First, a quick note: the majority of this was written only a week or so after the election on Nov 8. I've been sitting on it and sitting on it since then, giving it to a few friends, getting feedback, revising, and so on. To be honest, this post is really what motivated me to finally get a real website up and running. I really wanted to get this out before Christmas, when a lot of people are going to go have Christmas dinner with relatives they disagree with.
My hope is that through this post, I will encourage you to have constructive discourse with those relatives. I hope that you will talk to them, and I also hope that you will talk to them, not yell and accuse. Not because they don't (necessarily) deserve it, but because I hope that your primary goal is fixing the problem, regardless of what moral ground you have to lose to do so.
So without further ado, here is what I've been calling my "constructive discourse rant."
I'm sure I'm not the only one that had a bad election night, and a bad week since then. I'm sure I'm not the only one that fears for the lives of friends, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who's already witnessed some extremely nasty racist or islamaphobic harassment. I'm also sure I'm not the only one who totally didn't see this coming.
At first, I was sick and stunned. Then I got angry. And for the last week, I've been attempting to narrow that passion and anger into something that will be constructive. If I haven't already mentioned, I am 100% here to support you in any problem you might have. But I want to take this a step further. I can do more than just being a supportive friendly ear and shoulder, as important as that is.
My main goal now is stopping this from happening ever again. I want to take the people that voted for Trump despite his racist fear-mongering, and turn those people into allies, who will then turn their contacts into allies, and so on. I want to make America better.
And I want to do it with open-minded dialogue.
Note: This is primarily about race, but rest assured I also have strong feelings about what's going to happen about sexual assault in our culture, the safety of transgender people, and queer children who now live in a country that will be heavily steered by Mike Pence. This is not even to mention our interactions with other countries, the threat of war, and the climate. More thoughts on this will come later, but race is the one my thoughts have been consumed with for the past week, and is the one I've seen the most discourse on, and the one I feel needs a change in tone of discourse. So here we go.
The primary target of this post is people like me, who generally do not have to fear for our own lives under a Trump presidency but have many friends who do, and who have familial or social connections to people who might have voted for Trump. In general, we have already vowed to be a support network for those whose well-being are in danger, and we are also desperately looking for something we can do to prevent this from happening again. So, probably educated liberals who are white and cisgender, and therefore at the lowest (statistical) risk of harrassment.
Part 1: This election was ours to lose
I believe this election was ours (democrats'/liberals') to lose. I also believe that it's our job to fix it. But regardless of whether or not you agree with those claims, we have the power to fix it and therefore the responsibility to do so. And if that means getting into the weeds and talking to Trump supporters, then we have to do that, regardless of how much we disagree with them, because it's the only way to change the opinion of 48% of voters.
“But, what do you mean, this election was ours to lose?” I hear you saying. “Clearly this election just shows how backwards we are as a country! We didn’t know it was anywhere near this bad!”
Well, first of all, I don't think that's actually quite right. But second, and more importantly, even if it is true, it is still our fault.
I've read many articles of why the vast majority of rural America voted for Trump. There were two that I found most convincing, and basically what they said was this:
Basically, rural America feels abandoned by liberals and democrats, and you know what, they have a point.
Consider the following facts:
- Rural America never recovered from the 2008 recession.
- Conservative talk radio is alive and well in rural America.
- Rural America tends to be racially homogeneously white. (Obviously not 100%, but pretty close.)
- Rural America tends to be politically conservative, and more importantly, like-minded friends tend to talk only to each other and no one else.
Here's the upshot of all this - everything conservatives in rural America have heard about liberals tells them that liberals belittle them or at best ignore them, think they're Bad People even though they try to be good, and think they're dumb or uneducated.
And liberals never did anything to prove them otherwise. We do ignore them, we do talk about them like they're unenlightened savages, and the most contact we ever have with them is to talk about how racist Thanksgiving dinner was.
No wonder they think we ignore them! We do! And so of course they went with the candidate they thought would at least pay attention to them, stop telling them they're terrible people, or at the very least, shake up Washington. Most of the time, they voted for him in spite of the racist and sexist things he said, not because of them. [see section 1D]
We don't have to choose! We can help rural America recover economically and socially! We can create a candidate who won't ignore them and who isn't a racist, sexist trash bag who's likely to throw our national security into chaos!
