Charlotte Clymer, a transgender woman, activist, and spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign, recently bravely stood up for herself and others when she was discriminated against at a Washington D.C. restaurant. The story made national news. Now she relates her personal experience locking eyes with a sneering Trump supporter, and why we should stop asking why they are so consumed with hate and rather focus on amplifying the voices of minorities who struggle because of it every day.
Trump supporters have chosen their path to the dark side, so to speak, and it’s not our job to “solve their racism.”
In fact, racists, white nationalists, alt-right/fascists, and misogynists in the Trump camp don’t want any of us to take away their excuse to live and even revel in hate.
Progressives and liberals tend to have developed exquisite empathy skills for considering the feelings of others, but we can exhaust ourselves and waste time expecting to reach people who have decided over the course of a lifetime to hate people for irrational reasons.
“Racist folks (anti-LGBTQ, sexist, xenophobic) are not going to like you more because you listen to them. They don’t want you to solve their racism. Doing that would take away their excuses for the choices they’ve made. That’s the whole point. So, let them do the work.”
Racist folks (anti-LGBTQ, sexist, xenophobic) are not going to like you more because you listen to them. They don't want you to solve their racism. Doing that would take away their excuses for the choices they've made. That's the whole point. So, let them do the work. /thread
— Charlotte Clymer🏳️🌈 (@cmclymer) August 9, 2018
Clymer explains how she arrived at this statement after looking into the eyes of a woman with a MAGA red hat, who stared at her for what she says was the purpose of making her feel uncomfortable.
While waiting for a Lyft ride on a curb in downtown D.C., Clymer and a coworker watched a dilapidated van pull up and stop “way ahead of the stoplight.”
Inside, a woman in thick glasses, gray, stringy hair and wearing a MAGA hat locked eyes with Clymer, smirking and staring.
“She was staring with such intentionality. She wanted me, specifically, to see her in the MAGA hat. You might ask how I know that, and I don’t know how to explain it. I just do. She had this barely-restrained smirk, perhaps a warm sneer-of-sorts. All but leaned her head out.”
Clymer realized that the woman had recognized her, as a person in the “sworn enemy” category.
The staring continued for an uncomfortable length of time, then the van drove away, but Clymer recognized the intent –the woman wanted to validate her hatred for people like her.
Even so, Clymer couldn’t help but have empathy for her.
“It couldn’t have been more than 15 seconds we stared at each other. It was so quick, and yet, so much passed between us. Nothing good, only venom. And I was pissed at myself as they drove away for moving quickly from anger to empathy. I felt bad for her. Really bad.”
The woman wanted to get under her skin.
“What I hated most about the interaction wasn’t the palpable sense that this person wanted me to feel uncomfortable. It was the pain drenching the air in and around this van, the weariness of the vehicle and the person, the miles on both. Pain, even in its quiet, loud as anything.”
Clymer had seen this before and instantly recognized it.
“It was pain familiar to me. White trash pain. She didn’t know that, of course. She didn’t know that I was raised in trailer parks in Central Texas, from a long line of white trash on both sides. She didn’t know about my family’s alcoholism, abuse, racism, etc. None of that.”
The woman had no empathy for Clymer. To her, she was just an instant stereotype to be hated.
“She just saw the caricature. A trans woman looking fabulous in D.C. and therefore, some kind of East Coast liberal communist elitist blah blah, buzzword multiplied by buzzword, Fox News highlight reel. She saw only what she wanted to see to validate her sneering hatred.”
In an instant, Clymer knew the woman had judged her.
“I was amazed at how quickly she reduced me to that, within seconds, and equally amazed at how quickly I perceived her doing it, the kind of summing up that only comes with recognizing a lived experience like your own. I saw the way pain led her social arithmetic. Instantly.”
In those brief seconds, Clymer recognized that this woman had probably come from a lifetime of pain and desperation.
