Listening For Good On The Right

published February 10, 2017

There’s a marginalized group in this country that needs to be heard. I spent my life making great efforts to not listen to them. I left the South that I was born and raised in to get away from them. Living in New York, New England, and California I never had to think in any complex way about them.

That is until a series of unfortunate events resulted in the election of a man whose leading advisor is a proud white nationalist

Suddenly, the whole country has become the worst parts of the South I left over twenty years ago. I’m not going to talk about the current administration, other than to say we must, as Americans, continue to fight for the rights of all Americans. I’m also not going to expound upon how people, often with low incomes and poor educations, constantly vote out of their own best interests. I’m going to do something I realize I’ve never done, treat that group with the respect I would want myself. I won’t say deserve, because with the state of things I’m not sure any white person deserves a damn thing.

Why? Because we’re bullies

If there were a minority coup d’etat tomorrow and I found myself in front of a firing squad for crimes against other races, I wouldn’t bother pleading my personal innocence. It wouldn’t be justice to execute me, but I would completely understand. Whites are the pit bulls of American history; we deserve to be evaluated individually, and we are overwhelmingly good, but so many of us have done serious harm to others that many would find the simplest solution to be to isolate us, or put us down.

A shrinking population of bullies

I think the white conservative’s fear has this at its heart: in another two decades whites will drop to 49% of the voting population and be, for the first time since the founding of this country, a minority group. We’ll be cops suddenly put in the general prison population. Will it matter who was a good cop to the people who suffered under the bad? I hope so, but no cop, good or bad, would wonder why he or she was ganged up on and shanked in the yard. It’s not justice, but after centuries of abuse it makes perfect sense. What is Trump’s madness if not a scrambling attempt to Make America White Again?

I wish I could reach Trump’s most hateful supporters, but I know I can’t

We’re all animals in the most literal sense. The most intelligent animals, but still conditioned by our environment and upbringing from a young age. If the South had been better to me, I might have stayed put and become a Southern gentlemen with a well-paying job and nice house who is the kind of passive racist who feels benevolently superior for all I’ve achieved on my own.

I can relate to that scenario because I’ve always felt morally superior to racists, to the less educated, to the people who have never visited another country, to the people who never left their hometown. For the first time I’m wondering, isn’t that also a form of bigotry? I think of people I know in the South who don’t read, who regularly engage in activities I find childish and stupid, who are fearful-of-God Christians- and I feel better than them. I’m not better than them.

The moment anyone says they are superior to another person they prove that they are not

I’m still incredibly angry that millions of people with little or no exposure to other races or religions or sexual identities support leaders making life hellish and unsafe for those other millions of people. The LGBTQ community isn’t trying to outlaw “straight marriage,” American Muslims are not calling for travel bans for countries with predominantly white, Christian populations. Minority groups are not constantly going after the rights of whites and calling it “religious freedom.”

But

My broader point is this: despite the benefits of my rational mind it is a daily struggle not to hate a group of people I have little or no direct contact with. So I think in some situations we have to fight through that feeling of being morally in the right, or put it aside at least and listen for what’s good in, and what’s important to, that person we don’t agree with. We should stick to our moral principles, but we can’t have our starting point with the more moderate Republicans be that they are less than anyone because they voted for Trump.

It’s really complicated to weigh in our hearts and minds, but in the 1930’s and 40’s there were good Germans whose families were starving, who just wanted to ski and hike and make a decent living. Make no mistake, Hitler was still Hitler. Trump and Bannon are still dangerous, racist authoritarians. Millions of their followers are unreachable and would just assume the rest of us were dead or enslaved. But millions more (I hope) just want a better life, just want their daily routine to include their God and their values, just want their children to succeed and prosper. If Trump is the only person listening to them, the only person not demonizing them, all 63 million of them will continue to support him, no matter how much worse things get.

We should continue to fight injustice, but we have to fight the hate inside ourselves too and find a way to connect with those who will listen.

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