Commentary: Let’s use election data to save us, not divide us more

By Gail Quenneville

I have been focused on a piece of the statistical data from our presidential election: The preponderance of voters for Donald Trump have had the most cases of COVID-19 and are in the Whitest communities. What does this mean for our country, as we try to become more consolidated for its survival?

Gail Quenneville

My interpretation of this data is that White folks, particularly those in nonurban settings, are more afraid of progress than they are of dying, so we could say White fear overrides mortal fear. They will stand against progress out of a fear of it. They fear progress more than a fear of their deaths, as evidenced by their votes. This fear has been endorsed in many aspects of our society.

Those of us who believe in progress must figure out ways to change this. Those of us who want to improve our country need to be mindful and devise helpful ways to address these fearful attitudes and beliefs.

I facilitated diversity trainings at community settings in Michigan. We would put a Black engineer and a White engineer in a room together for 90 minutes once a week, and it changed their relationships from barely acknowledging each other to the point where their children would become friends. We taught teachers how racial stressors affected children and encouraged a wider understanding of the impact of this factor alone on their learning. Some teachers would initially sit with their backs to me, frustrated with their principal’s mandate that they meet with me, and within an academic year, requested my return services.

I now ask myself: Did we waste our time with such trainings, as policies were becoming law that countered what we were trying to do? When I try to reconcile the dishonesties of the Trump Republicans with those in our prisons, how long do we have to remain here? Mitch McConnell is reelected, yet (in his own words) his “finest moment” is refusing to allow a vote for a Supreme Court justice by President Barack Obama. Where in our educational system is this taught for what it is: obstruction of justice? Where is he held accountable for this? How will future generations understand this?

I have lived long enough to see some good in our country and some of the worst of this country, and I try to tell myself that I am living through a history that will be taught to future generations.

When my stepdaughter was in high school, she relayed an experience. The coach had been particularly tough on them, and as he turned his back, the group of young high schoolers joked with a “Heil Hitler” signal. One young girl, an exchange student from Germany, retorted that that was not funny. The daughter of an immigrant from Romania who escaped anti-Semitism as a young boy, I had also caught the contagious American “humor” and had done the same gesture at times.

My own epiphany that day in approximately 2005 was that we do not teach in our U.S. schools the true history of our country, as is now generally accepted by many others who have been promoting this. For 15 years, I have blamed both Republicans and Democrats for not putting enough resources into a fair, equitable, honest education for every student in this country — an education that is frank and candid and reveals our defects, flaws, past mistakes and horrors, which we have celebrated and honored and hold as signs of our power and dominance.

As a therapist, I know that this would at miminum improve empathy between us. And as a former teacher, I know that it would exponentially enhance this country, possibly even improve the future of this country, in ways that would secure our strength as one of the leaders in the world.

We need to figure out ways to take what we have seen and learned and embed it into a mandated educational curriculum that can have far-reaching effects for all children in this country. This is something that has never been attempted, so cannot be dismissed as a failure before we make efforts.

The opening narration of the movie “Mercury 13” includes this: “Most harmful behavior is based in fear. Protecting one’s perceived position in society. Protecting one’s territory or one’s physical well-being. But progress is inevitable.”

Let us hope that at this critical juncture in our efforts to heal that we also include concrete ways for the future to improve the lives of those to come after us. We need to use our knowledge to make actual change and avoid remaining in our academic, theoretical or experiential knowledge of the problems.

We can have socialist programs and not become a socialist country — programs like our educational system and the governmental medical system that serves veterans and the president when he needed it, the very type of health care that he denigrates yet that cured his COVID-19.

Gail Quenneville, is a licensed clinical social worker who has been recognized for her work against hatred and intolerance. She lives in Lewes.