Dear Culture

How Trump Ruined My Relationship With My White Mother: The Family Fallout and Healing

Episode 14

Panama gets candid about the fallout after his viral article. In a sincere dedication to his mother, Panama shares the journey of their relationship and its meaning to him on this special episode of Dear Culture. (Part 2 of 2)


Promo [00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.

Panama Jackson [00:00:10] What’s going on, everybody? Welcome back to Dear Culture. This is part two of my retelling or my discussing an article that I wrote titled How Trump Ruined My Relationship with My White Mother and the impact it had on my life, on my family, my relationship with my mother. In the first episode, I kind of recounted how we got to me writing the article in the first place, you know, how what led up to it kind of with some little bits of history like our own personal history, but leading up directly to what led to it because it was very specific instances that were emblematic of a much larger issue that she and I had had that led to me writing it in the first place. What I haven’t done in almost any capacity, save for one French outlet. And surprisingly enough, there’s one French outlet. I haven’t really talked about what happened post the article with people. Now I’ve done it individually with people who I’ve known personally when people have reached out to me. You know, a lot of people when I wrote that article in the first place, a lot of people reached out to me individually to tell me that, you know, they were praying for me, that they were sorry, that we were going through, that they wish the best for us. They hope that my mother and I were able to get to a place that allowed us both to have like an understanding and an ability to see one another. But largely that my mother would be able to see me for who I am and allow, you know, not not let her own personal political stuff to overshadow her kids. Right. The way she’s looking at her kids in the kind of way that she’s interacting with her kids. Like I always said, you know, it’s crazy. That’s how I know how my mother doesn’t read anything that I write, because if she read any of it, she would understand why the Trump thing was so painful for us. Like it was such a thing that impacted us so negatively, like. If you read, if you needed any questions answered. My website at the time, Very Smart Brothas was answering all those. If you wanted to understand why what Black Lives Matter stood for, if you wanted to understand how he felt about Mike Brown or all of these instances, all these unnecessary killings of black people at the hands of the police, how he felt about this, as opposed to this very myopic view that she seemed to have, you know, where it’s like all you had to do was read. But she didn’t right. She was very proud of who I am and what I was able to accomplish. I just don’t think she had any idea what it was. So. After I write this article, I decide I’m pretty much like, I can’t. I don’t. I just. I told my wife she wasn’t my wife at the time. And that plays prominently into the story actually, that I just I don’t have anything to say to her. I can’t talk to her anymore. Like, I just. I need a break. So I just didn’t. I didn’t. My mom called me several times. I didn’t answer. I didn’t return the phone calls. She call my my little sister and she’s like, Yeah, what’s going on? Like, Dwayne’s on answering the calls. Like, What’s up? Like, what’s what’s going on? And my sister was just like, I think you just got to wait and give him some time. Like, he’s really he’s really hurt by what happened when you were in D.C. visiting. And my mom was like. Heard about what? Like, she just didn’t understand. She didn’t understand. She couldn’t comprehend why I would be so hurt about what happened. And it probably took about three or so weeks. I don’t think I talked to her until. Probably this. I wrote the article in August. I probably didn’t talk to her until maybe October. One day she called. I answered the phone. We talked. She apologized. I told her what hurt me. She’s like, Well, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m sorry if energy wasn’t really that. You know, I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings or nothing like that, you know, I just it just, you know, I didn’t realize it was that big of a deal and. We got off the phone. And I walked into my house, I was on the phone in my car and I walked upstairs in my room and I cried for like 30 minutes straight. Like I was bawling like a baby. Like I had so much pent up hurt and emotion and pain like I. I was so mad, like I was shaking. Like I was just like, I can’t believe she just doesn’t get it at all. She literally doesn’t understand even a little bit what I’m what I’m getting at. And at that point, I was like, I just don’t have anything else to say. Like, I’m just not I’m not I just don’t have anything. So I, you know, we might have talked very briefly one, one or more times after that, but it was there was not a lot of there was not a lot of conversation happening. Right. Early December, though. Oh, it’s very important me to tell you this. I had not told my mother about this article, by the way. I still hadn’t told her. Okay. I’m going to have to repeat that a couple of times until it becomes very important, because it just when that when when when it hits the fan with that one, it hits the fan. But I still hadn’t told her in December. I want to say early December 2017. My first cousin, one of my cousins, passes away in Texas. She overdosed on opioids and she passed away. So even after having written this article, even after having gotten all this news attention and press and all this stuff in mind, you I have to be completely honest about this. I was asked to do a ton of press behind this. And I said no almost every single time because they were all going to have to talk to my mom about it. Right. Because journalistically, you got