Talk To Invisible Americans: Their Experiences Matter Even If Their Opinions Are Objectionable
There is a need to listen to and share the stories of trauma experienced by several segments of American society. Their experiences are invisible in the urban bubbles that guide American thought. The experiences and plights of these communities are not broadly shared or studied in a scientifically rigorous way by our society. Their issues have become tokenized and flattened into 2D representations of complex issues. Two of the segments of American society at issue in this piece are currently at odds. They have also both seen losses in wealth, as demographics, since 2008.
The groups being discussed here can crassly be characterized as #BlackLivesMatter and #MAGA but that is too broad. Their persecutors are racism and growing poverty. The experiences of the people who, I argue, society needs to center are those who live in constant fear of death by State-sanctioned ‘justice’ because of their race, and the heartland Americans whose local economies have collapsed, whose standards of living have dropped, and whose communities have become gripped by opiate addiction. Their experiences can teach us about the impacts of systemic racism and growing inequality on Americans today.
Racial Justice & Police-Triggered PTSD
The majority non-white victims of the culture of police brutality living across the country effectively live in a war zone. A policeman could kill them at almost any moment and it is proved monthly as another bloody video makes the virality rounds. These people experience a trauma that needs to be addressed. A black family receives a visit from a police officer every day to learn of a dead child or parent. Research summarized in this Psychology Today article found increased rates of PTSD and depression in communities who are regularly exposed to police brutality.
The mothers, fathers, and children of these victims aggregate pain, anger, fear, and despair throughout their lives. They get searched on the sidewalk as teenagers, pulled over for Driving While Black as adults, and policed with more advanced techniques and technologies every year. The constant fear of brutalization affects the psyche of the victim and, that trauma is brought into reality in rage whenever a black community explodes at the news of another dead, unarmed black man or another acquitted cop.
Dying Economies & Misguided Anger
The Trump Voting Bloc is a deep mine of anecdote used to characterize the Trump Right. Racism, misogyny, and an unsettling comfortability with White Nationalism are perfectly credible labels for the general phenomenon of Trump. The proudly-worn, “I’m a Deplorable”, gear that some of these people choose to wear is a glimpse into their besieged mentalities. Many of the people who fell for Trump’s national populist message had seen their local economies die and the defunding of the American public school system. They were led to the immigrant narrative by the media and right-wing pundits to blame immigrants for their loss of community wealth.
Deplorable, in this case, either means that these people are proudly racist and misogynistic or that they despise Clinton Liberalism so much that they will identify with anything opposed to it. Either way, the fact that these white communities feel cast out by society is important and needs to be understood if we are to build a holistic path forward for race relations in the USA. Even if the answer is racism and misogyny, it is better to know that it is, and where these stances are rooted.
The goal behind this listening project would be to hear and share the stories of people who hold these feelings of abandonment, hate, and fear so that their perspectives can be understood, accommodated where appropriate, and mediated when they involve conflict. The pain of a bereaved mother in Washington DC is rooted in the decline of the ‘successful’ American across the country since 2008 as financial insecurity became epidemic. Her potential desire to kill a cop can find common ground with the experience of the ex-well-paid American factory worker who feels left out of their country’s progress and shares memes of cars hitting protesters.
In numbers (taken from USAFacts), these people’s pain can be found in the real median wage decreasing from $43.8 thousand a year in 2005, to $36.6 thousand in 2015. That’s a 16 percent decrease in real terms.
In the last election one of these groups swung the vote toward our current President. An incompetent, irresponsible, and ethically-unsound possible billionaire with the reputation of a swindler. He won their votes by targeting them with a populist message that blamed outsiders for the lack of economic opportunity and slogans ripped from the campaigns of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Woodrow Wilson. “Make America Great Again” comes from the 1980 Reagan campaign, and “America First” was used by Woodrow Wilson to win reelection on a soon-to-be-betrayed non-interventionist stance on World War I.
What led Trump voters to be fine with their candidate’s racist and misogynistic rhetoric? Why do the words “Black Lives Matter” cause such a visceral reaction from them? How can we move these opinions toward tolerance? The answers to these questions could revolutionize popular movements in this country, and bring former “Deplorables” onto the side that is demanding government represent the interests of its people.
How do the mothers of murdered young black men, killed by the police, handle their pain? How do they want to stop these injustices? What do they think the problem is? The answers to these questions could teach our movements about resilience. Understanding this could also lead us to new avenues for solving the problem of police brutality in communities of color.
These questions need to be asked. These people need to be listened to, spoken to, and graced with dignity. All of the unaddressed pain circulating around this country at the moment needs a release. I fear this Nation’s political landscape will explode in futile violence, in-fighting among the subjugated classes, if it isn’t released slowly and consciously through conversation, community organizing, and mediation. To undertake this project we first need to plan out the study. We need to know how many people we want to talk to and where. We need to know what to ask them. And we need people who can perform, film, and transcribe the interviews. First though, I need a specialist in qualitative research design who likes the idea enough to volunteer.
My big idea, the assumption that I hold here, is that we need two programs that expose communities with tolerance issues to the people they have judged. We need a program that gives well-paying jobs to young people of color to work in heartland American cities as community organizers and deliverers of social services, and a program that brings the young products of heartland America into poor black communities to do the same work. Through planning and learning I would expect for this project to become something entirely more appropriate for the situation at issue.