Dear UCLA students,
Growing up white and Jewish in mostly black South Los Angeles in the 1950s and 1960s, I remember understanding at a very early age how differently we experience this very same world based on our respective family influences and personal histories.
Today, I am again reminded of that difference in perception, as our enduring culture seems nearly cleaved apart, more divided and quarreling, with irresponsible, incendiary rhetoric coming from the highest places of the nation.
America in 2017 is an increasingly insecure, disunited family of 330 million individuals.
The country was bruised by a soul-wrenching presidential election, in which an unlikely, incompetent vanity queen was crowned the winner.
Since January, it’s been a nightmare of nightly news and daily embarrassments from the White House. Americans are already weary of the whiplash, and it’s only been about 250 days.
And we needn’t look far to see this: The administration’s mixed messages in response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and, most recently, its decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program have tested many of us.
But thinking back, I realized more than half a century ago exactly how folks exist together, yet in almost opposite universes of beliefs and opinions. And that realization is simple: empathy.
Today’s conflicts involving offending monuments and statues are also a microcosm of our different understandings. Specifically, I cannot ever actually know what black people may feel when they see a statue that recalls slavery. But I can certainly imagine. And isn’t that imagination really the uniquely American challenge: Each of us at least being willing to consider how other folks see things?
The president has only divided us more, and there will be no leadership from him. Hopefully, he will tweet himself right out of the job.
But in the meantime, please, we need to put more into imagining each others’ realities, be that at UCLA or elsewhere in the country. It’s the only way out of this maze of national malaise, and our only hope of bridging the growing divides between Americans.
Understanding is the only way up.
Solomon M. Matsas
Retired staff, Student Affairs