Editorial Notebook

Building a culture of understanding

Up until recently, I didn’t realize that my name was somewhat racially ambiguous. According to the US Census Bureau, in the year I was born only 37 percent of people with my last name were of Asian descent. This was clearly an intriguing discovery, and it lead me down a rabbit hole of into the world of genealogy and ancestry. More importantly, it helps explain something that happened to me recently.

If you have any experience writing about politics online, you’ve probably been bombarded by comments from people that haven’t read most of what you’ve wrote, misinterpreted the little that they did see, and assumed the worst about your intentions without ever knowing you. For instance, if you take even a moderate conservative stance on anything, some people assume you’re white and possibly racist.

“I hope you’re not one of those [white] people, who assume all people of color are the same.” was the comment—or, more accurately, that’s the part I remember clearly. I wish I could’ve shown them how stupid they were being, and that yes, people of color share diverse opinions; in fact, some have opinions that don’t align with the rest of the members of their race, and have to deal with being mistaken for a white person sometimes.

To be fair, this was one comment in a sea of over 30 positive ones. It wasn’t a big deal, but this and a few other experiences have taught me that, from a white conservative’s point of view, talking about socio-political issues that deal with race presents a unique challenge. It’s not fun being slapped with accusations of racism when professing something that you sincerely believe is a reasonable opinion.

One of my favorite quotes from Naruto is from his mentor, Jiraya: “I believe the day will come when people can truly understand one another.” The first time Naruto fought Sasuke, he didn’t bother to understand his pain. “I’m going to bring you back to the village, even if I have to break every bone in your body,” was what he told Sasuke, who betrayed the village. Naruto lost that battle. For the next few years, Naruto spent time trying to understand Sasuke’s situation and the reasoning for his actions so the next time they fought, he had the moral victory over Sasuke.

It’s clear that people in our political sphere lack the willingness to understand the “other side.” I don’t know what it’s like to be white, or black, or female, or poor, or gay, or disabled, or transgender in the United States. J.K. Rowling once famously said that being poor was having “a thousand petty humiliations and hardships.” People different from oneself might experience wildly different things even in the minutiae of everyday life. Reading about a transgender man’s experience using public bathrooms was disturbing. As an androgynous looking person, he’d sometimes get beaten up in the men’s bathroom, and always get dirty looks in the women’s. If he absolutely had to, he’d use the women’s restroom, hoping that nobody would report him for sexual harassment. Mostly, he’d avoid public bathrooms altogether.

This time last year, there was a sentiment that “no American needs a gun.” I’d ask those people to imagine living in rural Alaska. A gun could help defend against bears or criminals, given that the police is often thinly spread in rural areas. Recently, Mississippi tried to pass an abortion bill—famously termed the “heartbeat” abortion bill—that would make it nearly impossible to get an abortion done in the state’s one and only abortion clinic. Imagine being a pregnant teenage girl in a state like that.

Politics is an arena often filled with hate and vitriol, but it doesn’t have to be. Even on the internet, political discussions can be productive. On Joyner Lucas’ Grammy Award winning music video, I’m not racist, I especially liked this comment: “As a black teen, first time I listened to this I only retained the facts spit by the black man, but now I understand that I have to listen to the other side because that’s how we will move forward and change mentalities.” I think that comment serves as evidence that productive political discussions can be had if people are willing to listen.

“Listen to many, speak to a few,” said Shakespeare. If we strive to really listen to each other, I believe we can breed a culture of understanding, instead of one filled with fear and division.