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My Turn

by Dmae Roberts


From The Asian Reporter, V26, #22 (November 21, 2016), pages 6 & 7.

What we can do

Iím part of the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation. Iíve fought to eradicate racism, sexism, bigotry, and discrimination for decades. I believe in womenís reproductive rights and the rights of people with disabilities. After this election season, I wonder if the social reforms of my generation may be dismantled.

I wonít lie. Iíve gone through the five stages of post-election grief. I continue to converse with shocked friends on Facebook. People of color, immigrants, refugees, Muslims, and members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community are experiencing fear, yet they arenít as stunned as my white friends. I guess the outcome of the election wasnít as shocking to marginalized people who endure a lot of oppression and intolerance.

The election was one of the most polarizing in American history. According to post-election statistics, rural, white voters without a college education, including about 53 percent of women, turned out in high numbers to vote for Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, which seemingly was unexpected. Apparently journalists somehow didnít cover, and pollsters missed, the class differences the election revealed. In many ways, the results also showed the dissatisfaction Americans feel about the two-party system and the Electoral College. If Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had won, I think we would have seen the same outrage and protests that have taken place in major cities across the nation, including in Portland.

While I donít agree with the vandalism and violence that has occurred in some cases, for the most part post-election protests have been peaceful. There were some people who wanted to cause havoc, and it only takes a few bad eggs to disrupt a legitimate and peaceful expression of the First Amendment and its accompanying positive message.

After we elected a biracial African-American president, I thought we were making progress. I for one benefitted from Obamacare and a return to a time when race and culture issues could be openly discussed. Funding for the arts and public media, which had seen cuts during the Bush administration, seemed to receive greater support. President Obama didnít make everyone happy ó no president can ó but he reduced unemployment, expanded hate-crime protections, appointed the most diverse cabinet in history, created job growth, and improved conditions for women, people of color, and those in the LGBTQ community. He accomplished much more, but it would take too long to include all of them in this column. Whatever party affiliation you may or may not have, one could agree President Obama has been a hardworking and caring president.

Electoral College

Perhaps the biggest issue in this election is the Electoral College. For the fifth time in the voting history of the U.S. ó and the second time in 16 years ó a presidential candidate has won the White House despite losing the popular vote. Electoral-popular vote mismatches in the past took place in 1824 (when John Quincy Adams became president over Andrew Jackson), 1876 (when Rutherford B. Hayes took the presidency over Samuel Tilden), 1888 (when Benjamin Harrison won the office over Grover Cleveland), and 2000 (when Al Gore lost the election to George W. Bush).

Perhaps the dissatisfaction and polarization during the election exposed the need to do more reform not only on the electoral process, but the Electoral College itself, a system with a connection to slavery. James Madison proposed the system in 1787 so states with smaller populations, particularly in the South, had more representation by counting slaves as "three-fifths of a person," according to some constitutional scholars.

Efforts to try to change future election results determined by the Electoral College, such as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, have received renewed energy.

Difficult conversations

I take comfort from a recent conversation I had with Jo Ann Hardesty, president of the Portland branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She told me she often talks with people who are not like-minded and routinely participates in difficult conversations. According to her, social change only happens in the uncomfortable spaces of differing views. In order to become comfortable and move forward, we have to listen and learn.

Hardesty does training in interrupting what she calls "oppressive language." What I discussed with her will help me be able to have honest conversations with people whom I disagree.

"First breathe, then state what it was you didnít like," she said. "State what you need from the person who said it, and then give them an opportunity to reflect and come back if theyíd like." Hardesty said this allows people to know right away you werenít comfortable with their statement, the reason why, and what is asked of them. If it does not work the first time, try again.

Hardesty believes most people want to do better, but they are still learning about and unlearning the racism and bigotry they were brought up with and what theyíve seen and experienced. There will be plenty of opportunities to practice this, as there have been many instances after the 2016 election of people who have become what Hardesty calls "emboldened" to direct their racism at people of color, Muslims, and members of the LGBTQ community.

For me, itís more important than ever to unify with other marginalized groups and to have honest conversations with those who have different views. Itís going to be a struggle, as it always is when change is at stake. Our country is far from perfect, but I still believe America can be a hate-free place where people are able to find equality and opportunity.

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