Breathe in. Breathe out. That’s what I’m doing. Even now, a week after the election. I’m ready to rise up and weather the coming storm. I’m also in a complete daze. I’m also filled with hope. I’m also sad. Whatever it is I am, I’m breathing. I’m breathing in. And I’m breathing out. One breath at a time. I’m still alive. I’m able to walk, the winds blow, leaves fall and winter follows autumn, and before I know it I’ll say to myself, “I can’t believe it’s already Christmas!”
This is life. It changes. One moment to the next. And sometimes change is intentional, and sometimes it’s not. But when the change is deliberate, the pursuit is usually for something great. A person wants to share their life – they seek out a partner. A person dreams to change their career – they return to school. A person wants their country to be great again – they cast their vote. Yet, with this desire for change, there is always a chance change may never happen.
I’m constantly aware of my skin color; the sweet mocha brown that covers me is beautiful. But when others solely identify me as nothing more than skin color they ignore my whole person. I understand how the color of my skin can be (and has always been) a barrier between me and my American dream. I recognize how strangers, colleagues, even some of my own friends treat me differently. I want that disparity to change. But it hasn’t happened yet.
I watched them approach the circle. Four of them. White guys. And this was a peace circle, an intentional space designed for healing through conflict. But these guys in red caps and patriotic shirts proclaiming to make America great again brought an unwelcome intimidation, displeasure, and resentment. My peace was aggravated.
“Let’s begin by saying why we are here.” This was the facilitator. An affable young woman with dyed grey hair, a mellow voice, and a heart-shaped cookie cutter, a totem passed around to indicate whose turn it was to speak.
“I’m here to find peace.”
“I feel afraid and need to say it outloud.”
“I believe our country is divided, and I want us to unite.”
And then it was one of them. One of the white guys. The one with the red cap and blue shirt spelling out T-R-U-M-P. “I’m tired of being judged because of who I support. I’m being mocked, talked about, pointed at, and intimidated based solely on the color of my skin. I’m tired of it and it hurts.”
Breathe in. I‘m getting annoyed. Breathe out. I’m getting angry. Breathe in. Peace escapes me. Breathe out. He needs to change.
Eventually, it was my turn. The cookie cutter heart was placed in my hand. It was small. Metal. I imagined using it to make heart-shaped biscuits. And after a deep breath, I turned to the white guy, affirmed his presence in the circle and said, “You speak about discrimination. You speak about skin color. This may be new to you, but I and many people of color experience this everyday. Now you understand what we go through. Now you know how exhausting it can be. For me, that feeling never ends. Now you and I can finally be in solidarity with each other.”
The Trump supporter I encountered – he’s real. And there’s something like 60 million others. And these 60 million others wanted change. A kind of change I wanted for our country when I voted for Obama. Twice. And now we wait to see how this change will unfold. Because it will.
Change in my life is generally a good thing, but I’m struggling with the reality of this change. Struggling to see the positive, the optimism, the hope from this election. Yet, in struggle there is opportunity. And it came in the form of a red cap. A cap that became something like a skin color I used to define him as other. Exactly what is done to me. And though I stand behind what I stand behind – equity, respect, recognition – I judged him. Me. I did that. And rather quickly.
We introduced ourselves at the end of the peace circle. We shook hands. We spoke for a brief moment, then reentered our worlds, he in his direction, and I in my own. This moment with him was indicative of a hard change. The kind I didn’t ask for, the kind that was unexpected, the kind that can grow if I let it. I saw my blindspot. I saw my self-righteousness. I saw my own participation inside the great divide of our country. Walking away from him I realized for any unity to happen, for any change to occur, for anything great about America to come to fruition – it needs to begin with me.