Stop, look, listen...and vote

I don’t know how much national politics and issues have played a role in local politics, but you don’t have to dig too far beneath the surface of the North Boroughs to see at least some effect. Ballots on which offices were once filled by anyone who could get a few write-in votes are now being contested by an abundance of candidates. And some of the most troubling issues that confront us as a nation have stepped into the local spotlight as well.

I have attended many, many candidate forums in the last 40 years. Not until this fall did I ever hear the candidates questioned about issues of diversity, inclusion and how minorities are treated right in our own neighborhoods. The governing bodies of the North Boroughs have been predominantly white and male since their inception. There is no question that our governments, our police and service departments, do not reflect the diversity that has grown in our community. And when you fill a government with a bunch of straight white guys born and raised in the USA, that government has to go the extra mile to even grasp the issues facing many of their constituents.

At the forum in Bellevue, a number of candidates responded to the questions with the old “we’re all the same” line. I find that offensive. We are not all the same. Women, African Americans, Hispanics, immigrants and the LGBTQ communities have experiences and perspectives that are far, far different than those of a white male. We cannot ignore those differences and claim we are unhampered by prejudice. We have to understand them, and respect them, and value them for the deeper insight that they give each of us as individuals, and our communities as a whole.

My father liked to tell people that I had more of a certain part of the male anatomy than any guy he’d ever met. I think he meant it as a compliment. My question was, why did I have to measure up to a male standard when it came to strength and courage? I have never, ever, heard a strong man described as having more estrogen than other men.

I hope that my experiences of a lifetime of facing sexism and assumptions about who I was made entirely on the basis of my biology make me more open to hearing and understanding the experiences of others who have grown up as part of a group that society as a whole sees as somewhat lesser. I know that the pain friends have experienced at the hands of racists, sexists, homophobes and nationalists has echoed inside me. But I can’t tell you that I fully understand the experiences of each friend, or that “we are all the same” because we have something in common.

What too many people don’t understand is that we all have to challenge our thinking, our assumptions based on stereotypes, all the time. It’s too easy to lump all the haters into groups that wear white hoods or sport Nazi swastikas. The standard for determining if someone is racist is not, as one Bellevue woman stated at a council meeting, whether a person is seen burning a cross on someone’s front lawn.

These issues are not just stories on the national news of tragedies that have occurred “somewhere else.” If you look, and if you listen, you will find them right next door. And while no one seems to have the definitive answer on how we resolve the disparity in treatment experienced by so many, part of it has to be that we take a close look at the people in our community, and especially the ones who seek to run our governments.

I urge all of you to do that, and to go to the polls on election day, Nov. 7, and every election day after that, and send a message that we will not tolerate sweeping the issue of tolerance under the carpet any longer.