This post originally appeared on Medium.
On Friday, I went on TV and called for empathy for supporters of Donald Trump. Forget the candidate for a second, I said. Let us ask what kind of pain is throbbing in those precincts most drawn to his theme of destructive renewal. And let us ask, those of us who have felt history to be moving in our direction, whether we listened to ― not redressed, but listened to ― the grievances of our “brothers and sisters” before they graduated into anger:
I think we need to listen to each other again... The fact that immigration scares people. I’m a son of immigrants. I’m not going to reduce my commitment to immigration. But can I empathize with the fact that if your town was 95 percent all white and now it’s down to 60, that that can scare you? Can I empathize with that? Yeah. And did people like me do a good job of doing that? No. We didn’t. And I think we need to rediscover each other as a people. We need to hear each other’s stories. We need to listen. We need to adopt someone from the other side and just say, like, “Beneath your ideas, what is the life story that gives rise to those ideas?” We need to do that at the level of individual conversations, families, TV shows. But we have a huge getting-back-together to accomplish.
Normally, the quote above would suffice, but I must share a screenshot, because it will explain everything that is wrong with America (according to some guy).
I received a few warm, generous notes from people around the country afterward. One said, simply and eloquently,
thanks for recognizing our deeply felt hurt today
just retired from manufacturing,
Another wrote a thoughtful note about supporting Trump-Pence only after giving up hope on his anti-powers-that-be dream ticket: Trump-Sanders:
People throughout the world would have been shocked to see that Democracy can and does work when people are reasonable enough to debate and compromise.
But on Facebook, some guy named James didn’t like my call for reconciliation. He offered this comment:
An effeminate, domesticated male like you will never comprehend this rage. You are literally incapable of viscerally understanding. The rage will continue. What are we upset about? We are upset that a guy like you has a voice in the public square. You can be in the square as long as you sit in the corner, facing outward without a pen and pencil and only speak when spoken to. That is the source of the rage. What is the deal with your hair? Grow up man/boy.
When I saw this comment, I was engaged in an activity that didn’t put me in a very good position to refute his charge of failing to live up to his standards of manliness. But still I answered:
James, I’m not sure what about me made you so worry for your own masculinity, but I am trying to reach out across the divides of the country I assume we both love. I will keep trying. And I will be happy to listen if you want to share your ideas and experiences and can muster the grace to do so. Now, if you’ll excuse me, this domesticated effeminate has to go feed his son.
Now, James didn’t like this. So he explained what it was that so offended him about my call for empathy. It was, let us say, visual. I, apparently, hadn’t assimilated enough. Which is strange, since I’m from Cleveland. He wrote:
Anand, your focus should be on assimilation and not celebrating diversity. The divisions in our nation are caused by cultural Marxism and the desire of newcomers not to assimilate but demand that the dominant culture celebrate the new that they are brining. How do we reach across the divides? The answer is for the new to assimilate. You can start by your hair.
(As an aside, I think James meant “bringing,” not “brining,” but while I have you, certain dishes really do benefit from brining, and I know you are tempted, as I am, to skip that step in your recipes, and you really shouldn’t.)
I now countered James on two fronts. First of all, my hair is American. My hairstyle is not common in India, where my parents come from. Not least because I get my hair cut in Harlem, by a Japanese woman, and doing this would be an inconvenience for 95 percent of Indians living in India. Second, I noticed on Facebook that James’s parents had been missionaries to Japan, and that James himself was born in that country. I wondered how being a missionary and bringing your foreign religion to other people squared with James’s criticism of “the desire of newcomers not to assimilate but demand that the dominant culture celebrate the new that they are brining.” (Again, we assume he meant “bringing.” But do remember to brine!) I asked him,
When your parents went to Japan, did they assimilate into local religious traditions, or did they try to get people to celebrate the new they were bringing? Just wondering.
Oh, no. This James did not like one bit. Not one bit. He came back at me:
My parents went with the distinct purpose to change the Japanese view of religion. Let me educate you the purpose of missionaries is to go and convert people in this case to Christianity.
People that leave everything to come to America to become Americans are not doing that. It’s a shame that I have to explain the difference between the role of a missionary and the role of an immigrant to you.
Your hair is a symbol of your rebellion and your condescension to the dominant culture here in America. Like a Japanese robe wandering business hours and afro or the henya above Spanish words.
If you want to be helpful here in America young man what you need to do is cut your hair and encourage other immigrants rather than focusing on diversity to focus on assimilation.
What is the problem in America the problem is people like you that believe in cultural Marxism division rather than Unity.
Let me educate you again. Grab one of the pieces of currency in your pocket and write the words e Pluribus Unum a hundred times.
What is the bridge that needs to be overcome what needs to be done for Unity in this country people like you your generation and your worldview to change towards assimilation and not to be focused on diversity.
What is the fuel behind the Trump phenomenon? A visceral reaction to Someone Like You on our television screen?
Step 1 get a haircut, step to focus your mind set your world view on assimilation and not diversity, step 3 show some humility.
When Trump says he wants to build a wall, when he says we should not be politically correct any longer, Anand you should view that as a rhetorical missile headed straight for you.
We’re tired of being asked to change, it’s over, you go get a haircut.
Bless your heart😉
Make sure you do your homework there will be a test.
One of the things I have gotten to appreciate about James is that his words really speak for themselves. So I will only need to make a few observations in closing.
1. James asks me to be “helpful here in America.” But James appears, according to his Facebook check-ins, to be in Japan at this very moment. Though we do not see eye to eye, I hope they do not build any wall before he has the chance to rejoin us here in America.
2. James suggests that I cut my hair and “encourage other immigrants rather than focusing on diversity to focus on assimilation.” Here’s the thing, James. “Other immigrants” wouldn’t be the correct formulation here, because I AM NOT AN IMMIGRANT. I was born in Cleveland. And you, according to your Facebook bio, were born in Japan, which would make you the immigrant, James, wouldn’t it now? Welcome to America.
3. Your missionary/immigrant distinction makes no sense, because it is designed for self-justification. By your logic, a missionary is a category of immigrant who is entitled to bend local culture to his or her tastes, and a plain old immigrant is any non-missionary person not entitled to do so. So basically a missionary is an immigrant who auto-exempts himself or herself from the duty (as you see it) to assimilate. This goes to show that the missionary position is not only boring but also sometimes wrong.
4. A question, James: What culture did the early colonial settlers discover in America, and do you believe they were bound to assimilate into it? And did they?
5. James, my man: What do you mean by “a Japanese robe wandering business hours and afro or the henya above Spanish words”? Whatever you mean by that cluster of words, that is a party I want to be at, and because I live in New York, I can be at such a party tonight if I wish.
6. In closing, I just want to say, James, that, as an immigrant, you are and always will be welcome in my America. I’m a Cleveland Indian by birth. You are a Nerima Yankee, one could say. I have hope for you and me. And I have hope for America, because as I browsed the Facebook page of the man behind the venom, I noticed the absolute strangest thing:
I will take your desire for my friendship ― still not revoked by you, still not answered by me at this hour ― as a sign of how the republic we share might get out of this dark, sad moment: speak our truths, listen to each other’s, heal, repair, rectify, restore, and maybe, after all that, become friends.
Anand Giridharadas is the author, most recently, of “The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas.”
This post originally appeared on Medium.