Opinion | Susan Knopf: White tribalism
We started as small tribes. Those small bands became settlements, villages, towns and cities. Somewhere along the way, some of us began to feel we lost the essence of what it means to be who we are.
If you look in the face of a cashier at the grocery store, and she doesn’t look like you, do you feel just a little uncomfortable? What if she speaks with an accent? What if the lilt of that accent makes communication a little more difficult? At what point do you feel irritated?
This irritation festers into anger, the anger bubbles and explodes like the volcano in New Zealand. But after the dust settles, we must reclaim what is ours — our country. Our country has always been diverse. And every one of us, including American Indians can trace our origins outside North America. As famed folk singer Woody Guthrie penned, “This land is your land. This land is my land.”
At the 2004 Democratic National convention, President Barack Obama said in his keynote address, “… there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.
“Well, I say to them … there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.
“There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.
“The pundits … like to slice and dice our country into … red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them. … We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.
“We coach little league in the blue states and … we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.”
They divided us. They gerrymandered our districts. They used bots to negatively program our social platforms. They weaponized discourse, sewing inflammatory political discord.
It was easy. We already had economic discontent. We watched an ever-widening economic gap between workers and bosses. The gap started with Ronald Reagan. A prosperous economy under Bill Clinton, collapsed under George W. Bush.
Those who do nothing constructive would have you believe the immigrant is taking your job, your life is made worse by the gay couple who now enjoy legal marriage. These are not your problems.
Our problem is the spin masters who whip us up into a frenzy to distract us from the real work. How do we create an economy with jobs that pay living wages, houses workers can afford, schools that truly educate their children and a health care system that works and is affordable?
Republicans would have you believe the Democrats are so busy impeaching President Donald Trump that they haven’t done their jobs. Not true. Democrats have passed nearly 400 bills addressing these issues. They’re sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk. More on that next week. Republicans repeatedly spoke of “hate” in the House chamber in the debate that preceded Wednesday’s vote to impeach the president.
Now some 40% of our country think a Democrat is more dangerous than the ayatollah. Why? Democrats represent diversity. Diversity upsets white tribalism. We can fix the division the spin masters have created.
A great way to bridge the tribal gap
AmeriCorps already exists underfunded, and under utilized. Let’s expand it. Let’s increase its structure to an austere military-style fitness platform. Let’s encourage all American kids to enroll right after high school. Let’s mix 18- to 20-year-olds from the north, south, east, west, rich, poor, middle class, working class, upper class, prep schools, public schools, black, white, brown, gay, straight, Muslim, Jewish, Christian — whatever. They get basic health care, $50 a week, three square meals a day, fan out across the U.S. and do the jobs we need done.
They can work in schools, parks and libraries. Do two years for your country and get two years of post-graduate education. That education can be university, community college or trade school. Anything you want.
We can even apprentice these young people in fields or trades they think might interest them in their last year of service. But their initial service has one major goal: get them away from their home tribes and show them they are members of a larger, more important tribe.
It’s time for us to take back the American dream: equality and justice for all. There are those who believe equality deprives them and their tribe of opportunity. Justice demands equal access to opportunity regardless of identity. Our most important identity: “We the people.”
Susan Knopf’s column “For the Record” publishes biweekly on Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf lives in Silverthorne. She is a certified ski instructor and an award-winning journalist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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