Ya'll might have noticed this lately, but there's a lot of angry people in this country right now. Like. . . ALOT of angry people. (If you haven't noticed that yet. . . what hole are you in and do you have room for me to join you? I could use a break.) And you know what? Most of them have every right to be in a foul mood about the state of our nation.
Now, some of those angry people aren't currently expressing anger because their angry voices have just been heard loud and clear in the election results. The other angry people are currently angry that their voices weren't heard loudly enough. But it's all about anger, fear, and losing our voices.
We all have a great deal more in common than we think.
Don't get me wrong. This is not a "God's in control" or "let's kiss and make up and move on" post. We can't blow this off. This is a big freaking deal and we have SOHOHO much work to do if this country is going to survive. This is, however, a "stop yelling at each other, guys!" post. I have loved ones on both sides of this and I feel like a kid who just walked in on her parents having the biggest fight of their marriage.
I'm going to take a brief excursion to say I am talking about everyday people here. I'm not talking about the KKK or other white supremacists. They have no legitimate excuse for their behavior. I'm not talking about people spray painting hate on walls. I'm not talking about people staging violent protests against the president-elect and burning him in effigy. That crap's not cool. I'm not touching extremist behavior in this post. I'm talking about normal people trying to figure out how to be in the world. I'm talking about where the fear comes from in general populations and how we have so much more in common than we're willing to say.
Tom Hanks on Saturday Night Live recently was brilliant. I think they did my favorite sketch ever. And it speaks directly to this.
What this horrible eruptive reaction to the election seems to demonstrate is that we have a great deal more in common than we're willing to admit, but it's right in front of us and we're completely missing it. We've been duped into thinking our stories are different and that somehow our own story is better or worse or more important than the other person's story. Shame on us for falling for it.
You know why people in the rust belt are so angry about coal and industry disappearing? Because it was their way of life. They have watched their livelihood and way of life disappear. Now, I don't think "bringing back coal" is either feasible or a reasonable answer to the problem. Coal is simply not coming "back," guys. I know. That sucks. For a great number of people. But it's true. And the primary culprit is not the other guy in another country who is willing to work cheaper. The culprit is technology and normal industrial and social change. Industries rise and fall. That's how it works.
But as life in the rust belt and other similar areas changed, as industry in places like Pittsburgh (my stomping grounds) changed, nobody did anything to help out communities like Ambridge and Beaver Falls and McKeesport and Reading. We as a country just let them rot. No wonder they are angry. They have been marginalized, shoved to the edges, and forgotten about. Their voices were lost.
And if anyone knows what that feels like, those of us who are fearful for what might be allowed to happen to us under this coming presidency surely do. We haven't had voices for years. My dear loved ones in Beaver County, the Mon Valley, Ohio, etc, please listen to this: This is how racial minorities, women, religious minorities, and the LGBT community have been made to feel for CENTURIES. And you're right! It doesn't feel good! It's awful not to have a voice. It's terrible to feel like less-than. Join the club!
You think sexism isn't a thing in 2016? I have, in a professional context as an ordained minister in a mainline denomination, been referred to as "the pretty girl at the table", passed over for jobs by less qualified men, slut-shamed for being pro-choice, told it was nice to have me fill the pulpit because I'm "nicer to look at than all those old guys", and inappropriately man-handled by a male parishioner (not at my current church, for the record, and it's someone who has since passed on, so I'm not calling out someone I interact with anymore or who will be offended by this post). When I go out in public in my collar, I get asked inappropriate questions about female ministers. When I go out in public without my collar, I get cat-called and harassed at gas stations and when out for runs. That's just me. Every one of my female colleagues has similar stories and all the women I know can tell you about times they have been ignored, passed over, patronized, assaulted, abused, or worse, simply because of their gender.
You think racism isn't a thing? A dear black friend of mine is a respectable mother of three who is frequently tailed at her local pharmacy and other stores when she goes in while white folks wander all over with nobody bothering them. Another faithful and wonderful friend of mine, recently posted this post on being called horrible racist and sexist names (all in one shot) by an angry man online. My adopted son (black) once had his car broken into outside of work and called us crying because the white police who came refused to do anything about it. These are just a couple examples right off the top of my head. You don't have to look far.
You think homophobia isn't a thing? My dad and step-dad are genuinely worried right now that their marriage is going to be nullified in the next four years because there are people really truly calling for a repeal of same-sex marriage. Beyond that, all I'm going to say is "bakeries."
Listen, we just started to make headway in the past couple decades after centuries of oppression. Women and black folks are tired of being property. Peaceful Muslims are tired of being equated to ISIS. The LGBT community is tired of having to hide who they are. And just when we did start to come out of that garbage, a man ran for president who said we were less than. We are grabbable, we live in hell, we should be shipped back to where we came from, our marriages aren't real, etc. And because those who have been pushed to the margins in decades of late finally know what it feels like to be pushed to the margins, that guy won. I'm not saying that everyone who voted for him is racist, sexism, islamaphobic, etc. I'm saying that the voters were more worried about forcing their story of anger and hopelessness over and above other stories of anger and hopelessness. In other words: in 2016, people don't necessarily all hate people who are different, but they still don't really care much about them either.
We have ALL just fallen for the biggest con in modern history.
Here's the lie: we are different.
It's the same story. It's just that one group hasn't played the underdog role in it, oh. . . ever.
So, you'll probably see me at a good number of rallies and events in the coming weeks and months standing up for the rights of women, racial minorities, non-Christians, the LGBT community, and more. Because we have to keep fighting this centuries old fight to be really considered as worthwhile. And you'll also see me talking with people about how to move forward in places that coal and other industry moved out of rather than just making empty promises about bringing back something that cannot come back. And I'm not going to apologize for any of it. Because as Christians, we are called to love first and the best way to learn how to love others is to listen to their stories and to share ours with them.
Do I agree with anything the president-elect has to say or promises to do? So far, no. Do I like him or think he upholds Christian values and ethics? Not even close. Would I want to be in a room alone with him or let my kids hang out with him? Not a chance. But. . . it's not helpful to protest his election. We have so many better things we can put our energy into. I'm not saying "don't lament." I've been lamenting constantly the past couple days. I'm not even saying that we shouldn't try to figure out how to fix a system in which a person can will the popular vote and lose the electoral vote. What I'm saying is, listen to each other's stories. Hear what got us here in the first place.
We're here in this place of division and anger and just plain meanness because we haven't taken the time to listen to one another. So, liberal friends, go hug a white guy in a trucker hat today and ask him about his childhood. Bonus points if he's wearing one that says, "Make America Great Again." And conservative friends, hug a Muslim today and ask them what they love about their religion. Bonus points if you ask if you can worship with them some time. If you don't have any Muslims where you live, hug a black woman or someone of Latino descent. Tell them how much they belong here. Because unless you're Native American, you're not from around here either.
Charissa Clark Howe
Pastor, author, musician, audiobook narrator