Oh my, I didn’t see it coming!
President Elect Donald Trump! I didn’t see it coming.
As we meandered down through rural Virginia last Sunday, I can honestly say that I was blind to “seeing” past the hundreds of “Trump” signs posted on manicured lawns. I failed to recognize the faces and fears of the folks who installed those signs. Theirs are the voices that screamed at America, the ones that spoke loudly on election night.
And despite what J. D. Vance laid bare to a clueless me in his foreboding bestseller, “Hillbilly Elegy, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” I still didn’t see it coming. Here’s a poignant excerpt:
“Significant percentages of white conservative voters – about one third – believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. In one poll, 32% of conservatives said that they believed Obama was foreign-born and another 19% said they were unsure – which means that a majority of white conservatives aren’t certain that Obama is even an American. I regularly hear from acquaintances or distant family members that Obama has ties to Islamic extremists, or is a traitor, or was born in some far-flung corner of the world.
Many of my new friends blame racism for this perception of the president. But the president feels like an alien to many for reasons that have nothing to do with skin color. I recall that not one of my high school classmates attended an Ivy League school. Barack Obama attended two of them and excelled at both. He is brilliant, wealthy, and speaks like a constitutional law professor – which, of course, he is. Nothing about him bears any resemblance to the people I admired growing up; his accent – clean, perfect, neutral – is foreign; his credentials are so impressive that they’re frightening; he made his life in Chicago and he conducts himself with a confidence that comes from knowing that modern American meritocracy was built for him. Of course, Obama overcame adversity in his own right – adversity familiar to many of us – but that was long before any of us knew him.
President Obama came on the scene right as so many people in my community began to believe that the modern American meritocracy was not built for them. We know we’re not doing well. We see it every day: in the obituaries of teenage kids that conspicuously omit the case of death (reading between the line; overdose), in the deadbeats we watch our daughter’s waste time with. Barack Obama strikes at the heart of our deepest insecurities. He is a good father while many of us aren’t. He wears suits to his job while we wear overalls, if we’re lucky enough have a job at all. His wife tells us that we shouldn’t be feeding our kids certain foods, and we hate her for it – not because we think she’s wrong but because we know she’s right.
The Pew Economic Mobility Project studied how Americans evaluated their chances at economic betterment and what they found was shocking. There is no group of Americans more pessimistic than working-class whites. Well over half of blacks, Latinos and college-educated whites expect that their children will fare better economically than they have. Among working class whites, only 44% share that expectation. Even more surprising, 42% of working-class whites – by far the highest number in the survey – report that their lives are less economically successful that those of their parents.”
Pause now. Imagine yourself behind the steering wheel in your car. Despite the rear view mirror and two side mirrors that help us to be aware of what’s behind us, there remains a blind spot; one that, if we don’t glance over our right shoulder, can lead to a hazardous consequence.
So in the end, what all this conjures up for me – and maybe for others – is a reminder of our blind spots relating to the folks Vance writes about – plus other “others” – we might not hear or see (or really want to hear or see) behind the “signs” along the highways and country roads.
Long story short, don’t ignore the “signs.” They’re right here in front of us.
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, story teller and senior associate with Diversity Wealth. He is also a member of the Cross Cultural Academy, the founder of the Global Diversity Consortium, a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, New York-based Catalyst and the American Diversity Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org