Three months ago, my mother, stepfather, and I came to Cleveland, OH so I could hunt for an apartment. We toured place after place, trying to find the perfect one within our forty-eight-hour window. As we stepped into one particular complex and looked around, the immediate thought I had was that it was gorgeous. The entrance was made from rich chestnut, arched at the top, with glass doors paneled in the same wood and adorned with elegantly winding wrought iron. We waited in the foyer, which was carpeted with rugs, the gold and burgundy patterns effortlessly intertwining across the floor, and furnished with plush sofas of similar colors. After a few minutes of waiting, we joined another small family to tour some of the units, which were as lovely as we expected after seeing the foyer. We were finally led into the ballroom where the ceiling appeared to touch the sky and the floors still had the original tiles for the 1920s, with colors of ivory and maroon. This place was opulent to an almost offensive degree. As our group lingered in the ballroom, our families separately discussing their opinions, a Muslim family walked through. They obviously lived in one of the apartments and I wouldn’t have even really noticed them had I not heard the father of the other family tell his wife that there were too many Muslims in this complex and that they’ll have to find another place. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Especially since he prefaced his sentence with “I don’t mean to sound racist but I’m going to sound racist.” How could someone not want to live somewhere just because people of another religion live there? When we read stories like this one, we are quick to judge. Xenophobe! Idiot! Must be a Republican! I know this because that’s exactly what I thought upon hearing this man’s words and it’s the same type of responses I see all over social media. But we must ask ourselves why this man thinks this way, and I’m going to bet that all of you reading this have fallen into this trap as well.
Generalizing is so easy. The human mind seems to prefer organizing the world into neat boxes with crisp labels into which people easily fit. Muslims? Potential terrorists, so ban them from the country. Democrats? Jobless free-loaders looking for government handouts. Republicans? Evangelical, ignorant xenophobes. Men? Disgusting creatures who grope women because they think they can. Feminist women? Bra-burning, man-haters who want to be the dominant sex. These generalizations are so quick and easy; they require almost no thought and are perpetuated by one platform or another. But the reality is that the world is a messy place and there will never be easy compartments to stick entire groups of people, no matter how much we want to do it. We accuse others of being lazy in actions or morals, while we sit arrogantly lazy in intellect. Even as I write this piece, every fiber in my body wants to tear down everyone I know who voted for Trump. I want to call them ignorant, misogynistic, and just plain idiotic, but I would be wrong. There’s simply no way the over 59.3 million people that voted for Trump fit into the neat little box I want to shove them all into. Are some of them as I accuse? Of course. It goes without saying that the KKK, which supports Trump, is racist. No shit.
But, as I said before, the world is a messy place and describing the average American that voted for Trump is even messier. The majority of his supporters aren’t actively racist, sexist, or xenophobic but they justify their vote by saying they support his economic policies, not his social ones. All this argument tells me is that you don’t understand that for women, people of color, the LGBT community, or those of non-Christian faiths, economic and societal issues are inextricably intertwined. Or maybe you do, and in that case, you have chosen to be neutral in the face of injustice. You have chosen personal gain at the expense of others’ life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. For a person “may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.” You may not call Mexican immigrants rapists, but you elected a man that does. You may not grab women by the pussy, which is assault in case you didn’t know, but you elected a man that does. You may not call a competitor a “nasty woman” because she points out your flaws, but you elected a man that did. Even though you aren’t out committing these acts, you are not stopping those who do, making you equally culpable. In fact, you’re lifting up the embodiment of racism, sexism, and xenophobia, so you’re even worse than neutral; you’re active adjacent. I only ask that you stop gloating about your win for long enough to listen to understand, not listen to respond, to our fears, our wishes, and our goals because perpetuating stereotypes and generalizations will get us nowhere that we want to be.
By generalizing we miss the important nuances of the world, becoming hateful and violent in our ignorance. After Trump’s election, there have been spikes in hate crimes, ranging from Muslim women being attacked for veiling to hateful graffiti, such as what was done in Durham, NC, a city I know very well, which stated that “black lives don’t matter and neither do your votes.”
