hat proved key for Barack Obama was not that he was born to a black man and a white woman, but that his white family approved of the union, and approved of the child who came from it. They did this in 1961—a time when sex between black men and white women, in large swaths of the country, was not just illegal but fraught with mortal danger. My President Was Black
Obama was born into a country where laws barring his very conception—let alone his ascendancy to the presidency—had long stood in force. A black president would always be a contradiction for a government that, throughout most of its history, had oppressed black people. The attempt to resolve this contradiction through Obama—a black man with deep roots in the white world—was remarkable. The price it exacted, incredible. The world it gave way to, unthinkable. My President Was Black
He had an ability to emote a deep and sincere connection to the hearts of black people, while never doubting the hearts of white people. My President Was Black
But there is nothing “mere” about symbols. The power embedded in the word nigger is also symbolic. Burning crosses do not literally raise the black poverty rate, and the Confederate flag does not directly expand the wealth gap. My President Was Black
“Veterans Day often follows a hard-fought political campaign, an exercise in the free speech and self-government that you fought for,” he said. “It often lays bare disagreements across our nation. But the American instinct has never been to find isolation in opposite corners. It is to find strength in our common creed, to forge unity from our great diversity, to sustain that strength and unity even when it is hard. Obama Reckons with a Trump Presidency
How did he speak with his two daughters about the election results, about the post-election reports of racial incidents? “What I say to them is that people are complicated,” Obama told me. “Societies and cultures are really complicated. . . . This is not mathematics; this is biology and chemistry. These are living organisms, and it’s messy. And your job as a citizen and as a decent human being is to constantly affirm and lift up and fight for treating people with kindness and respect and understanding. And you should anticipate that at any given moment there’s going to be flare-ups of bigotry that you may have to confront, or may be inside you and you have to vanquish. And it doesn’t stop. . . . You don’t get into a fetal position about it. You don’t start worrying about apocalypse. You say, O.K., where are the places where I can push to keep it moving forward.” Obama Reckons with a Trump Presidency
Had Hillary Clinton won, many of us would have moved on as if all was right with the world, but the world is very wrong, and the impact of that wrongness is on display for all to see. This is an opportunity to dig deeper into our imaginations and collective intelligence for solutions, to make great art, to forge stronger human connections, to plant deeper community roots, to try to listen to each other. Empathy isn’t a favor I owe white Trump voters. It has to go both ways.
The degree to which white, liberal, urban America relied on polling reports and FiveThirtyEight and the Upshot to tell them everything was going to be all right is incredible. I derived confidence from those predictions as well. We all stuck to those websites like a driver sticks to incorrect Waze GPS directions. Instead of driving, we acted like passengers, trusting in the machine instead of our own eyes. Meanwhile, outside the vehicle, in the real world, the GOP nominee was making sweet xenophobic and job-promising love to the other white America. Empathy isn’t a favor I owe white Trump voters. It has to go both ways.
And then we act surprised when a master appears on the scene and shows us how to put all these pieces together in a brilliant coalition. The man who got into a Twitter fight with a former Miss Universe read the public better than any data analytics team. He hacked the media business model’s addiction to sensation without real need of Russian cyberterrorists. He innovated in what passes for political communication pointing out the undeniable failures of our system. He gave voice to a rising chorus of rage. He played off our fears and our weaknesses and became an overwhelming denial of service attack against our entire society. We were practically inviting him in with open ports. Empathy isn’t a favor I owe white Trump voters. It has to go both ways.
So I am both empathetic and angry. I get to be both. We all should be able to be both, but as we discuss the need for empathy, let us remember it needs to go both ways. It is not a cross solely to be born by the oppressed in order not to hurt the oppressor’s feelings. It is not just for liberals and Democrats to practice toward conservatives and Republicans. As Patrick Thornton wrote, it is not just for the cities to offer to the rural. It is for all of us to embrace and struggle through and gain from. That’s really the whole point of this democratic experiment. Empathy isn’t a favor I owe white Trump voters. It has to go both ways.