In the lovely state of Michigan, 63 miles west of Detroit, off Interstate-96, you’ll find a commonly passed yet rarely noticed town by the name of Fowlerville. Pop off the highway and mosey through the street lined with fast food chains and Wal-Mart. Make your way down the main street to the single traffic signal in the center of town. Then continue north 10 miles. Take a left where the road curves and you’ll find home. My home. The farm. Our family. My grandfather’s legacy turned uncle’s responsibility.
My brother and I spent the formative years of our childhood on this land. Shooting bb guns in those fields. Feeding the calves before or after school, caring for horses, being gifted goats for Christmas, building jumps for dirt bikes, and cages for my rabbits. Cutting paths through the corn field to Grandma’s house and taking walks on the “back 40” to return with stories of a renegade hot air balloon or arms lined with poison ivy. It sounds idyllic…but for each of those experiences and in all of the fond memories, we were still, undeniably, other.
In this small town, there are 2,886 people. 7 of them are Black or African American. 10 are Asian. 48 are two or more races. 2.25% of this community is “other”. 96.81% is white. Fowlerville is located in Conway Township, which has the second largest farming population in the country. I tell you this because sometimes, when I try to explain where I’m from, I don’t quite know how. Small, agricultural, and white. That would most accurately sum it up. As such, hurtful micro-aggressions have been a part of my life since long before there was a term for it. Yet, the older I get and the longer I’m away from Fowlerville, the more I’ve been able to reflect on what it has meant to grow up as one of the few kids in town that was not quite like all the others. It’s made me resilient, and kind, and understanding, and capable, and aware, and not afraid of taking chances or being “the only”. That’s one great thing about growing up “other” – you learn how to thrive when others are just surviving.
So Tuesday, Donald Trump was elected to become the next President of the United States of America, and I was not surprised. I was sad, and disappointed, and worried, but surprise was missing from my arsenal of emotions because this is consistent with the America we have been shown over the last couple years, and the America I know from my home town. Donald Trump and his campaign acknowledged a whole sub-set of Americans that pretty much everyone (Clinton campaign, pollsters, news media) ignored. They found the silent majority that has never left a 20 mile radius of their home town. They haven’t gone off to college, moved abroad or even across the country, owned a passport, or participated in serious conversations about policy. They don’t have deep friendships spanning cultural, religious, or party lines – not because they are bad people; but because their lives and their communities are just like them. This portion of American has never had to be “other” or think about those implications, because they are always surrounded by the same.
The privilege of having been born into a very hard-working family, supportive of education, allowed me to go to boarding school and landed me at Carnegie Mellon. The difficulties of growing up “other” resulted in the ability for me to thrive anywhere. It’s taken me to Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Haiti, England, and soon – Thailand. Life has granted me indescribable relationships with people from vastly different cultural, religious, and political views. I would not be me without those experiences, conversations, and encounters.
I know a lot of people are frustrated, and scared, and genuinely disheartened. I am too. It’s 2016 and lack of accessibility to people different from yourself should not be an excuse for spreading hatred. Racism, bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia were all at play in this election cycle, but more than that, ignorance prevailed. I, and some from my home town, got out to see the world and we have been changed by it. While the vast majority of others are still 63 miles west of Detroit, off Interstate-96, in that commonly passed and rarely noticed town of Fowlerville; and they felt that the only person who saw them was Donald Trump. So for that – shame on us.
Now is the time to show that silent majority, that people who are usually in the “other” category see them. Not only do we see them, but we want to engage with them; not to condemn whiteness, but to understand each other. Now is the time to commit to spreading understanding, having conversations, and cultivating friendships. It’s a conversation that has to go both ways. America is broken. It’s divided. It’s hurting…but I don’t believe it’s irreparable.
Grieve, take care of yourselves, cry those tears, and start the healing process. We’ve got a lot of love to spread, but I’m confident the deplorables and the nasty women can be united by a whole lot more than they can be divided by.
“Let us have faith in each other. Let us not grow weary. Let us not lose heart. For there are more seasons to come and…more work to do.” – Hillary Clinton