It’s not easy to view recent events through clear eyes. The division in our country after the recent election makes it clear that every citizen’s eyes are blurred or tinted in one way or another. Everyone has layers of experiences, culture, belief, and environmental factors that change the way we look at the world. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. It’s just how our brains work. But when we encounter someone with opinions different from our own, it can feel like they’re trying to peel back our layers, which can be uncomfortable, or even painful.
I’ve tried to ease the process this week by peeling back a few of my own layers. I’ve been trying to see the world through someone else’s eyes in the hopes of releasing some of my anger and frustration. I’m trying to understand how we got to this place without allowing the rage I feel to cloud my vision. It’s been a rough week, and I’m far from done. Nevertheless, I happened upon an idea this today that is helping me understand…and might just help my fellow humans on the other side of the divide understand how I feel about them as well. The country and its denizens are complex, rich beings that don’t like being summarized by analogy…yet I’m going to attempt just that.
I have two sons–8 and 3, that I’ll call Lock and Key, respectively. The age gap between them is fairly large, and you can see it in their most recent developments. The older Lock is a smart 3rd grader who just did his first book report this year, got to briefly stay home alone for the first time, and who loves science and building things. The younger Key just learned how to use language effectively, figured out how to do puzzles, and got potty trained. Lately, Lock has been complaining that Key gets everything he wants, gets most of our attention, and doesn’t have to do as much work as Lock does. It was time to sit down for a serious discussion about wants vs. needs, and the responsibility that comes with privilege.
Privilege is a word you’ve probably heard a lot lately, and if you haven’t, it’s definitely time to join the conversation. For the past couple of years, through the Black Lives Matter movement, and the LGTBQ civil rights movements, our country has had to come face to face (again) with the fact that some citizens are more privileged than others, and that those of us with more privilege may have responsibilities unique to that privilege. This is the exact premise of the conversation I had with my 8 year old Lock. It went something like this:
“Honey, I love you and your brother more than anything. I love you equally, but that love won’t always look the same, because you have different needs. Sometimes when we go to the park, I spend more time with Key, because he needs extra help jumping up to get on the swing, and needs someone to push him. You, Lock, are so grown up! You are tall enough to jump on the seat, and you learned how to pump your legs. That means you don’t need my help anymore, but it also means that you can swing higher than he can.”
Sound familiar? Now, a disclaimer, because I don’t want to get bogged down in the fact that Key is younger. I don’t want to be mistaken for infantilizing minorities. I’m simply making a distinction based on privilege. When you have more, when you have access to more, it is easier to achieve more, and that’s what those of us on one side of the divide seem to understand more clearly.
So what if we look at the country from Lock’s point of view? We’ve been talking about Key’s needs for a long time now. Black lives matter, but what about blue, green, and white? Gay people earned the right to marriage equality, but what about our marriages that are falling apart? Who will save the sanctity of our relationships? We’ve been talking about religious freedoms, and making sure that Muslims have the right to build mosques wherever they want, but what about a Christian’s right to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” or say a prayer in school? We’ve been talking about keeping refugees safe from war, but what about my right to a safe neighborhood. I don’t know these strangers invading my hometown.
You have a right to these thoughts. You have a right to your needs, but as a person of privilege, you also have a responsibility to help those struggling with meeting their basic needs.
I’m reminded of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It looks like this:
The main takeaway here is that we all build our lives from the base up. The first needs we all need to be met are related to survival. We all need food, water, and shelter to survive. Until these needs are met, we aren’t going to be able to focus on higher-level needs such as safety, friendship, or the meaning of life. By the same token, if you have things like self-esteem, love, and purpose, it can become easy to take for granted that you have food, water, an education, an alarm system on your home or car, and respect.
Going back to Lock and Key, I can explain to Lock that he is capable of meeting his own basic needs. He can get himself a glass of water. He can lock the back door and operate a phone in case of emergency. He can ask for a hug, talk to people in order to make friends, and do his schoolwork in order to achieve confidence and respect. But Key, like so many people in our communities, is less advantaged. I work in a classroom with people with disabilities. I wish I could tell you that they are treated the same and given equal opportunities by every teacher in my school. They’re not. Additionally, children with disabilities are 3.7 times more likely to be victims of physical or sexual abuse. (1) I wish that schools were less segregated…or at least that schools populated largely by minority students had schools that offered equal opportunities as those populated primarily by white students. They don’t.(2) LGBTQ people are more likely to experience hate crimes than any other group, including black people and Muslims. (3) The cards are unfairly stacked. Privilege is unfairly distributed. Lock can turn on the television and access Phineas and Ferb anytime he wants. Key has to ask for help to watch Daniel Tiger and eat some apple slices. Because of his privilege, Lock has the responsibility of helping his brother, telling me if he gets into an unsafe situation, being as fair as possible, and sometimes, letting his little brother win…so that he can experience success and gain confidence. It’s what brothers and sisters are supposed to do.
This week I think I peeled back enough of my own biases to understand why Trump was elected. I believe that the majority of Trump supporters aren’t racist, hateful, or sexist. I understand that many people looked past the hateful rhetoric to choose a man who heard their needs. I understand that many of you were wrongly led to believe that Hillary Clinton was worse. I understand that many people didn’t vote, either because they didn’t like Clinton, or because either choice felt like a loss.
You still made the wrong choice.
A vote for Trump was a statement that racist, sexist, ableist, offensive commentary is acceptable. A vote for Trump sent the message that the needs of privileged white America is still somehow more important than the needs of minorities struggling to meet their basic needs and achieve their constitutional rights. It’s difficult and painful to peel back your layers of cloudy thinking to see clearly…but when you do, you’ll see that your responsibility is that of an older brother. Use your privilege to speak out against inequality. Use your privilege to help the less advantaged access the same rights this amazing country affords you. Help the United States become a place where the American dream is truly accessible to all. Listen without speaking. Without judgment. Without anger. Listen to their needs. Try to understand their goals. Try to see their point of view. Take care of your brothers and sisters.