We Can Do Better; I Can Do Better

So where am I with all this?

The swirling hurt, disappointment, and rage still swirls deeply in my soul.  I knew it was possible, but just like cancer and death, it is not something I conceive of happening until it's too late.  I had hoped the country would not go down the path toward a Trump presidency in the weeks since his election, I'm more scared for this country's future and in particular, those made more vulnerable by his hateful rhetoric.  At the time of composing this post, the count was at over 700 reports of harassment

Word cloud of this blog post in the shape of a lightbulb

And I'm mad at a lot of things, people and places--all the forces the colluded to make this election the barely-conceived win that it became--not for Republicans so much but how much the messages of Trump's campaign mixed together a message of hope that was deeply seeded in hatred, anger, fear and frustration.  I get and want change in our government like so many others;   I get and want change in our politics like so many others; I get and want a better future for myself and my loved ones like so many others.  But in the messages and plans that I came across on behalf of this candidate, they were dead-ends to me because so many of them were based on dispossessing others of their rights, freedoms, and opportunities or lacking any substantive means of execution.


Like many others, I am pained by the idea that people chose fear and anger and in some way, were comfortable with disregarding the rights of people like myself and others.  But I don't want to blatantly categorize people.  They are not Trump, though their choices do reflect or feed into and validate the hate and vitriol that has emerged from the white supremacists to the degree that some white supremacists are being offered up as Cabinet members.  For me, calling people who voted for Trump racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, etc is just too easy.  It lets me off the hook from understanding and humanizing them.  It reminds me of how I used to talk about zombies when I taught about monsters.  Zombies are great enemies--because you can easily kill them without remorse; their humanity is gone.  You don't have to empathize with a zombie, but I need to empathize with the folks who voted for Trump--because we're all still here and in the days to come, we may likely need each other much more than we all realize.


I'm concerned that being on the left-leaning spectrum, we fumbled it a lot in how we related (or failed to relate) to those that chose to vote for him.  We shared ridiculous memes, we made simplistic and often passive-aggressive ultimatums (e.g. "if you are voting for Trump, just defriend me"),  we made assumptions about the typical "Trump supporter" (we collectively decided they were "uneducated"--a term I loathe for all its elitism), we villainized him and his followers.  We did that which we are supposedly not supposed to do; we marginalized.  I get that many did so because so much of what Trump says and speaks to was marginalizing.  We denied them the complexity and contradictions that we often grant ourselves.  But how do we get out of that cycle?  How do we fight hate in a way that doesn't look exactly like what we're fighting against?  We must be as nuanced and respectful of the variations within the people that believe what happened on November 8th was a good thing as we are with ourselves.  If we fail to do that, we fail ourselves.


I use the collective "we" within this post and yet I know not everyone of "us" did all of these things; but they were prevalent enough in our actions, commentaries, and media that we are complicit (or relationally as complicit as we have judged Trump supporter in the negative aspects that he embraces).  But in reality, so much of what I write here were things I grappled with prior to or directly after the election (hard to parse things out as this election riled up so much in all of us).  So this is more about me and what I'm trying to take and encourage others to consider about what has happened.   


I also am writing this from my own position of privilege as a white, middle-class, perceived-as-heterosexual male and I'm strongly aware of this, which is why I emphasize that what I say next is geared towards other white folks--folks who are rooted invested in social justice, equality, equity, and fairness in our society for one and all.  I say this to others whites because it is our responsibility to engage in the race politics of whiteness, race-baiting, and embedded within that, class. It's not enough to sit within our enclaves of privilege, diversity, or complexity, and then judge (often on stereotypes) and deny the complexity of those who voted different from us.  And to be clear, I am not saying that we are all doing this or saying this, but that these ideas are present in our discussions and are part of what leads to our inability to help other white people understand or appreciate the stacked decks that our culture is playing with.   

For white folks like me, we work hard to recognize and understand intersectionality and complexity in the lives of non-white folks as we should, I believe, given the systematic inequality that exists and is woven into the fabric of our culture and laws.  But even in doing so, we can't forget and also work to recognize and address the intersectionality and complexity of whites who live in working class and impoverished conditions that lack access to things--particular to post-secondary education and training.  I grew increasingly frustrated to hear these groups talked about as "uneducated"--a term that in the constructs of our culture and education system, says a million different things; it's not a neutral term but one that implies a lack of intelligence.  For all the left can get right about respectful language, calling large swaths of people "uneducated" and using their voting choice as proof positive of it, just seems like a non-starter. We failed to engage and listen and learn--which isn't entirely surprising given that this is a credo directed toward white allies pretty regularly. We need to understand and when possible ally with them on common grounds of things that are important to all of us (and there are far more things that are likely to be important to all of us than not--after all, many people are suffering under the current system of politics).   

Beyond talking around and about these people, we need to find ways of better talking with them.  I saw too often people that attempted to disavow those friends who were Trump supporters and offered up ultimatums to disengage with us if they believed something different from us.  That is the epitome of intolerance and in this case, I saw many of us use it inappropriately.  The general disclaimer to defriend if someone supports Trump isn't meeting intolerance with intolerance; it's assuming what the Trump supporter believes and minimalizing the complexity of beliefs of another person (something the left strongly advocates against); it is stereotyping and refusing to engage with people that are different.  It's refusing to understand why or having the hard conversations to trace of the nuance of their position.  Not everyone did this, but how many of us actually tried to understand and parse out the nuance of a given Trump supporter.  Instead, we embraced our echo-chambers, which told us of the extreme and problematic things he was doing (often in overexaggerated tones that we accused the right-wing "news" sites of doing--Mother Jones, I'm looking at you and your ridiculous click-bait), which allowed us to believe the worse in Trump and his supporters, while not recognizing the most important things that we actually agree on.    


I feel like as white people, we need to better communicate the importance of equality, equity, and fairness for all people in this country (and the world for that matter--but hey, baby steps)  to other white folks and to understand that when we address those things, we improve everyone's lives.  Moving forward, I feel like we need to change and do this differently.  We need to work hard to bridge efforts; we need to think differently about conversations we have with those we suppose, present, or assume to be the "enemy" or representations of those things we dislike, fear, or take issue with.  

I've started with trying to figure out how to go forward and then moved into rethinking how I do social media.  This post has helped me to flesh out what are some of the things that I am challenged by what myself and other white social justice folks have been doing in the last few months.  In future posts, I'm hoping to more concretely find actions that put in contact and collaboration with people that hold different views from me in order to better connect and relate and maybe, for us to at least understand and respect each other more in a way that this previous election seemed to fail to do.  

So that's where I'm at...how about you?


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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