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I remember being told as a child that “sticks and stones will break your bones but names/words can never hurt you.”
There was even a snappy retort — “I’m rubber and you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you!” The message seeming to be that, being the “better person,” just holding your head up high or turning the other cheek, would somehow make things alright.
Even our beloved FLOTUS told us that when “they went low,” we should go high. Words hurt and can cut deeper than any sword, leaving scars fostering feelings of hatred, bigotry, insecurities and self-loathing that can last generations.
This presidential campaign saw a plethora of hate-filled names, words and actions. Despite “going high” and not going tit-for-tat with “the deplorables,” we lost this one. We can’t all pack up our toys and move to Canada or stay in our beds with our heads covered hoping it was all just a bad dream. Each day we have to go to work, attend holiday events and otherwise interact with these people.
Post-election, one of the most frequent questions I have heard or been asked is, “How do we talk to each other?” So much was said that it is easy to demonize those who openly supported the campaign rhetoric of the GOP candidate. Family, coworkers, neighbors may not have said the words directly but cosigned them with their vote.
Many, myself included, wonder how many people I encounter every day at work, in stores and on the street — by voting for their own self-interest or not voting at all — ushered in the storm coming for the next four years. In the days, months and years to come, how do we engage in dialogues to heal the wounds, build understanding and develop a nation of, for and by the people — all the people regardless of race, class, ethnicity, age, gender identity or sexual orientation?
It goes beyond Democrats to Republicans. It crosses every line and is more than a “them and us” conversation. Of course we have to push back against “the deplorables,” those hard-core racists and bigots, like the KKK, who no amount of talk, reason or logic will ever change. They haven’t gone low, they’ve been low and intend to stay low. Now that they feel emboldened to openly speak hate, attack, disclose their shady dealings and flaunt the laws, we have to hit back hard.
We must go higher, not by turning the other cheek, but by putting on our game face. The election has given them the rope. They’ve put the noose around their necks. We can let them stand up there and continue to spew their hate while we wring our hands and shake or we can — by protest, legal actions, speaking out and voting — pull the lever and let the bastards swing.
But a bigger threat are those family, neighbors, co-workers and community members who don’t, at a core level, understand that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Some might be easily recognizable, but some might be sitting right beside us in so-called solidarity. They might not have voted in their own self-interest but by their actions/inactions perpetuate the very system we, “in solidity,” rail against.
So how do we talk to each other? How do we move forward and not shut down? How do we engage friends, colleagues, even strangers in a way that will challenge their preconceptions, core beliefs, biases and systems so that they will at least begin to think critically?
Can we talk for real now?
In a post “Turkey Day” conversation, I said that if I shopped it would be on Small Business Saturday and at African-American owned small businesses. A progressive/liberal longtime friend, who happens to be a white woman, asked me if that was supporting diversity. She asked, “Why not just shop small businesses, and leave it at that?”
My first reaction was, “If you don’t understand why I want to buy Black, you don’t understand me, so this is not for you.” I was ready to just internally shake my head, chalk it up to liberal naivete and shut her down. Isn’t this what we do? Shut down. Shake our head and avoid conversations that would take us both out of our comfort zone on many issues especially when it touches on race and our own biases.
Instead, we began a dialogue.
We don’t have to look far to find small businesses representing other communities (i.e Greek, Italian, Jewish, Asian, etc.). When members of those communities shop at those shops, no one questions their support of diversity. Supporting black-owned businesses creates jobs, builds up communities and provides economic prosperity. African-American children, and children of all communities, who grow up seeing businesses owned by all races will understand there is a level playing field in the world of entrepreneurship and that everyone has access to the American dream.
It was an awkward conversation but necessary. If we are to move forward, we all must really understand, not just say it, but understand we’re in this boat together. We can’t pick and choose what/who we are going to stand up for or deny the consequences of our choices. We have to use a different lens, dig beneath the surface. Diversity means respecting individual identities/ethnicities while recognizing theses individual identities/ethnicities make up the whole. The stew is better when you can taste the potatoes, carrots, peas and other vegetables than when you boil it down to a nondescript mush.
We have just finished an election cycle where we told to fear the “other,” to put our personal “getting over” ahead of the well-being of everyone else. We let that little flame get fanned to a blaze that seems out of control. How do we move forward and turn this blaze into a controlled burn so we can grow again, better and stronger? It begins with a conversation across the table, around the water cooler, wherever with friends, family, colleagues — even strangers — with words that will open minds and lead to actions for the betterment of all. They went low, and now we must soar higher than ever before.