Today’s post comes from my co-parent, Jeff Bouley (also known as Deacon Blue online) who has gone through a couple decades of racial education (via dating and marriage and child-rearing with me) and continues the journey not just alone but still by my side a lot of days even though we aren’t a couple anymore. I asked him to share some personal thoughts (revealed in late-night drinking/yapping sessions with me in recent weeks) about how his perspective on people has changed since the election.
The night of the 2016 presidential election was bad as I watched a rich, pampered, ego-driven, shallow, nonsense-talking reality show personality and real estate mogul gain impressive numbers of votes and wins even in states that should have known better.
The wee hours of the “morning after” as late vote counts came in and Hillary Clinton conceded the election were worse, knowing that some half of American voters had chosen a blustering, shamelessly lying, bullying, ill-informed, ignorant, thin-skinned, uncouth, bigoted, racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, etc. etc. man to be president of the United States over a woman who, whatever her flaws, was a proven and competent public servant clearly more qualified to lead a nation.
The actual “day after” when the sun was officially up and I awoke after a few hours of sleep and realized Donald Trump’s victory wasn’t a nightmare was utterly devastating.
I had never felt so hollowed out, feeling betrayed by so many of my fellow citizens who decided “real change” or “fixing the system” required throwing away our national reputation and turning back the clock on social justice gains for marginalized groups to give power to an obvious con-man.
And there was something simmering inside me—a burning aggressive energy throughout my whole body that had me on edge and prepared to literally fight.
I thought it was anger at first, but in fact I quickly realized it was something perhaps worse—because it was something that could not be as easily vented as anger. It was a grim determination and wary, anxious readiness that I can only assume is a “second cousin” to what is felt by people in the midst of major armed conflict. People who are on the battlefield; citizens trapped in cities and villages that are ravaged by civil war.
It was the activation of the “fight or flight” parts of my brain, with the full and immediate realization that there was nowhere to run—flight wasn’t an option and that meant I had to be ready to fight at any moment.
I awoke to a world in which I was surrounded by more enemies than I realized had been around me all along. Except now they were energized. They felt validated. They were empowered by the fact that their poster boy had become president-elect.
But even though I knew they were all around me in numbers so much more than I had ever imagined before, I couldn’t identify them, because they all wore the same uniform that I do.
I don’t hate my whiteness. I am not wracked by so-called white guilt. However, as a person who is white I am well aware of the privilege I have from my skin color, not to mention the social advantages that come with being male, hetero and cisgendered. I am aware of the armor I wear (so light and ever-present and almost magically effective that I don’t even notice it or have to think about donning it) that almost invariably protects me from kinds of harm and mistreatment that are almost only meted to marginalized racial, ethnic, religious and sexual identity groups—and also to white women to a significant though lesser degree (though women—white or otherwise—face a greater and unique threat from rape culture and domestic abuse in this country, but I digress).
Point is, I am Caucasian and I spent more than 20 years of my life with a Black woman; we’re separated now, but Shay is still my best friend and co-parent. I have two Black children, one a grown man and the other a tween girl. I have Black in-laws. My direct and indirect involvement with Shay’s social justice and anti-racism work has added all kinds of non-white people (and non-straight and non-Christian as well) to my online circles and offline interactions. I have personally gotten to see—over and over again—how differently I can be treated by police, restaurant servers, passers-by, etc. when I am alone compared to when I am in the presence of a Black person in my family.
And now, after the election, I woke to a world full of people who clearly don’t care about Black people—whom I do care about—and these enemies to what I hold dear are all around me. It’s not like I haven’t been aware for years upon years about systemic racism, institutional racial bias and even personal racism still being nurtured in white hearts. But I hadn’t realize just how much racist animosity and bigotry was still simmering in white minds and hearts and souls just waiting to explode outward and be expressed once a man was elected president who used racially charged jargon and fanned the fires of racism to stir up support and did little if anything to speak out against white nationalists and racist hate groups who were openly supporting and endorsing him.
Trump has picked for key posts like chief strategist and attorney general men who have clearly racist histories or white nationalist/white supremacy ties that show they will not be amenable to racial equity or enforcing/advancing civil rights. Racially and religiously oriented hate crimes went up markedly right after the election, many of them committed in Trump’s name specifically. Shay herself experienced a disturbingly aggressive racially bigoted exchange just a few days after the election in the most liberal city in our all-too-white state of Maine—my beloved ex-wife in the crosshairs. Many in her professional and social circles of people of color have talked about similar experiences they have gone through or that have affected their friends or relatives.
And so I am in a kind of war zone. Overnight, a civil war was silently and implicitly declared in which a huge portion of America—specifically, white people, who turned out in a majority for Trump across all gender, age, income and educational demographics—decided they “want their country back.” Who want people who aren’t white and/or Christian “back in their place.” Who are proud, whether they know it or admit it, that they are part of a group of people that conquer and oppress and push down people who aren’t white to keep a stranglehold on power, money and opportunities. Who see nothing wrong with the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Black people because that’s in the past (ignoring the fact both still have substantial effects in the modern day) and because white people won “fair and square.”
Somehow, bringing our society closer to equality (though we’re still far from that goal) made them feel they were “losing” and that being more fair to other groups was giving those people “special rights.”
And they reacted by naming a man to be president who has made it clear he sees Black people, Latinx people and Muslim people in particular as damaged, dangerous, problematic and lesser. They have reacted with either indifference to increased violence and risks faced by marginalized groups of people or have reacted with verbal and/or physical violence toward them.
I am surrounded by enemies who want to hurt or disenfranchise (or both) people I care about and people whom the people I love care about, too. And I cannot identify most of them because their uniform is the same as mine and many of the people like-minded to me. White.
I go out of the house now with the clear knowledge that easily a quarter of the people around me (maybe even half or more sometimes) are enemies to me and to the people I love. Knowing that while I may be protected by my own whiteness that my Black loved ones are not. That people in my circles of friends, associates and acquaintances who are Black (or Latinx, or LGBTQ, or Muslim) are at higher risk.
That, in fact, I myself am at increased risk in a sense because I may have to physically protect those people from harm by people who wear my same uniform—that white skin.
I won’t know the enemies until they reveal themselves. Perhaps by telling a racist joke to me that only a few weeks or months ago people would have been ashamed or afraid to tell to a stranger. Perhaps by expressing to me how much better America will be under Trump. Perhaps by actually threatening or attacking my ex-wife or one of my children.
To some degree, I suppose I’m getting a small and slightly analogous taste of what Black people go through every day: Walking out the door and never knowing how many racialized things they will endure. Will it “just” be the microaggressions or will it be something more overt and perhaps dangerous? Knowing that they cannot shed the very brown skin that marks them as racial targets every moment of every day.
In that respect, though, I’m still protected. I may go out hyper-aware that my fellow whitefolk may do bigoted things in my presence and I may have to react to that, but the people who hail a new American social order under Trump and hope for gains in white supremacy look at me and probably mostly see a potential ally. I wear the same white-skinned uniform as them and they likely assume that I am an ally until proved otherwise.
But I cannot afford to see the people around me who share my uniform of whiteness as allies. For the sake and the safety of those I love, I now have to view every white person at every moment as a potential enemy, particularly when my Black loved ones are with me.
And thus a part of myself is murdered. One of the first acts of violence in the wake of the Trump victory was to kill most of the hope I had that America was progressing—far too little over the decades and far too slowly, but still moving forward. No more do I have that feeling. I can only see risks and dangers for my family from potentially half the people around us, and wonder when the forward progress will begin again.
And how many decades it will take us to get back to a place where I feel I can let down my guard and not be looking for the next enemy at all times.
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