I Learned Tolerance From A Minority in A Gun Shop

A few bits of business before I start:

  • I don’t care who you voted for.  This is not an anti-Trump blog
  • I am buying a gun.  I hope I don’t have to use it, but I plan to be prepared.
  • I, and my son,  are taking fire arm safety classes
  • I am afraid of the anger.  On both sides.  Where do we go with all of this anger?

Today, 3 days after the election,  I found myself in a gun shop/academy with a lovely, highly educated black woman.  She was in tears.  She said she had never before considered purchasing a gun.   She lives in the city, raised her children in the city, and taught them the rules of safety for a black person in the city.   She taught them to get off the train if it was filled with rowdy teens.  She drilled into them the need to be alert at all times, respectful of police and wary of gangs.  She pointed out which areas to avoid and where not to be after dark.  She thought she had her bases covered.  Now though, she is terrified.  Now she is buying a gun, learning how to use it, and upping the alarms and safety features in her home, none of which she ever thought about before.

As we talked she told me about the gym she belongs to.  It is rather exclusive as it costs $100/month to be a member and, because it boarders the city, it is diverse.  The day before, she walked into spin class, which is run by a beloved black male teacher.  Despite her attempt to stop him he said “let’s talk about the elephant in the room”.  In a room of about 20 people only 4 reacted.  Those that reacted did so with tears.  She said it was clear the others had voted for Trump.

Since she is buying a gun she is clearly afraid.  Yet it was she who said she empathized with many who voted for him.  Here is how she explained it:

100 years ago we were a manufacturing society.  It was possible for men to get a decent factory job without a college education.  The wages were high enough that he could have a stay-at- home wife, a house and a car.  They could raise their children in a truely middle class environment.  In addition, they could watch their children go on to achieve even more than they had.  They were living the american dream.  Furthermore, they lived the american dream is lovely little towns that became home.  Towns that were home to their parents, their grandparents and, if all went as planned, their children.

All of that has changed.  Factories have moved overseas.  These lovely small towns are dying and have been for decades.  Now, the people who counted on a decent life for them and their children are left no option but to take service jobs.  Service jobs pay minimum wage, and offer little in the way of benefits.  These people, who assumed that their life would always be better than those before them, are living the opposite.  To get a decent paying job they have to take out huge student loans for a college education, which still isn’t a guarantee of a decent job.  Without the college education though, they are, for the most part, left little options other than service jobs.  These couples,  who were raised by stay-at-home moms, are now having to both work to keep food on the table.  Many of them are working two jobs to keep food on the table because the simple reality is this:  service jobs don’t pay well.   From their perspective the american dream is gone, and they are angry about it.  Heck, I am too!

Gosh I hope this doesn’t sound offensive, and the only excuse I can fall back on if it does is that this lovely black woman said it, not me.  She said the people in her community are used to that lifestyle.  For the most part they have always had service jobs.  They are used to struggling to get by on minimum wage, holding down 2 jobs, living in a house in which everyone goes to work.  There is little reason for them to have an increase in anger because this is their life, nothing has changed.

So, what happens when people get angry?  What happens when that anger starts to boil over?  They look for someone to blame.  (Brene Brown has a great youtube clip about this (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZWf2_2L2v8).)

My wise teacher went on to say this:  Those middle class people need someone to blame, and who better to blame than the minorities?  After all, the minorities have taken over “their country”, stolen “their jobs” and ruined the american dream.   These people who used to be guaranteed a good paying job and a decent future are fighting with minorities over jobs that provide little more than a substandard existence.

My new friend ended by saying this is where her empathy ends.  While she will remain empathetic on an intellectual level, she will not be a sitting duck for misplaced anger, she will protect herself.   As a member of 2 marginalized groups she now fears for her life.

The day after the election I was working at my yoga studio, but came in late.  The owner said to me “get ready, it’s going to be a long day”.  Apparently the studio clown, the infectious optimist,  the one who was never, ever down, came in crying.    After class we talked for a while.  She told us about her trip to Chinatown the previous weekend.  She had been confused because so many of the immigrants were wearing Trump tees, so she asked them what their thought process was.  The answer is brilliantly simple:  Our system is broken.  It has been broken for some time, and it continues to get worse.  With Hillary we were guaranteed 4 more years of the same broken system.  With Trump we have the opportunity to burn it all down to the ground and start over.

This sounds crazy to me but, at the same time, I get it.  I understand feeling so despondent that the only action you can think to take is to throw everything away and start over.  Heck, I’ve felt that way more often than I can begin to count going through my divorce and managing my illnesses.  Quite frankly, if I did not have family to talk me out of it, I would have self-destructed, simply to get this over with.  Implosion has often seemed my only  option.

This is why I felt compelled to write this:  when I am honest with myself I must admit I am angry.  I have been feeling anger towards the people who voted for Trump.  I’ve been feeling angry, scared and extremely judgmental.  Now though, I get it.  I understand what drove many to vote as they did.  I understand why so many in our country feel the only option is to burn us down to the ground and start over.   I can see that in many minds there is no salvation under the status quo.  The only chance we have as a nation is to rise from the ashes of change.

I’m still scared.  I’m still worried about what this will look like for my son and I, and all the other people I love.  I still wish we could fix this some other way.

Even with all of those feelings though, I no longer feel anger, and that has to be the first step, right?   In the end, the only way to drive out hate is to fill it with love, and I feel ready to resonate love for all: those that share my experience and beliefs and those who don’t.

I get it.  I hope.

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