I feel other people’s pain. Often more than my own. This is more than empathy, more than pity. It is actual pain. My heart hurts so much sometimes I feel it could burst. I want to yell, “Doesn’t anyone else feel how much this hurts!?” I can see this is not the way all people feel. I am good at hiding it most of the time which helps me blend in. There are times when I can protect myself better than others. Most of the time I don’t know if I want to. I don’t want to be the person that doesn’t feel as deeply as I feel, despite the burden it sometimes places on me.
Most recently, the collective pain of others due to the hateful rhetoric of this election is having a profound effect on me. I want the pain to stop but I imagine what it might feel like for the people being hurt and I can feel the ache in my chest. I can’t shake it this time. Someone explained to me I was an empath and I absorb the feelings of others as if they are my own. It is a hard way to live sometimes but most of the time I am learning to recognize it as a gift. I am going to attempt to express my feelings about this because I think there are so many lessons to learn from what is happening in our country. We cannot ignore the pain that is emerging. It is here to teach us all how to be better, kinder, gentler, more compassionate human beings. I can feel it. It is hard to see that because the negativity is getting so much more attention. We cannot ignore the lessons.
My friend Marvin is a passionate leader in the industry I am so blessed to work in- caring for seniors. He is highly involved in politics and has flown to Florida the last two elections to volunteer for campaigns he believes in. He is a leader of a non-profit in the heart of St. Paul who is committed to caring for seniors from all walks of life and employs staff that represent the diversity that, in my belief, is such a strength for our Country. We connected before and after the election. He sent an email that expressed exactly what I was feeling. Here is what he said:
Please know that I do not criticize Republicans for this election. In fact, Trump put together a unique conglomeration of voters. While my politics are more left of center on a number of issues, I respect all people and I respect where people right of center are coming from. We all have a different lens through which we view the world. And reasonable people can disagree on the numerous issues we face daily. What I am struggling with is the person. How America can elect a clear xenophobe, racist, and misogynist is beyond me. He is crude and vulgar and brings out the worst of people’s instincts rather than speaking to their higher nature. Frankly, I find Trump despicable. He is the opposite of what a leader needs to represent. That’s what I’m struggling with.
I will find a way to heal my soul and once again see a clearer path on this journey of making the world a better place.
Those analyzing the election are labeling people like crazy and grouping us all into different categories, which as God explained is how all conflict arises. If you watch the discourse, I have no doubt he is right. We are all unique individuals who have diverse ways of making decisions and name calling will not help us heal. We should seek to understand more than be understood but I must admit I am struggling with the understanding. I am trying. It is not true that all white men voted for Donald Trump. I know many that did not and Marvin is one of them. I am going to attempt to analyze the lessons we can learn from these powerful words. How did America elect a clear xenophobe, racist and misogynist? We cannot pretend we didn’t and we cannot say we were not warned. Even the Pope tried to tell us there was danger in this decision- more than once. How did we get here after all the progress we have made? Understanding is not accepting. For me this is not about politics but about values.
I am going to start with racism. Injustice in the form of racism is a hard no for me. When I hear it, I can feel the heat rise up and take over my body. I get red hot mad. The idea there are those among us who think they are better than others simply because of the color of their skin, is so offensive to me that I feel lost to find a strong enough word. Wrong. It is just so wrong. Every fiber of my being knows this. I cannot keep silent about injustice. I feel complacent if I do. I understand racism and injustice exist but in 2016 I truly did not think we had enough people who would support a leader who was blatantly racist. I do not believe everyone who voted for Donald Trump is a racist- or at least they do not think they are. I know people who made this decision. They are good people and many voted for him in spite of his racism (and sexism, and xenophobia but I will get to that), not because of it.
I do know Donald Trump is racist. He was open about it and did nothing to hide this side of himself- it was a theme of his campaign and has been a theme throughout his life. It appears he learned this from his father. His racist statements, and tone repulsed many, and tragically, it galvanized people too- those voters did not overlook his racism, they were inspired by it. We don’t know how many, but it is beyond disturbing to me that there are any. It makes me feel physically ill. Make no mistake that is what he meant about being less “politically correct”, and people loving his “truth telling”. He was arrogant enough to believe he had the right to say whatever he wanted about his beliefs about groups of people that he believes are a threat to our Country and collectively we emboldened him and others that feel that same way. They feel empowered by that freedom to speak the “truth”, and in doing so we validated those beliefs. No longer are we able to say, a leader who is brazenly racist can NOT be President of the Unites States. There is a lesson in that. A hard one.
People have been open about the reason he got their vote. This is what David Duke, former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan said on November 18, 2016. “David Duke has expressed his approval of President-Elect Donald Trump’s recent cabinet appointments, saying they are examples of white people taking back their government.” OH MY GOD-typing that made that so disturbingly real. Calling people racist does not help them become less racist, but pretending it doesn’t exist will not make it go away. Complacency to an injustice does in fact help the injustice continue.
The truth is, for over 60 million Americans blatant racism was not a hard no, it wasn’t a deal breaker for the candidate who got their vote. One of my favorite people, Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” We had plenty of time to make a different decision, and there were many other candidates without these views to choose from.
His racism started on the first day of his campaign. When he said that Mexicans were rapists, and criminals, and almost as an after-thought- “and I assume some are good people,” many in the public and the media couldn’t believe it. They thought there is no way someone running for President of the United States in the country that was founded on the ideals of liberty and freedom could say that and get away with it.
