Thinking this may make us feel a little better about our world... read the subject of the email I received yesterday from a good friend. In the body of the mail was a link to an article about an Evanston, Illinois school superintendent’s gesture to calm and reassure his students the morning after Election Day. On November 9, Eric Witherspoon reminded his students that their school was a “safe and welcoming” place, a school where their diversity and differences were respected and embraced.
Another teacher on Facebook shared a sign that she put up in her school confirming that all of her students, an incredibly diverse group, were loved and respected and not considered, well, rapists, terrorists, or second-class citizens. And so on and so forth were these kind, loving gestures that were spoken or shared at schools and places of business, on subways and in restaurants, churches, gas stations, and between neighbors. Mayors and governors stood up to this new president’s violent, racist rhetoric and threats and declared their cities or states safe havens and refuges for anyone feeling threatened, unsafe, or unwelcome.
But this does not make me feel better about my world. I am not comforted by acts of kindness that are now considered acts of defiance and courage. I am not comforted by gestures of respect and inclusiveness that are now considered extraordinary and heroic. Such words and deeds should be a normal part of our civilized society.
I watched in horror as a man was elected to the office of president who has spent more than a year spouting racism and stoking fear, encouraging violence, insulting and demonizing African-Americans, Latinos, women, the disabled, the press, Muslims and Jews, the LGBTQ community, and everyone who stood in his way until his adoring followers foamed at the mouth. I watched in disbelief as a man who bragged about committing sexual assault whenever he felt the urge, who bragged with schoolboy glee about walking in on naked teen beauty contestants, who degraded women over and over again and convinced his fans that women weren’t worthy of respect, equality, responsibility, or the presidency was elected to the highest office in the land. I watched in dread as he filled his transition team with self-avowed white supremacists, lawmakers who had put into place draconian laws that were racist and discriminatory, and men with a rumored history of domestic violence and ethics violations. And I am most definitely not alone.
And so now we talk of resistance, wearing safety pins and white roses as discreet signs of solidarity, reassuring our neighbors, colleagues, children, and students that we will protect them no matter what happens. Racial, homophobic, and sexist attacks, verbally and physically violent, or cowardly text messages and notes slipped in mailboxes, lockers, or under windshield wipers, or spray painted across buildings, violence of all sorts has spiked starting in the minutes after the election was called; these stories, too, are all over social media and many of my own friends have been targeted. Racists, misogynists, white supremacists have been emboldened by the man now president-elect and out it all spills, the slew of hate crimes that have now been given the nod by the Republican campaign and now, yes, this president-elect’s inner circle.
I am heartbroken and furious that this has happened, not so much that our candidate lost, but because a hatemonger won. And I am not alone. We all have been scolded on social media to calm down, stop complaining, and accept the results. We have been told that it’s a done deal and to move on, give him a chance, that everything will be okay, that “look, he’s already wavering on some of his policy ideas!” But I cannot and I will not.
I will not accept a president and an administration that mainstreams white supremacy, anti-Semitism, homophobia and racism, and that makes it acceptable to discriminate. I will not accept a president and an administration that divides the country into groups, more or less worthy of respect, more or less worthy of citizenship. This is about as far as he can get from his claim that he will “be the President for all Americans.” The list of people he is choosing to join him in the White House is sending a deep, dark, and very clear signal to us that he will be anything but.
Don’t get me wrong. I am touched by those acts of generosity and kindness. My Facebook feed is flooded with beautiful stories shared of people reaching out to neighbors, helping strangers out of a difficult situation, standing up for someone being attacked verbally or physically that bring me to tears. My pride of country swells when I hear of teachers and students embracing others who are afraid and who feel threatened. I believe that those symbols of resistance, the safety pins and white roses, bring us together in solidarity and create a strong community, a louder voice much more effective to fight the threats we face.
But I am not comforted. I am distressed and I am angry. I remember another era where secret signs, a nod of the head, a discreet pin worn on the breast indicated solidarity and a helping hand; when citizens valiantly intervened at their own risk between racially-motivated attacker and innocent; when safe havens secreted away the endangered, while the new administration continued its racial policies unhindered. But when acts of inclusion and acceptance of another’s differences become extraordinary acts of courage instead of an everyday, normal mode of behavior, when people need to go out of their way to protect against mounting violence and reassure in the face of the threats of the government (soon to be) in power, there is something deeply, horribly wrong.
This president and those who now surround and advise him in no way, shape or form represent me, my values, or anything I believe in. They do not represent ― or respect ― the values of our country.
My children, my friends and family members, my fellow Americans, the country deserve not only better than this but something quite the opposite. We deserve a country in which inclusion, acceptance, tolerance and equality is normal, is normalcy. We deserve a country in which acts of kindness are offered and shared not because any American feels threatened by our government or those encouraged and emboldened by those in power but because that is who we are.