Texas Tech University

Two Americas

Marta Kvande

There are two Americas, it turns out. Two worlds, even. And if you live in one, you are forbidden even to see the other one.

I recently read a novel based on the premise of two cities occupying the same physical space but otherwise entirely separate. If you live in one city, parts of the other one might protrude into yours -- but you are forbidden to see it. There might be a house on the corner of your street that's actually in the other city, but if you see it, even for a second, if you acknowledge it's there, you'd be taken away and silenced.

America is like this now. I happen to live in white America. Because of things like social media, I'm get glimpses of the other America, the America that most black Americans (and other nonwhite folks) live in. This America is the America of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and so many others. And there are lots of white people who do not believe that this other America exists. "We live in America," they say. "We don't see these terrible things, they don't happen to us," they say. "It can't really be like that," they say. And I think that for some of these people, they really, truly don't understand. But it's also true that there are lots of forces that don't want us to see, that want to make sure that we don't see, that we don't look. The structure of our world depends on this refusal to see.

The same kind of thing is true for men and women, too. Women in many ways live in a different world than men do, and there are moments when that world pushes its way into view. Gamergate, for instance, and the rants of the Isla Vista killer, for instance, brought to the surface things women are confronted with all the time, but that many, many men simply do not see.

We need a radical receptiveness now. If there is ever to be one America, one America where we live together and see one another, those who live in the safe America need to allow themselves to see the other America. And in order to do that, we need to become radically, deeply, consciously open. That means listening to those who speak from the other America. That means seeing things we may not want to see. That means humbling ourselves and getting out of the way. That means believing those who speak from the other America-- believing that their experiences are real, that their experiences matter.

Please listen. Please look. Please see.

When you do, it will make you heartsick. It will make you angry. It will make you want to cry and scream and punch things. And if we in the safe America feel that way, just imagine what it feels like to live in an America that isn't safe.

Listen. Look. Imagine what it is to be in those shoes.

When you get angry and heartsick, we can help to make things change.