The fact checkers went crazy and published many articles refuting his claims. This is one of six studies reported by the Washington Post that disputed this information. “Foreign-born individuals exhibit remarkably low levels of involvement in crime across their life course.” (Bianca Bersani, University of Massachusetts, 2014. Published in Justice Quarterly.) But it didn’t matter. Donald Trump denied the facts, attacked the reporters for daring to question him, and doubled down and people started responding to this message, yelling “BUILD THE WALL!” at rallies all across our nation. This is when the hurt in my heart started.
For me, the hurt is because I don’t think about Mexicans as a group of people, or statistics in a study. I picture a person, just like me, watching T.V., and hearing a candidate for President of the United States make the claim I am rare if I am a good person because of my heritage and my skin color. That must be so unbelievably painful. I would want to scream, “I’m not a rapist, I’m not a criminal,” But that does no good because no one is listening. This has exposed an ugliness that many of us thought was on the fringes of society. Our laws make it illegal to place a sign outside your restaurant that says, “No Blacks Allowed”, but clearly not enough hearts and minds have been changed.
This is a MAJOR lesson. We cannot ignore this collective wound. I have told people hundreds of time at work, if someone is unwilling to admit they have an issue or an undesirable trait there is no way to change it or to heal it. There is a reason the first step to any addiction program is to stand up and speak the truth out loud. Every American should stand up and say, “My name is Carli Lindemann and I live in a country where racism is still a problem.” Without truth, there is no healing. This is likely the blessing in this.
One of the first times I was introduced to the idea that people with black or brown skin bear the burden of the sins of their race in a way that white people don’t was when I was in college at St. Cloud State University. I worked at the University Book Store with a boy named Milton. He was an awkward kid who wore khaki pants above his waste, and big thick glasses and had moved to Minnesota from California. He had a bit of a lisp and seemed like a very intelligent kid who had never experienced hanging with the cool kids. I liked kids like Milton. As someone who feels the pain of others, I have always been drawn to people I perceive as someone who just needs a friend. Milton and I started visiting at work and I asked him why he moved to St. Cloud, Minnesota from California. And he told me. He no longer looked like the innocent, nerdy kid who needed a friend. I wished I had not asked the question. He told me in a very matter of fact way that he had researched the “whitest counties in the United States,” and had found Stearns County in St. Cloud, MN. I was so shocked. He asked me if I knew they called it, “White Cloud.” I did not know that and I was so sorry I now did.
My family had raised me to be accepting of others. I was very naïve that these beliefs still existed. He proceeded to tell me he was held up by gunpoint in California by a black person and had decided he would find the whitest place in America and move there. I was dumbfounded. I felt sick. I do not remember how I responded, but I knew enough to distance myself from him. He did not take the hint. I have always been a person that people over share with. I make a point of being friendly, and interested in people, which like any strength can be a weakness. I hear things I wish I didn’t hear. In any case, Milton thought I was a friend, and my avoiding him did not prevent him from continuing to share his ideas with me. He told me he had met a girl on the internet. This was in the early 1990’s before the internet was widely used. He told me she was a skinhead. This is the first time I understood the internet could be used to bring radical people together to validate their view of world. He was very committed to his beliefs. It shook me up and I wanted to ask him what he would have done had his attacker been a white person?
I am sure his experience was very scary but it always made me curious why that one encounter made him distrust all black people. How did one person’s bad behavior reflect on millions of people. I could not understand why he couldn’t hear how crazy that was. Racism has no logic.
Now we have a President-elect who makes the same argument. He told the horrific story of a girl killed by an illegal immigrant as a method to justify his position on deporting 11 million people. He is essentially saying the same thing as Milton. Because of the actions of one person, all illegal immigrants must bear the punishment. I think Donald Trump must know the story of Dillan Roof the white man who killed 9 African Americans after they welcomed them into their prayer group as good Christians would. Did anyone say, “well what do you expect from “The Whites,” which is what Donald calls minority groups. White men do not have to carry the burden of that horrific crime. Did any white man feel responsible for it or worried they may need to be registered? As Donald Trump Jr. said, “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.” Lets use that logic with white men. Quite frankly, all men are like skittles too. Over 90% of all violent crimes are committed by men. If we really want to be safe, we’d institute a male ban. I do not understand it?
When I left for college, my Mom had me read a biography about Ted Bundy, one of the worst serial killers in American history (a white male described as handsome and charming by some). It was terrifying. I grew up in a small town and she wanted me to know there were people in the world who could not be trusted. It worked. That book terrified me and I slept with a knife under my bed for a few weeks. What I learned is evil people and deeds come in all colors and for some reason white people do not have to carry the burden of that pain. I do not understand why this isn’t obvious to everyone.
When Barack Obama was elected President, I still remember the declarations of, “racism is dead.” There should be “no more excuses” from anyone of color because we elected a black person as President of the United States. That was a major milestone in our pursuit of justice, but I don’t know if there is anyone in America who can honestly make that claim now. We still have a lot of work to do. I am paying attention to the lessons. I believe Martin Luther King when he says unconditional love will have the final word. I intend to do my part by not being complacent in the face of racism. I will use my voice to speak up and just maybe, just maybe my heart can hurt a bit less.
How will you do your part to speak up in the face of injustice?