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  • Seema

in the middle

I interviewed a Caucasian retired state legislator from the Midwest. It was a nuanced conversation with this self-identified Conservative. He expressed, “There should be more independents running,” adding that 80-90% of his state are in the middle. He said he could imagine a U.S. without racism, but “there has to be a major change from the top down. In congress we need the two parties to start talking. Both sides are guilty.”

He spoke with admiration about a Native American leader recently elected to his state’s House of Representatives and what he has learned from her. He spoke candidly about fear he has about going into big cities and “being singled out by a gang.” But then he recognized that no one racial group was perpetrating the violence, and he offered that in his state, with many Native American reservations, the closer one gets to the reservation, the more racism you’ll find spoken from the non-Native communities living around the reservation. “We just can’t let racism bubble under the surface. When it hits, we have to talk about it,” he vented. A few years ago, he went elk hunting in another state with a group of people. “Every joke -- and it was constant -- was crude, racist, anti-black jokes. I told the guy I was hunting with ‘If I ever have to hunt with those guys again, I’m not coming back here.’ What has to happen in front of other people is ‘Hey, there’s really no need for that,’ you have to tell them, you know.”

I asked him what a person like me, with my color skin, in my body, should do or say if someone says something offensive or hurtful to me. His advice, “You know what kills a fire is water. The best water to put on a fire is warm water."

Near the end of our interview, he said, “The last thing I ever want to do is do or say anything that hurts someone's feelings, because I don't like to have my feelings hurt. You know, everyone wants to be invited to the party.”

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