I found myself on this amazing (and naively public) facebook page this evening. It had all the memes and all the conversations that facebook protects me from and I was fascinated by what was being shared and said in the “Hillary is a Lying Bitch who is Inviting Muslim to Come Take Our Country Away” and “Jesus Wants Us to Take Our Country Back by Reducing the Size of the Federal Government”. It was completely compelling.
I reached this page because my uncle created a secret facebook family group. Actually he’s not exactly my uncle. He’s… um… Well, his sister’s husband’s mother and my grandmother were sisters. So, he’s my second cousin, once removed’s wife’s brother.* Well, it was his wife’s sister-in-law or some other in-law family who led me to their family member who had this totally open facebook page with ever nasty meme about liberals you could imagine. Again. It was just fascinating.
But underneath the vitriol and knee-jerk conservatism (which is seriously no worse than the counter part on our side), were statements about how it was not okay that we have been at war and our children have been dying. It is not okay that there are so many homeless in our country – especially homeless vets – and people shouldn’t go hungry. Yes, the “America” that those memes talked about, the ones that we need to “take back” (from whom? I have no idea) sounded mostly like a jingoistic constructed fairy-tale of pat-yourself-on-the-back-for-being-white pseudo-history. But it also seemed to value some of the same things that liberals are fighting for. Which got me to thinking…
Much of the bigotry and fear of the other (read: Islamic, Queer, Black, Immigrant, Transgender) comes from a lack of interaction. Sociology (and the current slow but steady shift in opinions about Gay Marriage) shows us this. The more familiarity with a community you have, the more likely you are to be able to empathize with them and see them as people like you. And conversely, the less interaction you have with a community, the easier it is to demonize then, distance yourself from them, and reduce them to less-than-human.
So, what would happen if instead of focusing on pushing for gay rights or transgender rights, we found ways to build community action around the things we agree on? What if we focused more on fighting for the things that we don’t disagree on? What if instead of trying to hard to argue why trans people deserve to have bathroom access, we (trans people) just focused on getting involved in activism to feed poor children or teach people to read where we could run into the passionate activists who believe the complete opposite of what we do? What if the way out is not through, but along side?
Today, we are now on our second or third day of hashing out the killing of two black men by police, the subsequent killing of five police officers by a deeply troubled vet, and several other police related killings. We are deep in the argument zone. The folks who grieve for the black men who were killed by the police and all of the others whose names have sat on our tongues in these last 3-4 years following the death of Trayvon Martin and the birth of the BLM movement are thought to be anti-police. The folks who are grieving over the death of these officers and who stand up for the people who serve in law enforcement are thought to be anti-BLM. Black people speak their truth. White people get defensive and feel that they are being attacked. Black folks feel shut down and devalued. The important conversations that stir from these places seem so completely divisive, despite the fact that in truth, most of us agree that the killings are tragic and we are scared and saddened by what is happening to our country. In a time that could bring us together and help people to grow their empathy, the conversations seem to stay in separate circles.
It just feels like an important time to consider how we could bridge these divides. The farther apart we go, the more I wonder what we have left in common. Is the America that I want so radically different from theirs? Can we get to a place where we can disagree about the size of government or the way we spend our budget instead of standing across the aisle, thinking that the other side is filled with evil, blind, soul-less, compassion-free, idiots?
* My uncle sounds like a distant relative. But the brother of your mom’s cousin’s wife is a whole lot closer of a relative when you are Greek. Even though they didn’t live in the same city we did when I was growing up, they are still family. That’s just how Greeks roll. (Got feta and olives in your fridge? We’ll adopt ya.)