I have known only a few African Americans in my life. All of them have been bright. Some of them were funny and a few of them prickly. They added to my joy and I’m sorry to say, they have all drifted away. The glue necessary to hold us together, something beyond respect, was missing. I suspect it was trust. I say this because, via the grapevine, I learned an African American friend once complained I’d been guilty of a racial slur. When I asked what it was, I was met by a wall of silence. Apparently, I couldn’t be trusted to understand.
I admit, I don’t see the world through the lens of a black person. I don’t have a visceral response to the police, for example. Though I was raised as a Latin and suffered prejudice as a child, I escaped discrimination once I’d left home. My origins weren’t tattooed on my skin or detectable by an accent. I live as a white American and no doubt I have made more than one thoughtless remark in my life. But, without someone to correct me, how will I know? With silence, all I sense is the disconnect.
I admit, too, we live in at a time when a Supreme Court Justice feels comfortable with his suggestion that black students might do best in second tier colleges; and a candidate for President of the United States proposes that government track American Muslims. In this climate trust is bound to be scarce.
Recently, someone wrote to ask if I thought Donald Trump could ever be president. My answer was, “no.” I trust the basic decency of the average American. In today’s polls, disappointing thought they may be, people are venting their frustration with gridlocked government, with economic inequality, and with a decaying educational system. Venting rage is not voting. Voters will come to their senses and find their hearts on election day.
Am I guilty of wishful thinking? Again, no. If someone wants to believe in polls, believe this one: “…the number of Republican voters who support Donald Trump represents just 6%- 8% of the overall electorate. That’s roughly the same number of Americans who believe that the Apollo moon landing was faked.” (“Reality Check,” by Nate Silver, The Week, December 4, 2015, pg. 8.)
Rifts exist in our society to be sure. I wish I knew how to rebuild trust once it is lost. Admitting I’m part of the problem might help. Being willing to listen is another. When the campaign is over and the votes are counted, we the people can do more for our country than any newly elected politician. Let us resolve to listen to one another. Showing patience with ideas that are foreign doesn’t mean we are obliged to agree. It means we are open to dialogue. When we talk to one another, we find the good in us.