Obama Says Americans Must Understand Each Other ‘s Stories

Former American President, Barack Obama, has spoken out on the divisions that have continued to rock American society.

Speaking during a virtual book club event with Ava DuVernay, Obama said:

There are certain fundamental fault lines in our society that have always been there. The most apparent one and one we’re still wrestling with, is the fault line of race, but also the fault lines around economic opportunity and class that sometimes aren’t talked about as much.

I don’t think that you are ever going to completely overcome our differences, we are a big, complicated noisy, multiracial multi ethnic multi religious democracy. And that’s part of what sets America apart as this great experiment and what that means is there’s always going to be some clashes of ideas, notions of the good life, ideas about how we should organize ourselves and government, what government responsibilities are, What they aren’t.

But the one thing that I think we can do is work to see each other’s humanity, and understand that we all are deserving of dignity and respect, and that we all can abide by a certain process for resolving those differences.

And so when you think about, for example, what happened in the Capitol on January 6 and the the riots that took place contesting the election and threatening Congress. That’s an example of where we’ve gone outside the process entirely.

And we are no longer agreeing to a basic set of rules about whoever gets the most votes, we all agree that person wins.

If we set aside those kinds of norms, rules, basic notions of fairness and start replacing them with ideas of well, my tribe is not going to accept your tribe, and we’re going to do whatever it takes to beat you, whether it’s lying or threatening or breaking glass storming a building, you know, then it’s very hard for us to come together as democracy.

And then the second thing is learning how to listen actively for people’s stories and knowing a little bit more about other people’s history and our own.

Right now, for example, we have a huge amount of division around how police should be operating, particularly in communities of color.

Well, if we don’t know the story that Eva you for example have told in some of your documentaries and Docu dramas of how police actions have operated in the past, then it’s harder for us to understand why there would be suspicion and fear in the African American community, or Latino communities about police presence, lack of cooperation, potential for conflict.

I as a black man, if I don’t know anything about the struggles of Scots Irish in Appalachian and the degree to which they feel left behind, Excluded and exploited, then it’s harder to understand why they might see a figure like Donald Trump as somebody who’s standing up for them.

And so part of us coming together and being able to work together and live together constructively, is knowing each other’s stories.

I often use this example:

When I was running in  2007 2008, one of the reasons we were able to win in Iowa, that has very few folks who looked like me there, and people were skeptical that I could win even the primary contest in this very heavily white rural state.

One of the reasons we won was because I had all these young organizers who would just plant themselves in these small towns, and some of these kids were black kids from New York or, you know, Asian American kids from LA or, you know, Jewish kids from Philly. Yeah, I guarantee you, they had never been near corn, unless it was in the supermarket, but they would plant themselves there, and for the first few months, they didn’t spend a lot of time talking about, oh, we’re here let me tell you about Barack Obama, they spent a lot of time listening and asking questions, but what is it that you’re going through what do you care about what’s important to you what where do you think the government’s let you down.

What are the trends in the world that that frustrate you. And through that active listening, they created bonds with people and volunteers, and started creating trust.

And, and it’s on the basis that trust then that people started listening to what I stood for.

And that’s something by the way that is very hard to do over the internet.

It’s the same thing I tell my daughters . Humans are complicated, and if, if we only know what we see in a few characters soundbite over Twitter, it’s very hard for us to see them in the round, understand them and understand both where the differences are and where they come from but also where the commonalities are and where we can potentially bridge those differences.

And so I think learning our history, and where we’ve been, and learning to listen and understand where other people have been.

That’s always going to be at the at the heart of of how we make a democracy like ours work.

Please watch the video above this post for more details.