Little Thoughts: Race and Politics

I know from that title alone, this post will garner attention.  This won’t be a radically political, or overly opinionated post, I promise.  But it may get emotional, and in terms of these topics, politics and opinions, and emotions go hand in hand.

One of my classes this semester has already created some powerful thoughts and insights for me.

I am taking a Religious Diversity in America class.  I have always been fascinated by other religious.  As a Christian, I think it’s so important to understand other beliefs systems, to be able to better meet people where they are.  And my professor is great.  She is fantastic.

And she is a black woman.

I am making that distinction, because she made us to do that.  She opened class by asking, “Who am I?  What am I?”. People danced around the glaring elephant in the room, for several minutes.  But I knew the moment she asked, what she wanted us to say.  She wanted us to bring up her skin color, her history.  She wasn’t being antagonistic, or pushing a political agenda.  She did this exercise to illustrate how each of us comes to the table with different biases and stereotypes.  Like I said, I really like her.

But what struck me wasn’t the point she was making, but in the inability I had to raise my hand and provide the answer she was looking for.  I felt incredibly awkward with the idea of being white and pointing out her skin color.  When I was able to recognize that, I was shocked and, frankly, ashamed.  I don’t believe in “white privilege”, and I don’t believe I am superior because I am white.  My ancestral pigmentation should not dictate how I act towards others of different races and colors.  But why did I have such a hard time raising my hand to answer my professor?

I’ve come up with a couple of theories about this, because really, my reaction to her question makes me angry.  With this ever increasing, racially hostile environment in America, am I noticing my behavior because the media says “All white people are racists!”, and I’m simply monitoring my behavior?  Or do I truly, deep down, treat black people differently?  Because of groups like “Black Lives Matter”, am I noticing these thoughts and behaviors for the first time?  Or am I having these thoughts and behaviors for the first time, because of these groups?  Growing up, I had friends of different races and backgrounds, and never once thought anything of them, other than if I liked playing/talking/hanging out with them.  So why is it, that suddenly, in the past year or so, I am more aware of other races, and how I’m “supposed” to treat them?  When I’ve never stopped to think about a person’s race before, and only cared if they treated me like I treated them, is it that this new racial atmosphere is “implanting” these thoughts and reactions in me?

Why can’t we treat people as people, and not overly respect them for being one race, and not tear them down for being the other?  Because, you know, as a white person, it feels like I get berated a lot on how I should treat black people …. when all I’ve ever treated people, regardless of race, is kindly and with respect, and like my God has taught me too.

Secondly, in the same exercise, my professor brought up politics.  When she asked the people who identified as Republicans to raise their hands, there were maybe ten of us.  And, we all hesitated.  That caught my professor’s attention, and she commented on it.  Before we put out hands down, the general feeling in the air between the handful of us, was shame.  We were ashamed about our political opinions, and that even implies we were ashamed about who we voted for, too.

I voted for Donald Trump.  And I could probably safely bet that the Republicans in my class did too.  And I can promise you that we each had our reasons for doing so, whether we supported him the entire election season or not.  But the reason I’m talking about this, is because the shame caught me off guard.  I am not ashamed of who I voted for, at least not privately.  And I think that’s the same with most Republicans.  Privately, we have no issues with who we voted for (for the most part).  But publicly, we stay as silent as the grave, because we knew we’d get slaughtered.

My big question is this: When everyone can admit this past election cycle felt like going through the ringer, why can’t we all just admit we voted for the person we did, based on what we believed was right?  Why do we feel shame, and why do we shame people, for voting for the person they believed was the best choice?

I’m beginning to understand politics like religion: people vote the way they do, or align politically the way they do, because of how they understand the world.  People believe the things they do and have the religious beliefs they do, because of how they understand the world.

And because I believe that is true, why can’t we, as a collective society, just accept each other and understand that we can not see eye to eye on everything?  And why can’t we seem to get it through our thick heads, that shaming people for doing what they thought is right, will just further divide us? 

We need to stop yelling about tolerance, and start forming conversations with people we don’t agree with.  Tolerance gets us nowhere, but respect and understanding, and a willingness to hear each other out, does.


I think that’s enough of that for the night ….

Ciao for now,

Julia

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