America, the first step is to admit that we have a problem.

I admit that I'm angry this year, and that the election results triggered anger about the racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny and xenophobia of all types that still exist in America. I'm angry because I feel we've taken a major step back on those issues. I'm angry because, whatever you think about him, America elected a man who many believe is an icon of those types of tribal prejudices - a man who promoted birtherism, and who still believes that the Central Park Five were guilty. I'm angry that bigotry, for many, was what this year's election cycle was about. I'm angry that the Klan is holding victory parades and that my actual friends are receiving actual death threats online for demonstrating peacefully. I'm angry at myself that it took this for me to wake up.

I'll admit that my first instinct is to blame these tribal prejudices (and particularly the recent uptick in racist agitation) on people who I perceive as different than me - the right, Trump voters, whatever - and to insist that they take responsibility.

But I also know that pretending it is all someone else's fault, and (more importantly) all somebody else's responsibility, is not being an adult about this. And I also know that this impulse to paint people as 'other' stems from the same tribal instinct that I'm so angry about in the first place.

The reality is that, no matter how we got here, we're all worse off if America keeps pretending that we don't have a problem with tribal bigotry. And that we're all better off if we can recognize that we're all a part of the same community.

Whether or not you believe it is your fault, it is your problem.

This is the opposite of "giving a chance": it is accountability and action

In 12 step programs, the first step toward change is admitting that we have a problem. That is - it is taking personal responsibility.

Can we do that? Can we all agree that bigotry, discrimination, and tribalism are real, human, American issues? And that they are ours, whether we decide to own them or not?

Recognizing that all social problems are complex, as a straight white male, I personally feel I have a particular culpability in our current situation because I am a part of a group with a lot of power, and which has used (and continues to use) that power in ways that aren't responsible. So my goal in this is to try to own that. I hope that you - whoever you are - own your part too.

The second step in 12 step programs is to have faith that something higher than ourselves can restore us to sanity. For me, the higher hope is that the vast majority of people are people of good will. People of good will, working together, can make progress. In the last week I've realized that I personally have to believe that if I want to keep my own sanity. I think it is also what I mean when I say I love America.

But progress is contingent on steps 3 - 12, and all of those steps are focused on action: doing the things we need to in order to change ourselves, in the faith that it can happen, and then sharing what we learn in order to help others change too.

America, I honestly don't know what all of our action steps need to be, but can we please start this process, and admit that we have a problem?

And can we agree that people at risk hold less responsibility in that problem than the ones who threaten them?

And can we agree on an attitude we should have towards our leaders if we are really interested in action?

That in a democracy, "giving them a chance" is not a citizen's role, but is an abdication of responsibility and a failure to admit that we have a problem? That holding our leaders accountable the greater good is our role? And that being politically passive allows leaders (themselves all flawed people) to misunderstand or ignore our values when they make decisions?

Political passivity, while often understandable, is not a virtue. At a time when millions of citizens are concerned that their rights and personal safety are threatened, can we agree, as a first action, to at least pay attention to what they're saying?


Comments

Ian Burton said…
This is great! One if the hardest things for me is the realization that had Clinton win I ought to have been asking the same questions and that I might not have done. We need to be able to step outside ourselves recognize our privileges and decide what kind of a society were comfortable living in.

The results of the election and how people are impacted are as much responsibility as they are that of people who voted differently than me for whatever reason.
Timothy Mathis said…
Ian - I think that's a good point, that had Clinton won a lot of these conversations wouldn't be happening. Glad you liked the post!
Anonymous said…
Ian, I've been having thoughts along similar lines... appreciating all of the learning that is taking place, and not sure whether it would have happened had we gotten what we "chose".

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