In 2020, I Learned Some New Things About My Family & Friends

by Kristen Mae
Originally Published: 
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Ah, 2020. A year that will forever be regarded with disdain and horror. A year in which joy was derived “despite” a bunch of other terrible shit. A year in which successes were recognized only in the context of substantial loss. We talk about “surviving” the year in terms of mere survival being a success, but then we backtrack guiltily when we realize that not only is “surviving” a sad measure of success indeed, but that hundreds of thousands of people failed to attain even this lowest bar of achievement. It feels terrible to have had a pretty okay year given that so many others have endured, and are enduring, unimaginable suffering.

Of course, I’m not just talking about COVID. The murder of George Floyd by police at the end of May thrust systemic racism to the forefront of the national conversation, sparking protests and unrest in hundreds of cities in the U.S. and across the world. Fires raged across the West Coast of the U.S., displacing people and wildlife and destroying homes. Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and was replaced by a conservative judge. Fake news and ridiculous conspiracy theories appear to have taken over the minds of approximately 70 million people in the U.S.

And yet, through all the bullshit that took place last year, I am walking away with one big positive: Clarity.

2020 showed me who people really are and what behaviors I’m willing to tolerate. It has been kind of like coming out as gay — you get to see who loves you unconditionally like they said they did, which friends are your true ride-or-dies, and who has been hiding their homophobia under a smile and friendship that always had conditions attached. You learn to let go of the trash and even to be thankful when it takes itself out. For me, 2020 offered a similar kind of clarity.

My goodness, I had no idea you were capable of achieving this level of willful ignorance.

As the pandemic picked up steam in March and April, it became clear that some people in my social circle were politically or financially motivated to reject or disregard science. More and more, the term “willful ignorance” kept popping up in my head. It’s one thing to be duped or confused. It’s another thing entirely to deliberately and systematically seek out fringe “experts” who will confirm your bias even as you clamor over mountains of evidence that contradict what you so desperately want to believe. Turns out, I have no interest in maintaining relationships with people who are willfully ignorant. Bye!

Oh, hello, you have been secretly racist AF this whole time!

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Again, it is one thing to be ill-informed. It is entirely another to disregard the cries of millions of people who are trying to paint a clear picture for you of their daily experience. Steam comes out of my ears every time I think of the many examples of racism-denying white people using evidence compiled by other white people to provide “proof” that systemic racism is a fabrication. Or worse, amplifying the message of a single fringe outlier in the Black community who contradicts what the other 99.9% of the Black community is begging us to hear. Nah, bro. Stop talking.

Ah, I see you are an ally only performatively, or when it is trendy.

In 2020, tons of people who previously never had a single word to say about systemic racism were suddenly extremely outspoken. 2020 became the year that speaking out against racism and police brutality finally probably wouldn’t hurt your brand. I get that some folks are late arrivals and were previously ignorant to “how bad” things are, but plenty of you knew damn well what has been going on and have never said a damn thing publicly. I see you.

On the flip side, queer people didn’t go away in 2020, but enthusiastic support for them did. Bigotry and homophobia are still alive and well, and conservative think tanks and lobbying groups like the Family Research Council are just as busy as ever pushing their anti-queer agenda, if not busier, because the country has taken its eyes off the ball. If you were an outspoken ally for queer folks in 2019 — especially if doing so got you likes and clicks on your social media influencer accounts — but got real quiet about us in 2020, just FYI, we noticed.

I thought you were smart, but now you think Tom Hanks eats babies.

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Listen, I get that this has been a difficult year, that in times of stress, people are more likely to be convinced of the improbable and even the ridiculous, and that social media algorithms are tricky bastards. But also, what the fuck? How the fuck have so many people that I used to think were smart fallen for conspiracy theory garbage ranging from Chrissy Teigen running a pedophile ring to the coronavirus being a manufactured virus created for the express purpose of developing a vaccine that would inject nanotrackers into our bloodstreams so the government could spy on us. You fucking nitwits, the government can already track everything we do. Do you have a social security number, a credit card, and a smartphone? Then the government already knows every damn thing about you. Dumbass. I can’t.

My patience for certain people and behaviors has waned to almost nothing, and I like it.

I find myself speaking up more. I find myself more likely to explicitly tell someone they are full of shit and why. I find myself hitting that “unfriend” or “block” button more frequently on social media. My world has gotten a bit smaller, and I am totally okay with this. I’m careful not to silo myself too much, as it does me no good not to know what science-deniers and conspiracy theory-humpers are railing about this week. But I get this information from fake news sources like Breitbart and The Blaze. It feels less personal this way, less painful than hearing it from people I once respected and admired.

Is this mean? Am I maybe even being a bit intolerant? Possibly. But that’s part of what I mean when I say 2020 gave me clarity: I don’t care. My mental health matters, and if seeing your racist, or homophobic, or science-denying, or conspiratorial bullshit damages my mental health, then I am stepping away. I just won’t do it anymore.

2020 may have been a dumpster fire of epic proportions, but out of the ashes of that fire-cleansed dumpster now rises a Phoenix who is no longer here for people’s bullshit.

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