to go to the other part. I’m writing about my mother. They were going out to talk to her, too. And I was like, I don’t want my mother to get on TV and say anything crazy. I don’t want that to be the case. Like, I don’t want to validate this other stuff. I mean, it’s so my mom, like, I understand that I’m not really rocking with the right now, but it’s still my mom. Like, I can feel this way. The rest of the yall don’t have the right to feel this way about my mother. Right? So. My sister and I go to Michigan. We stay with my mom. You know, this is probably the most we’ve talked since since she’d left in August. You know, we had a good time. And that was my plan was to tell her that I’ve written this article over there so I could sit down and read it with her. And I just didn’t. I just did not. I couldn’t. And. I went home and I felt guilty about that. But I’m thinking this is all just going to blow over, right? Whole thing is going to blow over. My mother’s birthday’s in February. The first week of February, my sister and I decide to buy her an iPad for her birthday. So this is 2018. At this point, I decide to buy her an iPad, you know, so she can keep up to date with all of her, all of her news and all of her stuff. Constantly. Buy her an iPad. She sets a Facebook account. Facebook does that thing they do. They suggest people that you should follow. One of the people that they suggested that she follows was my older sister and my oldest. The last thing my oldest sister had posted was the article. My sister. My mom, as my sister checks out her page and sees this article, I get a text message from my mom. She is living. You coward. This. You’re such a coward. I can’t believe my son is a coward. Like she’s going ham on me, right? She’s going in. I’m like, What in the world is she talking about? And then it dawns on me. She finally saw the article. Talked to my sister. My sister confirms for me that yes, she did. How she found it, how she came to see it. This is where things go from one sidedly, me struggling with my mom to it being a full out war between the two of us. Right. And. It was. The article wasn’t so much the hard part for her, though. It was especially the part where I’m basically suggesting that maybe she’s not going to have a relationship with her grandchildren. Right. What happens is my mom reads all the comments and like people do when you read comments that are negative towards you, those are the ones you fixate on. There could be a thousand comments that are positive, but there’s one negative one. People fixate on those. It’s a lesson that all of us who live in this world have to learn early on, that you can’t focus on negative comments. It’s their way less than the positive ones most of the time. But she reads all of them in thousands of comments on Facebook, on each person’s post, on the on the actual piece that I wrote. I mean, she reads all of it and she gets madder and madder every time somebody says something like, I can’t believe this woman would do this to her son, even though there were tons of people like I can’t believe a son would do this to his mother. Right. People were coming after me left and right. She is nonstop texting me. Mind you, I’m not responding to any of this, but she’s nonstop texting me. I can’t believe you. You’re such a coward. I can’t believe I can’t believe you would say such nasty things. I can’t believe you would do such a thing. I can’t believe The Root would publish things like that. I can’t believe you people would do stuff like that. Like she’s going off, she’s hopping in the comment section and responding to people. Like, emotionally, my mother would get very emotional. You could you could very trip her into an emotional response to things very easily. This was like the worst case scenario is like a powder keg of emotional landmines for her to read because One, it was about her. Two, it was about me and her.  Three. I’m talking about the relationship that we have in her, possibly not having one anymore. And if she’s reading this and it’s like I just put all her business, she disagreed with all the stuff that was in there. She’s she basically called me a liar. She went on Facebook many times and called me a liar, said I was making all this stuff up that none of it happened. You know, her son, you know, she’s like her son is a liar. She threatened to sue me. She definitely threatened legal action multiple times, threatened legal action against The Root, you know, for for publishing these lies and allowing these lies to, like, sit on the site. So it was hot. She was mad. And I can’t blame her. Right. Like I didn’t tell her, number one. It’s like she got blindsided by something that not only hurt her feelings, but painted her in a light that she didn’t want to be painted in. And then I’m pulling back the relationship, and then everybody else is weighing in on it, some people calling her a racist and all this other stuff. So when we when she and I did get on a phone, we got we had huge brawls and arguments about this. I mean, it was like full out arguments where, I mean, she would just go on for like 10 minutes yelling at me. Sometimes I would just hang up the phone like, I’m not doing this. And I felt like I had to let her get some of this stuff off her chest because they had to go somewhere. But. It wasn’t good. Like, I pretty much decided it’s not talking to her anymore. Like, I’m just. I’m out on these conversations. Like, I’m done. Like, I’m just not doing it like. This relationship has gone as far as it’s going to go. And that sucks for you because I have the children over here, the grandkids, but I can’t do this right. Like, I can’t you know, I apologize to you. I apologize to her for not telling her. But I stood by everything that I wrote in the article. Right. I was like, I’m not going to do this over and over. I’m not about to apologize every single time, blah, blah, blah. Like we would get into these really big arguments about it