Election Day

Election day is an amazing ritual of national solidarity and reaffirmation of our common destiny. Standing for hours in a queue to vote is a rare opportunity to experience a sense of solidarity and common purpose with so many strangers. Regardless of which political party people choose to support, everybody was standing there because of a wish to make a difference. Overhearing people’s jokes, remarks, pontificating and other private performances designed to be witnessed or eavesdropped upon by as many others as possible without appearing to be deliberately attention seeking, was both endearing and enlightening.   It was like a large family gathering where everybody does their particular brand of shtick. I left the polling station, feeling quite uplifted from the experience. Back in the street, I went to visit a party table that were giving out bottled water with party branding on it which I found quaint and amusing. I asked for water, and the very well spoken young man in his early twenties said to me “you must be careful of drinking this water; you may end up shouting freedom slogans or singing freedom songs (which he referred to them by name). I was instantly slapped into a reality that is hard to acknowledge. I heard in his playful challenge one of the phrases I most detest. It is the phrase “you people”. The criticisms, judgments and exclusionary practices of others are so often prefaced by the phrase “you people”. This phrase is almost invariably used by associates, colleagues or family members who define by your differences so as to isolate and then justify excluding you from resources or opportunities. They exploit knowledge gained from their familiarity with you by using it against you.  However much I might like to believe in goodwill and a cohesive society, here I was being sharply reminded that I am not in everybody’s circle of trust simply because of what I represent in their minds. This young man did not perceive the irony of his preaching to me about how we need to get together more and bridge the racial divide after he’d  virtually implied that I was trespassing on his territory. Many defensive arguments ran through my mind until I came to terms with my sense of injustice and disempowerment and chose rather to respond to him with words of encouragement and support for his desire to build a better future. The moment was a reminder of the solidarity that we all need to feel with the countless members of our society that are reduced to stereotypes and then by excluded and isolated, usually economically or through being denied access to opportunity. It was a reminder not to let ones goodwill deny a blind-spot.

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