I landed in Detroit to a blizzard. It was a parking lot on the freeway from the airport to downtown, which me a lot more time to get to know my thespian turned server turned Lyft driver. Later on that evening, my phone informed me that it would cost me 25$ to take a Lyft just over a mile to the interview dinner due to the high demand. So I hiked through downtown Detroit in thickly falling snow on my way to a delicious bacon wrapped meatloaf.
Most of the streets had been cleared by the following evening so I ran along the river of this proud flawed city while looking across its banks toward Canada. The massive GM building seemed to be an almost comically poignant reminder of the inequalities in this country and the unjust way that the rich float during tough times while everything around them crumbles. When I found myself in a beer garden after dinner, drinking a stiff hot toddy with my favorite bourbon, I couldn’t help but be painfully aware of the fact that I was in downtown Detroit yet everyone around me was white.
The night before I landed in Detroit, I was sitting in a bar in downtown Chicago watching the election results come in. There was a cheer when CNN called that Doug Jones would become the first Democratic senator from Alabama in over two decades. However, it’s also important to acknowledge that it’s a sad day when it takes someone being a pedophile to lose a Republican senate seat in Alabama, even sadder when the racial breakup of the vote showed that both white men (72%) and women (63%) overwhelmingly voted for that worthless garbage person.
That being said, there was something in the air that day that wouldn’t let me give up hope. I spent the whole morning and afternoon taking a twelve hundred dollar medical school exam so I figured I’d treat myself to an Uber pool to get home. Between the Puerto Rican musician turned driver, an older woman from Puebla, a girl from Venezuela, and myself, there wasn’t a moment without laughter during the forty minute ride. Tamales, Lebron, the Bolivar, Prince, mole, and Jordan were all hotly debated. As he was dropping me off, the driver turned around to say that he had never had such a good Uber trip and that he couldn’t wait to tell his wife about it when he got home.
After I found the spare key to my friend’s apartment, I immediately set down my stethoscope, cough drops, and white coat and changed into running clothes to slip out into the cold Chicago night. Stretching my legs over the sidewalk felt exquisite as my breath blew a smokey cloud in front of me. It’s almost Christmas, which means it’s a time to reflect, be grateful, and come together while forgetting politics for a minute.
I can’t even type that with a straight face.
Every aspect of the world we live in is inherently political. Take the coffee shop I’ve been going to by my new climbing gym (aka young bourgeoise white people club). It’s less than a mile from north Minneapolis, yet there’s not a single person of color drinking coffee with me. Our spaces are politicized and white people like myself can conveniently choose when and where to engage with that reality because we live in an insane world in which the pigment of your skin invades every aspect of your life.
I’ve spent the past month basking in this insane white male privilege while flying around the country interviewing for residency. I try to catch myself anytime I start to whine about it because there’s nothing more annoying than a white boy who tries to be woke while complaining about plane rides and hotels. I’d imagine that it’s annoying enough when white boys try to be woke… That being said, I’d rather lean into looking ridiculous and occasionally sounding like an ass in order to be a part of the resistance and fight for those who are marginalized by the racist, sexist, and xenophobic country we live in.
That’s the thing though, sentences like the previous one are the shit that get my Trump supporting extended family members all riled up. Is using that kind of discourse an attempt to be sensitive and engaged or is just a pretentious way to let someone know that you’re better than them? Probably a little bit of both. That’s why as I’ve been drinking craft beer and eating bourgeois foods in different cities I’ve tried to understand the populist rage against the liberal elite… But seriously
This isn’t a bullshit attempt to equate your truth to mine and try to understand how racism, sexism, and other hatreds come from a place of reason. They don’t. So what is it that drives a certain percentage of our population to vote for politicians (and the general Republican Party) who behave in a way that we wouldn’t find acceptable in a kindergarten classroom? Besides the remarkable leveraging of abortion as a single issue voting choice (which warrants a different and deeper discussion), there seems to a cynical group of men and women who have tapped into the worst aspects of our humanity and specifically targeted a population of white-identifying people who are vulnerable to it.
The way I see it is that we humans, let alone we americans, are 99.999% the same. We all share mostly the same genes, have the same wants and needs, and find happiness and sadness in similar pursuits. On a fundamental level we are all human animals and with that humanity comes both beautiful and terribly destructive human traits. So again, what can it possibly be that drives some of us to support such objectively terrible people and politics? I know it can’t feel good to live in a world driven by hate and greed.
Like I’ve said before, I believe this regressive backlash is in part due to greedy politicians giving people a narrative that allows them to forget reality for a while. This is a privilege that many people don’t have, especially people of color. Being a white Trump supporter in America now is akin to living in a reality TV show or being biblical literalists. You know somewhere deep that all this stuff is probably fantasy, but it’s easier to live in that world than to deal with the harsh reality outside where children starve, all men seem to have sexual violence in them, and people are slaughtered for their beliefs. Heresy? No, it’s looking at the world like a grown up with eyes wide open.
Since it’s almost Christmas, I want to end this with hope. As I was waiting at the Jefferson Transit Station in Chicago for the bus driver to come back, one of the passengers already on the bus pushed the doors open in order to wait outside in the cold with the rest of us. This absurd action set off the alarm on the bus which pushed all the other passengers out until the driver arrived.
My man was wearing different shades of garish purple with multiple silver chains and a ring on every finger. He completed the ensemble with wrap-a-round sunglasses even though it was a dark and dreary December afternoon. Dude seemed unhinged at best so I wasn’t too excited to have him sit down across from me.
Less than a minute into the ride my fears were realized when I heard him say “Hey! Hey man, what’s on your t-shirt?” I’d forgotten that I was wearing the hippy t-shirt I bought to provoke other bros at the gym. “Black lives matter…women’s rights are human rights…pro-choice pro-science…love is love.” He was slowly reading my shirt out loud for the rest of the bus to hear. This was a much more effective advertisement than I expected when I woke up that morning. “Truth. That’s a lot of truth there man.” I smiled my thanks while inwardly hating myself for being such an asshole. To top it off, he gave me a bejeweled fist bump before he got off the bus.
A few stops later we pulled up in front of a school and were instantly swarmed by high schoolers of seemingly every ethnic background. Their laughter and smiles were infectious. I know it’s easy for me to say as a non-teacher, but there was something so essential and human about being surrounded by teenagers. They had an energy and life force that I already can tell I’m losing quickly if I don’t work to sustain it. More than that though, I had almost a half hour to just lean back in my seat and drink up the conversation.
Listening to these boys and girls talk about dating, religion, school and everything in between gave me a little bit of hope. The ubiquitous and addicting technology, disenfranchisement, and structural/cultural inequalities of religion/sexuality/race/gender all push my hopefulness away from complacency. But listening to a Southeast Asian girl talk about dating and being “sort of” Buddhist to a black girl whose parents were Muslim and Christian made me want to scream You already lost M***** F****rs! at the hateful people whose narrow minded idea of America doesn’t include these two.