Part 1A: But what about education?
I hear you saying: "Where was 'uneducated' on that list of things rural America is? Obviously all of rural America is just uneducated and therefore doesn't have the ability to engage with us!"
First of all, wow, please don't open with that when you go try to convince people to your point of view.
Second of all, I think this mindset is contributing to the problem. Every time a liberal brings up the education difference between liberals and conservatives, a conservative sees yet another liberal dismissing them, belittling them, and condescending to them, and is even more repulsed by a platform that seems to think they aren't capable of thinking for themselves.
Third of all, there are plenty of individuals with college degrees that voted for Trump or that are conservative. Stop thinking that you don't share any traits with people you like to dismiss.
Fourth of all, just because someone doesn't have a college degree or even a high school degree, doesn't make them dumb or incapable of thought.
Last, and most importantly, of all, I actually think it's not education, it's exposure. Colleges tend to be very liberal places, and they tend to be in cities. This obviously isn't a hard and fast rule - there are plenty of colleges that run very conservative. But at the very least, I think it's true that the majority of the total college population in the U.S. runs left. So of course you're more likely to think a certain way if you're exposed to an idea in a positive way. I don't think it's "people who don't pursue continued education never get educated out of their conservative ways" it's "people who pursue continued education are exposed to liberal ideas by people they already respect." This is not even to mention that colleges tend to be more racially and religiously diverse than any other place in America. For sure it was true for me - where I grew up, the majority of people in my schools and community were white and Christian. I still have a lot of unconscious bias that I'm desperately trying to unlearn, just because the majority of faces I interacted with growing up were white. Of course you're less likely to witness the plight of people of color if you don't know any.
Part 1B: The SJEs are coming to calmly engage in constructive discourse
"That's all well and good," I hear you saying, "but they are wrong!"
About some things, sure. But you're not going to fix the problem by opening with that. You have to open a dialogue before they'll believe anything you say - and with good reason! I'm not saying "well clearly both sides of this debate are equal!" I'm saying that if you want to fix the problem, you'll have to be willing to hold your nose and compromise on some things in order to be able to convince them of the more important things, at least at first.
My new goal is to help as many people as I can. I want every person of color, every Muslim, every Sikh, everyone, to survive and thrive. I want my white and Christian or athiest friends and relatives to help them do it. I want conservatives to help it happen. I will never accomplish this goal by opening discussions by calling them racist, because we don't even have the same definition of the word. They would not be convinced. I will wait. I will listen to their problems with an open mind [see section 2D] - because if nearly half of voters feel like they have a problem, it's time to start thinking they might actually have a problem - and only after they know I truly care about them will I attempt to explain why I am so fearful for a Trump presidency.
And hey, if they have an actual problem - and I think they do - then I'd like to solve that too.
But that sucks! It does! If someone pushes you or your friend down the stairs every day, of course you want to immediately yell at them to tell them not to do that and to apologize! But my first goal is not to get moral justice. It's to make them stop pushing people down the stairs. If I can accomplish that, then I'll get them to apologize.
I'm suggesting being, like, a social justice emmisary. My new job is to go cross the bridge into this culture I think is extremely unhealthy, find out what they want, and find a way to get them to stop treating my people badly. That means I have to find new ways to address racist views. I have to be ready to stand my ground when it really matters, but also be willing to retreat when I will do more good by doing so.
Part 1C: Swaying moderates and spreading allyship
"Surely you're not suggesting I go make friends with those people drawing swastikas on the wall?"
Of course I'm not. I figured this would go without saying, but it's probably safer to have it all spelled out. I am NOT suggesting we go to the people that are harrassing Muslims, black people, or whoever, and say "Hey, I'm going to open-mindedly listen to what you have to say!" Of COURSE I'm not suggesting that. In fairness, given how crappy people have revealed themselves to be this week, I can understand why you might have thought I was.
No, you know what I mean. I'm talking about people we have in our social networks (the friend kind, not the web kind) who we know are just as angry at the people painting swastikas on windows as we are, though for a different reason. I'm talking about the people who are just never going to believe that a democrat has their best interests at heart, who believe that all the democrats want is to raise their taxes to fatten their own pockets, and who, statistically speaking, are probably white people in rural America. Though they might not be.