until I just like, cut it off, I’m not doing this anymore. That was in like March, March, April, May ish was when a lot of that was happening. In December of the prior year. On December 26th, I proposed to my girlfriend and my wife and so we had a wedding to plan. She said yes. So we had a wedding to plan. Probably towards that towards the end of May. I remember talking to my mother a couple of times and, you know, I called her because I’m like, Yo. Are you coming to the wedding? And she was like, I don’t think so. I won’t feel safe. I don’t feel safe coming to DC. I won’t feel safe in a room at your wedding. I won’t feel safe there. And I’m like, What are you talking about? Feel safe around a bunch of people that are here, literally to celebrate love. While these people are going to be looking at me because of this article, they’re all going to be paying attention. Like what? They’re not going to care. This is a wedding. This is a wedding for four. This is my wedding with my wife. They’re going to be focused on us. They’re not going to care about this article. But she ultimately decided not to come. For her safety, she did not feel safe, At my wedding. Is what she said and the decision that she made. And I know she regretted. She would never say it to me, but I know she regretted not being there because. You know. There was no. I didn’t get to dance with her at the wedding like she would have. That’s what I you know, I told her I want. She asked me, should I come? I was like, you should absolutely be there. You are my mother. It is my wedding. You should absolutely be there. You will sit at the table with my family, with all the family, with with my my sisters and everybody that you know. And my father and, you know, my stepmother and my sisters and my you know, you will sit. You will be fine. Nobody’s going to be thinking about this. And if you don’t come, you’re going to miss out on some of those great moments that people talk about, like a mother, son, dance and stuff like that. You’re going to miss out on that. I think you should come. I think you should be there at the wedding. She decided not to come. Ultimately, she didn’t come. Had a lot of anxiety about that. Like, I was generally very nervous about whether or not she was going to be there and if she was going to come. Part of me, there was a bit of relief that she didn’t. But there was, especially after the fact, a tremendous amount of sadness that she wasn’t there. Right. Like. It’s important for me to also mention this. My mother has a lot of health problems. All right. So in 2016, my mother had a triple bypass surgery. One of the scariest moments in my life. I was there when she had the surgery. I walk in the room and, you know, they tell you that it’s going to take a while for all of the all the wiring to get back. Right. My mother literally looked at me like I was about to rob her when I walked in this room. It was the it was the scariest feeling I’ve ever had in my life. Like she had no idea who I was. Right. But my mother has from then on, she’s had a series of strokes, breathing issues, heart issues. Like my mother was just not in good shape. So I told her straight up, like, listen, I don’t know how many moments you have. God willing, you’re going to live to be 80, but I’m only getting married once. So if you don’t come now, you know, who knows how many more of these moments we’re going to have together? She still decided not to come. It broke my heart. It really hurt. Probably was for the best. But, you know, forever. That’s going to be one of those moments that is tremendously sad. And our family. That’s October 2018. Fast forward. To. I want to say September of 2019. My mother calls me probably in August and says, Hey, I want to come visit. And I’m like, Huh? It’s like, I want to come visit. I want to come see my grandbabies. I want to come I want to come visit D.C.. I’m coming to D.C.. And I remember feeling really anxious about this, like genuinely concerned about what was going to happen. I talked to my wife about it, talked to my sisters, talked to over like I. I was nervous about my mom coming. But she shows up and I hadn’t seen her since December of 2017, and that was for a funeral. So really it was like August of 2017 was the last time we’d really seen each other, and that’s when everything fell apart. She comes to DC, we hang out, we have fun, she sees the kids, you know, we joke, we laugh, we joke about not being able to step on political landmines with each other. Like we literally are like. Joking about not starting a fight again. Right. But she is still very hurt by that article. Like you can tell, like we went out to eat one day and we talked. You know, we just we finally had a talk about the article and how I felt and how she didn’t realize how I felt and all that. And she breaks down crying when she’s talking about this article like she hates it. And I think the part that she hates the most is that she thought that I was genuinely willing to withdraw my family from her. Right. That her grandchildren, the babies that a grandmother is waiting for, a mom is waiting for her grandbabies. And I think that was the part that hurt her the most that I might not I might actually not let her be a grandmother to her grandchildren. We. But we, we. We talked, we cried, we ate. We we joked. We had fun. You know, my mom was in very bad shape, so we couldn’t walk. We can’t go. It’s on places, you know, like her walking up and down the stairs is difficult. It’s concerning to me because I’m starting to get afraid that. You know, this is 2019. So, you know, but I’m starting to get afraid of the future because she’s struggling to do simple things, like even walk upstairs and. But we had a good visit. You know, we had a really good visit. And we started to kind of get over over things. COVID hits. Now, this part is actually probably a little bit funny because in a sad way, COVID Hits, My Mother Goes Full Conspiracy Theorist.

