I am a marketing professional in the construction industry. That is to say, I spend most of my waking hours surrounded by conservatives and Trump supporters. My career path was zig-zaggy, back and forth from design to construction. Then I realized I just really dig construction. I like seeing how buildings and systems come together. And I like the people in this industry. They tend to be humble and genuine. I like helping people who know that they need my help and appreciate it. Sometimes I like to use foul language for emphasis. Sure, I also appreciate design and its impact on our human experiences, but I’m not really fond of the common personality traits that designers tend to share. I don’t like working with architects. There, I said it.
It should be no surprise that there are more women on the design side of the business than the construction side (25% of architects vs. 9.9% in construction). On construction sites, there are clear reasons for this difference: millennia of evolution has not produced a female physique with the upper body strength to perform many construction activities, like operating a jackhammer. Not only is construction a lagging indicator of the economy, but it is also a lagging indicator of our society. The disproportionate under-representation of minorities in construction is even more extreme. The various reasons and contributing factors are too numerous and complex to recount here, but suffice to say construction is principally a white man’s business.
In addition to being white and male, the construction biz tends to lean conservative. Maybe it’s the focus on dollars that is an essential part of contracting. Maybe it’s related to the education disparity between construction and design. Maybe it’s a natural result of the lack of diversity, which inherently limits opportunities to hear and appreciate other opinions. Regardless, I have observed that Design = Liberal, and Construction = Conservative. In general.
It happens that I work for a family-owned construction business, and there are quite a few Trump-supporters here. There’s a guy who says he just always votes Republican, without paying attention to the individual candidates. He’s otherwise a great guy. I thoroughly enjoy his wit, his perspective, and his demeanor. But since he’s white, educated and affluent, his privilege allows him to mindlessly cast votes that serve only him.
Someone from the company attended a Trump rally last year and there was a bit of hubbub in the office about them being visible in the televised news coverage of the event. As a marketer, it was an odd sensation to silently celebrate the fact they WEREN’T wearing the hat with the company logo that day.
One of my best work buddies is an engineer. A man of science, if you will. This one’s the real puzzle because his sensibilities are so similar to mine in so many ways, and gosh what an astute and thoughtful guy, and then BOOM. Out of left field comes not just a vote that was cast in a moment of revolt, but clear admiration for a figure that resembles a monster more each day. Periodically he will make jokes about climate change being a hoax and for the life of me I can’t reconcile this logical, evidence-driven individual with what he is willing to believe, or rather to deny.
One by one, these folks have revealed themselves, usually without invoking Trump’s name.
My style of discourse has always been to ask questions: Why do you think that? Do you also believe in [related insane/bullshit opinion]? Do/did your parents vote republican? Did you get spankings as a child? What about [this]? If I follow your stated opinion to its conclusion, is that something you support, too? I ask these questions without offering my own opinion unless they ask. They usually don’t.
However, I do NOT ask about inclusion issues like race or gender/sexuality, and this is why: I have STRONG feelings about equality, ones that I can’t keep to myself when the discussion turns that direction. And even if I could contain the words and keep quiet, I’ve been told thousands of times throughout my life that I have no poker face. With no game face, my expressions betray my thoughts on the things people say to me.
My coworkers can guess what I think of their opinions; they can feel my judgment. But I can’t afford to burn my career down by openly calling out their bigotry, so I survive by avoiding the conversation.
Instead, I slide in details about my friends and family members of diverse backgrounds and situations. I’ll “let slip” that I experienced welfare and food stamps after my parents divorced. Does this ‘put them on notice’ that I won’t laugh at an offensive joke? Or does it give them something to reflect on later? I’m not sure, but it at least reminds them that there are other perspectives.
Perhaps they have come to respect me for my work ethic and intellect. Maybe I’m someone they like for my sense of humor and easygoing nature, who manages to embrace her humanity but is not a “Radical,” a “Libtard” nor a “Snowflake.”
Or perhaps they think of me just as I think of them: pleasant, but flawed, people.
About the author
In addition to her career in the construction industry, Alethia Fowler is married to a recovering Republican who was born and raised in a deeply red state. She’s the mother of a transgender daughter, a survivor of sexual assault, and still paying the student loans that helped her become the first college graduate in her family. Her family, like yours, includes people with preexisting health conditions, and her group of close friends includes some formerly-incarcerated, wonderful people.