Saturday, November 12, 2016

A call for self-evaluation, critical thinking, and empathy

Like so many other upper-middle class educated liberals, I was massively disappointed with the election result on Tuesday. It feels like the country (and, with parallel events like Brexit, the Western world) is going in a direction I really don't support. I'm terrified by the news that we might have a climate change denier at the head of the EPA just months after the Paris Climate Agreement was signed. I've seen reports of racist vandalism in Chicago suburbs close to where I grew up. The thought of a government-mandated Muslim registry  is so reminiscent of WWII Germany it's ridiculous. And Trump's hesitation to defend NATO allies could very realistically spark a world war if Russia turns its eye on the Baltic States.

So what can we do in a time like this? First, I think we need to seriously evaluate our personal biases, where we get our news from, and who we talk with every day. Unless some of my colleagues in Princeton EEB are holding out on me, I'm pretty sure I literally never talk deeply with a conservative voter. So how am I supposed to understand their motivations? How can I avoid the very "us versus them" mentality that leads people to denounce Black Lives Matter as thugs or Planned Parenthood as a baby-killing machine? I'm a white, straight, upper-middle class male in a PhD program in a liberal state, and I get most of my news from the New York Times. My experience of the world is night and day with a tremendous chunk of the US, but especially white working class voters.

We therefore must try to understand the experience and backgrounds of others, especially the 60.2 million Americans who voted for Trump. I urge you to read this Harvard Business Review article, which I found incredibly informative about the white working class's background and motivation for voting for Trump. I disagree with much of Trump voters' justification, especially on social issues. But reading more articles written by liberals about how terrible Trump's administration is for social issues and then labeling 20% of America as heartless racists is exactly how we avoid making any progress in healing this divide. The white working class felt abandoned, and Trump gave them a voice.

Third, we MUST become aware of how easily misinformation spreads online. Liberals read all the time about it from the conservative side, with climate change skepticism, the Obama birther movement, continued calls for Hillary to go to jail despite the FBI verdict, and repeated attacks on Planned Parenthood. But we have it on our side, too. Many of the reports of racial aggression following Trump's win are true. But many are also false. I'm not a racist for pointing out that we can't use anything we read online as ammunition for our fight against racism. While the Southern Illinois University student who posted the blackface photo was careless, she did not intentionally try to promote racism. Do not believe something just because it agrees with your preconceived views.

Finally, we need to speak up when we see something we disagree with. Our silence is otherwise complicit agreement. It's not easy, and it can be awkward. But we need to stand up for people who can't always defend themselves. As a straight white guy, I will never fully understand what it means to be black, female, or LGBTQ in America. I don't have to live with any extra burden they endure every day, from police suspicion, to cat-calls, to "random" security checks at the airport, to being afraid of coming out to my own family. But I can do my best to support them when I can, and speaking up is the first step

Please PM me if you want to talk. I want to hear your thoughts.


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