“I don’t know how to articulate that kind of desperation, but it’s awful. Pain so thick that it settles deep in your pores like nicotine in lifelong smokers. It becomes a language. That brief moment took me back to childhood, when it seemed like every adult was lost in pain.”
She knew that she likely had more insight into this woman than the other way around.
“I felt a twinge of guilt for having a view of both sides of the curtain. I knew her story far, far better than she knew mine, and that somehow felt unfair. This woman in her 50s/60s lost in delusion, so numbed to pain that all else is watered down by it.”
She recognizes that having empathy does not equip a person to deliver a solution for them either.
“You might think the punchline here is that I tell you to be kinder, sweeter, gentler to MAGA folks. Because I’m from there and recognize that pain and it should be negotiated with love. Nope. The point here isn’t a lesson in empathy. It’s a warning on what hate does to you.”
Trump voters have chosen their path and choose hate over their own best interests.
“Imagine being so hateful–making lifelong choices led by that hate–that you vote against your own interests just to spite those you hate. So consumed with hatred that even those you hate feel sorry for you.”
That’s not to say that many people raised in poverty and around those who choose to hate can’t escape it. Clymer is one example of a person who did, after all. We just don’t hear those stories very often.
“The truth is that I am not an anomaly. There are countless folks raised in conservative environments like this, fleshed out in white poverty, that consciously chose to do the right thing and reject hatred. You don’t hear our stories because they’re not neat or easy.”
To change, it takes serious work and also the ability to admit our own privileges. Let them do the work.
“Our stories are full of introspection and making mistakes and evolving as people and challenging ourselves to be better even in moments when we screw up. It takes work. It takes commitment and responsibility. It takes recognizing personal privilege despite our obstacles.”
Those MAGA voters are adults responsible for their own course. Indeed, they are the ones who have no mercy for those at a disadvantage in society and expect minorities to be self-sufficient despite any disadvantage they throw their way.
Survival of the fittest? Nope…more like the miserable existence of the meanest.
“It’s so much easier to view MAGA voters as static white people who have been wronged and left behind by a changing world and demand politicians cater to them. The burden is placed on the responsible. And the vile hatred of MAGA folks is declared “fear” to be negotiated.”
It’s not our burden to change their toxic hearts.
“And so, their perpetual fear somehow becomes our collective burden, weighing especially heavy on people of color, women, LGBTQ folks, religious minorities, etc. We somehow pay the price because of their laziness and toxicity.”
They operate with the goal to hold others down –people they have never met and know nothing about…
“This woman capped w/ MAGA had her head so far up her ass that she needed me, a perfect stranger, to feel uncomfortable because my identity is a perceived threat to her. She knew nothing about me but quickly assumed everything for her moment of hateful catharsis.”
Rather than expend our energy, we’re better off not wasting one second of time.
“Here’s what I’m saying: yeah, these are people in pain, but they’re also adults who make choices to be hateful and refuse to grow. You don’t owe them anything in the way of empathy. I frankly could not give a damn about their input on issues, nor should you.”
Clymer recognizes that we still want every American to have such things as work benefits, health care, a livable wage, and a path to a better life, but do they want that for minorities and for women? Absolutely not…
“That doesn’t mean they get left behind in healthcare, wages, etc. But it does mean that the constant national profiles and focus groups and cable news panels are ridiculous. They’re not changing their minds en masse. They are very happy being fluent in their own hateful pain.”
There is something infinitely more valuable we can all do: amplify the voices of the disadvantaged in society at a time when Trump supporters have them under siege.
Speak out for them. Stand up for them.
“Stop asking racist white people why they’re racist. If you’re a journalist, spend more time asking people of color what racism does to them. Better yet, hire academics and journalists of color for your outlets who can offer this perspective in reporting.”
Thank you to Charlotte Clymer for sharing your valuable insights. We are happy to amplify your voice.
See more about Clymer’s experience at a D.C. restaurant below:
Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube, “Wearing A MAGA Hat in Disneyland”