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  • Monica Harris

The Illusion of Division: Let's Spread the Message of Unity!

Updated: Nov 3



Apologies for being so quiet this past month! As some of you may know, I've been focused on getting my message out on the speaking circuit. I presented at two amazing events -- TEDx Wilson Park in September and TEDx Breckenridge in October (many off you have asked for links, but TED "drops" videos on a schedule no one has been able to figure out. Rest assured I'll share them as soon as I get them!)


A couple of weeks ago, I also spoke on a panel in Chicago for the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism ("FAIR"), a pro-human organization for which I serve on the Board of Advisors. I'm honored to be part of FAIR because it's harnessing the skills of some of the most influential and forward-thinking people on the planet to take a stand against race essentialism and other reductive and regressive aspects of "wokeism."


As I write this, I'm also prepping to present in New York on November 17 at SPEAK!, a groundbreaking platform that focuses on people with ideas and stories (I was selected to be part of the inaugural group of speakers). Will also share that link when it drops!


So there's a lot going on, but I hope to resume my blogging in the next week. In the meantime, I'd like to ask a favor from all of you. Last month I did a "soft" launch of my new book, The Illusion of Division, but in the coming weeks I'd like to generate as much interest as possible to coincide with the release of my TEDx and SPEAK! talks.


In the past few weeks, I've been shocked by how sharply the tide has shifted in this country. In my conversations with friends and even on social media, more people are awakening to the manufactured division in our country and the urgent need for unity. I believe my book speaks to this division in a powerful way, so the timing couldn't be better.


Please take the time to read the excerpt below. If it resonates with you, please share it with others and consider purchasing The Illusion of Division and leaving a review. Reviews are really, REALLY important to Amazon's algorithms; without them, books aren't featured prominently and fall to the bottom of searches. I know these are challenging economic times for all of us, but without the support from a large publisher, this book's success will depend entirely on word of mouth. So I need your help.


I believe we are fast approaching one of the most critical moments in human history. The window for enormous change is upon us. The possibilities are endless, and we have the power to make those possibilities work for US -- if we can overcome the illusion of division. I believe with all my heart that we can chase away the darkness with the light each of us brings. Let's get the message of unity out to others so we can reclaim our country!



Addicted to Outrage

“We currently live in a culture where outrage is a bit of a hobby for some people. If they’re not outraged about something, they’re totally bored.” —Chris Sullivan

Every day I wake to an America I barely recognize.


A country convinced that insulting and demonizing the “other side” is the only way to “save” democracy and keep us all from plunging off a cliff. We fuel our outrage with breaking news headlines on cable networks. We unleash it on social media, pummeling non- believers, skewering people we’ve never met, and de-friending anyone who doesn’t agree with us. We delight in rants that reward us with retweets, “likes,” and red- faced emojis.

We’re outraged by Donald Trump, the fascination with gender pronouns, entitled “Karens,” illegal immigration, vaccine mandates, Antifa, Russians, people who don’t support Ukraine, or refuse to wear masks. Anything and everything can set us off, but nothing seems to trigger more outrage than racism.

One morning in spring 2019 I received my daily dose of outrage on Medium, an online blogging platform, where I read an article written by a black woman about the recently exposed college admissions cheating scheme. Wealthy celebrities and other high-profile figures had paid tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars for phony SAT scores and faux extracurricular activities to get their kids into top schools. The author, however, argued that the real college admissions scandal was a double standard that branded black students at elite schools as affirmative action tokens while ignoring mediocre white kids who got legacy “handouts.”

As a black woman, I knew she spoke the truth. I graduated from Princeton University in 1988, and it was an open secret that kids from families who donated crazy money were a shoo-in for admission if they had a pulse and decent motor skills. Even if they struggled academically, no one would ever mention it. People of color, on the other hand, always had to prove ourselves.

But I had a different take on the larger implications of the scandal.


If your son or daughter wasn’t particularly smart or talented, it was apparently okay to buy their way into an elite college by forking over millions of dollars for a library or gymnasium, because that was considered a “donation.” But spending less than seven figures to get your mediocre offspring admitted to a top school? That was a crime that could land you in jail. In other words, the U.S. Department of Justice had prosecuted these parents because they had engaged in low-dollar bribery, not high-dollar bribery. It’s the kind of shameless corruption you’d expect to see in a banana republic, not a democracy. And when you’re living in a banana republic,there’s only one color that matters, and it’s not black or white: it’s green.

I read the article to my partner, Lisa, who is white.

“She makes some good points,” I said. “I guess what bothers me is that we seem to be looking at every issue through the lens of race now. It feels like it overshadows everything else.”