News Annoucement: [00:19:21] I have today declared that the coronavirus presents a public health emergency in the United States. Tonight, U.S. airports on high alert, screening passengers for symptoms of a deadly new virus.

Panama Jackson [00:19:33] She is every insane Facebook meme about COVID. I mean, one time she called me and literally I just put the phone on speaker and. I mean, from Facebook to Jeff Bezos to you name it, it was all there. She didn’t believe in. She didn’t believe in vaccines. She didn’t even think that COVID was a thing. But in these conversations, you know, I’m constantly have I learned how just to pull myself out of it and to approach it in a way that we can have a conversation. So I’m re explaining things like Black Lives Matter to her again and all this stuff like all these things are happening. But everything we’re still walking a little bit on eggshells, right? Is still a little bit of a struggle. And then George Floyd happens.

News Annoucement: [00:20:23] We want to get back to our big story for you this morning. Protesters gathered across the country to demand justice for George Floyd. He’s the Houston man killed by a minneapolis police officer one week ago.

Panama Jackson [00:20:35] George Floyd happens in May of 2020. I probably didn’t talk to my mother for months after that. And I think it was a mutual decision because I don’t think she knew how to talk to me. I don’t think I knew how to talk to her in that space. It was a powder keg. She did call me for my birthday and said, you know, happy birthday. Just call happy birthday. You know, hope everything is great. Father’s Day, same thing. I mean, we probably spoke for less than a minute for months after that happened. But we started to pick up and talk more and more again and just trying to get back to a space where, you know, she had her iPad. She would do that thing where you’re talking around face time, but you can only see the top of her head. It’s quite bananas. But, you know. COVID made it so we couldn’t really visit each other. But. She is. Come October 20, 21. My mother decides. To come visit like she wants to come here. She it’s been years, you know, it’s been, I guess almost two years at that point since she’s seen her grandbabies because of COVID. And she’s like, I need to see them. And. You ever just like talk to somebody and you hear a different type of urgency in their voice. Like, you hear that maybe. Like, I don’t know, like, the need is not like, in like it’s not. It’s real. Like, I need to come do these things. Like, I need to come do this. My mother’s health have been effectively deteriorating slowly. Over time, she was having more and more breathing issues, perhaps more strokes, seizures. My mother was just not doing really well. So much so that when she can’t even when she came to visit, you know, she came to visit her. Our plan was to come for like a couple of weeks at the end of October. And. She didn’t end up staying that long. She I don’t even know if she made it a full week. She wanted to stay for two. She kept saying, I’m going to leave on this date, in this day, than when they said, I’m going to leave tomorrow. Like she needed to get back home. She was concerned about getting back home. That was. I think she left. The morning of Halloween may be in October of 2021. And that was the last time I saw my mother in person alive because. By February. So her birthday’s early February. Call to say happy birthday. But she kept talking about having breathing problems and how she was really struggling to breathe and how she just couldn’t like she couldn’t breathe. And. My sister and I both told her, you need to go to the hospital. You know, you got to go. Just go get checked out. You need to basically go get checked out. So eventually she did. I think I talked to her when she was on the way to the hospital maybe or right before she was going to leave on February 7th. She goes to the hospital. And. The next day. I guess her husband was left the hospital to go. He left the hospital