Right now, they're mad at the people drawing swastikas on the wall because they're afraid they're going to be lumped in with them. And they're right, they are lumped in with them. It might even be justified. But I'll never get any of them to think that maybe they should consider supporting a liberal candidate if I smack them with that right from the start. Right now, from their perspective, they're being blamed for the actions of a few. They know how much liberals hate it when Christians or white people blame an entire group for the actions of a few, and so right now they think we're huge hypocrites.
I want to make THEM the ones calling out the racism in their candidate! I want to make them rein in their own party! I would much rather come to a mutual understanding with them in which their needs are met and they take responsibility for how their action of voting for this man has encouraged all this hate, than yell at them knowing that I have not helped them to change, no matter how much I think I'm right.
Heck, even if you assume that only 5% of Trump voters could be swayed, 5% of Trump-turned-Clinton voters would have won us that election. (Well, at least in swing states, but that's another issue entirely.) And my hope is that they will perpetuate it, that anyone I talk to will open constructive dialogue with their friends and the whole thing will just wash over the entire nation.
And if you think that I'm doing something abhorrent, that being willing to compromise on a few minor things for a few years for the sake of helping the major problem is just as evil as allowing the major problem to perpetuate, then I'm sorry that we disagree. If that's the case, then I hope you're right, and that your plan works. I just want things to be fixed.
Part 1D: It is our job to spread knowledge and respect
Earlier, I said "Most of the time, they voted for him in spite of the racist and sexist things he said, not because of them." Here's the thing. That was still a racist thing for them to do. At absolute best, it's because of privilege that they still feel like they can vote for someone in spite of what trash they say about Latinx people, Muslims, women, disabled people, or any number of other groups Trump has threatened violence against.
Here's why we dropped the ball on that one - liberals could have gone out and showed rural America that we care too, and that they didn't have to choose between a candidate caring about them and a candidate being a good person.
It is our job to bring the message to them. They're inundated with conservatives talking to them all the time and smarmily pointing out that liberals think they're trash - and no liberal did anything to show them otherwise. We proved them right! All the evidence supports this claim! They're not going to magically wake up one morning and think, "hm, maybe those people that ignore me except when they go on the internet to tell me to check my privilege actually do think that I'm worth caring about." Who in their right mind would think that, it's totally illogical!
So, part 1, tl;dr: It's on us to bring change. We can't just wait for them to come around. They're being actively encouraged not to.
Part 2: On being an ally
Whoa, whoa, whoa, what right do I have telling white allies of people of color (POC) how to act? I'm white myself! Shouldn't we be listening to POC rather than white people in learning how to be a good ally?
Yes, we should! There are tons of resources out there written by POC on how to be an ally, and it's worth conversations with POC friends too! I'm always looking to see if I can do anything better, or if I'm currently doing anything I should stop.
So why am I telling you all this? Because one of the generally agreed-upon tenets is this: It is not the responsibility of POC to teach white people not to be racist. In fact, I would argue that it is the epitome of being an ally to spread this knowledge so that POC don't have to - but then step out of the way when POC do want to talk about it.
Think about it. If people push your friend down the stairs every single day, they're going to get pretty darn tired of explaining to people why they shouldn't push them down the stairs. If you want to help your friend, it's your job to stop others from pushing them down the stairs - and when they ask why they shouldn't push them down the stairs, you should explain that too because your friend is sick and tired of it. But if your friend does want to explain it that day, you absolutely have to stand aside and listen to your friend as well. You, after all, do not have the personal experience of being pushed down the stairs.
Part 2A: The responsibility of allies
"Why is it our responsibility? What do allies have that the group they're allied with don't?"
Here are the assets allies have that the group they're allied with don't:
- Allies tend to have more social or familial connections of people not in the group they're allied with. [see section 2B]
- Allies are in less danger of physical, verbal, or emotional assault when engaging with "enemies" of the allied group.
- For better or worse, people tend to be more convinced by arguments coming from people like them. At the very least, they're more willing to listen to a point of view when it comes from someone they respect. So allies are more likely to be able to convince "enemies" of their thoughts. For example, a Christian is more likely to be able to convince another Christian to stop harrassing their Muslim friends than their Muslim friend would be. Is that sad? Yes. But that just makes it all the more important for allies to pull their weight and help other people understand.