“Don’t you think it’s because black people are always seeing reminders of how unfair the playing field is?” Lisa asked. “When you’re black, you have to work harder to get what comes easy to unqualified white people.”

“Of course, that’s the way it’s been all my life,” I said. “But it feels like the playing field has gotten so unfair for everyone. It’s likewe’re in a war, and anyone who doesn’t have a lot of money is getting slaughtered. If we’re all at risk now, does it make sense to focus on black casualties?”

“I think maybe we’re focused on them because they’ve been fighting this war longer,” Lisa suggested.


“Okay, but if the people we used to be fighting are in the trenches beside us now, shouldn’t that be a clue that the war has changed? How many white people can ‘donate’ millions to get their mediocre kids into top schools? How many white people do we know who can afford to send their kids to any college now?”

Lisa nodded somberly. “Yeah, it’s definitely getting harder for everyone.” In the past few years, she’d been shocked by the number of friends in her hometown of Santa Barbara, California who were forced to downsize or rent out rooms on Airbnb to cope with the rising cost of living. Most were now middle class in name only.

“The way I see it, we’re all getting shoved into the same class,” I said. “The one without money.”

We sat for a long moment, not saying anything. I could feel Lisa quietly studying my face as I gazed across the lawn.

“Babe, I hear what you’re saying about the bigger picture,” she said. “But sometimes I worry that you don’t understand why other black people don’t see things the way you do. I wonder if maybe you’re not appreciating their experience.”

I was stung by her comment. “What makes you think I haven’t had the same experience?”

Sensing she’d touched a nerve, Lisa reached across the table and gently took my hand in hers. “I’m just saying there must be a reason why so many black people focus on race, and you don’t.” She sighed. “I don’t know, maybe you haven’t . . .” Her voice trailed off.

“Maybe I haven’t what?” I asked, suddenly defensive. “Experienced discrimination? You don’t think white people have treated me like something on the bottom of their shoe?”

I could feel heat gathering in my face, and the look in Lisa’s eyes told me I should turn it down a notch before I said something I’dregret. I turned away. She gave me space, watching me as I silently fumed.


“Trust me, I’ve seen some ugly stuff,” I said. “Just because I don’t talk about it all the time doesn’t mean it didn’t happen to me.”

“I’m sorry, babe. You’ve told me about some things you went through, and you’re right, you don’t talk about it a lot.” She paused, the way she often does when she’s trying to connect dots. “So, if you’ve had the same experience, have you ever wondered why you see things so differently?”

I rolled my eyes and shrugged. “I don’t know, probably because I’m a freak. That’s what I’ve felt like for most of my life.”

Lisa smiled. “I’m not attracted to freaks, so I’m not buying that.”

I looked away, ready to move on to another subject. But she held my hand tighter.

“I’m serious. You should give some thought to this.” Her voice was cautious, yet firm. “I think you need to ask yourself why your journey has given you a different perspective.”

My stomach clenched and my throat tightened, the way it does when a door opens, and a painful memory, long dormant, forces its way out. Tears pooled in the corners of my eyes, but I couldn’t meet Lisa’s gaze. I’ve never felt comfortable crying in front of anyone, even the woman I’d been with for 13 years. I willed them to stop as my chest heaved spontaneously, trying to contain what was fighting to get out. Finally, I found my voice, so small and quiet I could barely hear it.

“I’ve spent so much of my life being angry, and it’s. . . it’s just so fucking tiring.” I closed my eyes. “And it makes me sad to see other people going down the same path."

Lisa wrapped her arms around me, pulled me close, and kissed me softly. Then the door swung open. I didn’t bother resisting. I let the tears flow freely.

 

Lisa’s question lingered in my mind for weeks. Had my life experience given me a unique viewpoint on the intersection of race and class that most black people didn’t share? We’d moved from southern California to Montana eight years earlier. My new home had obviously influenced my worldview, yet it didn’t explain why I’d ended up among a sea of blue collar, God fearing white people in the first place. In many ways, my experience mirrored that of most black people who grew up in the 70s, the first generation to come of age after the Civil Rights movement. We reaped benefits that white people begrudgingly gave us while they remained inwardly defiant of racial equality. Yet in other ways, my experience had been profoundly different.

My journey had been (as the Thai are fond of saying) same same, but different. I realized I haven’t always been the person I am now. I haven’t always believed it was possible to have deeply meaningful relationships with people who didn’t look like me or hadn’t faced the same obstacles. I haven't always been willing to look at the world through a lens that wasn’t colored by race. When and how had I become this person? And why?

Five months later, the answers came to me, as they often do, in an unexpected package. I was hauling feed to our chicken coop when Lisa texted me: “Listen to this.”


