Are We Not of Interest to One Another?

| by Tiffani Jones Brown |

I can’t stop thinking of poet Elizabeth Alexander’s line “are we not of interest to one another?” Not being interested—and specifically not interested in one another’s suffering—feels like how this day happens.

Throughout the election I watched my Trump-supporting friends go silent on the issue of Trump’s racism (and sexism, etc). I wondered, can they imagine the suffering of, say, black people in this country? What it would be like if, just a few short decades ago, your great grand-somethings had been beaten, verbally abused, kept from voting, separated out, made to work in someone else’s unfriendly home for no money? How this legacy might create widespread psychological trauma with impact across generations, no different than the legacy of trauma left by an alcoholic father or an abusive mother, which so many of us who come from poorer Trump-supporting rural areas experienced? To know that the KKK, an organization that once hung people like you from trees, supports the man that the majority of {white} people in your country elected? To feel deep inside that many white people still think of you as dangerous, less than, undeserving of mercy? You want to scream and fight but you don’t, for fear of being further marginalized or shot in the streets.

I wonder if my Trump-supporting friends could get interested in what black people’s suffering (or the suffering of a woman who has been sexually assaulted, or the suffering of immigrant and her children who have fled deadly war) really feels like. How hurtful and significant a Trump win is for these people. Just as a 5-minute thought experiment.

On my own liberal side, I watched some educated urban Hillary-supporters take pot shots at the “idiots” in “Dumbfuckistan” who voted for Trump because they “can’t read.” I wondered, can my educated urban friends imagine for a second how humiliating it would be to struggle with literacy, as nearly 40% of Americans do? To be thought of dumb white trash, or made fun of for your bad teeth? I wondered, could my Hillary-supporting friends imagine how scary it would be to watch the factories and farms that have supported your family for decades vanish? To watch your town go for broke, your churches shrink, meth labs spring up around you? You were a skilled tradesmen, but what now? How will you be of use? Moving to an urban center is not an option, because you can’t afford it and besides, a concrete jungle filled with intellectual elites and their $40 sacks of designer vegetables feels like the epitome of foppish decadence, a different planet.

I wonder if my educated urban friends and I could see our own class privilege, understand that to be an “everyday person” in this country is to face a kind of discrimination.

Everyone suffers.

My more liberal friends and I are devastated because we fear we’ve elected a man who will erode American ideals of tolerance and equality, destabilize our economy and the planet, and put our children’s futures at risk. We are angry because we’ve heard him degrade women, encourage violence at rallies, speak cruelly about minorities and veterans, say he’ll build walls, and lie in the face of science and facts—all the lessons we teach our kids, turned upside down. Most of us will spend the next few years fighting to get Trump out of office, being more politically active than we ever have (a potential upside to this election: making us less lazy).

I hope that we “fight.” But I hope that we do so peacefully, staying interested in one another, understanding that every human being comes into this world with the same set of basic emotions, the same needs for security and loving attachments, and the same drive to find meaning in our lives. When any one of us (conservative or liberal) is deprived of one of these things, we suffer deeply—often so bad that we lose touch with our better selves. We lash out, our violence creating more violence.

In the coming years, I hope we avoid letting our individual hurts blind us to this common plight.

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