Musings of an Ethnomusicologist on Unrelated Topics
This has now been sent with minimal revisions
To My Conservative Uncle,
I’m writing to tell you that I voted for Hillary. I voted by absentee ballot last week, and when I filled in that bubble I did so with a joyous and unashamed mark of confidence. I voted for her gleefully, with full expectation that she would make an exceptional President. I am proud that I did.
I also am writing to be up-front that I’ve readily supported Obama in the past eight years. I think he and Michelle have served as exemplary public servants in most regards. I support Obama’s landmark legislation. I support the stay-of-deportation proceedings that sheltered undocumented immigrants and especially children. I support Obamacare which allowed me to access good health insurance on the state-wide exchange the last few years. And so on. That said, I do disagree with the decisions of his administration on certain issues. I disagree with his administration’s hawkishness, expanding our wars in the Middle East. I disagree with the draconian way he has treated undocumented immigrants, deporting more people than any previous President. But I believe he is a good man and has served in the role of President with poise and professionalism.
Further, I love, support, and admire undocumented immigrants, and I stand by them as a solid ally. I marched with the Black Lives Matter protestors in Oakland, and I proudly support that movement’s aims to stop extrajudicial shootings in our streets, and to reform the criminal justice system wholesale. I stand definitively with the many objectives and hopes set forth by the gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, intersex, and queer community, counting many people in that community among my favorite people, closest friends, and confidants. I stand with the protestors at Standing Rock, and honor Native Americans’ rights to sovereignty. I also honor the rights of people to worship in all manner of ways, have worshipped alongside Jews and Muslims whom I consider my Abrahamic brethren, both in the Middle East and in the U.S.
I love the diverse ways we exist as people and as Americans. I stand for honoring that diversity.
And I expect that reading these comments and perspectives infuriates you.
I’m probably only one of a very few people you know who thinks this way.
This is what I’m writing to talk about.
This has been such a contentious year in politics, leading to the culmination of a Presidential election whose results tomorrow (either way they go) I expect will further divide the country, alienating and antagonizing different groups of Americans against each other.
You and I stand as examples of the national divisions that plague us. Even though we are two branches of the same family tree, you and I are very, very different in our politics. We hold in our hearts divergent interpretations, values, visions, and hopes with regard to the ideal outcomes of issues like race, gender, diversity, gun rights, and many other things.
Further, I think we probably don’t speak well to each other because our sources and exemplars are extremely segregated. I’m sure we don’t consult the same news. We might not agree, in many ways, on basic facts. In fact, we probably don’t mutually support many politicians, intellectuals, commentators, pundits, or celebrities.
Because of this, I will admit that I’ve been afraid to talk to you about anything of substance for some time now. Even though I respect you in many ways, I find many of your comments toward various people groups cruel, derisive, and dehumanizing–sometimes, I hear the inklings of racist genocide and white nationalism in your perspectives.
You may not agree with this characterization, and that is okay. I’ll be honest, though, that when I hear these things from you, it makes me afraid for the lives and liberties of people I love.
I’m writing to confront this fear.
I’m writing in hopes that we might begin to talk about some of these things and face them head-on. Our values and perspectives are, I think, in conflict, and I hope to address the roots of that conflict, not in the effort to “be right,” but to seek to understand and be understood.
I think that the truth is that I don’t know or understand you or your concerns very well, or understand the lives of the many people who share your values. I don’t really get “what’s up” with rural Montana any more–I think it’s changed a lot in a short time. I think you, in kind, also don’t understand my experiences, values or concerns, nor do you much respect people like me or the people I care about, either.
So, I’m wondering if we might be able to talk about this—really talk, person-to-person, one-on-one. I don’t expect this to be one conversation, but a series of many, maybe for the rest of our lives. I hope we might be able to talk–to really talk–about what it is that we, as individuals and as members of our distinct communities, stand for and hope for.
I don’t expect you to “speak for” everyone you know, nor do I expect to “speak for” my whole community or everyone I’ve met. But I hope we might begin to speak to each other about things that really matter to us.
Divisions between people like you and me seem to be exemplars of our national divisions that I fear are eroding our national bond of common identity. It makes our family holidays a challenge, of course. But moreover, divisions like those between you and me increasingly stunt America’s potential.
If we continue down this road, I fear the foment of violence. I fear complete government shut down and inaction. If these things happen, I fear our country may not survive it. I fear many in our country will be targeted for exclusion. I fear for those who, caught in the crosshairs of division, lose their lives for it.
I hope my fear is only an illusion and overstatement. In confronting it, I am hoping we might begin to dialogue, not necessarily to find agreement, but to at least seek to find points of understanding.
I want to understand you better. And I want to be better understood.
Are you interested in beginning a dialogue of some kind?