to go get her phone and stuff, which she left at the house. And while he was on the way to get the phone and she had him she had a heart attack. And past. So. Around nine. I don’t know. Nine something in the morning, I get a phone call from my little sister and you ever just like you get a phone call at the wrong time and you know something is wrong. I saw my little sister’s face pop up on the phone. I answered the phone and all I hear is her screaming. She’s gone. And I dropped my phone and I. I, like, fell out onto the floor. I just talked to her, like, two days ago. I just told her to go to the hospital. And my mom was gone. You know, we had gotten back better, so that’s great. But now my mom is gone, like. She’s gone and. I didn’t. I don’t know what you do with that. You know what I mean? Like. It’s I don’t know if it’s that kind of feeling. You just don’t want to feel like you. You just anybody who’s lost a parent knows this, but losing a mom like this just. I was not ready for the the hurt that I felt. I told my daughter she’s you know, she was 12 at the time. Oh, she just turned 13. She’s just turned, 13 at the time. I told her. I called everybody in the family. I called all my friends. I let everybody know. And then I took the loneliest drive to Michigan I’d ever made in my life. I. I was so sad. Like I cried this whole car trip. Like everything that we had gone through, man, I still, you know, like, is just still your mom at the end of the day and. I. You know, we get there, we get to I get to Michigan. We got to go handle all of the funeral arrangements and all of that. I gave the eulogy at her at her service, which. I don’t know how I made it through. I definitely was in tears the vast majority of the time. I put together a picture collage thing for her. You know. Everybody was interested in understanding, like, did you and your mom get back to being good? Like, did that happen? And the truth is, we did. We got back to a great a great place like. We got back to mother and son. Not. Political adversary or whatever. We got back to a mother and son in a way where. You know, when she when she was here back in October, like, I was excited that she was here. Like, we have fun. Like we were, you know, she’s very limited in her emotions and things like that. We couldn’t do much, but. We had. We have fun, you know, like, it just it just felt good. My kids were supremely excited that. That their nana was here. So, you know, I learned to kind of put a bow on this and just to put a bow on this story. I learned some pretty important lessons through this whole situation. One, you know, time is priceless. You know, everybody kept coming up to me like you never know what’s going to happen. I wish I had fixed the situation with such a source before and I got so tired of hearing that but is also right is also accurate. Like you do hope that by that you do hope that you’re good in your heart and mind and spirit with the people that you know and love. So if something does happen that it’s okay. Like it’s not that it’s okay, but that. You know, you just. You. You don’t have a regret. I learned that every story and a story worth telling. And that’s a very important lesson because it also like it’s the first cousin of every story. It’s a story to tell. What happened with me and my mom. Like I wrote the article out of her. Not a pain and not an anger, but I wrote it and I dropped it and I moved on. Like it was just that it was supposed to be just that, but it ended up becoming a much bigger thing. It lived in many more spaces. It was it was more significant than I intended it to be. I didn’t anticipate it becoming what it did for my own personal life. Like, again, like I said, I’ve won several awards. I wouldn’t I wouldn’t paid awards like, you know, my first check for an award because of that article. And it got me into documentaries. I was in a documentary about the loving generation.

Documentary Sample [00:29:50] My mother, the woman who birthed me. Put on a Make America Great Again t shirt.

