My Mother Didn’t Teach Me to Hate: Compassion First

I grew up in the naiveté of Northern California, a place where I thought the only match of Us vs. Them occurred in movies and television. My neighborhood was wild with diversity and that was easily reflected in both our work and personal lives. My Dad is of Hispanic descent and grew up the majority of his life in an all African-American foster family, sometimes making my nuclear family the only white people at my larger family gatherings. There was little discussion of race in our house and I believe, much like not experiencing religion shoved upon us, it left me with less scarring of the heart when it comes to issues around race and ethnicity. This is not to say there weren’t consequences with the lack of discussion. It led me to believe that the days of racial and ethnic divides were behind us and only when I moved to Alabama for college and saw the literal dividing line of the railroad tracks did I realize I lived in some bizarro cosmic bubble where my utopia obviously was solely in my own head. I remember feeling like the wind had been torn out of me and I spent the majority of my college years building up my knowledge and understanding of what I severely lacked.

As for my understanding of myself as female, it was rotten from the sexual abuse I endured and to this day I am still called that girl with all her “women’s lib shit” by some of my family. Then, I was just angry and hungry to hurt someone back the way I was hurt. I had a low level of understanding about what it meant to be a feminist, but I knew that word gave me some small amount of power and autonomy. I am afraid my mother thought I was just going to be a lesbian because despite her own open ideas about some things, she refused to buy me a dirt bike or Converse shoes. (Hey Mom- I have seven pairs of them now, including some mint green low tops- and I have a pair on my Christmas wish list.) My college experiences have allowed me to grow and understand myself in context of this belief system. I have learned to be fierce and cunning as a feminist rather than running around clumsily cutting people with knives.

Interestingly, sexuality was a conversation on the table. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay politician in 1978 in San Francisco and the waves of HIV positive (mostly) males followed in the Castro District. We watched Phil Donahue parade around the gays like the new world wide pariah and although when the rubber met the road it may have been a different story, my mother openly told me she didn’t care who I loved. As an aside, sex was also on the table and given that we were a blended family, we had loads of fun making fun of my parents’ sexual activity at the dinner table. I know- weird huh?!! However, this is one of the many aspects of my family I am grateful for.

Despite my very staunch belief in participating in our civic duty to vote, very few adults in my life did and I recall very little about politics until I was 18 and participated in my first election. Then, I was limited in my understanding and did not want to vote for Clinton simply because Al Gore’s wife was the head of the PMRC ! Freedom of speech was very important to me and EVERY heavy metal CD that I purchased had one of those parental advisory stickers on it! Thank goodness my mother didn’t care or I would have died a horrible death as an outsider in my own peer group. We were known as the “Stoners” back then. I think the equivalent group today are the “Emo” kids, although neither us tend to use substances as much as the label implies.

Only in this most recent election did my parents take part in their civic duty and voted. And I have participated in the last seven presidential elections and hope to participate in many more in my lifetime. As a feminist, I do not take lightly the sacrifices made in order to participate in this privilege.

I know what you must be thinking…..either ‘what is your point lady?’ or ‘Ah, hell. She is about to politic us over the head-and I have had enough.’ Hang in there with me; I have got some good stuff for everyone.

Like many, in the days following our recent election, I have run the gamut of emotions. From afraid to angry followed by puzzled and making cynical jokes. I am not sure even those who voted for our President Elect- Donald Trump really believed he would actually do it, while so many others had their emotional heart set on having our first woman president. 110 out of 116 polls were wrong and so few of the experts that may have had some knowledge appeared to ZERO political voice. This is the dawning of a new era and whether or not you are excited or appalled, the sun shall rise and change is coming.

So let me begin by speaking to my fellow democratic brothers and sisters. I am an avid believer in equality for ALL people and there have certainly been times in my life when I have twisted my life into a pretzel to fit into some perfect ideology, however, if a liberal thinker is to grow and change, we cannot play the game of Us vs. Them. Who are the people that primarily voted for our next president? Yes, it is true that the non-college educated white male was the majority of the group while 42 percent were females. Some may be considered the “self made man” who have some wealth through hard work and time. Many live in the rural areas of our country and perhaps a very small percentage (as things like violence and hate continue to be) of this group is interested in maintaining sexist, racist and xenophobic ideologies, but most- just like you– are complicated and intricately different humans. I don’t want to in any way make excuses for the ongoing “isms” that exist in our country, however, if we are going to make any headway in working through the shame that we carry in this nation, we must grow our lens.

I have had the unusual pleasure of living in the rural south for the last 14 years. And when I say rural, I mean like I live with a mere 20 thousand people in the county. Like everywhere I have lived, there are those folks who just aren’t my people (and yes I do mean asleep at the wheel assholes) and the few that I find ways to create meaningful connection with. And it has little to do with politics. I find that, in general, people who live in rural areas are very much the salt of the earth. Yes, in these parts of the country there is more fear that stems from a lack of exposure to the unknown and sometimes cultural knowledge. As I have found my way to fold into this rural community, I have found a tremendous amount of kindness and generosity that I never experienced living in a large city.

