It’s Not About Policy, It’s Not About Losing, and It’s Not About Clinton

A few years ago, I told my friend, Melanie, who is black, about a black family, all adults, I’d encountered on a plane. The family shouted in glee as the plane took off. I asked the father if this was their first time flying and he said no, they just loved it. I commented to Melanie that it was an example of a difference, broadly speaking, between white and black people. No white people I knew would ever whoop it up on takeoff just for the fun of it. We’re generally too reserved.

She asked me had it been a boisterous white family, would I have thought, “Hmmm, first time”? I answered that I would have.

But that question stayed with me. I didn’t know why. I’d find myself reminded of it, and turn it around in my head. I’d picture a boisterous white family on the plane, and I’d re-confirm that yes, I would have assumed it was their first time.

Still, I’d find myself thinking of it again a few months later. I finally began to think it was just one of those things we writers do. We’re interested in human nature, we ask difficult questions and noodle on the answers obsessively.

Then, a few months ago, four years after she first asked me the question, I realized I’d been wrong. And it came down to the clothes.

The black family on the plane were dressed up—suits and ties, dresses, heels. The white family in my mind, the one I was sure I’d also assume was flying for the first time, were dressed like poor people. I can see them now: a housedress, frayed t-shirts, jeans. When I re-imagined the white family dressed like rich people, I realized no, I wouldn’t have wondered if it was their first time flying. I would have wondered if they were drunk.

Currently, in this country, we have a disagreement about what racism is.

It’s not just the obvious list of people who spray-paint swastikas on synagogues and won’t let their daughter marry a Mexican.

Racism is also quiet, the silence that doesn’t call someone out for using the word “nigger” in a joke, or assumes black people, like poor people, can’t afford to fly, or allows a candidate to perpetuate the myth that President Obama wasn’t born here and many illegal immigrants are “rapists” who bring “tremendous crime” to America.

It’s this allowance, this acceptance–this refusal to noodle on the question–that is as dangerous as any guy in a white hood.

People voted for Trump for all kinds of reasons, I understand that. I want change, too. I want lower debt, manufacturing jobs, less gaming of the welfare system. I have more in common with Republicans than many of them think, and I voted for one on the ballot this year.

As someone who didn’t vote for, or like, Clinton the first time she ran, I can also understand that some people didn’t want to vote for her.

I can understand why it’s hard to self-reflect on racism. No one besides proud racists thinks they have racism in them, including me.

What I haven’t yet been able to understand, no matter how many conversations I’ve had or articles I’ve read, is how people were able to ignore some of the more objectively unacceptable of Trump’s offenses. The ones that can’t be nuanced or finessed or explained away.

None of us—literally, none—would be okay with some old guy peeping at our daughters in a locker room. How, then, are some of us okay with our president-elect doing it? This isn’t some crazy liberal accusation. Trump admitted he did it.

None of us would be okay with a man grabbing our genitals without asking. Even if you believe Trump was simply bragging on the bus like a drunk nineteen year old (and believe all the women who have accused him of sexual assault are lying) the Republicans I know would knock out the sonofabitch who talked like that about their daughters, not elect him president.

How do we tell our daughters it’s what is in their hearts and minds that matters, not the shape of their bodies, but support a man who rates women using a number?

How do we promote kindness and tell our children bullying is wrong, that mocking the disabled student in a wheelchair is wrong, when we allow it in our candidate?

It’s this disconnect—the refusal to put up with it in our private lives but the willingness to endure it in a president—that have many people stunned.

The deepest disappointment I feel–the one some on the right are telling people like me to get over–isn’t about policy and it’s not about losing. It’s not about “what might have been” if we’d elected a woman president.

It’s about my core values, the ones I impart to my children, and knowing that my future president undermines them. Since I was a 4th grader devouring biographies on Lincoln, I have admired leaders who appeal to the better angels of our nature. Trump didn’t do so as a candidate. I hope he can rise to the occasion as president.

Ignoring the News to Stay Sane

In the months after I had my first child, I was plagued by a variety of gruesome visions. I’d be walking down the stairs, holding my son in a blanket, and picture myself falling and smashing our heads into the wall at the bottom. I’d be driving to Target with him in the backseat and picture a head-on collision at 50mph. I’d see him wide-eyed underwater in the bathtub, struggling to breathe.

mother-watching-daughterI thought I was going crazy. I thought I had become some morbid, fearful person due to lack of sleep. Then I talked to another new mom.

“I do that all the time, too!” she said. We were both relieved. And we came up with a perfectly logical reason for envisioning the horrific deaths of our children on a daily basis:

We were practicing being good moms.

