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Should I go home?

Fear, faith and the power of empathy

By Robert E. Aronson | Faculty Contributor

How can we listen to America's disenfranchised? Photograph provided by Michael Vadon

How can we listen to America’s disenfranchised? Photograph provided by Michael Vadon

This article is adapted from “‘Should I Go Home’ and Other Utterances,” published in Global Health Now

A Bahamian student stopped me in the hallway on Wednesday morning, just hours after the election results came in. “My dad called and asked if I should come home.” Wow! For many of my international students, they seemed surprised at their own fear and the fear of their parents. Similar accounts from other international students conveyed the same sense of uncertainty and insecurity. But Taylor University is a place where students should feel safe.

“I didn’t know people felt that way about me, particularly people in the church,” international students say. Since these students are all here legally, their fear is not about deportation but how they will be treated by others.

I often feel like an alien (someone from another planet, not a person from another country). For many of my friends, the election of Donald Trump did not create divisions in our society as much as it exhibited existing divisions for all to see. Formerly secret views were yanked out into the open. A chorus of chest-thumping celebrants and resigned citizens urged people to “get over it” or “accept the will of the people.” But, may I suggest, the election results are the lesser problem. Perhaps the real problem is that we live in a society that is blind and deaf to the lives, pain and sufferings of others.

It seems to me the post-election angst is not related to differences between Republicans and Democrats. Nor is it merely a fear of what President-elect Trump might do. Much of the damage has already been done. People have been emboldened to freely express their bigotry, feeling validated by none other than the elected Commander-in-Chief. Anyone who fits in one of the categories of people disrespected and denigrated by Trump—as well as their family, friends and associates—cannot help but feel invisible, or worse yet, unimportant in the broader scheme of things. After all, how could those who voted for him, even those that did so reluctantly, ignore the feelings and experiences of so many—unless they just had no clue?

But this is just part of the story.

There are others who feel invisible and unimportant. Why do so many feel disenfranchised and like the nation has ignored their pain and frustration? While much was said about the middle class, next to nothing was said about the poor in this election. Somehow Donald Trump connected with many of the poor.

While I was born and raised in the Midwest, I have spent most of my adult life on the East Coast and in the South. And for 30 years my work has focused on African-American and Latino communities. Being in central Indiana for the past three and a half years has helped me understand that many in this part of the country feel angry and ignored. Some of them were convinced by the rhetoric of the campaign that their misfortune should be blamed on “the other” (people who are different and considered undeserving). For people working low-wage jobs, living in homes they don’t own and conditions they do not like or drinking water laced with lead—where is the line between poor and middle class? If you feel poor, but only hear concern for the middle class from government leaders, what are you to think?

Finally, we ought to realize once and for all that moral leadership will not come from our elected officials. Calls for unity after a destructively divisive campaign are hollow and cynical. Healing will not take place by executive fiat. Loving one another seems like a pipe dream when we cannot even understand one another. Completely separate from political leaders, we need conversations in our homes, schools, neighborhoods, businesses, churches and taverns in which we identify the concerns of the forgotten, ignored and invisible.

We must then join together to demand better from our elected officials; the so-called “public servants.”

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