- Allies do not have to deal with constantly being worn down by society for being what or who they are. That already means that we are more likely to have the emotional energy to fight for rights.
With all this in mind, it is our responsibility as allies to do anything we can to stop the racism being leveled against our friends and against people of color in general.
Most allies at this point have learned never to talk over POC. This is good. But there's a big difference between never talking over POC and never talking for POC. Don't get me wrong, if a POC wants to talk, then allies should defer to them. But many allies will shut down and refuse to say anything at all on behalf of POC, and I think we should stop refusing and try to engage. I think we allies should try to get over our fear of having conversations about race at all (for fear of being called racist), and really try and engage. Again, it is not the responsibility of POC to teach white people not to be racist. That's our responsibility. If a POC wants to do so, then don't talk over them, but don't force them to do all the talking for you.
But also with all this in mind, keep in mind we're not doing this for brownie points. We do not have the luxury of being able to sit happily judging people from the moral high ground. We cannot simply shut people down or shut people out, because that won't help.
See where I'm going with this yet?
Part 2B: Your racist family in the midwest
Many people I know have "THAT part of the family" that they sort of roll their eyes about every time they mention, or use as an example of just how backwards those farmpeople rednecks are.
This has to stop. We have to engage with them. And it's our job to engage with them in a constructive way.
I, like many, have family members (white, Christian) that probably voted for Trump. What I wish I had done, is back in August or something, gone to their town, maybe to the church there, and basically said, "Hey, can we talk about our country? I think it needs help. I want to talk about things we disagree about and learn more about your point of view." I'm actually going to do this, in the coming up holiday season, because I desperately want to cross this bridge and open a dialogue.
If we want people to stop voting for racist candidates, then let's just effing give them what they want. I'll do whatever it takes. After we have stabilized to the point where we stand together against someone I think doesn't care about anybody but himself, someone who has said he wants to round up my friends (OH BUT HE WASN'T SERIOUS SO IT'S OKAY), someone who I think has a high chance of starting wars and using nukes (OH THEY WOULDN'T LET HIM ACTUALLY DO ANYTHING DON'T WORRY), after I am assured that we have a future, and after that agreement bridge has already been built, then I will attempt to explain why voting for him basically meant throwing other people under the bus for a perceived improvement to their own life.
So basically, I'm begging you to open dialogue with anyone you know that voted for Trump. But constructive dialogue. Don't open by calling them racist, no matter how much you know that to be true. Talk to them first in an attempt to really engage. You're allowed to talk to racist people, or homophobes, or sexist or cissexist people. It's okay. I would way rather we talk to people we disagree with and try to get them to agree with us, than ignore them or belittle them, because otherwise they'll just keep on believing what they believe. This is especially important in the context of racism, because to many people, "racists" are people who beat up black people, they don't believe the word covers anything less than that. Many people say, "I've never consciously decided to treat someone different because of their skin color, and so I'm not racist." I doubt the phrase "institutionalized racism" means anything to them, and "unconscious bias" is unconscious, so there's nothing they can do, see? This is the kind of person who needs constructive discourse, not to be yelled at. No one listens to someone loudly accusing them of doing something they don't think they've done.
On the offchance one of my aforementioned family is reading this, I don't think you're racist, or bad people, or anything like that. If you did vote for Trump as I suspect you did, then I desperately want to hear from you and understand where you're coming from, because I do not understand why you would want to vote for Trump. I also hope to share with you why I am now deeply afraid of what the next few years will bring. One of my end goals is to help you understand (perhaps not agree, but understand) why people say voting for Trump was an inherently racist thing to do, regardless of how you conduct your personal life and interactions with people of color. I think about 60% of the problem is about definitions, and I want to have enough of a dialogue that we can share at least that much. I'm coming for Christmas. Let's have some good, healthy, discussion!
You can be open-minded without abandoning your principles. You can listen without abandoning your principles. [see section 2D]
Part 2C: Not everyone can or should do this
To be clear, people have a lot of reasons for legitimate anger. I do not blame a POC who suffers countless microagressions (or macroaggressions) for refusing to talk to racist white people, or to white people at all, really. I do not blame anyone who has suffered at our hands for yelling at us.
