, which is the norm in Danish families. I am proud of the Danish mentality of acceptance and equality, which makes me upset extreme conservative Americans cannot get past history, and it is so clear America is having an ongoing huge problem regarding racism, poverty and white supremacy, which has to be addressed.
Thankfully, Asheville is a bubble of creativeness, acceptance and diversity in the middle of the Bible Belt, and attracts people who seek just that. Often, people who come from very conservative places either seek out Asheville to get accepted and to fit in somewhere, or very conservative people come and they change a lot or a little.
Though in the American South, some kids do not have the liberty to be, believe and become what they are or what they want to be.
I sadly recall a lot of personal stories from UNC Asheville students who no longer have contact or a relationship with their parents because of personal choices conflicting with their family’s conservative beliefs.
For instance, I clearly remember talking to a guy who came from a small town, growing up religious and conservative, but had decided to follow his own ways as a gay and liberal man. For that reason he was cut off by his parents who did not want to accept him for who he was.
Personally, this story leaves me sleepless when thinking about it. Before moving to America I would never in my wildest dreams think parents would be able to dishonour their own children due to personal reasons and conservative beliefs, and I had no idea America still suffers from an extremely controlling parental policy.
I am not saying people who voted for Trump or Republicans in general are racists, and I am not saying conservative people are not accepting of others, but I believe strong American conservatism traps America and its people in a dark circle of cruelty and makes part of the states stuck in the past.