The Other Columbus: White America must take responsibility before calling for unity
I was standing in line at a Subway this week, preparing to place my order. As I watched the employees uncase loaves of bread and fluff fixings, a food app delivery driver entered and approached the counter. I couldn't discern which service he drove for. As he read the ticket to confirm the package with the Sandwich Artist (actual job title) behind the counter, she checked the cookie stand.
The Artist came back to the driver and asked him to call the customer to see if they would accept a cookie substitution. It turned out that the store was out of White Chip Macadamia Nut cookies. The driver said, “I'll just take it like this,” and turned to walk back across the lobby to the door. The Artist stopped him, loud but civil, “You can't do that. That's half their order. You have to call them and ask if they want another kind of cookie.” The driver then dutifully sent a text message and about a minute or so later received a response, stating that the customer would accept any cookie. The Sandwich Artist then processed, filled and handed over the completed order, and the driver went on his way.
Setting aside the euphoric feeling that overtook me as I witnessed such an act of modern sainthood, allow me to use this story to answer the question that is on most Americans' minds after the waterboarding vis-à-vis election we all just endured: How do we mend the divide?
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The answer, much like each person's vote, is an individual one. You can opt to now campaign for nebulous hope and reconciliation or 50 percent more bully pulpit, but in the end, your next steps can only be taken in your shoes. But before any walking commences, there needs to be an autopsy about what just happened through more than the lens of shocked white people. The results of this election aren’t just something you can simply move past to get to the parts of the story you enjoy telling. So the first thing we must engage in is rigorous acknowledgement. There must be an accounting of how white supremacy made the election closer than it should have been. We need to begin to act on voter suppression. Also, there must be an agreement about what “divided” even means, since people of color largely vote in one direction.
If you’ve never seen the country more divided than it is now, then you must be under the age of 60, because every Black person older than 60 certainly remembers a time when the country wasn’t on the same page, and they love telling younger people all about it. My mother remembers it distinctly. And look: My using segregation is a softball. If you want to really get in the game, the demographics of non-white voting blocs shows that your country has been plenty divided this whole time. We’re only talking about it being divided because white people need its magic BIPOC healers to come in and absolve everyone else of the systemic injustices they level against the world on a daily basis.
Compounding matters, what’s interesting to note is how many white people think my frequent political criticisms are directed primarily at Trump voters and don’t include liberal whites. I thought I’d made it clear that I don’t ever talk to Trump supporters, so I don’t know why these rocks aren’t hitting so-called progressive, well-meaning whites more often. I must not be throwing them hard enough. They certainly aren’t known for having thick skin. And many of them are already messing up the post-election party with talk of quick reconciliations and bridging the gap with people who think all of the problems faced by minorities in this country are in our heads, or worse, our fault.
So, back to sandwiches.
In the Subway story, voters of color are the Sandwich Artists, led primarily by Black voters. We don’t own the store, but if we don’t show up for work, nobody eats. The Democratic party is the delivery driver, trying to do a job, but not worried about getting it wrong because they’ll be out the door before anyone realizes how they messed up. The customer who ordered the sub from their couch is America, paying to have things delivered that will sustain them. (And also paying through the nose for things that they could just as easily make themselves, but whatever. Even in a pandemic this is America and comfort remains our preeminent value, so spend $20 having a six-inch sub delivered to your door if you want.) Rounding things out, this election is that almost-problematic transaction, where white voters were just going to do whatever they wanted in their own interest and the Sandwich Artist had to step in and say, “Hey, you can’t do that. None of us will be happy if you do that.”
And so, not even with the goal in mind, we step in and steer the country from the brink of another disastrous four years. We weren’t trying to. We were just survival voting. Turns out, when the least of us is looked after, everyone wins. You should try it more, America.
Before we get caught up in reconciliation, white America needs to reckon with the bad service it has been providing and stop looking for everyone else to come clean up the messes it creates trying to stay comfortable. At some point, the Democratic needle must move in the interest of the parties who keep pulling its fat out of the fire and putting its White Chip Macadamia Nut cookies in the bag.