It makes sense. Our brains were warning us of all the dangers that could happen, so we would protect our children. So we would walk down stairs carefully, so we would drive more defensively, so we wouldn’t run to answer the phone with our children in the bathtub. We were good moms.

Fast forward seven years and my visions have become less frequent, but they still occur. Only now I also see a depressed young man walking into my son’s school and shooting the children as they eat lunch. I see sections of sports stadiums blowing up and cars driving through storefront windows into groups of people. Things like that. Things out of my control.

A while ago, my dad said to me, while arguing that too many of my generation are helicopter parents, “You’re all walking around scared. It’s like you’re shell-shocked.” And it hit me—we are. We are shell-shocked. And maybe we aren’t on the front lines, and maybe it’s disrespectful to suggest we suffer the same as the men and women who are. But we parents have suffered from the slow, insidious, creeping terror of the last two decades.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST AT SCARY MOMMY, WHICH FEATURES MY POST TODAY. THANKS!

What I’ve Read

With my heart and mind focused on Sandy Hook, much of what I’ve read this week will come as no surprise. A couple, though, are serendipitous. Here’s some of what I’ve laid my eyes upon this week:

  • The tributes to the children murdered at Sandy Hook. I don’t seek these out, but once I find them, I commit. I do it because I’m a mother and these parents are enduring my nightmare. Because I am overwhelmingly sorry for them and I want to somehow honor their child. And because, yes, I’m grateful it isn’t me. It isn’t my child. So I try to share, somehow, in the pain. I cry for the goofy grins, the lost two front teeth, the shining blue eyes, for the artist, the singer and maybe a bit harder for the one who loved to write in her journal and make up stories.
  • Arguments in support of more guns. Even when I know what’s in my heart, I sometimes like to test it. So I listen to the other side; I try it out, see what it feels like to advocate that side. When I feel a cringe in my gut, I know my original instinct was right.
  • The Snow Child, a novel about an Alaska couple who cannot have children and make a “snow child” one night. Soon after, a child of the woods begins appearing at their cabin and their wish seems to have come true.
  • An email from my uncle, in which he writes:

    We will carry the banner to have stricter gun control laws, we will carry the banner to make it impossible for someone with mental health issues to purchase a gun.  We can even ban the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons to everyone.  Although I favor all of these items I do not believe it will solve the problem.

     We are a violent society.  We have always been a violent society.  We gained our independence through acts of aggression.  Our granddad was a young man during the WWI.  Our dad was in WWII.  Korea, Vietnam, the Middle-east.  The most popular TV sports event in this country is football. Boxing with 16-ounce padded gloves has been replaced in popularity by  basically street fighting within a confined space and a referee.  The most violent blood and guts movies continue to be the most popular.  I definitely cannot even begin to identify a solution.  I do not know how you turn an entire society around to become less violent.  I do not even know if it is something that I will witness.  I hope I do.

    After Friday I could only feel sad.  Sad for the families.  Sad for the community and sad for this country that something of that magnitude could happen within a few minutes and no one will ever know why.  Most of all I feel sad for you and all the young parents in this country who will never send your children out the door again without wondering, “What if.”

  • Even the word “statistics” is nauseating. But I hope you’ll read, as I did, the following info from the Children’s Defense Fund (I refrained from italicizing or bolding almost 100% of this paragraph; it is just stunning.): There were 173 firearm-related deaths of preschool-age children between 2008 and 2009. That number was nearly twice the 89 deaths of law-enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. Likewise, the total number of children and teenagers killed by gun violence that year exceeded the number of military personnel who died in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Of the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, the United States accounts for 80 percent of all gun-related deaths and 87 percent of all gun deaths for children under 15.
  • Statements like, “Here we go again: everyone’s ranting about gun control and then they’ll just go back to their regular lives.” And I’d like, for a moment, to speak up for those of us who are so predictable as that: Of course we’ll go back to our regular lives. That’s more than okay–it’s necessary. But while we are fired up, we should fire up. While we are sad, we should cry. While we are motivated, we should work. For however long it lasts. Because we’re not merely jumping on a bandwagon. Our hearts hurt. Twenty little angels have given politicians the courage to begin talking. Perhaps if our grief is loud enough, those in charge of our laws and funding programs will continue to listen. Maybe our own energy is strong enough, this time, to last, even as it wanes.
  • And finally, it’s been many years since I read the following poem by Tennessee Williams and I came across it again this week at My Unpublished Life, in a post unrelated to Sandy Hook:
We have not long to love
We have not long to love.
Light does not stay.
The tender things are those
we fold away.
Coarse fabrics are the ones
for common wear.
In silence I have watched you
comb your hair.
Intimate the silence,
dim and warm.
I could but did not, reach
to touch your arm.
I could, but do not, break
that which is still.
(Almost the faintest whisper
would be shrill.)
So moments pass as though
they wished to stay.
We have not long to love.
A night. A day….
Merry Christmas all, in spirit if not religion. Cherish your dimpled hands and your liver-spotted ones, your fiery warm homes and wintery cold walks. And your uniquely human sense of hope.
snow tree

To Yard Sign or Not to Yard Sign

Unlike what seems like the rest of the country outside of D.C., I love politics. It’s as dramatic as a reality show, but smarter (and real-er).

