A Surprising Realization in America


I’ve lived in Portugal for the last 27 years and generally visit America – the country where I was born and grew up – only once a year.  I recently had my annual visit, and for three weeks I stayed at a beachfront condominium on Sanibel, a tranquil and beautiful island off the west coast of Florida that is part of Lee County.  In that county – which includes the nearby city of Fort Myers – 59 percent of the population voted for Donald Trump. And he won the statewide vote as well (as most Tikkun readers will remember only too well!)  I mention the President’s popularity in that area of the country because it made me feel constrained and uncomfortable. And yet, at the same, time, his victory made me want to find a way to make it clear to shop owners, waitresses, cashiers and other strangers that I met that I regarded him as an ignorant bully and wretched human being.
After a few days, I began to notice that I had no problem mentioning my contempt for Trump to African-Americans but kept silent with whites.  The reason?  88% of blacks voted for Hillary Clinton, so airing my views about him with them was relatively safe (I do not like to get into quarrels with strangers!). Nationwide, only 37 percent of whites voted for Clinton, and 58 percent of them voted for Trump.
I confess that this comfort I felt discussing politics with African-Americans – and not with whites – is new to me, probably because I grew up in suburban community in New York with very few blacks.  In my high school on Long Island, we had 1600 white students and two African-Americans. I only began making black friends when I went to college. And yet I was always aware of the gap of experiences and perspective between us.
I suspect that even the most progressive whites have – like me – often felt self-conscious around African-Americans, largely because there are so few communities in America where we grow up together. But what I realize now is that Trump may have unwittingly brought us closer together.  In fact, I suspect that millions of white, progressive Americans may have recently discovered that – to their astonishment – they are now far more comfortable around African-Americans than they are around other whites. And I sense that a great many African-Americans are very much at ease discussing politics with white people with whom they share a profound dislike for racist politicians.
Two examples…
When the African-American woman who made me a caffè latte at the coffee shop inside Jerry’s Supermarket asked me if I wanted anything else, I replied: “Yes, I very much want Trump to be impeached and forced to resign.”  She laughed and told me enthusiastically that she was in complete agreement with me.  For the next few minutes, we had an amiable conversation about our President, and how his response to the murder of a woman protesting against the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville revealed what a cowardly racist he was. Later on my stay in America, when I purchased a shirt at Macy’s in New York, I was given the option of adding 20 cents to the bill to contribute to a fund for Hurricane Harvey relief.  I agreed to do that, and since the saleswoman was African-American, I added, “And if you start a fund to get rid of Trump, I’ll add a whole lot more than 20 cents!” To which, she smiled and said, “Me, too!”  Again, we started conversing, and she assured me that neither Trump nor anyone like him would ever be elected President again, because people like the two of us had been awakened to the racist, xenophobic and misogynist dangers still present in America.
I hope she is right, of course. But whatever happens in the next Presidential election, it seems very hopeful to me that Trump might have made it possible for African-Americans and progressive white people to come together and feel ever more comfortable with one another.  Especially because it is a bond that will need to grow stronger over the coming decades of we are to prevent repugnant demagogues like Trump from ever again taking up residence in the White House.
Richard Zimler is the author of The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, The Warsaw Anagrams and The Night Watchman.  He has lived in Portugal since 1990.

4 thoughts on “A Surprising Realization in America

  1. Having a common enemy brings people together, but the momentary closeness does not last. Soviet Russia was a co-belligerent against the Nazis, but the end of the Nazis meant the beginning of the Cold War. A lasting partnership requires more than a common enemy.

  2. “I feel good because I’m preaching to the choir. I feel even better because they’re colored people.” This is one reason why Trump won: we’re comfortable talking to like minded people, but oh-so reluctant to talk to family, friends, co-workers, fellow congregants, and strangers who might disagree with us. What’s with that? White privilege is not erased because you talk to a person of color.

    • If you intepreted my piece as a statement that all differences between me and my black friends (or between blacks and white progressives in general) have vanished then I suppose I failed to put across the point I was trying to make.

  3. I vote the Democratic ticket 100% of the time, but what I am finding with my own party is that it takes the African American vote for granted. That simply translates to making empty promises, guaranteeing low African American voter turnout. voter turnout in this past election was low nationwide. I’d imagine it was lower in urban African American areas. 88% of those who actually votes is not 88% of those who are eligible to vote. The Democrats have to do a better job

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