There are many complicated elements of a typical life in a rural small town. There are still young teenagers working at the grocery store and sometimes if you want to get out of there quickly, you better put your head down and not do the usual direct eye contact and speaking because you may get caught in a conversation while your ice cream melts in front of you. I share names and history with the people I bank with and collect my pharmaceuticals from. I see them out in town and we speak and share stories of our children and family. This crosses ethnic and racial backgrounds. Is it all lollipops and rainbows? No kids. That’s ridiculous. None of us live in Oz. But my southerners try to live in the world a little like we are supposed to in church; we are expected to be kind and although not ideal, I surely miss it when I leave to go home to California where not one human will smile at me walking down the street.

Some of the reasons we have to accept their votes are due to the abject poverty in which many live. There remains a weekly food bank and local ministries that provide clothing to our community. The overwhelming majority are white families that are struggling to survive. Eleven of the schools in my county are considered Title I schools; meaning that a high percentage of children are eligible for free lunch. Programs have begun popping up during the summer time just to feed these same children because it is a known fact they are going without food. To demand that this part of my community have clarity on something like the higher good related to race relations and whether I am being treated fairly as a woman becomes a ridiculous prospect to a person trying to make enough to feed their family each day. This does not mean we let all the privileged white folks off the hook. I am asking that we pull the lens back onto the entire country and examine how we can show compassion even when we are frightened and understandably angry.

As for the many who voted for our new president-elect and do not fit into the catogories described above, the disenfranchisement with government and the lack of connection with the everyday American has led to this severe uprising and perhaps a silent revolution with the intention to reclaim the government away from the seasoned politician that is often bought out by the lobbyists swarming every crevice of our United States House and Senate. With this considered factor, perhaps those are the true ‘liberal’ thinkers who wanted to revolt in their own way through their vote. Of course, the outcome remains to be revealed.

This leads to my thoughts to my fellow Republican brothers and sisters. It is true that whenever their person is not the chosen one, there is a major let down that often follows for several days. This election has already shown to be something more than this. For many, the grief is in multiple layers and some is the loss of a wish that America is less racist, less sexist and more accepting of the LGBT community than ever before. This election showed the entire world that perhaps that is not true just yet. I know for myself as a trauma survivor, I spent years rebuilding that layer of grounded trust that humans were potentially less sexist and have a greater willingness to protect little children than in the past. And for now, the results have attempted to shake that foundation. Honestly, it is all a reminder that our fears are not unfounded. I felt betrayed and once again back in my naïve young life of Northern California, just wanting the fear to subside. For so many minority and marginalized people this was just another amplification of the fear they live in everyday and it warrants our concern and honest understanding.

Change did not have to come packaged in a man that had such terrible vitriol, spewing hatred and causing the trickle to ride all the way down to my daughter’s sixth grade class where a young African-American student was excited about the Trump victory to only hear another student say they ‘shouldn’t get so excited, they are going to be sent back to Africa!’ I am afraid that Trump did not really understand the consequences of rallying the hate that resides within all of us and will now have to spend a fair amount of time putting out the sparked hate fires that have been spurred on by his rhetoric.Voting for Trump did not necessarily symbolize that you are sexist, racist or xenophobic; that you don’t hate. It does represent a lack of care about the marginalization of people not like you. The fear of being abandoned or rejected is a kind of shame that makes us all want to vomit.

Further, it has been a long time wish to see a mirror rather than possible attempts at reflection. Although HRC was a long time politician and a member of the elite establishment, it was a great time to follow the first African-American male president with our first woman. I understand this is not in of itself a good reason for a vote. However, how many voted for Trump simply because he was NOT a member of the establishment and could overlook many things others could not? In the faces of so many young women who wept, we are anxiously waiting for someone to have the highest office in the country reflect who we are as women. And then to get the extra smack in the face while already down has made the pain and damaged feelings even deeper.

We still have a LONG way to go.

Maybe this reminder will allow ALL of us to do more.

We need not swallow that bitter fruit of hatred.

Hatred cannot be our way. Lacking compassion and taking the angry way out cannot be our answer. I was given many mixed messages as a kid, but hating others was not one of them. My Mom and Dad taught me the face of kindness and how a deeply giving heart can win over even the surliest of men. I have watched them just keep at their intentions of kindness even when I am sure the sour neighbor is plotting how to blow them up. And most of the time, their love wins. I believe in the freedom of speech and I am grateful we have a mechanism to protest and be heard when we are passionate about something. This passion cannot come forward without compassion for all Americans. Take the time to work at understanding each other and continue to draw the lines of connection that already exist, but may remain unseen. We are ALL connected within the intricate and complicated lives we lead and if this once naïve girl from Cali can find her connections in rural living, I will remain hopeful and proceed with compassion first.

So now, let’s get to work.