November 10, 2020

ONONYE | Block or Unfollow? Losing Friends During the 2020 Election

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Raise your hand if you’ve lost a friend or two (or 30!) during this election season. I definitely have. As we finally reach the end of a 2+ year run for the presidency, I can finally reflect on what this election cycle has meant to me. I can list thirty million things, but one of the most significant is that I have lost a few friends. 

Up until the 2020 election run, I really believed that I could be friends with anyone regardless of their political ideology. I had done it my entire life. Growing up in one of the few liberal families in my community (church, school, neighborhood), reconciling political differences has been my life. I have always been a good compartmentalizer and, for the most part, I could always separate the person from their political beliefs. My standing rule: Never let anyone know your politics, and say a prayer that they won’t share theirs. This worked for 20 years. 

But the 2020 election has been different for too many reasons. For one, moving to the other side of the country has taught me that I am not always the political minority (and sometimes can be a part of  the political majority). For someone who was labeled as a radical in my high school, I am somewhat a centrist at Cornell. Additionally many of the social issues presented in this election personally impact my livelihood: particularly gender rights and black/minority rights. The conversations happening on debate stages, Twitter threads and family dining room tables reflected what people (and friends) feel about me and people like me. 

So how did I lose friends this election cycle? Here’s a short list: 

  • I have become very friendly with the Instagram and Twitter  “block” buttons in the past few months. Some of those “blocks” were permanent and I know that those friendships will be hard to reconcile. 
  • A good friend of mine and I have been “on the rocks” since her mother expressed her views on the Black Lives Matter movement to me and she agreed. 
  • On Wednesday, one of my best friends told me that he chose not to vote in this election in protest. We are still friends (don’t worry!), but for the sake of my mental health we have not spoken since then. 
  • A good friend and I (on the same side of the political spectrum) have had such polarizing views on this election that I no longer “talk politics” with her. 

The truth is politics brings out the best and the worst in people. And while the 2020 election brought out some of the best in us (significant voter turnout, a black woman on a vice presidential ticket, rapid social and political change) it also brought out the worst (violent hate crimes and derogatory speech, anti LGBTQ+ rhetoric and an overall distrust of those around us). One thing the 2020 election has made apparent is that, unlike previous elections, people are prouder and louder about their political opinions. I have definitely become more comfortable expressing my views, although I’m still very hesitant about posting political on social media. 

I’m not bold enough to post an “unfollow me if you voted for X candidate” or “block me if you don’t stand for X right” as many of my friends (both at Cornell and elsewhere) have in the past few weeks. From the outside, those posts seem overly aggressive, non inclusive and intolerant. But I don’t blame them at all. They’re tired. I’m tired. It’s easy to “hate politics” and be apolitical when politics aren’t your life. It’s easy to randomly check a box and be excited “for it to all be over” when you don’t have stakes in the game. It’s a very different story when aspects of your livelihood and identity are talking points on candidates’ speeches and entire political platforms. When your identity is a political talking point, you start to question who your real friends are, as they vote in ways that they know could harm you and your family.

So, if you’ve lost a friend or two (or 30!) during this election cycle, you are not the only one. I’m with you and I know it’s hard. The idealist in me hopes it will be “back to normal” (or whatever that means) soon so that those friendships can be reconciled. But another part of me demands that I am more intentional in the next friends that I chose, with hopes that they will value every part of me. 

Anuli Ononye is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at aoo44@cornell.edu. Womansplaining runs every other Wednesday this semester.