In the couple weeks after the election, Kiese Laymon, author of Long Division and How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, took to periodically posting his frustration about arguments over positions that are not mutually exclusive. As the Quakers say, “This friend speaks my mind.”
So today what I have for you is a list of things that can be true at the same time. This doesn’t mean there aren’t important conversations to be had about how these things interact with each other, which things to prioritize, and how context matters. It also doesn’t mean that there aren’t things out there that are just plain wrong. A lot of them. No moral relativism here. No false equivalencies. No pretending, for example, that being poor and white and being poor and a person of color are the same.
Nonetheless, at a time when simplistic arguments are rampant, it’s important to be able to hold on to complexity—not to stop us from acting, but to keep us honest and enable us to act in strategic, context-sensitive ways. To that end, here is my very partial list. . . .
It can be true that many poor rural white folk are terribly racist and misogynist and that they have economic troubles that urban coastal residents have trouble grasping and that the Democrats have failed to address, or even seem much to care about, when in power.
It can be true that Bernie Sanders did a much better job at addressing economic anxiety and desire for change than Hillary Clinton did and also true that he failed to reach key groups of voters of color in damaging ways and also true that we don’t actually know whether he would have won as the nominee.
It can be true that white liberals suddenly wearing a safety pin to indicate their “safeness” feels like a slap in the face to many Black Americans who are pretty sure those same folks have not been out there protecting them from police violence and also true that there are scared refugees, immigrants, and Muslims who are explicitly grateful for it. It can be true that for some people who wear one it becomes an out that makes them feel like they have done enough and for others it’s a reminder to do the real work of not being a bystander, and to take the risks we all need to be taking on each other’s behalf.
It can be true that white people need to talk to other white people and that many white families have been letting horrible comments slide in the name of conflict avoidance, and also true that there’s a limit to how much change can be made specifically around the holiday meal table and that for many people it’s not so much conflict avoidance as true self-protection from abuse.
It can be true that electorally, for progressives, it makes a lot more sense to focus on non-voters and third-party voters than on Trump voters, while also being true that morally we can’t let hateful acts or beliefs go unchallenged, even in people who are unlikely to be political allies.
It can be true that Russian hacking might have influenced the presidential election and that’s a problem that should be investigated and should throw the election results in doubt and true that Clinton was quite capable of losing those crucial swing states on her own.
It can be true that politically there should be no normalizing of the president-elect’s abusive and undemocratic behaviors and that Congress (and the rest of us) should fight hard, be uncompromising on basic principles, and not make nice or go along in hopes things will get better, and also be true that research shows that with regular folks, non-threatening conversations grounded in empathy and listening actually have a significant success rate in changing bigoted perspectives.
It can be true that when someone is committing harassment or hate crimes that they should be shut down by all bystanders and authorities in no uncertain terms, without regard to the aggressors’ feelings or motivations or tone policing of the victims, and also true that true that research shows that in safer situations, non-threatening conversations grounded in empathy and listening actually have a significant success rate in changing bigoted perspectives.
It can be true that certain news sources are far more reliable and fact-based than others and that it is worth supporting and elevating those news sources over hyperpartisan ones, and also true that even those sources periodically either screw up or let their biases influence what they cover.
It can be true that we are in seriously dark times that will not turn OK for many people in many ways, and also true that there are some hopeful signs—people kicked out of apathy and getting ready to practice resistance, standing up and speaking out in ways they haven’t before, forming alliances that need forming. I’m trying to hold both those truths in my heart every day.