Panama Jackson [00:30:03] It was Nikole Hannah-Jones and all kind of famous people. You know, I did several news shows and things of that nature. I turned down way more than actually were there just because I didn’t again, I didn’t want to have to bring my mom into all of this. I don’t know if I would do it again. I really don’t know if I would write that article. Again. Like I clearly needed to get out. It clearly was important enough that lots of people were able to read it and use it for their own life and apply it to their own life like it definitely was the kind of thing that. It impacted as a writer, that’s what you want. You want to impact. You want to be you know you want to impact. But man, at what cost? You know, one of my favorite statements is, is the juice worth the squeeze? Right. And. I don’t know. I don’t know if it was worth it, like. I just. I just don’t know. My mom got back to being in a good space, but that time when we weren’t was painful. It was hard, I mean. Like my mom’s out there and we’re just not talking, and then we’re just not in a good space, and it’s like. What do you do when, like the person who knew you before you knew you, the person who loved you before you knew anything? Is that somebody that you can reach out to? But they’re right there like, I don’t know. You know. I don’t know if those years of struggle are worth it. She didn’t come to my wedding. That sucks. You know what I’m saying? Like that that that really did happen. That sucks. And it hurt. And it hurt her. And it hurt our family. It hurt. You know, it was just it was a noticeable absence. And I’m sure she felt that all the way until she passed away. You know, my mom had a lot of insecurities about feeling othered in our family, like because my sister and I were raised on my stepmother and my father, she felt a lot of times like she was the second fiddle. Like we didn’t, you know, she she was not the you know, she just she felt as if. We weren’t as considerate of her as we were of my my stepmother, who? I’m only calling my stepmother for the sake of the story. But my stepmother, you know, like she basically got turned into a second class mom on that. So, you know, there’s a lot of hurt and everything that went into it. A lot of those issues are things that my mom already had. This article just was the gasoline and the match on a lot of that stuff, and it brought a lot of things to light that they had nothing to do with me necessarily, but because I put myself in the middle of it with this, then it turned into more and I became like it just became like a war standoff. You know, I. What I do know at this point, I can’t change the past issue. But, you know, like. If everybody wondering how we were like. I miss my mom tremendously. I love her. I loved her like. I. I thought she was going to live forever, man. Like I, you know, I guess I stupidly did. And. You know, that’s that wasn’t in the cards, but she wasn’t supposed to go where she did. As far as I know. And I’m glad that we were able to get right beforehand because we did. And she knew I loved her. I know she loved me. And, you know, that’s the story of this. I actually, you know, after she passed, I got this necklace made. This is her thumbprint, or at least that’s what the funeral home tells me. But this is her thumbprint. And I wear this thing with me everywhere. You know, my mother never got to see New York City before she passed. She never we were supposed to do this. She never got to go to L.A. like there’s so much stuff my mom never got a chance to do. And I said to myself, She’s coming with me everywhere from here on out like this. I’m always going to have this on you. You’re never going to see a day without me wearing this because my mom’s going to be with me everywhere. You know, I went to New York and I was like, I’m going to go see some things that my mom never got a chance to see that I know she wanted to. And in some way, it made me feel as if she’s right there, you know, like she literally is there. And I’m helping facilitate some of these things. So that’s what happened. That’s the aftermath of that article that I wrote that. You know, it did numbers, but it did a number on me and my family. So, you know, thank you for listening. If you had any questions about that, because I know some people still did. I hope that those questions were answered for you. I appreciate you for listening. And I know this is an unorthodox episode of Dear Culture, two episodes of Dear Culture. But, you know, we’re using this as an opportunity to tell stories that you might not otherwise hear. This is very personal. I don’t know how much more personal we’re going to get, but this was a personal one. I managed to make it through without crying, for real. I had to fight back tears a couple of times, but I, you know, just trying to professionally get that across. So, you know, thank you for listening. Dear Culture is an original production of theGrio Black Podcast Network. You know, make sure you check out this show and all the other shows on the Grios app. And it’s an amazing app, has lots of great stories and and hopefully this can be a wonderful addition to that. You know, I love you, Ma. Your baby boy got you. Your number one son has you forever. Will always be there, you know. Forever. Forever. You know I love you.