Take a moment to examine the numbers saved on your cell phone and your friends on Facebook. Think of who you have invited to your home for dinner or would call in an emergency. If each of us really took time to do this, we would recognize that most of us are looking in a mirror. In doing this, we take a great leap towards understanding why we should not be surprised in what we have seen arise in the United States over the past few years. Certainly we should not be surprised in what we have seen in the Republican primary.
In this four part series, I reflect on myself as a person born and raised in Ohio and on our society in the United States. Based on these reflections and a review of official data, I will also put forth questions that are not being advanced by network news media (e.g. ABC, CBS, and NBC), questions that could have explained everything we have seen for the past eight months of Mr. Trump's campaign. Lastly I will address myths that have long been allowed to remain in place and that have been exploited by politicians long before Mr. Trump. Both the questions and myths will be presented in an effort help explain what is really going on with the Trump/Republican base but few wish to discuss. By doing this, it is hoped that we will understand the Trump/Republican base, and ourselves, more intimately than most of network news media (ABC, CBS, NBC), local news, schools, universities, and even ourselves have been willing to recognize and certainly not confront. But before we reach that discussion, I will first use my life and friendships as an example of how each of us might begin to truly reflect and understand what is going on in the United States and the role each of us have played.
Reflecting On Oneself
Like approximately half the United States population I grew up in an area of less than 25,000 citizens. My hometown, depending on whose definition of the line dividing the North and South you look at, may be considered a Northern City or a Southern City. The truth of the matter is that you see aspects of both, both good and bad. The town has a rich history of Underground Railroad stories and is where the final home of noted abolitionist Rev. John Rankin is located. Like so many towns in the United States the history of race issues run deep; whether we wish to recognize them or not. On one hand, it was one of the only school systems in the area that did not need to be desegregated, because it was never segregated. And yet, the city pool remained segregated up until the early 1950's. Blacks were only allowed to swim on Mondays. After the desegregation of the city pool many whites went elsewhere to swim. A few years after the desegregation of the city pool a new private pool was opened on the other end of town which required money and references in order to join.
I grew up in the 70s and 80s hearing the "N-Word" used and, on occasion, the section of town that was predominantly African American was referred to as "N***** Town." And yet, at the same time, I saw White and African American city workers go without pay to help bring the city out of debt and to make sure no one was laid off. They banded together to put on potluck dinners to make sure no one's family went without food. In the late 80s I can remember some citizens being upset because the high school prom was going to have what I believe was its first Black and White couple. I can remember a few incidences where a White student called a Black student the "N-Word" and fights ensued. And yet, I can remember football games and soccer games where a member of an opposing team referred to one of the African American players using the "N-Word" and the White players were the first to defend the player's honor.
In the past year I have seen an African American friend yelled at in my home area by a white man driving a pickup truck with a Confederate Flag flying on the back, telling this friend to "go back where they came from". I have also seen my home town elect its first female mayor; who just happens to be married to a man of African American decent. While one still sees remnants of racism and religious intolerance, one also sees a progression toward a future without such behavior. Therefore, to say the issue of race in my home area, like so many cities, towns, boroughs, villages and townships around the United States, is complex would be an understatement. In fact, to even suggest that the traits of racism and religious intolerance are isolated by geographical boundaries in the United States, such as North and South, is categorically untrue. Likewise, to say that racism and religious intolerance is only found within one race, religion, socioeconomic class, or level of education attainment is equally untrue. It has only been 62 years since Brown vs. Board of Education decision that resulted in the desegregation of schools. And it's only been fifty some years since Affirmative Action as we know it was implemented. So we should first recognize that this is an issue that touches each of us and it is still deeply engrained in our society. In the end it all comes down to us as individuals and our willingness to reflect on ourselves.
Growing up in a small Ohio rustbelt town on the Kentucky and West Virginia border, my exposure to people from other races, other national origins or Non-Christian faiths was virtually non-existent. It was not until the age of 17 when I entered Basic Training for the United States Army Reserve that I was first exposed to fellow soldiers of different races, different national origins and religious backgrounds. And although I was exposed in Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training, as a reservist I returned to my home area where I spent most of my service with soldiers that were, for the most part, White or African American and of the Christian faith.
I was raised in a Southern Baptist Church where I can remember only two persons of African American decent. While I had several African American friends, these relationships were mostly contained to classes and playing sports. Most of us did not hang out together that much outside of school and school activities. The racial breakdown in my high school occurred mostly between Whites and African Americans. I had between one and three classmates in the entire high school, depending on the year, identified as Asian American and one as Hispanic American. Many schools in the region had no African American students and most students from those schools had never met an African American person unless it was on a court or ballfield. Most certainly Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other non-Christian faiths were never brought up, including basic discussions of the differences and similarities between such faiths.
I had no non-White teachers during Kindergarten through 12th grade. In fact, I think there was only one African American teacher in the entire school system. I attended three different universities in three different states and it was not until I began to work on my Ph.D., in my thirties, that I had a minority professor. Even then, these professors were from Egypt and the Philippines. In short, after completing at least 22 years of education spanning three states, Kindergarten through Ph.D., I never had a teacher or professor from the two racial categories poised to represent the majority of the United States population by 2044, Hispanic and African American. Likewise, I never had a teacher or professor from the second largest religion in the world, Islam; a religion that is poised to become the largest religion in the world by 2070. As a college professor, I have taught at three additional universities, in three additional states, and I have only had four minority colleagues in over a decade of teaching. Three of these colleagues were of South Korean dissent and one was from India. I have never had an academic colleague in my departments of the Islamic faith.
