From the time I could vote and even before that I have associated the Republican party as the party of selfish, wealthy, business owners, who only cared about making money. I’m not sure where or how that belief came about. I learned in government class that Republicans were the party that wanted less government and lower taxes among other things. On the other hand, I associated the Democratic party with equity, fairness and helping those less fortunate than themselves. In my mind, Democrats were associated with JFK, the “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” president, whom I associated as “good” while the Republicans were associated with Nixon, the president that had to resign for breaking into the Democratic headquarters, whom I thought of as “bad.” (Wow that was a long sentence!)
As the years went by I didn’t really think much about Republicans or Democrats. I deemed myself an independent voter. This started to change after President Trump was elected. Let me start by saying I don’t hate President Trump and I am not bitter that Hillary Clinton lost (I didn’t vote for either of them). In fact, in away President Trump’s election was a huge wake up call for me that I could not simply live my life anymore and ignore politics. His election was the catalyst for me to become more involved in issues that are important to me and speak up. However, his election also made me more acutely aware of where other’s stand. It made me aware that I am no longer an independent voter, but a Democratic voter. In reading posts shared and comments read, my biases against Republicans grew. I began to see Republicans as selfish, gun-toting, racists, who ignore scientific facts, lack empathy and use religion as a crutch to propel their agendas. I read comments that painted Democrats as amoral, angry people, who want to give everyone everything for free, confiscate all guns and open our borders to everyone. I know these generalizations and stereotypes are not unequivocally true on either side.
But, why do I have these biases and how does social media feed them? Here are a couple of examples and how I interpreted them and in turn and how they feed my bias…
- A post from our health department encouraged residents to wear masks in public places. Multiple comments railed against them saying that others’ fears shouldn’t force them to wear masks. They argued that the masks don’t prevent them from getting sick and they aren’t worried if they do get sick because most people recover. They wrote that because millions haven’t died in Ohio as models predicted (if social distancing and stay at home orders were NOT in place) that the orders were a hoax and our economy tanked for no reason. How I interpret these comments are that the people making them care more about making money and their own lives over those of others. Masks aren’t meant to protect the wearer, but those around them. They are an act of selflessness. So, when I see these comments I don’t think the people making them are braver or smarter than I am, I think they are selfish and small-minded. Why? Because even if COVID-19 were a hoax (it’s not), what does it hurt to put your own discomfort aside to wear a mask while you shop? To me, wearing a mask is an act of kindness and respect for other people, not at act of cowardice or “sheep” mentality. Because the posters making these comment are affiliated with the Republican party, I start to think that is what all Republicans believe.
- A post from a local new paper showing a peaceful protest in a local community had a comment that read “this is dumb.” A video was shared that falsely (see https://www.mediamatters.org/fake-news/debunked-conspiracy-theory-about-black-lives-matter-actblue-and-democrats-can-be-traced) accused the Black Lives Matter movement of funneling donations into Joe Biden’s campaign as a way to defeat Trump because they use the Act Blue processing service for processing donations. This makes me think the people sharing and commenting (and by extension Republicans) are ignorant and care more about protecting a president that through his own words (not what the media reported about him) has incited hatred against others than they do about protecting the lives of others and bring unity and equity to our country. It makes me feel like they lack empathy for anyone that doesn’t look like them, love like them or pray like them.
I KNOW these comments and generalization are not true of all conservatives or Republicans. I know there are Republicans that do where masks (Gov. DeWine) and who participate in protests (Sen. Mitt Romney) and donated to Black Lives Matter. I recognize and admit I am wrong to make these generalizations. I encourage you to think about your own biases too. I am not writing this to make all the conservatives in my community angry or defensive. I am writing this because I am aware of my biases and am working on recognizing them, admitting them and changing them. Know that the generalizations that I made about Republians aren’t anymore true than the ones you may have about Democrats.
I think it is harder for these two sides to come together to effect real change if we can’t check these biases at the door to work together. This comes into more play when it comese to those who we elect to office. Are our elected officials able to check their biases in order to make these changes? Not only do we need to vote, but we need to make sure who we vote for can put aside their own biases to work for the changes our country desperately needs. It is important to let those officials in office now, know where you stand on the issues as well. I vow to learn more about both the Replublican and Democratic platforms when voting. I vow to learn more about our federal, state and local issues and to not blissfully ignore what’s going on in government. I hope you will too.