Taking back our story

Posted on 20 Jan 2017 at 7:30am

Today more than ever, we need to remember the adage: United we stand, divided we fall

haberman-hardyIt has taken me several attempts to avoid just venting my anger and instead actually write something coherent regarding our current political situation. I suspect that is a common thread for many people, especially ones who spread their opinions across publications and websites.

I get that the election is over and done, and that though the popular vote showed Hillary Clinton as the clear winner, she lost.  I get that our system of democracy is filtered by the Electoral College, and it is that body that actually decides the winner of the election, not the popular vote.

I get it. And I get that because of this system we have ended up with the man that will take the oath of office today (Friday, Jan. 20) and become the president of the United States.

He is the president we get!

Now, as unhappy as I am with the outcome — and believe me, I am very unhappy — what can I do? What can I do to help, in some small way, prevent our nation from becoming a kleptocracy? What can I do to start some kind of healing process to help us move forward?

Well, first I can realize an important lesson I learned recently from reading Trevor Noah’s wonderful autobiography, Born a Crime.  He details his childhood in pre- and post-apartheid South Africa, and it is an enjoyable and compelling read.

He explained the genius of apartheid as a means of keeping a country in the grip of a white minority government. A system that diabolically managed to keep an overwhelming majority from rising up and demanding not just equality but control, which by all rights should have been theirs.

It is a lesson we can take to heart today in the United States of America.

You see, in South Africa, the ruling white majority created a system of classification that separated all citizens based on their “perceived” race: If you were an indigenous African with very dark skin, you were classified as “black.” If you were of mixed race, with lighter skin, you were classified as “colored.” If you were from India, you were “Indian,” unless you were very dark-skinned and then you might be considered “black.”

And of course if you were of European descent, you were classified as “white.” 

Each “race” was given different privileges, and because of that they were constantly suspicious and jealous of each other.  Add to that the many languages spoken in the country both by the indigenous people — like the Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, Pedi, Venda, Ndebele, Pondo, Swati — and the Afrikaners of European descent, and you have a population that is neatly divided. And easily manipulated.

Apartheid was the ultimate “divide and conquer” strategy, and it worked for many years. 

Why is this important? Because right now we are in danger of falling into the same trap.

We are about to be a nation with a ruling minority, a country that has successfully taken power by dividing us into smaller and smaller special groups.  There are the blue-collar white workers from the Midwest who somehow believe that the GOP is going to give them a better deal than the Democrats. There are the white-collar “elite” from places like New York and California, who look down their noses at the uneducated rabble.

There are the southern whites that are still waving Confederate flags and cleaning their guns, indignant that a black man has occupied the White House for the past eight years. There are the Southern blacks that had the audacity to believe they had a voice and a vote.

There are the young, college-educated Bernie Bros that are participating in politics for the first time, possibly because they are saddled with debt and saw a way out. There are the farmers who live from harvest to harvest and hate big government except for the subsidies for their crops.

There are the “evangelicals,” who can ignore any injustice as long as it isn’t abortion or being gay. And there are “the gays,” — the LGBTQ community — some of whom might have disposable income, but all of whom still don’t have equal rights. 

We have been convinced that we are a nation of warring factions, each seeking their own “special” rights. The narrative has worked so well that the Democratic Party is splitting into factions and warring with itself over who has the politically correct message that will magically win back America’s heart.

The narrative has worked so well that we have a man who was wildly unpopular with the Republican Party insiders and long-time conservatives now poised to put his hand on the Bible and become president.

We have all bought into the story and by doing so, we are creating a feedback loop that intensifies and encourages the continued divide.

It’s time we stopped, took a breath and looked closely at that narrative. It’s based on half-truths and outright lies, but we have read, listened to and repeated it so many times it has become what we perceive as reality.

But it is not reality. It is a sham a big lie, told over and over enough times to make it sound true. And we are all guilty of repeating it. All of us, myself included.

It’s time we took back the American story.  It’s time we changed the narrative.  It’s time we returned to a country where electing a “reality TV personality” as president would be not just unthinkable, but laughable fiction. 

We can start by writing our own stories as Americans. We can start by remembering that we still control the strings that run the country. We have the power for now to do something about it. We can do it at the ballot box and in our daily lives.

Yes we can!

I implore you to stop believing that we are just a nation of separate warring camps, that we are a nation divided along racial and ethnic and economic lines.

We must start finding similarities with each other. We must start building alliances and working together — or we will die separately. 

For LGBTQ people, that means finding ways to support other minorities and reaching out to disenfranchised groups. It means refusing to be excluded from the American experience. It means telling our story as part of a great epic that binds us closer rather than separating us from one another.

It will be hard work, and it will take organizing at all levels. It will take money and it will take time and — most of all — it will take each and every one of us refusing to believe the narrative that we are separate.

We must remember our country’s original motto, “E Pluribus Unum” — out of many, one. Otherwise we will all fade into history as a failed experiment.

I believe we and our ancestors have invested far too much to allow that. 

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance.
His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2017

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