Thursday November 10, 2016

Patricia Thompson Collamer

A stomach knotted by shock, cinched by horror kept me from the keyboard. Until now.

Election Day 2016 came after an eternity of banter and babble media sources touted as conversations and interviews. A minor in statistics left me skeptical of all political “polls” flashed hour by hour on the television screens. Sources with .com in their names spouting political opinions give me the shivers.  Most of us endured a sustained ache in our temples for over a year and half. For me, that throb persists.

The day, the night, had finally come. A friend suggested bottles of wine. After casting my vote I picked up a pair. The TV remote control volleyed one analysis to the next. I forced myself to weed fact from the frenzy of conjecture. Months of practice kept me glued. Dinner consisted of leftover quesadillas.

Early returns disturbed any semblance of rational thought.  I left the room in search of a bucket and a brush. It was time to clean toilets. An hour later the news was no better. I walked upstairs and started to iron; place mats, napkins, a tablecloth last seen Easter Sunday. I finished up pressing one of the cat’s favorite blankets. Somehow being away from the television felt safe; as if nothing bad could happen without me in the room.

From one coast to the next polls began to close. A gargantuan map of little blue and mostly red appeared on the screen.  Every corner was covered in changing icons and symbols; check marks, numbers, head shots, a ticker tape of words across the bottom. A fuse had been lit on a metaphorical bomb months ago and we were left to wait and to watch the explosion.

Texts from daughter and friends punctuated the media jabber. At first welcomed as reassurance of social connection, it soon turned ugly. The unexpected, the unreal, the bizarre was happening. My texts began to mirror theirs; each began and ended in a list four letter words. I excused myself from the group, they would understand. My insides began to unravel.

The hours passed from one time zone to the next. More wine induced fretful nods in and out of sleep. Every time my eyes opened I discovered more of the unimaginable. Gelled confusion hardened with facts and dread. I turned off the television at 1:45 am and plodded upstairs looking for a cat to hug.

I woke at 4:00 am and presided over a debate in my head over whether I should get up to verify what must have been an ethanol-induced psychotic nightmare or not. Yogic breathing and an over-sized head kept me prostrate for another half hour.

Reality played regardless of the source, television, radio, the internet. I marveled how the communication systems sustained the volume driven by our obsession for immediacy. Seemed few could keep a thought inside their own head. And all were negative.

Like so many of us stunned, I had little time to process. Work was waiting. I would deliver lectures to first year college men and women as I had for thirty-one years. I would not miss my classes.

I am a sociologist. The person in a room expected to answer any question about human behavior, any behavior. That includes why strangers insist on doling out parenting advise to pregnant women standing in a grocery line, to why twenty-two-year-olds talk more about the salary they expect once they earn their degree than about anything we might call work.

Walking the campus path covered by leaves pulled to the ground with a gentle rain I remembered the morning of September 12, 2001. This day would be easy in comparison. I know, and accept with few reservations, that life is multi-directional, unpredictable, and much is outside my control.

Cell phones create social vacuums in classrooms and hallways. It was silent when I arrived. Often I feel I am interrupting thirty-five private conversations at the start of class. But I would not trade my place for another. I listen to these students. I observe them and evaluate their work. They rarely disappoint. And sustain my curiosity in the future.

Significant course work focuses on the topic of social stratification this time in the semester. We label and layer ourselves and others vertically on any social or personal characteristic. We investigate inequalities in social class, gender, race, education, the list goes on. None of it is fair and none of it is equal. I believe my students understand; none appear satisfied from the knowing. I consider that education.

Classes were over. My thoughts went back to finding a rational explanation devoid of tangled sound bites from news media as to why the unexpected candidate won. Scenes of the past months became vivid. Over and over I attempted to uncover the foundation of allegiance to a person who demonstrates little familiarity with the constitution he will be charged to protect. I cannot name one group of citizens or non-citizens in our country today who have escaped his verbal humiliations.

Rather than seeking blame I attempted to understand. I looked at demographic breakdowns in the voting process. A few topics surfaced.  First about gender.

Social sciences have focused significant attention and financial resources to study and promote the socialization process of females over the past forty plus years. After the women’s movement toward equal rights in the 1960s, the slogan “You can have it all” was popularized. Mothers and fathers communicated this to their daughters.  More and more girls were encouraged to set goals, and to reach them regardless of barriers. In the process of recognizing and realizing much potential in the lives of young girls, boys were often left out of the conversation. After all, they were born with so many advantages over girls they would know how to succeed on their own. Asking all my students to write an anonymous paragraph describing how their life would be different had they been born the opposite sex is revealing.

Other demographic categories were mentioned as cause for the political devastation. The last census recorded males make up about 50% of the population.  Approximately 73% identify as White alone in the racial categories listed. The majority, over 65%, do not have a college degree. It is significant to mention women have been earning college degrees at a greater rate than males.

Scattered emotions wove themselves into thought.

If I were an expert at marketing with the singular goal of winning a national election, I would spend any amount of time and money required to identify members of the numerical majority. I would find out what they looked like; the color of their skin, the texture of their hair, the number of years they attended school, their average yearly income, their sex, and where they go to church.   I would establish a detailed index and call it The Dominant Culture in America.

Next I would never waiver from messages that appealed to this numerical majority. Messages would emphasize partial facts, promote lies, incite anger, solidify fear. They would exclude or oppress all members of those not included in that majority. And I would never stop sending the same messages. Ever. That would be my strategy. And I would win. Votes.

Every semester I introduce the phrase dominant culture to students and ask them to describe it in their own words. The exercise leaves us appreciating how futile such a goal would be. If we are the country we claim, we see no reason to leave out any group, articulating a common goal of not identifying one culture to which we should assimilate. I recognize the potential challenges and the human goodness in a diverse population. But today I fear it will be used to promote segregation and the inevitable ethnocentrism that will follow.

Opinions, thoughts, and emotions continue to flood social media outlets, including my own. I respect the need to speak out and remain protective of that right. Yesterday noxious waves of bile rendered me unsteady. I have never been good at finding blame and have been less successful at assigning it.

My search for understanding continues. Curiosity shoves me forward. I hope that is enough to discover some measure of goodness, and soon.