Thursday, March 3, 2016

That Time I Was Kind Of, Sort Of a Bigot

"I can spot a Republican a mile away."

This is a thought I've really had.
It's a thing I've never said "outloud" until this very moment.
And there it is.
I said it.

And so when I went to do my civic caucusing duty on Super Tuesday this week, I was pretty positive what I'd find there:
-mostly white people with white hair
-several cowboy hats and Wrangler jeans
-and a few Latinos and Democrats squished into a corner representing a teeny-tiny portion of Weld county, a historically conservative area.

So, when Jeremy and I walked into the middle-school cafeteria where caucusing was taking place, I saw all of the typical people and characteristics that I expected to find there based on how "I can spot Republicans," you know? And then I found "my people": the Democrats, scattered around the room.

We were directed to sit at our district table with other people who lived near to us. It was nice to finally meet some of our neighbors from local farms, because you don't exactly bump into each other when your houses are at least a half-mile apart.

We made small talk. We introduced ourselves. And at one point, I asked, "So why are we all seated at different tables? Are we separated by our favorite candidates or by political party?"

The leader of our group chuckled and said, "Oh, we're all Democrats!"

"So, this table is Democrats, but the other tables are Republicans?"

Again, I could see the surprise in his eyes, when he said, "No, like this whole room is Democrats. The caucusing is separated by party. The Republican caucus is down the street at the high school."

Long pause.

The room grows blurry.

Shame sweeps into my bones like a warm wash.

I've been so terribly wrong.

Now, if you understand anything about the voting process, you might've known already that caucuses are separated by party. But I did not a single ounce of research before showing up, so I came fully-loaded with my assumptions and defenses. It was not my finest moment. And I'm still feeling pretty bad about it.

Because what I really meant when I thought that I could "spot" a Republican, was that I knew who I disagreed with based solely on their appearance. And I had all kinds of ideas about how farmers and country-folk and country music fans must feel and must vote. And that assumption and that idea is basically bigotry.

To be fair to myself, I am not "intolerant" to the views of conservatives.
I have family and friends who vote the exact opposite that I do.
We talk. We engage.
I legitimately want to understand what leads them to their perspectives.
But I can still be real judgey.
And I can put people in a box when I don't know them at all.
But I assume how they would vote.
And that's certainly leading me toward intolerance.

And this is not a fun thing to talk about.
I'd rather not be confessing to my own biases.
But I write this anyway, because I know I'm not alone.

We're doing a lot of arguing right now, aren't we?

I know I'm not the only one who makes assumptions about the other side, regardless of which side you're standing on. Which doesn't create harmony or good conversation, it just makes it easy to write others off. It creates a separation. It builds a wall. It does the very thing that I am most repelled by Donald Trump for doing.

And I've done it.
And I'm sorry.

As the meeting was called to order, we all stood, faced that vibrant red and blue flag, and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. And as we did, I thought about the other good group of folks down at the high school, standing and saluting their flag and the values of the country they love.

It's kind of a beautiful thing, isn't it? People raising their hands in public support of the issues they care most about. Yeah. I think so.

The conversation at the table went on without me. When I started listening again, I heard people having a kind and civil discussion about their favorite candidates and wanting to understand the views of the other. I listened as people shared family stories from when their great-grandparents first homesteaded outside of Greeley. I talked to a jolly, old farmer across the table: "Did your grandfather ever tell you about the time I sold him that mean bull? I felt so bad about that," and we laughed.

That evening, I talked to a wide range of teachers and pastors and Christians and non-Christians  and moms and dads and Bernie-fans and Hillary-fans and a lot of people who look nothing like me.

But when its all said and done.
You can't tell us apart. 
Because while we are not the same, we are one.

Bless us. Everyone.