Not long ago, I travelled to speak at a weekend event. The event was held in a location just a few hours from my home, so it made the most sense for me to drive myself there.
After driving for about two hours, the navigation system instructed me to turn off the major highway, onto some rural routes which traversed over rolling hills, and sidled up against rows and rows of corn and soybeans, herds of cattle, and fields where hard-working famers drove combines into the sun.
It sounds idyllic, and it was. For a while. But, the further I drove, the more unsettled I became. As I drove, my fears seemed to be confirmed by the appearance of gigantic, billboard-sized signs, nailed to beams and positioned in people’s front yards. They were Trump/Pence signs and, as much as I hate to admit it, I had sort of a battle of the minds taking place in my head. It sounded like this:
OK. You have to be careful around here. You don’t know how these people feel about brown women driving alone in their communities.
I hear you. But, we can’t jump to conclusions. We need to give these people the benefit of the doubt, the same way we want them to give us a chance before making a judgement call based on appearance only.
True. I get that. But, don’t be foolish. You’ve seen the rallies.
Yes. But, it’s unfair to lump every Trump/Pence voter into one category. I know decent people who are voting for Trump.
Right. But you don’t know these people.
You’re right. I don’t know these people. Man! I have to pee!
Well, you can’t stop now! There’s no way you can get out in one of these towns to use the restroom! I just don’t think it’s safe!
I know. I know. Maybe I can just pull off on the side of the road and use this paper cup from the fast food restaurant.
Well. Yeah. Maybe. But, what if someone sees you and decides to call the police?
Right. Not a good choice. OK. I’ll try to hold it.
That’s probably the best idea. Just hold it, keep driving, and get to your destination safely.
Hmmm. I don’t think I’m going to make it. I’m going to have to stop and pee somewhere. OK. Whew! There’s a convenience store! I’m just going to pull off and run in there. If anything happens, they’ll surely have surveillance cameras. I’ll just have to hope it all goes well.
I don’t know. Look at that giant Trump/Pence sign, right across the street!
I see it. I see it. But, honestly, I have got to go!
OK, then. Be careful.
Darn it! I wish it wasn’t like this. I wish I didn’t feel this way. I wish things were different.
Me too. And, maybe they are. But, we just can’t be sure, can we?
No. We cannot be sure. Not yet.
Clearly, I survived. I went to the bathroom, smiled at the people, hopped back in my car, and continued on my way. I did not receive a warm reception in the convenience store, but no one was outwardly mean, either. I held the door for a woman entering before me and she thanked me. But I also tried to make eye contact with a mom and her little boy and they both seemed to avoid my gaze altogether. Then again, it all could have been my imagination.
Sadly, I felt unsafe in that environment, even though I wanted to believe my feelings of uneasiness were unwarranted. I want to trust what I’ve learned from my personal friendships with Trump supporters, more than what I’ve seen and heard on television. But, the truth is that they are both true. And the truth about this dichotomy is not limited to one political party, or one demographic in our society. As Palmer says in his book, “‘We the People’ share the blame for this situation…”
Everywhere we go, we encounter people who have good, kind, sincere hearts. And, everywhere we go, we encounter people who are motivated by fear, anger, prejudice, and even hatred. Everywhere we go, we take our goodness and kindness, mingled with our biases, prejudices, and fears. This is true today, and it will be true after this presidential election is over. So, how do we find it in ourselves to rise above it all? How do we elevate the conversation, as well as our thinking? And how about you? Do you have a similar battle of the minds taking place in your own head? What do you think we should do about that?
I love you, Deidra. I’m so sorry you felt unsafe (and I don’t blame you).
I’m sorry you felt afraid. I had a colleague who was gay travel the very long way around to work because he was afraid to drive down a road that runs through my neighborhood. If he broke down, the people I know would have helped him. A black woman broke down and Bruce stopped to help her.
I too did battle with these kinds of thoughts when I drove down North Avenue, through Maywood to Oak Park and saw all these black faces in cars and on the corner. I had similar thought struggles with thoughts of people being shot off the Eisenhower and the general violence of Chicago and knowing my students, admiring them. I breathed deep and pushed against my own prejudicial fears like you did. It was easier going home.
And I remember telling my students about driving to an artsy meeting behind the United Center and getting there and seeing razor wire around the place and how they gasped and were afraid for me, but nothing happened.
This whole post tells me how horribly divided we the people are. It is heart breaking. And the drama isn’t going to ease after the election, no matter who gets elected.
Thank you for your honesty in sharing this.
Was your return trip any less scary?
I admit, I fight these types of ingrained misnomers thoughts, when I have driven at night, through a black owned neighborhood. “Be careful, lock your doors,” “Why are you afraid? This neighborhood, looks just like yours. Nice homes, nice lawns, kid friendly parks, barking dogs, etc…” Ignorant fear, brought on by past generational thinking.
And I have been in places where Black people will not make eye contact and I wonder, what thoughts are going through their heads. Is it because I’m white, or a woman, or out of place. Umm, It could be, their just not interested. I mean, get over yourself, not every white person looks you in the eye either.
Conversation wise; lately, because of the widespread, anxious, emotional atmospheres, I find I’m in a battle against relatives and friends, who are so buried in their prejudice and ignorance, that I feel I’ve gone back in time to another era. I find it amazing, they say they are Christians, but the jokes and snide remarks, that come out of their mouths are nowhere near Christian. Sometimes, I feel like pulling out a cross and holding it towards them, like in a vampire movie, and say demons begone.
I understand & empathize with your thoughts – emotions – actions & reactions…not because of color…life experience has taught me to be cautious when among ‘different from me’. Your description of ‘PEACE’ resonates deep within me. I rely on it to remind myself when among ‘different’…’different isn’t bad – it’s just different’. Thank you for sharing your gift with words & experiences. Wishing you praise & blessings.