I opened up my Facebook this week and was confronted with two posts that I thought said a lot about where we are as Americans today. The first post in my timeline was someone quoting a tweet by Iowa Congressman Steve King. Mr. King’s uplifting message of the day was this: “Diversity is not our strength.” He then appears to quote the Hungarian Prime Minster saying, “Mixing cultures will not lead to a higher quality of life but a lower one.” So basically Mr. King is reminding us that he’s a racist. To his credit, he’s a racist who continually gets elected to congress by the fine people of Northwest Iowa.
The next post in my Facebook feed was from a young woman named Lindsay Fredrickson. In the interest of full disclosure, Lindsay was a former student of mine. Lindsay’s post was drawing attention to her work collecting instruments and donations for the Chicago Arts Project. Lindsay has chosen to dedicate her considerable talent and energy to putting instruments and music education in the hands and hearts of young people who are seriously at-risk (https://www.facebook.com/chicagoartsproject/). Lindsay is part of a movement known as El Sistema (that name right there has Steve King puckering up) where young people achieve life goals through the rewards of musical instruction.
In that moment of looking at a hateful post by a guy who keeps a confederate flag on his desk and looking at a post from a fantastic musician trying to uplift young children in one of our nation’s most challenged cities, I realized that I was looking at a microcosm of the tribalism that has overtaken our country. Mr. King, and those who support him, would happily deport the young people who Ms. Fredrickson works with. Mr. King’s message is that mixing cultures will lead to a lower quality of life (presumably for those of us whose skin tone most resembles his own). Mr. King would seem to discourage Ms. Fredrickson from working with the young men and women of color that she has chosen to champion.
On the other hand Lindsay is looking for help from her friends, neighbors, and family in order to provide a positive experience for young people in community. Her answer to the diverse faces that she works with is to provide them with instruments, and music, and learning, and joy. Lindsay’s message is that we have much to learn from one another as we purse success.
I have no idea what Lindsay’s politics are. I frankly don’t care. Lindsay wants to be part of the solution to the challenges that Chicago faces. She wants to roll up her sleeves and provide a place where young people of any color and background can be welcomed. She wants kids of different races to learn to make music together in order to learn about beauty, to learn about excellence, and to learn about each other.
Mr. King wants to scare white people. That’s really it. He’s trying to convince his constituents to be afraid of people who don’t look like him. He’s pretty good at it. He’s convinced the nice people of Northwest Iowa that diversity is not a strength. Mr. King is on record as saying that he can’t find “contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about, where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization (than white people).” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/07/20/historian-reacts-to-that-weird-thing-rep-steve-king-said-about-whites-and-sub-groups/?utm_term=.0040d6ed7da2) Yeah, he said that. He called other races “subgroups”. He got elected after that as well. Mr. King’s only success has come from scaring white people into believing that diversity will lead to a lower quality of life. Sad.
The good news is that there is another choice. My former student Lindsay is that other choice. Lindsay is embracing the diversity of her community and helping it to flourish. Lindsay is not looking at the challenges of our rapidly changing nation by telling those who don’t look like her to get out. She is looking at our rapidly changing nation and embracing it. She is going to foster collaboration, work-ethic, dedication, and joy to a group of young people who need those lessons. What is more American than that?
You’ve got a choice, go all in on Steve King and his politics of division, or you can go all in on Lindsay Fredrickson, a young woman from Iowa who moved to Chicago to work with the diverse young people who make up that proud city. If you’re all in on Steve King, that’s on you. The idea that this science-denying racist hack can get elected in my home state makes me sick to my stomach. But, if you’re all in on young people like Lindsay Fredrickson, then there is hope. Lindsay is special, but so are my former students who are doctors, nurses, ministers, professional musicians, teachers (oh yes…I love my students who become teachers), police officers, join the military and so much more. There is hope. I encourage you to go all in on young women like Lindsay. They are going to change the world. Guys like Steve King are eventually going to fade into the woodwork as they do all they can to pull us back into 1932..or 1859...or whenever he thought America was great for people who look like him.
History won’t look kindly on Mr. King, I’m sure of it. What really matters is how history looks on all of the rest of us. If we don’t stare evil straight in the eye and call it out for what it is, history will remember (more importantly my son will remember). But, if we celebrate young people making a difference in our changing world, we will do OK in the eyes of history. Lindsay Fredrickson is changing the world and I want to be on her team!