Dear Sir or Madam,
I write to you today with a heavy heart. A week has passed, and I’ve had time to think. To write this with a clear mind. I understand that you’re celebrating the victory of your candidate for president. I congratulate you for your success, and your participation in our democracy.
But I would like to share with you a story.
On the morning of Wednesday, November 9, 2016, I woke up in a new world.
You did too. We will both have a new president. But I think some things are unfolding differently, for you and me.
I hear that you’ve felt forgotten. Pushed aside as an afterthought during Obama’s eight years, your concerns swept under the rug. I understand the hardship you and your families have felt. I believe we share those feelings in more ways than one.
I was born in Philadelphia, to a black single mother and an anonymous donor, by her choice. Her mother and father were born in the 1920s, just 60 years after slavery was abolished. My great-great-great grandfather, James Henry Barton, was born into slavery. He was married, bought his freedom, and moved to Washington, DC. He worked in the White House garden for 40 years.
A lot has changed since 1865. But the 37 presidential elections that took place since the Emancipation Proclamation left one thing unchanged for my family.
The course of each day in the life of my great-great-great grandfather, my nana, my mother, and myself, has been marred by something we cannot control: the color of our skin. This is not because of you, per se, but the way our country was founded. For that, I place no blame on you.
But I do ask you to consider this: any hardship you may endure, albeit devastating, is temporary. Your fortune could change with a drop of luck, or a new president. But a new set of economic policies will never erase what people see when they look at my skin. And my children will bear the burden of America’s original sin, no matter who lives in the White House.
In the days that have followed the election, I’ve been stuck to Twitter and Facebook, poring through endless accounts of the precise violence that I and others have feared, not just since Trump’s election, but for our entire lives.
What we love(d) about America was the promise of freedom. That no matter the color of your skin or the creed in your heart, you could thrive in this nation. For the most part, that’s been true.
A lot of you are telling me not to worry. That Trump and his voters are not racist. That he won’t do all that he says.
Maybe that’s true. Maybe Trump will be a wonderful president. Maybe he’ll forget all about things like the Muslim ban or the promise to pour more police into black neighborhoods. For your sake and mine, I surely hope he does.
But what is real, what is true, what is happening today, what will continue tomorrow, and what has happened every day in this country for some 240 years, are continued acts of violence and hatred against Americans. Against people who do not carry the privilege of whiteness, or straightness, or Christianity. Whose “otherness” is written on their sleeve, an otherness that despite all attempts at innocuity, invites your fellow Trump-supporters to pull off their hijab, or to write “nigger” on their car. Or to add them to a group chat list with the title and aim: “Nigger Lynching,” a threat that defined the day-to-day of their ancestors. Back when America was “great”.
Wait just a second. Here, you might be thinking, “why are you trying to divide us by race?” or, “white people experience hate too.” Or, “what about all the Trump voters being attacked?”
Before you react with indignation, I ask you to pause. Consider this: momentary discomfort is a small price to pay. I mentally armor myself each morning in the hopes that no one yells a racial slur, or tells me to go back to picking cotton. Or assaults me. This might be hard to swallow.
While you are entitled to your opinion, you are not entitled to ignore its consequences. If you want a “great America,” you need to listen when it’s bleeding. And try to figure out why.
That’s why we’re protesting. That’s why we can’t go quietly.
I’m not asking you to change your opinion. Or to apologize for voting for Trump.
What I am asking is for you to consider, even if just for a few moments, the possibility that other experiences of this world exist. Experiences that will never affect your life.
No matter your reason for supporting him, the bottom line is this:
Despite your intention or lack thereof, you escape the consequences of your actions. You can brush off blatant promises to uplift racism, sexual assault, and religious persecution in the off chance that they just might not happen. Because even if they did, it wouldn’t be to you.
But they are happening. And this is where my heart breaks. Because I thought we were in this together.