A Bahamian student stopped me in the hallway on Wednesday morning, just hours after the election results came in. “My dad called and asked if I should come home.” I teach at a small Christian university in central Indiana, a place where they should feel safe. Similar accounts from other international students clearly communicated uncertainty and insecurity.
“Should I go home?” Wow! For many of my international students, they seemed surprised at this fear. “I didn’t know people felt that way about me, particularly people in the church.” Since these students are all here legally, the fear was not about deportation, but how they would be treated by others.
In Facebook posts from friends across the country (admittedly a progressive lot of faculty members, researchers and former graduate students, including many people of color, sexual minorities, and activists), their realization of differentness struck me profoundly but not unexpectedly.
“Is this what people think?” I asked myself. I even said that I feel like an alien (someone from another planet, not a person from another country). For many of my friends, the election of Donald Trump did not create divisions in our society as much as they exhibited them for all to see. In big bold letters one friend wrote: “America has spoken. I see you. I really see you now.” Formerly secret views were yanked out into the open. A chorus of chest-thumping celebrants and resigned citizens urges people to “get over it” or “accept the will of the people.” But, may I suggest, the election results are the lesser problem. Perhaps the real problem is that we live in a society that is blind and deaf to the lives, pain and sufferings of others.
It seems to me that the post-election angst is not related to differences between Republicans and Democrats. Nor is it merely a fear of what President-elect Trump might do. Much of the damage has already been done. The genie is out of the bottle. People have been emboldened to freely express their bigotry, feeling validated by none other than the elected Commander in Chief. Anyone who fits in one of the categories of people disrespected and denigrated by Trump—as well as their family, friends, and associates—cannot help but feel invisible, or worse yet, unimportant in the broader scheme of things. After all, how could those who voted for him, even those that did so reluctantly, ignore the feelings and experiences of so many—unless they just had no clue.
But this is just part of the story. There are others who feel invisible and unimportant. Why are so many feeling disenfranchised, that the nation has ignored their pain and frustration? While much was said about the middle class, next to nothing was said about the poor in this election. Somehow Donald Trump connected with many in this group. While I was born and raised in the Midwest, most of my adult life has been on the East Coast and the South. And, for 30 years my work has focused on African American and Latino communities. Being in central Indiana for the past 3 ½ years has helped me to understand that many in this part of the country feel ignored and are angry. Some of them were convinced by the rhetoric of the campaign that their misfortune should be blamed on “the other” (people who are different and undeserving). For people working low-wage jobs, living in homes they don’t own and living in conditions they do not like, or drinking water laced with lead—where is the line between poor and middle class? If you feel poor, but only hear concern for the middle class, what are you to think?
Finally, we ought to realize once and for all that moral leadership will not come from our elected officials. Calls for unity after a destructively divisive campaign are hollow and cynical. Healing will not take place by executive fiat. Loving one another seems like a pipe dream when we cannot even understand one another. Completely separate from political leaders, we need conversations in our homes, schools, neighborhoods, businesses, churches and taverns, in which we identify the concerns of the forgotten, ignored and invisible.
Then we must join together to demand better from our elected officials, the so-called “public servants.”
Robert E. Aronson, DrPH, MPH is Associate Professor and Director of Public Health at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. He oversees the undergraduate major and minor in Public Health.
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