I woke up at 5 am on November 9th to the news that Donald J. Trump had indeed been elected president of the United States; having gone to bed a mere four hours earlier, I had been holding out hope that what had appeared inevitable at 1 am would not come to pass. When I woke my daughter up at 6:15 am, her first words were “Who won, Mama?”
When I told her, she collapsed on her bed and the tears started to flow. Ten minutes later, I had a child in full panic mode asking: Would we would be harmed because we were Black? I knew at that moment that I would need to sit with this new reality and only now can I start to wrap my brain around what a Trump presidency will mean as a Black woman.
What I do know is that since election day, the Southern Poverty Law Center has counted over 200 incidents of hateful harassment and intimidation, with the bulk of these stories reporting a strong anti-Black bias, followed by a strong anti-immigrant bias. I also know that closer to home here in Maine, a Black friend’s Black brother was jumped by three white men who told him to get out of their country. I know that other people of color in Maine are reporting hateful encounters. I know that my circle of Black women friends are scared. We don’t know where our safety is and are wondering what our next steps should be. I know that while I have always had an uncomfortable relationship with being in certain spaces alone as a Black woman, now even the long-familiar spaces no longer feel safe. I know that I am in a heightened state of awareness and pondering drastic steps to secure my safety.
I also know that many well-intentioned white people have also awakened to the horrible reality that racism is still real and while I am glad they are waking up white (so to speak; I recommend you read the book for context), I am also pissed off that it took our country electing a terrible, rotten, no-good man who ran on a campaign so ugly that he is praised by White Nationalists and the KKK alike for so most of them to have that awakening. I am pissed off that far too many white people couldn’t hear the words of people unlike them (in many cases people of color like me) who kept telling them how much racism was still alive in so many hearts and minds and how deeply ingrained into all our systems it is as well. It upsets me that no matter how much we have said it and explained it, it is only with this election that so many of them begin to realize that we are a nation that was built on the foundation of hate and remains fueled by the lingering effects of that hate…and, to paraphrase Malcolm X, the chickens have come home to roost.
We are now all sitting at the intersection of horrible and repulsive and I wonder: Will we as a nation finally have the courage to examine ourselves in a way that does not center whiteness as a norm and create a new reality where all are valued? Truthfully, I am not too hopeful. Whiteness as currency, while not paying the dividends that it once did, still has value and in an election cycle where 70% of white voters who actually went to the polls decided that a hateful man was a better choice than a career politician with career politician baggage, that tells me that the republic would rather uphold whiteness as the norm and everyone else be damned!
I realize that with many white folks wanting to do something in this moment, my words are harsh. But my reality is harsh, as is the reality now for all marginalized people. Outright racism and intolerance have once again been legitimized in this country and people in bodies called white have made that possible. For once, we must face harsh and uncomfortable moments rather than for white people to lean upon their white fragility and their tears to see us through. We can’t talk about how awful this is and ignore the fact that we live in a country that was built on stolen land through the forced labor of stolen people and that in creating America, we created this powerful force called whiteness. We can no longer cry “stop the hate” without understanding how we have all been set up to play a role by virtue of the bodies we were born to.
White Americans who didn’t vote for Trump must understand that as much as you may want to build a bridge to peace and harmony that, for people like myself, even you are suspect because so many of you were too timid to deal with racism and too silent when it played out in front of you. And when you talk about building bridges with people who value people who look like me so little that they would vote for Trump and praise (or even endure) his bigotry, you are even more suspect. I treat suspicious people with great caution regardless of the words they say because at the end of the day, a whole lot of white people who should have known better essentially decided that people like me didn’t matter. That in the end, bucking the establishment, or stacking the Supreme Court or giving it to immigrants or bringing back long-dead industries, or whatever other reason you had was better than ensuring simple humanity for people like me.
The chorus for unity and tolerance is growing louder and frankly, I am bothered because our collective memories are so short-sighted that we have no ability to process that we’ve been here before and learned nothing…that once again a horrible trauma has been needlessly and carelessly inflicted upon 37 million non-Hispanic Black people in this country, not to mention the other people of color and immigrants as well as the LGBTQ community. In this moment, I am reminded of James Baldwin’s words on white people, “They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men.
Indeed white people are trapped in a history they fail to grasp and in remaining trapped, the rest of us are trapped as well as we find ourselves moving backwards as a nation.
In choosing to write this piece, I know that I will lose a few readers. I may even lose a few friends and loved ones as these words are harsh but these words are nothing in comparison to the fear that I see in my daughter’s eyes, knowing that I cannot assuage her terror. She already knows that there are white people who use their words to dehumanize us and now we sit at a time when those once-shamed moments have been given license and more legitimacy.
Many people have asked me both personally and professionally, what can they do? I would suggest getting very comfortable with being uncomfortable. Also, understand our collective history and that we have been set up for this moment. Understand that to be white is not a moral failing worthy of self-loathing and guilt but rather that as a white person your job is to understand that racism is personal for many people but also systemic and woven into the fabric of our nation and that. To realize that your job is to attack it with every fiber of your being and to know that to be a white person working to dismantle whiteness is a day-by-day process as you are actively fighting against a world that privileges you and is designed for your ease and comfort. To know that whiteness always tries to center itself in every discussion and action, even when acting out against racism. To look at yourself and actively reject everything that privileges you and works in your favor is hard work; that requires support, courage and commitment and you will stumble…you will fuck up…but know that if your resolve is strong, you will keep carrying on. If you cannot do that, it is better to own it, accept that you are too comfortable in white privilege to advance equity and justice for all, and then move on rather than to play at the fringes of change. Because if you’re only going to dabble at the edges, in the end you’re doing nearly as much harm as the overt bigots anyway, because you’re still propping up the system
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