Image taken from WNCN’s report
These acts show the ignorance of the attacking parties. If they had even tried to understand, they would have learned that the veil is used as both an expression of religious devotion as well as a cultural extension. For Muslim women, “wearing hijab is a personal choice that is made after puberty and is intended to reflect one’s personal devotion to God.” The hijab is to Muslim women as not dressing like a Kardashian is to the general population; they do it because it is their personal choice to be modest in that manner. Yet, because we have been intellectually lazy, the veil has become synonymous with oppression and potential terrorism. Likewise, ignorance on what it means to be African-American is so unbelievably widespread and complex I couldn’t even begin to address it in this piece, beyond saying that the concentration of melanin in your skin has no determination on who you are as a person. Every human being is deserving of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as long as the means by which they attain these goals does not infringe on another’s rights to these same intentions. Therefore, they sure as hell matter and so do their votes.
I was given a glimmer of hope this week when my university sent out an invitation to the entirety of the staff, faculty, and student body, inviting us to come together for a few hours and discuss the election and its results. The idea was to get opposing sides to have an open dialogue about what each side believed and what they think of the outcome, in hopes of “provid[ing] an environment where we can engage in constructive, meaningful conversations that enable us to learn from one another and deepen our mutual understanding.” When I received this invitation, I was ecstatic. This is exactly what is needed: a place where the two sides can come together and learn about each other and plainly become less ignorant, less divided. And then the typical response happened. A man responded by email (to every single person invited, a bold move I must say) accusing everyone involved of being childish, as if seeking understanding is naïve.
These types of responses are what divide people further apart. The assumption here is that non-Trump supporters are unhappy because they lost, and since this is my blog, I can say that from the discussion I’ve had with others who believe like I do, we’re unhappy not because we lost, but because the person who won is someone who intends to take away rights like they’re a knife in a baby’s hands. And I can guarantee you the only people I have seen hiding under their “highbrow, collegiate ivory tower” are those who don’t believe that racism, sexism, and other “isms” still exist. As a woman in STEM, I can tell you numerous times I’ve been asked if I’m sure I want to go into medicine, whether I am going to become a pediatrician, or why would I want to be a doctor when I could just marry one? Apparently, I’m useful only for having children, caring for them, or sitting still and being pretty, sentiments a classmate once made abundantly clear when he told me that my input was not needed for a group project because I was just a “cum dumpster.” So, no we aren’t hiding, because we don’t get to hide. The means of our discrimination are painted on our faces and bodies and I for one will not attempt to hide myself as I used to, nor should anyone feel they must in order to be safe and respected. We are merely showing our willingness to seek out answers, an attitude I am desperately trying to get everyone around me to have.
Generalizations, whether they’re about veiling, being African-American, or the intentions behind dialogues, are symptomatic of our intellectual laziness. We’ve separated ourselves along intensely demarcated party lines with the attitude that if you’re not with us then you’re against us. I am certainly not innocent and have tried to step off my high horse. As an equally guilty party, I come forward with the hope that we can start realizing when we are generalizing and when others are doing it to us. We must stop our intellectual laziness, otherwise we will truly be as divided as every news outlet seems to be declaring we are.
We all have a personal stake in generalizing less and I am no exception. The majority of my family supports Trump, who I am less than a fan of if you all can’t tell. But my family has given me everything so I can be safe, happy, educated, and independent. They have sacrificed so that I can thrive and for that I will never be able to repay them. They certainly don’t fall into the generalizations with which I so badly want to label Trump supporters, yet I still want to shove them in the “idiot” box with everyone else. There’s a reason they believe what they believe and only by asking them, educating myself, will I begin to understand why. And only by opening a dialogue will they know how I think, why I fear a Trump presidency. So, I dare all of you reading this to ask a Trump supporter why they feel what they feel and really dig deep. Don’t give up after a few seconds with a shrug and an “I tried.” That’s not good enough. I dare the Trump supporters who may be reading this to do the same in return. I encourage all of you to continue your personal education in all areas you don’t understand, whether it’s anything regarding LGBT, other cultures or religions, or economic policies. Just make sure what you’re reading is scholarly (hint: Facebook “news” stories don’t count. Try Google scholar at the very least or pick up a damn book). I truly believe that it is only through education that we will be able to heal the divides in our country.
UPDATE: This website ranks sources based on their trustworthiness to help you decide if your source is fake. I recommend using this for every article you come across, especially if you get your news primarily from social media (something I do not recommend).