Last week an old friend of mine wrote another in a long string of posts exulting over the Trump presidency, commenting in a tone nothing short of gloating that this was a great day for America, and promising to delete any comments to the contrary. Someone else chose to ignore his warning and commented on Trump’s racism, expressing her inability to support anyone or anything that carried hateful and bigoted undertones. Her comments were met with disbelief, complete incredulity about how anyone could ever think Trump was a racist. “I ask people all the time why they think he’s racist and no one can ever give me an answer,” one read. My heart started pounding as the anger and adrenaline that precedes a fight welled within my chest. I am not a person of extreme emotions; my dry sense of humor yields some entertaining and sarcastic rants, but very rarely am I actually angry, or devastated, or joyful. But this – this hatred towards others, this forgetting that people are people, that they are real with feelings and histories and stories and reasons for being the way they are and doing the things they do – this I cannot tolerate. And I have no place in my heart for those who look the other way.
My fingers shook as I typed “racist comments by Trump” into Google and clicked on the third hit, a Huffington Post article titled, “Here are 15 Examples of Trump Being Racist.” The subtitle, “He claims to have ‘a great relationship with the blacks,’ which is totally something a normal person would say,” gave me a chuckle, and I quickly perused the article to make sure it wasn’t complete nonsense. And it wasn’t; opinionated, yes, but factually correct.
And then I did something I’ve never done before, and that I thought I would never do: I posted something political on Facebook. “If you really want to know why people think that, here. If you don’t actually want an answer, then feel free to not read it.” I wondered if my dog could hear my heartbeat from across the room when I hit enter and displayed my views to the world. I stared at it for a few seconds, wondered who would see it, if anyone would read the link I attached . . . and deleted it. This is not the place, this person I used to know and the people I’ve never met who joined in this conversation are not worth this instigation. It won’t make a difference anyway, I thought.
My heart settled back into a regular and quiet rhythm as I continued to scroll through my feed. A post from my mom appeared:
This, I realized. This is what I feel, what gnaws at me, what I wanted to communicate with my deleted comment. I know quite well that I’m not going to convince anyone of anything with a Huffington Post link, and while I have my beliefs about politics, I welcome disagreement and healthy debate about them. What I do not welcome, what I cannot welcome – or even tolerate – is the lack of empathy, the utter fear of those who are different from them, a fear that drives us to hurt and even destroy our fellow human beings.
I have traveled through much of the world, met so many who are different from me, talked to people motivated by things I cannot even fathom. I have shared a dorm room with a gay girl, enjoyed meals with Muslims, played soccer with Mexican children whose parents could hardly afford a pair of shoes, much less a house made of something other than sheets of tin. My mother-in-law is an immigrant and my brother is a recovering addict. I have seen and felt and tasted my own pain and I cannot help but look at the other people in the world, those who don’t look or act like me, and think that their lives, in the end, can’t be much different than mine. They still smile, they still cry, and I may not understand their language or their religion but what I do understand is that they are people, and that what they need from me, what we all need from each other, is compassion. We need to look at each other and see not a Jew, not a transgender, not a Wall Street tycoon or homeless woman, but a person, a person with a story and a heart that breaks when we turn our hate towards her. We need to cry when she cries, because she is human as much as we are human. We need to stop, for just one moment, and place ourselves not across from her, but inside of her, and see the things she sees, hear the things she hears. If we can do that, if we allow ourselves some real, genuine empathy, the whole world will change. And it will stop being ugly.