I am not a white working-class middle-aged male. I am an older, well-educated female – whose father was working class, and grandfather a poor Italian immigrant.
The next President promised to unify the country. Is he shifting his stance? His first top advisers have long histories of racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia. He must forbid his Administration and his followers from using hate-speech. But to truly unify the country, he must adopt policies that materially benefit the lives of all Americans, where opportunities for education, jobs, health, housing, and community safety are fairly available to all.
I also believe that Americans, like me, who have been disappointed by the campaign, have a responsibility to find ways to first, listen to the white “Other” who feels forgotten, and do the same with people of color, who have long been disappointed by elections and their aftermath. They too have struggled for good, living-wage jobs, for access to education, health care, decent housing, and healthy communities – just as their white counterparts have been experiencing in recent decades.
I now think it’s not enough to recognize the facts of disparate incomes and unequal opportunities. I think we must actively look for what we all have in common, to listen to each other, to feel the pain, the resentments, the hopelessness of those who struggle in order to propel us to act together. Together we can enact changes that are fairer than what exists: fair to every person. This is not only consistent with what we like to think we are as a nation, but also because it’s a matter of the survival of our democracy.
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We cannot afford to see each other as stereotypes, to think in terms of winner-take-all, no holds barred politics and policy. If you get some of what you want and I get some of what I want, we both win, our children win, our democracy wins.
This means civil talk, compromise, and incremental gains for all our communities. It means mutual respect and concern, providing for those who cannot provide enough for themselves, whether it’s the former coal miner or African-American factory worker, the undocumented student, the white single mother, the disabled vet or mentally limited person, the trans-man or aging woman.
On a personal level, we can learn to understand the situation of “Others” by perhaps inviting one of their families to our supper table. Whom do you know who may be under- or unemployed or otherwise hurting? What is their life like? Someone from work or college, or that your kids know from school? We may find that conversations will open an adventure into America for all involved.
We can also join the advocacy organizations that try to represent the interests of those who are not at the political table, and support them with our time and money, with our pens and computers and phones.
We all need to face the fact that we are rapidly becoming a country of majority minorities; we whites are becoming one of those minorities. The change is inexorable. We should learn to see how rich a culture this could be – our youth already see this. We could have a true flowering of our country, making us stronger – if we all helped each other attain a decent standard of living in secure communities.
Let this election be a wake-up call to work for unity and understanding not a call to arms. Our leaders including Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, and state lawmakers should use their voices and votes to promote fairness and equity for all their constituents.
Nancy Milio lives in Chapel Hill.