It was a link to Hidden Brain, a podcast on National Public Radio. The episode, “Screaming into The Void,” tackled the epidemic of outrage. Yale psychologist Molly Crockett explained that on a physiological level, humans have always taken pleasure in punishing people for bad behavior. The instinct evolved thousands of years ago when we interacted in small groups, face-to-face with other people. Back then, we paid a price for our outrage; if we vented in the wrong way or at the wrong person, we might suffer physical harm. Social media has changed this dynamic. We can reap the emotional rewards of our outrage withoutconsequence. We can punish anyone who disagrees with us and walk away unscathed, disassociating ourselves from the fallout. Outrage has reached epidemic proportions because it’s a low- cost, high-reward rush.

Molly recalled being outraged in 2017 by Trump administration’s anti- immigration policies. A friend had posted an article on social media, and she decided to share it. Many of Molly’s friends “liked” the post. Then she got a comment from someone informing her that the article was from 2011. It had been published during the administration of President Barack Obama, someone Molly admired. She deleted the post, but the incident was a turning point for her. She recalls that “[i]t was like coming out of a trance.”

Later in the segment, another guest, Julie, recounted how the culture of outrage had consumed her. In 2019, a friend sent her avideo of white teenagers in M.A.G.A. hats jeering at a Native American man during a Washington D.C. protest. The video went viral, accompanied by Tweets claiming that earlier the boys had chanted “Build the wall!” and spewed racial slurs at the man. Julie was understandably outraged. A conversation with her son, however, prompted her to watch the unedited version of the video, and she discovered something surprising: the scene had been taken out of context. The boys hadn’t mentioned building a wall or made any racial slurs; they had reacted to vile insults that another group of protesters directed at them. Although the boys had behaved childishly and immaturely, their actions weren’t racist. In fact, they had never confronted the Native American man. That’s when Julie realized that her outrage had been manipulated.


But it’s what happened next that caught my attention.

After acknowledging that her initial assessment of the incident had been wrong, Julie was reluctant to tell friends that she had changed her opinion. She feared they might think she was giving the enemy “ammunition” by admitting they might be right. Becausewhen we’re invested in our outrage, admitting the other side may not be entirely wrong, or may even be right, becomes a point of weakness. The greater our outrage, the harder it is for us to change our minds and the lens through which we see the world.


And suddenly I understood why Lisa’s question had triggered me. Her gentle prodding had reminded me why the culture of outrage resonates so deeply in the black community, and why I find it so alarming now. Outrage keeps us from seeing the bigger picture.

 

Anger comes easy when you’re born in black skin, almost as natural as drawing breath. It’s a fire that burns deep within, fed not only by the memory of being human chattel, but also by the agony and bitterness of feeling “less”: less intelligent than white kids, less attractive than white girls with straight hair and slender hips, less privileged than white peoplewho can drive and shop without being harassed, less worthy than white colleagues who leapfrog to positions of power and prestige.

Sometimes our anger burns with the intensity of a bonfire, and sometimes the flames dwindle. But the embers never die. They always smolder because there’s no shortage of emotional kindling to stoke them: lingering scars from childhood traumas; photos of ancestors in chains; videos of police beatings; callous remarks on hot mics; indignities in schools and workplaces; and a media that constantly remind us of White privilege and systemic racism. Our simmering rage keeps us fixated on the many roadblocks we’ve had to overcome and the ones we still endure. No matter how far we get, we never trust our progress because we’re constantly reminded of what could go wrong.

I’ve spent most of my life managing my ancestral anger, alternating between resistance and surrender. But that changed when I began to appreciate what I have in common with the people I resented, when I learned to abandon my anger. In the process, I discoveredwhy the culture of outrage keeps all Americans from coming together.


Our country is more divided today than it’s been since the Civil War. We’re not just separated by politics and identity; we’re even separated physically. The COVID-19 pandemic forced Americans to socially distance and huddle in our homes for so long that some of usno longer feel comfortable connecting in person. The divide seems insurmountable and almost irreversible.


But what if we’re not as divided as we think? What if what we’re seeing is just the illusion of division?


My unique life experience has given me insight into the forces that keep us from understanding that we have far more in common than we realize. I’d like to share with you how I “unplugged” from the illusion of division and why I believe unplugging can help us bridge the divide to confront an urgent and existential threat to all Americans. Because my perspective is unique, and perhaps even controversial, it may not make sense until you understand more about who I am and what I’ve seen. This is my story.


Follow the rest of my journey here! The paperback version is available on Amazon now (eBook is forthcoming).


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We’re in a race against time to awaken minds. If my work resonates with you, please pass it along to others and invite them to join our community. Join me on Telegram.

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