Who Are You, America?

I couldn’t vote in this election, but I cared about its outcome. My daughter and I stayed up late, watching as much of the United States turned red, and the country expressed its support for a man openly contemptuous of the ideals and principles we hold dear. We had a stake in this race, not because of our status as permanent residents with pending citizenship applications, but because we care about the freedom of people to be who they are, to come from where they do, and to live in a place that honors diversity. I raised my child in a framework of empathy and compassion, to be a mensch, and she has grown into a lovely young woman who holds to her own standards of integrity and grace.

I come from South Africa. I was born during apartheid and grew up under its thumb. Although I am white, that regime didn’t make me feel safer, more protected, or superior. I witnessed the savage abuse and excess of an inhumane government solely focused on oppression, surveillance, and the soulless enrichment of a small, elite section of the population. But the government didn’t act alone. It found support in secret places and out in the open, in the people who stood by and those who gleefully participated and benefited. A deep and abiding sense of shame streaks through my veins like the scars of a virus long gone. Through it all, guided by a father who believed strongly in the type of ideals expressed by Bernie Sanders, I tried to be the best human being I could be.

Social media reports that school bullies and white supremacists have been emboldened by America’s next president. I don’t have words to express how fearful I am for minority groups where identity is circumscribed by race, nationality, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or species. And while I’m bewildered by the hate speech and divisive rhetoric, I can’t say it isn’t familiar to me. I’ve heard it before. I know where it leads and what it looks like.

I still believe that forward momentum resides in how we pull together. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’, and in the words of Ramana Maharshi, “There are no others.” My daughter and I will continue to seek convergence, intersection, community. Common ground that eschews separation and division, whatever its source, whatever its nature.

I hope enough of us continue to do the same.





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