I sit down to write this post because I feel compelled to, which is perhaps the only reason anyone should write anything. (At least it would certainly rid the Internet of fake news and nonsense click-bait, don’tcha think?)
But that’s just me stalling. I don’t want to write this post at all. But since there is not a single topic that seemed more compelling than this one, I am going to have to write what I don’t want to write but what I feel absolutely compelled to say anyway.
The only thing I ask in return for this free content is that you read it openly and honestly, as I will try to write it, without using it to feed your fat ego or inflate your very human (and therefore very understandable) sense of superiority.
Heaven knows I have one.
So. Here it is.
I am horrified. Shocked. Appalled. At the U.S. election, yes, but also at myself.
I hope you’re a reasonable sort of person and don’t need me to explain why the election results have so saddened, angered, and terrified me. But I do need to explain why I’m so horrified at myself, and not just at the person headed for the White House.
A few months ago, I was sifting through my old journals. I’ve written in a journal ever since I was 13 years old. If you give me a day anytime after September 29, 1999, I can tell you where I was and what I was doing and maybe even what I ate or the grade I got on my AP U.S. History test (an A+ of course!).
Okay, so maybe that’s not super useful or interesting, but I was scanning through the pages looking for a specific day from the summer I turned 19 when I came across an entry that made my eyes bug out and my jaw drop.
OMG. I was a racist.
I had written some observation down of certain feelings I had felt while visiting a new place, and racism is the only way to describe what I said.
Sorry, I’m not going to tell you and your burning ears what I wrote. That sort of voyeurism would only serve to make you feel better about yourself without actually examining yourself. I confessed it out loud to my best friend over the phone and that was enough.
And the only reason I’m even mentioning it here, in such a public, un-erasable way on the Internet, is my vague hope that by bleeding honesty and tearing myself open to salty shame, that perhaps you will consider such a painful self-examination of your own.
When I was teaching in South Korea, I came across this quote, often attributed to Gandhi, for the very first time: Be the change you want to see in the world.
Of course, I’ve heard this so many times since then that it’s begun to lose its initial gut-punch effect and spiral into the dangerous waters of cliché, but its truth, I believe, remains frustratingly powerful. In order for the world to change, its individual members must change first.
As the election results came in, those who refused to vote for our now President-elect out of moral, humane, or rational reasons found themselves in tears on the couch (me!). And then the tirades began.
I went to a protest. I needed to tirade.
This is outrage! This is immoral! This is reversing progress, this is us turning into Nazi Germany, this is the demise of our country at the hands of a bigoted buffoon!
But three weeks later, what has been done and what has changed? There are people who didn’t see their families at Thanksgiving. Ties have been severed. Lots of people think lots less of other people, myself included.
A lot of us feel hopeless and powerless. What can we do? Calling our representatives to voice our opinions is, I hear, the best thing to do, but it still seems so futile. If our voice wasn’t heard at the polls, why would an already elected office bother to listen to our grievances?
But then, onto the field of my angrily exhausted mind, marches the voice of Gandhi followed by the horrifying memory of an 11-year old journal entry that I wrote. That I wrote. Not the bigoted buffoon.
And you may think you’re better than me because you’ve never been a racist, but that’s exactly what I’ve always told myself too. (I mean, my best friend in fourth grade was black so how could I be a racist, right?) Until a piece of my 19-year old brain smacked me in the face.
That is the danger of keeping a journal. Without even realizing it, without actually using a racial slur or writing the words “I am a racist,” your inner psychology will still, somehow, spill out. And stain the page with the ugly truth of yourself for years to come.
But maybe that is where my hope lies. An ugly mirror in which Dr. Jekyll can finally see Mr. Hyde lurking in the shadows.
So what will serve as your mirror?
If you think there’s no thread of racism in you, will you think again?
There will be no meaningful, positive change in the world without each one of us changing first. It’s the only thing we have any real power over.
If we don’t like what this person-who-got-elected is doing to the country, stirring up neo-Nazis and white supremacists and the KKK, let’s speak out against it – and then speak out against all strands of prejudice we feel emerging within ourselves: a stereotype spilling out of our mouths unchecked, some assumption we’ve never second guessed, a blond joke (hey, I’m blond, blond jokes aren’t funny).
I’m very careful in my journal these days of the things I say. Not because I fear future judgment for saying something un-PC (well, there’s a little bit of that) but because of what “saying something un-PC” says about what kind of person I am, what’s in my heart, what I believe in, and what I want to stand for.
I want to stand for the equal value of all human beings, from the unborn to the person on death row. So I must match my words and actions to that belief as best I can. And this blog post is my start of that.
So now it’s your turn to take a mirror and ask yourself, what will be my stand? And where will be my start?
Because it’s up to you to change the world.