I don’t know about you, but I have been glued to the TV since election day. I watched CNN mostly. That was for many reasons, the biggest one being that I like to hear what Van Jones and Abby Phillip say about political issues. Van Jones was sitting next to Rick Santorum and was the best role model of listening to people who say stupid things that I’ve ever seen.
This has been a year in which I’ve often found myself frustrated with the ignorance of White people about the reality that Black people live in in this country. I do not think the majority of White people are being malicious in their ignorance but I do see a lot of people who discuss racism as a theory and/or a political issue. It seems to me they’re missing a step.
Racism is a reality of existence for people of Color, and for Black people especially. Racism is a complex phenomenon, sure. Discussing it can lead down lots of rabbit holes, but the idea that racism is just about people who use racial slurs or the KKK is wrong. In 2020, anti-Black racism is polite.
Racism in 2020 is “law abiding”—liberal just as much as it is conservative—and it is denied like crazy.
Because of this the idea that we need “unity” and “peace” more now than ever to “move forward’ are all great ideas but they also dismiss not only the feelings of Black Americans—very real feelings—but the existential realities that give rise to those very real feelings: realities in which Black Americans in particular understand that their lives are always in danger in this country because of the color of their skin. And before anyone starts showing me Black people who disagree with this statement, just ask yourself why you are so quick to point to them and ignore all of the Black people who are saying exactly what I am saying? One lets us non-Black people off the hook, that’s why.
Let me tell you a story.
Earlier this month my cousin died and I found myself back in my small rural hometown in the days after Election Day. The town was covered in Trump flags. Never in my life have I seen my small town so enthralled with a Republican, and I grew up in Texas when George W. Bush was our Governor and then became our president. Never did I see an American flag desecrated with his name on it. For people who say they love our flag, it is shocking to see Trump’s name put over the stars and stripes.
At one point I just decided to start talking to people. What I heard motivated me to go to confession and confess the anger and fear I had been carrying for four years. I do not believe that the Black community owes anyone the time and emotional labor of “reaching across the aisle” to hear whatever it is that Trump supporters have to say. But I do believe the rest of us do need to be that bridge.
Did I ever mention I grew up in rural Texas?
I know the caricature people have in their mind about people from where I come from. The dumb country hick character that rides horses. That caricature is pushed even today on CNN, which is why people from my hometown are so offended when they watch it. That leaves them open to being manipulated by people who seem to “talk like them” and get their struggles. Then, there are struggles in those small rural towns. Does it justify racism? No. Never. The answer is just not to ignore the struggles of people by dismissing them as dumb hicks.
There are ways in which the Democratic Party appeals to the sensibilities of the “little guy” and there are reasons the Republican Party pushes back or even rejects out of hand some or most of the Democratic platform planks, but all that is idle talk if we don’t first understand the real-life situations of people living them first.
Let me give you an example.
What people call “socialism” is what I grew up thinking of as “what community does”—by which I mean, doesn’t it go without saying?—take care of each other. There are no hungry people in my small hometown. From the moment I step foot in town, I do not worry about eating. There is someone always offering a plate. When my family and I walked into the town taqueria, the place erupted in condolences and the waitress paid our bill because she knew my cousin who passed away. That’s what I learned growing up: that we’re here for one another.
That’s not an argument for or against Socialism. That’s a slice of life, just one, from a life like lots of those for which all the fast and easy talk about what system is best needs to account and doesn’t hardly ever really even try to. During the funeral procession people not only pulled over to the side of the road but people got out and stood with their hand over their heart out of respect for the loss of a human life. These are all things that are not talked about when discussing rural America.
I can see why people from those towns are angry at how they are portrayed by mainstream media. It makes me angry and I am pretty left and progressive, but like I said I know the values of where I come from.
I was taught that no man is more important than the good of the country, that the peaceful transfer of power makes America great and that democracy is worth dying for, yet here we are with a President who is acting like a spoiled child who lost an election while he undermines the election process.
People who taught me these values wave more Trump flags than American flags. I wish I knew how this man has brainwashed so many people into believing that he is more important than the values that I grew up with.
The way “forward” to “unity” is to stop fighting and start talking.
We all see media that feed our own ideas and opinions and we lack the objective view of each other because we have reduced each other to labels. When it comes to racism—that’s where I started this, remember?—we, by which I mean the rest of us, need to begin to have these conversations, ones that call out racism and also elitism (which is what fuels the insults on rural Americans). Thriving Americans is good for all of us. Equitable access to resources makes us a strong country.
Racism has put a spotlight on our ugly history that so many people were hoping was behind us and Trump has put a spotlight on how much our democracy depends on people of honor serving in our government and the ‘rona has put a huge spotlight on the weakness and failure of all our “systems” and exposed the silliness of talk about them.
We can either move forward by acknowledging what they spotlights have shown us or we can keep closing our eyes and living in denial about what the issues are. We can’t do both. The choice is ours.
Leticia Ochoa Adams writes from Texas, on life, death, grief, suicide, faith, motherhood, doubts and whatever (else) happens to be on her mind.
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