Trump or Hillary? Why — especially now — we shouldn’t generalize or label one another: a personal story

By Sarah Gonzalez

This election was not entirely about Democrats versus Republicans, nor about Donald J. Trump versus Hillary Clinton. Respectfully, I propose that these two figures represent America’s current collective consciousness. Racism, classism, sexism, and discrimination of all sorts have existed from the beginning of time. So why are we all so surprised that a candidate that many see as racist, classist, and sexist has won? Such views are nothing new. They existed long before any of us were born and will be so after we die. Does that make it ok? No. Should we just sit still and accept it? No. But be aware that no individual politician in the world can change that. The PEOPLE need to change and not just Americans but all of humankind. Of course that is my personal opinion, just as you may have yours. We do not have to agree, but we can and should strive to hear one another’s side.

Sarah Gonzalez is an M.A candidate in the Clinical Psychology Department at Teachers College.

I know a bit about labels. From the time I was a toddler my Papa would always ask “Eres de España o de Colombia?”. Are you from Spain or are you from Colombia? He was insistent that I prefer Spain, his birth country. I suppose it was his way of not allowing me to become ‘too’ American or too Colombian and forget his own roots. Early on, he enlisted my sister and me in Spanish school, flamenco dance classes, and had a strict “No English speaking” policy at home. At the time, both of my parents were undocumented immigrants looking for new beginnings in the mighty land of opportunity, America. My father arrived soon after he had completed his term in the Spanish military and sailed around the globe in petroleum ships. My mother, practically an orphan, crossed the Mexican border twice — once with a visa and another hidden in the back of a truck while eight months pregnant with me.

So why did I lean towards Spain more? Positive exposure.

Throughout my childhood I attended numerous private catholic schools and for the most part associated with only Spaniards and middle-class whites in Queens NY. Though my father worked three jobs to keep food on the table and pay our tuition, he always led my sister and me to believe we were filthy rich by allowing us to pick one item at Toys“R”Us every Sunday. Politics, economics, and race discussions were never discussed in our home.

As I began my undergraduate studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology, I was exposed to gay people for the first time. And I have to admit, it was uncomfortable. Seeing two men or two women kiss and hold one another was shocking to me. I’d never seen it before and it conflicted with my Catholic upbringing. (Didn’t it? Would this questioning make me ignorant or stupid? Or just simply someone who didn’t know any better? )

By the time I graduated from college, I had dated a proud Muslim, worked at a Jewish summer camp, and taken Buddhist classes all while prancing around town with my Hispanic and Spanish-American friends on the weekends. Thanks to my parents’ hard work, I’d had the luxury of traveling to 14 different countries outside of the States and be exposed to diverse populations from all sorts of walks of life. I’ve volunteered at homeless shelters and nannied for multi-millionaires and I can tell you this: There are sensational and not-so-sensational people from all backgrounds. We cannot and should not generalize.

Now here’s a thought: Had I not had all these opportunities — had I not had positive exposure to other races, classes, religions, sexual orientations; had I not been born in New York City (the most diverse city in the world); had I not had immigrant parents who went from basement living and food stamps to becoming homeowners; had I not been romantically involved with a kind Muslim man, had I not been taken in by a Jewish community; had I not been welcomed by blacks, had I not been educated by gays — who is to say that I wouldn’t have been discriminatory of others? Who’s to say I wouldn’t be against gay rights? Who is to say, I wouldn’t have disliked or feared blacks or Muslims?

My point: Education. We need to come together — not as blacks, Asians, whites, Hispanics, gays, Middle Easterners and others, but as citizens of the world who can teach one another about acceptance, compassionate listening, and respect. As global citizens, first and foremost, we should strive to cohabit as best we can with one another.

All of us have the power to take control of our own lives and make of ourselves what we wish. We have the power to heavily influence the next generation and implement long-term change. If you want to raise consciousness by creative expression, DO IT. Peaceful Protesting? DO IT. Teaching? DO IT. Be the highest expression of yourself and educate those around you through your love and understanding. I firmly and wholeheartedly believe that one crucial step in bringing us closer to mending the gaps that divide us is to end generalization, blame, labeling, and intolerance of one another, and instead lead by example.

Gandhi said it best, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Don’t expect the world to always be fair to you but instead be fair to it first regardless of what gets thrown your way. We need to take a hard look within ourselves first before we point a finger towards our neighbor. We are brothers and we are sisters, kindred spirits looking for similar things: love, connection, and validation. All that is not love derives from a fear-based energy. Swim in love and invite others to join you in the pool. Create a place of positive exposure for someone. Be a teacher.

I do not claim to have all the answers. But I do claim to know this much. God bless America.

Sarah Gonzalez is an M.A candidate in the Clinical Psychology Department at Teachers College.

Published Friday, Nov. 11, 2016

The views expressed in the previous article are solely those of the speakers to whom they are attributed. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty, administration, or staff either of Teachers College or of Columbia University.