What Getting Shellacked About Racism Taught Me About Politics
The next morning my blog had crashed because it couldn’t handle the traffic.
As of today, it has nearly 450 comments.
If you haven’t seen that article, I encourage you to check it out, apparently people like it: “Why Your Reaction To The Election May Say More About You Than The Election Itself”
You could probably guess that racism came up a lot in the comments. And I quickly learned that my estimation of the situation was far too simple.
I stand by the basic points of my article, but I realized the issue is far more complex and nuanced than I originally thought.
Racism came up a lot, and I quickly learned that my estimation of the issues was far too simple. I stand by my the basic points of my article, but I realized the issue was far more complex and nuanced that I had thought.
I don’t believe I’m racist, but my perspective on racism has changed.
I began to see that I didn’t understand what it was like to be a minority in America.
I would hear people talk about racism, and I would think they were overblowing the issue, trying to politicize to advance their political agenda.
I don’t personally know a real racist. There might be racist pockets around the country, but for the most part, I thought we had moved beyond that issue.
But my perspective was about to change.
You Don’t Have A Solution For A Problem
They Don’t Have
There’s an old hotel in Spokane (where I live), and throughout there are pictures of the hotel in the 1910’s and 20’s. I’ve always enjoyed looking at those photos, because it was a connection to my past.
Recently, I noticed that there wasn’t a single person of color in any of those pictures. Now, to be fair, Spokane probably didn’t have too many people of color in 1910, but still…
I began to wonder… Were these people all racists? Maybe. Probably. That made me sad, and I felt like I couldn’t relate to them as much anymore.
And then I put myself in a black person’s shoes… would I find these photos as interesting? Probably not.
If none of the photos contained a single white person, I wouldn’t be able to connect as much. It wouldn’t feel like my history.
That made me more aware of how African Americans might feel today. Would they look at these pictures and see a bunch of people who looked down them? Would they wonder, “How many of you owned my ancestors?”
It was a wake-up call, but not just about racism, about a lot of things. What else was I blind to? What other issues had I drawn too simply? And what do I do about it?
Author and speaker Danny Silk has a saying, “You don’t have a solution for problem they don’t have.”
Meaning, if someone (like me) doesn’t think racism is a real issue, then your proposed solutions will mean nothing to me.
If someone doesn’t think racism is a real issue, then your proposed solutions will mean nothing to them.
So, how do we change this? Again, I turn to my own experience. Lower your defenses, and listen to people with different opinions.
Opening Someone’s Eyes Takes Patience, Respect, and Emotional Maturity
It is easy to get upset when someone starts talking about hot button issues.
As soon as someone brings up border control, instead of listening to see if they have anything new to say, we can immediately put a bunch of ideas, concepts, and positions onto that person.
And then we feel like we need to fight this imaginary person we’ve constructed, because they’re what’s wrong with the country.
Why do we do this?
I believe it’s because we subconsciously wrap our identity into our ideas.
When someone says that X is a bad idea, that implies that anyone who believes X is, at best, a stupid person who likes bad ideas, and at worst, a bad person who likes bad ideas.
Humans are fickle creatures. We have a deep need to protect our sense of self. And it is easy to tie your political beliefs to your sense of self-worth.
Your ideas what you believe represent who you are and what you value. They are integrally linked to your sense of self.
How many times have you gotten into a heated argument with a friend or loved one over something really stupid?
Not just politics, but anything. For instance, which is better, Ford or GMC? Apple or Android?
We can feel this need to be right, so we fight for our position, sometimes abandoning logic to do so. Why? Because we feel like our value as a person is under attack.
The Link Between Football and Racism
This happens with football teams all the time. Why do fans get depressed when their team loses? We had nothing to do with their performance, but we still feel like we lost.
When I asked myself this question, I realized it was because I had tied my ability to pick a good team to my sense of value. And when they lost, my self-esteem took a hit.
It felt like a failure because I picked the wrong team. My ability to choose the right team reflected poorly on my judgment, which affected my sense of self-worth.
