Like so many others, I did not sleep on Tuesday night. I sat up in the dark and felt grief and fear. I cried a bit, I thought of how I was going to explain this to my son. I wondered how I would face my students the next day. I felt like there had been a death in the family and wondered what had gone wrong.
In the days since I have read a thousand blogs, analytical reports, forecasts of the first 100 days, critiques of the Electoral College and calls to action. I reposted many of them but hesitated to add my own voice. I was forming my thoughts, and I am finally ready to speak.
If I had been paying attention, I would have seen this coming. If I had been paying attention, I wouldn’t have laughed off Trump and his supporters who too often resembled the ‘bag of deplorables’ as Hillary Clinton described them. I would have seen that Trump didn’t create the hatred, violence and intolerance too often represented at his rallies. He didn’t Frankenstein this utter rejection of the political machine.
We are no more racist, misogynistic, or intolerant than we were eight years ago. This culture of fear and hatred never went away. Obama didn’t magically stop racism any more than Hillary would have magically stopped misogyny. We cannot forget the images that surfaced of the White House lawn covered in watermelons. Or our First Lady drawn to resemble a gorilla. Hatred and fear has been with us all along.
The difference was that it was easier to ignore. It was hiding under a rock because the public face of America was one of progress, hope and change. It gave us white, comfortable Americans a safe place to hide for eight years. We had our black friend who ‘proved’ to the rest of the world that we weren’t the racists, we weren’t the problem. But that didn’t mean the problem went away. Ask the families of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and so many others who have stared racism and hatred in the eyes over the last eight years.
Social media is already peppered with images of swastikas and hateful messages scrawled in public places. Reports of harassment and even violent actions have surfaced in the days following the election. People have taken to the streets everywhere, shaking their tiny fists at the sky and screaming why? How could this happen to our America?
It was never ‘our America’, it was never free from hate and there is no more hate in the country today than there was before Trump. Trump was a catalyst that flipped the rock over and exposed what we had been looking away from for far too long. Langston Hughes knew what would happen. We have had a festering sore since the inception of our country. It stank with the rotted meat of slavery and segregation and eventually crusted over sugary sweet. But that didn’t mean it healed.
It sagged, and sagged and sagged.
Or does it just explode?
We are seeing the explosion right now on the streets. But we must remember, sunlight is the ultimate purifier. Nothing changes with inaction, and we unless we look this devil in the eye and really deal with it, our history of intolerance toward people of color, women, gay, lesbian, trans, Muslim, Jew, Christian, Atheist, and on and on will never heal.
History told us this was coming and perhaps there was no way around it. We cannot continue to bandage our festering wound and hide it away. We need to listen to each other, and look fear in its face.
So protest and sign petitions to change the Electoral College, write angry social media posts and cry as much as you want. But when you are ready, take account of our role in this tragedy and look to the future. For my part, I will start looking to the midterm elections and supporting my local leaders. I will stop using the word ‘tolerance’ and replace it with ‘celebrate’. Language is powerful, and no one wants to be simply tolerated. I will start by working every day to make my home a safe place for all colors, religions, ideologies, lifestyles and beliefs. I will talk to people about their fears and listen to them, even when I don’t like what they have to say.
The fear and grief that white America is feeling is nothing new to the marginalized people who have suffered under its weight for an eternity. The empty place in your gut is a starting place to a common ground. When we stop hiding our wounds, we start to heal.