But I also do not believe that either yelling or isolating yourself will help convince anyone to become an ally, and I, as an ally, don't have an excuse to do either of these things. Don't get me wrong, I'm angry, but I can control it. I haven't been hurt to the point where I can't have a reasonable conversation, and I'm not in danger from having these conversations, and so I do not have the luxury of cutting distasteful opinions out of my life. It's my job as an ally to engage with those views and try to change them by learning from each other, so that the people who are hurt don't have to. There are a lot of Trump voters, and they're not going to just go away if we ignore them or yell at them. If you are in a place where you can engage, I encourage you to do so. Take some of the discomfort onto yourself to save your country and your friends.
But if you are not in a place where you can conduct this constructive discourse, that's okay too. I understand the fear and rage, and for many, real physical danger. You deserve a break, and I am doing my best to help you get it.
Part 2D: Having an open mind does not mean abandoning your principles
To be clear, I'm not suggesting that I'm going to go talk to a bunch of people in the midwest, listen to them with an open mind, and then decide that maybe being racist is okay after all. I'm going to go in with the assumption that what they think is reasonable. Then I'm going to listen to what they say. Then, I'm going to think about it for a while, and decide whether or not it is compabible with what I already believe. If it is, congratulations, I've just learned something! If it's not, then I'm going to come back and point out why I have problems - rational or emotional or moral or logical - with what they said.
Only after I've shown that I'm willing to listen do I expect them to be willing to listen to me. Then I get to be the one saying what I believe, and why I think it's true. Someone has to go first. And I'm perfectly happy to have it be me if it means I can help our country and end this hate.
In a perfect world, they'd be willing to listen first. But I don't care, I'd rather suck it up and go first than have no one go at all.
I think people are missing the point when they argue either "we need to make people understand that voting for Trump was inherently racist" or "we need to sit down and understand Trump voters." Both of these aren't quite what I mean when I talk about an open mind.
The thing that feels more true to me is this: "We need to sit down and understand what Trump had that made people vote for him, and then we need to start offering that if it is acceptable." I'm not talking about the white supremacist trash that voted for him, I'm obviously not suggesting that we go become buddy-buddy with the KKK. I'm talking about my family in the midwest, who probably had to stifle disgust at the things he said about people of color and women, and then probably voted for him anyway. I need to find out what was so important to them - chances are it's not even something I disagree with, it's probably something along the lines of "wanted a change from corrupt Washington politicians" - and then I have to do everything in my power to bring that to them in a candidate who doesn't also come with all the crap.
I can have an open mind without abandoning my principles. I can listen and postpone judgement until after I've thought about it. I can offer my viewpoint without making it sound like I'm judging anyone. I can wait to explain why I feel a certain way until after they won't turn me away because of it. We can find common ground that way and we can build something that doesn't force people to choose between their needs and our needs.
Part 2E: Here's what I'm not talking about
I figure most of this is obvious, but I know someone on the internet is going to twist what I say way out of proportion, so here are some caveats.
I'm obviously not saying "if you see someone getting harrassed on a bus, you should talk to the attacker rather than defending the person!" Obvioulsy if you see someone getting harrassed on a bus, you should defend that person. That is not the time for constructive dialogue. Or if you see someone painting a swastika on a wall? I'm not suggesting we go listen to that person with an open mind.
Thanksgiving Christmas dinner? Maybe a good opportunity.
I'm also not saying "we should just let white people run America since that's what they want!" I don't think that's actually what they want. Or if so, I think dialogue is a good way to show them why that isn't a good thing to want. But again, they'll never stop thinking that if no one freaking talks to them.
Another one. "You're not actually advocating listening at all! You're advertising coercion and convincing!" Well, I happen to think I'm right, and so of course I'm advertising convincing people of that. But that's not quite what it actually is. What I'm actually advocating is listening to the other person's point of view, and *then* deciding who to convince of what. I don't want to just say something to someone and expect them to take it as truth. I want to know where they're coming from so we can find ways to express our ideas in each other's language.
And you know what? I do think rural America is sort of the moral and economic dumping ground for urban America. That has to change if any good is going to come of this. And so I'm going to go ask them what I can do. What do they want? What needs are not being met? They're really struggling! Surely we can spare an ounce of effort to hear from them.