Mind you, this was all subconscious until I started asking these questions. I didn’t walk around saying, “I’m a failure because I picked the wrong team.”
I felt slightly depressed, not as excited about the day, and people might annoy me more than usual. But deep down, something else was happening.
And until we’re willing to step back and analyze ourselves, we’ll stay stuck on these subconscious loops.
Keys To Changing The World This Holiday Season
This has 2 practical applications:
1) When discussing politics with your family this holiday season, stand-down from DEFCON 1.
You won’t do any good if you allow yourself to get angry. You must divorce your ability to choose a good political position from your sense of self-worth. Then you must listen.
You have to say to yourself, “If I’m wrong about these ideas, it doesn’t reflect poorly my ability to think, nor does it affect my value as person. In fact, my inability to listen to new ideas (and thus allow my emotions to blind me) is what reflects poorly on my person.”
When your Trump-supporting father-in-law starts talking about immigration… listen.
Divorce his statements from any preconceived notions you have about Trump supporters, and see if he has anything of value to say.
Is he right about anything? Is there some truth in what he is saying? Analyze those ideas on their own (apart from any other political issue), and then see how they affect yours.
Not only might you learn something… and not only will you be happier (emotionally)… but once your Trump-supporting family members feel heard (and not condemned for their ideas), they will be more willing to hear other ideas as well.
2) When sharing your ideas, only share your ideas… don’t launch cruise missiles.
This is simple: Criticize ideas, not people.
People won’t listen to you if you’re firing cruise-missiles at them.
When your super liberal sister starts talking about the electoral college, things will go VERY poorly if your language implies that she’s stupid for holding that position.
Liberal Sister: “The electoral college is outdated, has racist roots, and violates the will of the people.”
Cruise-Missile You: “That’s ridiculous, then California, Texas, Florida, and a handful of other states would decide the president. Is that what you want? That isn’t democracy. Stop crying about the election results. We had to handle 8 years of Obama. You can handle Trump.”
Nuclear war occurs while your mother prepares dinner.
There are no survivors.
You may have had some good points (and you may feel better), but they won’t listen because you did more than just attack their ideas; you called them stupid, anti-democratic, and a cry-baby.
Now, would you listen to anything someone had to say if they made those claims about you?
By belittling your position, would you think they have anything constructive to add to your ideas?
Probably not. So, maybe don’t do that?
Liberal Sister: “The electoral college is outdated, racist, and violates the will of the people.”
Mature-You: “I have some thoughts on the electoral college, but I’m going to be honest, I don’t know much about its history. Can you explain more about that?”
You must be sincere. You must want to learn (see Step 1). People can detect insincerity from a mile away.
This also doesn’t mean you’re giving up your position. It just means you’re listening for the time being. The example continues….
[Liberal Sister explains her position]
Mature-You: “I didn’t know that. Well, maybe we do need to take a second look at the Electoral College. But if we did away with it, how would you address the concerns of the less populated states? How could we make sure they didn’t feel disenfranchised, as if their vote wouldn’t matter?”
And, a nice discussion will occur. Some heated emotions may still rise, but if you maintain this demeanor, things will go well for you.
Neither of you may change your position. But you averted nuclear war, and at the very least, you learned something (most likely).
You’ve also demonstrated to your sister that not everyone on the other side is crazy.
Where To Go From Here
Racism is real a problem in this country, but it won’t go anywhere until more people accept that reality.
My perspective on this issue did not change from name calling and insults.
It did not come from people yelling at me.
It did not come from people calling me a racist.
It did not come from incendiary twitter comments.
It did not come from grand generalizations about white people and white privilege.
It came from people who challenged my thinking in a respectful way.
We cannot legislate away racism. Racism must be dealt with on the cultural and personal levels.
The only way to do that is by talking to each other.
This is how we change our nation. This is how we grow as people.
About Sean Edwards
Sean Edwards is an author and a communication strategist. He graduated from the Western Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in history. Sean has a passion for discussing philosophy and American politics.