Dr. Rupert Lacoste | Guest Columnist
After the election results showed that Mr. Donald Trump won our presidential election, I started to get emails. One of them said:
“Dr. Nacoste, I am reaching out to you because I am confused and overwhelmed by this election. How did we get to this? How have bigotry and hatred prevailed? What does this mean for every minority in this country?”
On Facebook, I found myself being tagged in commentaries filled with questions: “What can I tell my daughter? The democratic process has unfolded. And yet we don’t feel safe.” Another, from a former student (a Muslim woman) who wrote: “I’m actually scared to leave the house tomorrow, on a real note…”
In the hallways of Poe Hall I was doing “walk-by” counseling: responding to questions, feelings of dismay and helplessness. And that was just the faculty.
How have I been responding to all these emotions? I say this:
“I have seen worse.” I make that statement and a few people gasp, wondering, I guess, what I could have seen that was worse. So without being asked, I explain.
“I grew up in the Jim Crow South. I, a dark-skinned black man, grew up in the Jim-Crow South of legal racial segregation: a fully American, societal system that said that I and people with my skin color were not human. I grew up in an America that created, accepted and enforced that Jim Crow legal racial segregation, that accepted and enforced that way of thinking about and interacting with black people. But…we fought and destroyed that system of laws.”
Today many are confused because despite what you have been told, bringing down the walls of that system did not erase all of the attached psychology of prejudice. In creating and teaching my “Interdependence and Race” course, for ten years I have been warning students about assuming that all bigotry in America had been eradicated by the 1970s. In my general writings, in my presentations, I have been warning America about taking that for granted. I have been describing the hibernating bigotry that still lives and breathes in some (not all) in America, that bigotry that sleeps until the right stimulus wakes it up.
Presidential candidate Donald Trump has awakened that once sleeping, hibernating bigotry. Evidence of that awakening is clear in the sudden, dramatic increase in anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-homosexual graffiti; the next days after the election saw a sudden increase in the waving of the Confederate battle flag all over America.
Now many are seeing and realizing that there is leftover psychology from the days of Jim Crow. Now it is clear that we have more work left than many thought we had to do; more work that too many didn’t expect.
But in the 2016 Presidential election there was more going on than bigotry. There was economic distress. There were feelings of social isolation. There was fatigue with and distrust of all things connected to Washington politics, career politicians, lobbyists, and the national media. There was anxiety about our growing neo-diversity; not necessarily hate, but anxiety and uncertainty about what that means for people’s everyday lives.
Mr. Trump crafted a message that tapped into all of that. But since it was that complex, we must accept that not all those who voted for Mr. Trump voted to support his bigotry. It’s just not that simple.
Let’s not demonize people who voted for Mr. Trump; let’s not demonize the American political process. Let’s not waste time and energy engaging in the same kind of bigotry we are trying to denounce. Let’s respect each other and get to work.
America is not done. We ARE NOT going to hell in a handbasket. True, we are in the basket, but we can stand up, reach up and then climb out. As my father, Mr. Ogeese always said: “The only way to keep a man in a ditch is to stand there over him.” The only way to keep us in this basket is for those so motivated to stay very close by and do nothing but watch us, and for us to let that intimidate us.
We’ve got some difficult days ahead. Feel your emotions. If you feel hurt, do not deny that you are hurt. Talk to likeminded people. Then reach out to any person in your social circles who is willing to have a civil conversation about how we can work to reclaim the soul of America. Lots of emotion is good if it becomes your signal to get to work, to focus that emotion into strategies to reinvigorate the true soul of America: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal…”
Let’s focus our emotions. In our neo-diverse America, let’s start developing new strategies to address the new situation of America. With all the trauma of violence in the summer of 2016, something amazing started to happen. Dr. Tim Tyson wrote to tell me that the work of the Moral Monday movement was spreading so much that there has been an increase in white-Americans joining the NAACP. In fact he told me that in the mountains of NC, the new Yancey-Mitchell County NAACP, is the only all-white NAACP chapter in America.
Let’s focus our emotions. Let’s start building new neo-diverse coalitions and alliances to fight all forms of bigotry in America to work toward our goal of “…a more perfect union.”
Let’s get the hell out of this basket.
Dr. Nacoste is Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor of Psychology and the author of “Taking on Diversity: How We Can Move From Anxiety to Respect” (Prometheus Books, 2015).