My point is that a large portion of our society has no point of reference regarding people of other races or religions different from their own. Each of us are either reacting to and/or trying to understand, to varying degrees, the race riots and protests of the past few years in a virtual bubble. And as each of us navigate through the fog following the San Bernardino mass shooting, the Paris attacks and any future attacks it is important to ask how many of us have personal experience with or have reached out to truly understand the "other side;" whatever that side might be given our own race and religion.
In 1970 my parents asked an African American woman to be my Godmother; to say that was progressive for the time period would be an understatement. I was encouraged as early as age six or seven to seek out friends of different backgrounds. My Mother was a secretary and my Father, who we lost when I was in second grade, was a car salesman. Neither had graduated from college but they recognized the importance of seeing everyone as equals and to fight one's tendencies towards prejudices. I have come to realize how blessed I was to be raised by a single mother who encouraged me to seek out and explore different cultures. I was fortunate to be encouraged to not fear people that appeared different than I; but recognize that there was far more that made us similar than which made us different. And while this should be the norm, I fear that in a large segment of our society it still is not the norm. As a result many United States citizens remain ill-informed and construct their opinions based on derogatory stereotypes and myths that have been passed on generation to generation. Myths and stereotypes that are allowed to remain due to politicians and journalists, who refuse to openly, and consistently, challenge and debunk such misinformation.
I have been blessed in my life to have had good friends of different races, religions, and nationalities. However, if I truly reflect on myself, I have to recognize that most of those friendships did not occur until my thirties and only because I chose to expand my education. I spent most of the first three decades of my life without personal exposure and probably would have continued to if not for the choice to expand my education. These friends have helped to further sharpen my sensitivity to each of their cultures and what it is like to be a minority in this country. I recognize that I will never fully understand what it is like to walk in their shoes but these relationships have helped me to view the troubles impacting our society from a different light.
It was a girlfriend from Pakistan who helped explain to me the strong similarities between Islam and Christianity, specifically their teachings of peace. Unlike many Christians I knew, she never tried to convert me; only pointed out how much we had in common. At the same time, I saw her being confronted in university hallways by students regarding her nationality and religion following the 9/11 attacks. This is the same girlfriend I consoled due to the pain of not being able to risk a visit home to see her sick grandmother out of fear of not being able to return to the U.S. due to changing visa restrictions.
It was a Muslim classmate from Turkey who invited me to share in a few Ramadan dinners (Iftar) and helped me and others understand that the extremists who attacked the "Twin Towers" did not represent Islam, its teachings and the vast majority of its followers. Again, he never mentioned that he believed his religion was right or that Christianity was wrong, our discussions only focused on our similarities. It was the many lunches and drinks with classmates of Korean, Pilipino, Chinese, among other cultures of Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu faiths that helped me refine my understanding of our similarities. It is the Hispanic boss who included me in family cookouts and holiday events and who helped guide my mother and stepfather around at graduation. It was other Hispanic friends who had lived in the United States all their lives being asked where they were from by white hair dressers and others. It is the African American officemate who, through long honest conversations, helped to open each other's eyes to what it is like to be Black, and White, in the United States.
It is my origins and these friendships that have come together to help me see the climate in the United States from a perspective that a large portion of our society either chooses not to see or is incapable of seeing due to an unwillingness to seek out and understand how much we have in common. After all, unless we live in a diverse community or are placed in a diverse workplace or classroom environment all of us tend to hang with those who are like ourselves, no matter our race or religion. I myself do not have regular contact with most of the friends I mentioned since graduation. We reunite perhaps at a conference or we might give the symbolic "like" or "comment" on a social media platform, but we do not stay in close contact like we might with others that are of the same race or similar religious belief systems.
The reality is that 87% of United States citizens get their news from television. And of that group some 71% of United States citizens potentially receive much of what they know of other races and religions through the local TV news and 65% through network TV News (e.g. ABC, CBS, and NBC). Unlike many United States citizens, I have the filter of my upbringing and friendships that help me see around the stereotyping. We have to recognize the harm that is caused when the media, and anyone else with a voice, fails to regularly confront racism and religious intolerance. So when Donald Trump most recently was confronted on Meet the Press about why he might seek to have a Hispanic judge removed from a court case he is involved in because he feels the judge is not treating him fairly, I was not surprised. He knows that the underlying tone that he doesn't like the judge because of the judge's Hispanic heritage resonates with a large portion of the Republican base. In the same way, his refusal to immediately denounce David Duke's support, the former leader of the KKK who stated "not voting for Trump is treason", reflects his unwillingness to offend many in the Republican base. The idea that droves of United States citizens are attracted to Donald Trump should in no way be a surprise to us and certainly not the media. This is why you did not see other Republican candidates actively challenge his statements, if they challenged at all, for the past eight months. And even with the David Duke controversy the response has been soft and does not address the overall underlying issue of racism and religious intolerance throughout the United States; let alone the fact it will be revealed to exist in all parties as we move into the general election. In my next blog, I will further explore this issue by examining United States citizens and our society as a whole.