I was troubled to see an opinion piece in the New York Times over the weekend, the premise of which was to wonder whether or not he would recommend to his children that they could be friends with white people (spoiler alert: his conclusion was “no”). The reason? The election of Donald Trump, of course.
The author, Ekow Yankah, lists behaviors, character traits, and policies of Trump’s which he finds objectionable and essentially notes that, because white people voted for him, he will teach his small children they “cannot” be friends with them. Why? He makes the assumption that Donald Trump is president because people were in favor of his policies.
While there are, clearly, many Americans of all races who favor some or all of his policies, that is not what decided the last election. The 2016 presidential election came down to which candidate was hated the least. As a percentage, very few actually supported Trump or Clinton. In fact, it was quite clear that both sides felt stuck with the candidate they had and were in a dilemma as to what they were going to do come November.
Plenty of rank-and-file Republicans were embarrassed that this was the candidate of their Party, but when faced with the prospect of Hillary Clinton as president, they swallowed their objections and voted in the only way they felt they could. And, certainly, let’s not pretend that the least likable, most corrupt presidential candidate in recent memory was dearly loved by her base. No, the base of the Democrat Party was revolted and / or terrified by Trump, and that outweighed their distaste for her. When it all shook out, however, it appears that she was even more hated than Trump.
Even though it seems Mr. Yankah’s premise is at least partially faulty, his troubling views ought not be dismissed, as they find resonance with a percentage of the population.
He says in his piece that he is heartbroken to be in this place and holding these views. I was heartbroken to be reading them, because it is a further splintering of any foundation we had as a nation. Race relations have deteriorated significantly in the last eight years, and I fear things won’t be getting better any time soon.
As a white person, I can only own the experiences I’ve had living in America. And as a conservative, it could be easy for me to look at these types of sentiments with a skeptical eye, since this is supposed to be the Land of Opportunity where bigotry can’t ultimately hold you back, since you can go elsewhere if you’re discriminated against. But that wouldn't move me closer to my goal, which is healing and reconciliation.
If we hope to heal these growing rifts, we all need to come together on some things. As Americans can we acknowledge that different races have had different experiences in this nation and that, just because I haven’t experienced a thing doesn’t mean it doesn’t go on?
Additionally, can we also acknowledge that the injustices that occur are not ubiquitous? There are racists and non-racists in every race. I’m not trying to make a moral equivalence here; rather, I’m pointing out that if one begins with the premise that this nation is inherently rotten and irredeemable, there’s no place to go from there except further destruction.
As it now stands, Americans of many races feel under attack, which leads to defenses being raised and readiness to lash out. The question I hope we are all asking ourselves is: What can I do to contribute to the healing of our nation?
Can we listen to those with grievances without raising our own defenses? It’s their story. Let them tell it. And for those who have experienced racial injustice, can you acknowledge that just because a person is white doesn’t automatically make them a racist?
I’m not naïve in thinking this wound is going to be healed quickly. It’s not. But we all see how fragmented and hate-filled America has become, and if each of us doesn’t begin to take ownership of what we might be able to contribute to the healing we so desperately need, we might as well resign ourselves to our fate as we continue to eat each other alive.
The Apostle Paul says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Maybe we could start there.