Since last week’s election, my column’s mailbox has been flooded with reader’s reactions. Many are devastated, “How can this have happened in America?” Others are elated, “Finally, it’s our turn. We didn’t take to the streets after we lost. People need to get over it and move on.”
But how do we move forward? Perhaps my personal situation might help you understand what others are feeling. This feels very risky but for the sake of the people I love and my country, I feel it is worth it.
Consider the constellation of the family my husband and I have, three kids, all married. Four of these remarkable, generous, compassionate, hard working, tax paying young adults are gay. One son-in-law is Mexican American, the other is a Mexican citizen and lives here with permanent residency status. My innocent six-year-old granddaughter is black. We proudly call three amazing young women our own. We could have our own sitcom, right?
But here’s the devastating part … each and every one of these dear souls has been impacted by racism, homophobia, and misogyny.
My son and his husband were spit on one night walking home from a club.
My Mexican American son-in-law started an after hours business cleaning a school. (Yep, he’d work full-time all week in a white collar job and then go to work at night, saving to buy a house.) One night, a white teacher came into the classroom he was cleaning and told him, unbeknownst to her a USC graduate, “you really should aim higher.” Sure her heart was in the right place but sadly, this is racism. She saw his skin color and made assumptions.
He has also been stopped by police for no apparent reason. Yes, he was always sent on his way because he had broken no laws, but there is a subtle pattern there that cannot be denied. (For the record, my younger brother is a cop. I have total respect for responsible law enforcement.)
My daughter and her wife can’t walk down the street with my precious granddaughter without receiving prolonged and sometimes, unfriendly stares.
My other daughter has seen less experienced men promoted at work and has been in meetings where the men control the discussion through interruption or try to take a women’s accomplishment and call it their own.
I am the first to admit that, at times it is difficult for me to recognize the subtleties of the minority experience. After all, I have grown up white and, at least for my adult life, economically secure. Sure, I’ve encountered endless misogynistic moments – what woman hasn’t? But it’s the subtleties of another’s experience that we all may have difficulty understanding.
As an example, consider the backlash to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Of course all lives matter … but since the beginning of time, blacks have had less freedoms, less opportunity, less appreciation, less value. The statistics on how often blacks are detained, questioned, arrested, jailed, and shot compared to whites are shameful.
But as a white woman, this can be difficult to fully comprehend – it is not my experience. To try and understand, I look to my black friends, who have pounded into their sons about how to behave when stopped by police. Did I ever have to do this my son, beyond the normal “be polite”? Nope. Not once.
Racism, homophobia, misogyny can be glaringly obvious … or dangerously subtle.
Unlike policy based elections, this one was deeply personal. My children are actually frightened about their futures. So am I. Based on this election cycle, we have plenty of reasons to believe our fears are legitimate. Will marriage equality be repealed? Can my son-in-law can be sent back to Mexico, even though he has permanent residency status? Will my daughters ever be paid the same amount as men? Will their healthcare be gutted? These are all real possibilities under the new administration.
This is my family’s experience. Millions of families across the nation feel the same devastation. This is why so many of us are finding it nearly impossible to “get over it and move on.”
I know it isn’t always easy to grasp the impact of another’s experience. Perhaps if we all try a little harder to open up to what is different, to own our imperfections, to tone down the volume, the rhetoric, and truly hear each other, we can recognize that we are all Americans and that we can be better.