"Over other people's problems?" you ask. Heck yeah, if it means they'll be more willing to help solve those other people's problems in the future, or at least stop getting in the way of solutions other people need. Imagine what we could accomplish if we stopped bickering about it all the time and just started helping each other.
Plus, I'm pretty sure we can have both. Help everyone. Call me an optimist.
Part 3: Non-arguments about Trump
You know what's sad? Donald Trump is probably the least likely person in human history to deliver any of the things I said rural America wants.
But he talked to them.
Which probably felt better than being ignored or belittled or condescended to.
Part 3A: The electoral college is not the problem
A lot of people are talking about the electoral college being bullshit right now. While I agree in most ways, I also want to point out that a victory of
200,000 2,000,000 people when 120,000,000 people voted really wouldn't address the underlying problem. You still have 60,000,000 people that voted for Trump over Clinton, and they still have grievances that they feel cannot be met by the liberal platform right now. We need to reach out to them because they're sure as hell not going to reach out to us, and we need to move forward constructively! Short of splitting the country in half, those opinions aren't going to go away unless we engage with them.
I have other thoughts on this, I do actually believe in the electoral college as an institution even in this modern era of interconnectivity, but this is the topic of another rant. My main point with this right now is this: the problem is not that 2,000,000 people voted for Clinton and were ignored. The problem is that 60,000,000 people voted for Trump.
Part 3B: The system
A lot of people are saying "the system" elected Trump. I disagree. The system definitely did not, at least directly, elect Trump. The system fought tooth and nail to keep Trump from getting elected. Even the Republicans hated him! No one in "the system" supported him at all! Actually, I was hopeful until recently that the Republicans would be able to use Trump as an excuse to adopt less racist and sexist policies. I thought we might have a slightly less crappy Republican party after this. So much for that though. If anything, this shows just how much the system doesn't have control of things.
Part 3C: Practicing what I preach
Yeah, I know I'm condescending to conservative rural America even as I write this. I'm trying to work on that, and I hope that as I begin talking to you, I'll be able to understand your points well enough to understand why you do what you do. I'm hoping to understand, because on the outside, it seems pretty ridiculous.
Part 3D: Smear campaigns
I was recently pointed out that conservatives have been running a smear campaign against liberals for years now. This is true. But if anything, that makes it even more important for us to go out and engage so that the only view people have of us isn't conservative talk radio. We have to spread dialogue.
Part 3E: Liberals need to go back to our grassroots
Man, how did American liberalism go from being a populist, working-class party to being primarily associated with the upper middle class? What happened there? I'll have to do some research.
Keith Ellison, a candidate for DNC chair who's being backed by Bernie Sanders, recently said something similar. You should all go watch the speech he made earlier this week (12/14 I believe). I'll have more on this later, but you should also be researching your members of congress and with local groups who will research them. More on this as well, later.
Part 4: The end
I beg of you to take away this, if you take anything away:
If - and only if - you are in a position to do so, please please please engage constructively with moderate conservatives. They aren't going to go away, they're about half the voters of this country, and if they're not going to take the first step, then we have to.
Don't abandon your principles, obviously, but be willing to listen first, and convince second. Let's show them that we're willing to listen to them, rather than talking over them, because only then will they be willing to listen to us. Yes, of course, ideally you shouldn't have to, because you shouldn't have to explain why racism is wrong. But right now you live in totally different worlds and we NEED to have common ground before we can have any hope for change!
And if all it takes to create positive change is to have some difficult conversations, then I will gladly do it.
I'm begging you, you allies out there, and anyone who can, it's our job to do this. Those of us who have the physical and emotional ability to engage with them, we have to, because yelling them into submission isn't going to work. Be willing to wait to explain why something was racist until after they've explained why they did it - and try to explain it in a non-confrontational way that will make them listen.
If you read all of that and still say "no, fuck you, I don't have to engage with views that are clearly wrong," then well, you're welcome to your opinion. I hope you're right, honestly; I hope they decide to start listening first. But since I'm fairly convinced that's not the case, I'm going to try to fix it using any means I can. And if that means being willing to listen first, then I'll do it and be glad.