Dramatic, because instead of sex, drugs, and sparring… That is, in addition to sex, drugs, and sparring, there are Big Deal issues like freedom, justice, prosperity. Dramatic, because of the history of this country—the founding principles, suffrage, slavery, death, war, love, hate. Every human emotion is tied up in politics and policy. Not even to mention what’s tied up in campaigns and elections–it’s as competitive and aggressive as football but without the concussions and literal chest-thumping.

Smart, because policies are complex. Because we field hundreds of bits of information thrown at us and figure out which are facts and which are opinions, what is true and what is false. Smart, because we have to have the self-awareness to know what we really care about.

That’s not to say I always love politics. I have to turn off cable news for months at a time. But I always find myself drawn back to it because at heart I’m a patriotic American. (And you thought the right-wing had hijacked that phrase.) And I love a good debate.

Also unlike what seems the rest of the country, I think we should talk more about politics, not less. If we all talked–and listened–a bit more we would force the few at the top doing most of the squabbling to squabble smarter. And truthier. We’d raise the level of the conversation.

However, I’m not the type to make the first move. I (usually) don’t babble on about politics at parties unless someone else brings it up first. I volunteer for campaigns, but I’m the one who makes calls to supporters simply to remind them to vote. I drop off yard signs to those who’ve requested one.

Every election, I delay putting a sign in my own yard declaring whom I support because it feels like I’m drawing a line in the sand:

Here I stand : There you stand. Aren’t we different.

I also worry it too-strictly defines me to my neighbors who vote otherwise. Sure, I love a good debate, but some of my favorite moments in a debate are when those I disagree with get me to think twice about my opinion, when they make me stop and reconsider. (My husband will say this absolutely never happens; don’t believe him.)

In the end, I always put up a sign because of this: if politics is as important as I say it is, I should do what I can to help elect the person I support. And if I can’t openly declare where I stand and what I believe in, then what’s the point?

For this Monday–Meet: My Yard Signs

Meet Alice, Maceo, & Dorothy

On November 15, 1917, a group of women picketing the White House for the right to vote were jailed for blocking sidewalk traffic. In prison, they were punched, kicked, and beaten unconscious. One of the women, Alice Paul, went on a hunger strike but authorities tied her to a chair and forced a tube down her throat, pouring in liquid until she vomited. This continued for weeks.

On July 16, 1946, Maceo Snipes became the first black person to vote in Taylor County, Georgia, since Reconstruction. He’d just returned to his family’s farm after serving the U.S. for several years in WWII. The day after he voted, a group of white men in a truck pulled up to his home and shot him in the back, killing him. No one was convicted of the murder.

A dummy hangs from a lamp post in an attempt to intimidate African-Americans and keep them away from the voting polls in in Miami, Fla., May 1, 1939. (AP Photo)

In August 2012, 96-year-old Dorothy Cooper applied for the new mandatory voter ID card in her home state of Tennessee. She supplied her birth certificate, a copy of her lease, and her voter registration card. But she left her marriage certificate behind. So Cooper, who was on the voting roll, was denied the ID.

So my questions are: Do you think Dorothy Cooper shrugged and said, “Oh well. It’s just my vote. They’re all a bunch of sneaky politicians anyway”? Do you think Alice Paul would care whether we’re sick of politics? Would Maceo Snipes understand that we don’t want to see one more commercial so we don’t listen at all?

I don’t. I think they’d say, “You just don’t want to get your hands dirty. Easier to wipe them clean of it all and stand on a false platform of moral indignation.”

We’ve got five weeks, people. Five weeks to sift through the dirt and find the gold. It can be backbreaking work. That’s why Ben Franklin, when asked by a woman as he left the Constitutional Convention whether we had a republic or a monarchy, replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Yes, there’s too much noise and too much bickering. Sort out the crap and take what’s left. For each of us, what’s left is different. Figure out what’s left for you, and use it.

Vote.

The April 1994 election in South Africa marked the end of apartheid and was the first election in which all adults, regardless of race or gender, could vote. 

 

Some nonpartisan web sites: