I have been struggling with my feelings since the election. I honestly believed America was better than to elect a candidate who ran on a platform of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. Never in my right mind did I imagine a fascist demagogue would make it to the highest office of our nation.
Since that night, I have wanted to scream at citizens of color, at LTBTQ citizens, at Muslim citizens, at Mexican citizens, at anyone who doesn’t look like me that “I didn’t do this to you! I didn’t vote for that piece of trash! I am with you! You are safe with me! I don’t hate! I don’t discriminate! I don’t want to take away your civil liberties or deport you! It’s not me!”
But the truth is, I did do this. Maybe not personally and maybe not overtly, but I had some hand in this.
You see, when it boils down to it, Trump’s presidency will have very little effect on me personally. Aside from perhaps some hits to my job in public education and my retirement, I’m relatively safe. I will go unscathed for the next four years and the next decade or more that the nation will potentially be reeling and recovering from his policies, should he actually stick to his word.
I am a heterosexual white woman. I was raised a Christian (though I rarely identify as such these days). I do not have a disability. I do not rely on Planned Parenthood for gynecological health care or cancer screening (though I did in my college years), nor will I need an abortion (I would not have one myself, but I sure as hell believe I have no right to dictate what another woman can do with her body). I am not an immigrant. No one looks at me and thinks, “Terrorist.” No one is threatening to deport me or to retract my marriage rights. I do not live in fear for myself or my family.
I am living on Easy Street in the grand scheme of things. And that’s because I am privileged.
Before anyone starts crucifying me for this declaration or feels the need to cry out and defend themselves against the concept of white privilege, hear me out.
I posted my shock at Trump’s lead to Facebook around 10 PM on election night. I mentioned I had believed in humanity. I confessed I still did, but…well, the lead indicated perhaps humanity had left the building before Elvis.
You see, I didn’t think about the fact that the type of humanity I was referring to had never set up residence here. I mean, I knew it on a cellular level. But I ignored it. I didn’t want to believe it would matter.
Don’t get me wrong. We have plenty of humanity in America. PLENTY. We have good people out doing good things simply because they’re good every day.
But the type of humanity I’m referring to is the humanity that rejects racism and misogyny and xenophobia without question. The type of humanity I’m referring to is the humanity that would never, EVER elect someone with such qualities and with zero political experience President.
Because the type of humanity I’m referring to is a fairy tale.
That’s because the type of humanity I’m referring to — or, better put, its lack of existence — isn’t really humanity at all. It’s something different entirely.
It’s awareness. And I’m talking about real, honest awareness.
It’s the awareness that the system we are raging against has never supported people of color or people who are gay or people who are transgender or people whom we identify as “other.” I was shocked that my nation voted so overwhelmingly to elect Donald Trump, but these people — people who have been marginalized their whole lives and for generations before that — were not shocked in the least. Not in the least.
I knew I wasn’t exactly “woke,” but I thought I was making some kind of strides. In reality, my eyes were (and still are) wide shut.
My shock, I’ve come to realize, is born of a few things: 1) I have a romanticized idea of what we as a nation stand for at our core, 2) I have not taken time to listen to conservatives who support Trump — and I mean really listen to the concerns of those who aren’t poisoned with the compulsion to chant, “Lock her up!” or do NOT identify as hateful and racist and homophobic (though there are plenty of those people out there, believe me) yet still support him, and 3) I underestimated just how blind to their own privilege many people around me are, including myself, and I’m someone who believes in recognizing and channeling that privilege into positive action.
What I had confused for humanity was so obvious to me and some other white people that we couldn’t imagine other white people didn’t see it.
And therein lies the problem.
Some people can’t see it. Not yet anyway. And as frustrating as that is, and as much work is still left to do in that department, their inability to see it means they do not consider it when making decisions regarding who our next president will be. Rather, they are concerned about other issues that impact them. And in expecting people to see that which they don’t while not listening to their concerns about that which they do, I failed.
I didn’t mean to fail. I thought was doing the right things. Pointing out Trump’s faults. Mocking his idiosyncracies and bumbling attempts at explaining policy. Publicly condemning his hateful rhetoric.
But in my own blinding privilege, I failed to listen. I failed to really act. I mean, what were those attempts accomplishing? I was just preaching to others who thought like I did and congratulating myself in the process.
What was I doing to really affect change for the people I claimed to be championing? What tangible actions was I taking? How active was I in my own community and the politics that govern it?
Some people who believed in what I did canvassed. Made calls. Appealed to their representatives. That’s something I can do. And that’s a great start.
But when it comes down to it, the thing I regret most is that I didn’t listen. Or if I did, I didn’t listen closely enough. And I expected that everyone else would see the light just as I had.
But it’s not that simple.
And now I’m stuck with my white guilt, feeling helpless and weeping for my neighbors and friends who are truly afraid for their lives.
Please don’t mistake my assertions for blame against all white people who did the same as I. I am merely coming to terms with my own continuing ignorance and, though I cannot speak for anyone else, perhaps that of my fellow self-identified advocates as well. I had — and do have — nothing but the best of intentions.
But I need a new plan. I need to pursue positive action that works. I need access to credible conservative news sources so I can at least try to understand the concerns of fellow white people who voted to elect Trump — not just because of racist or misogynist or xenophobic motivations, but rather the other things I don’t see — and I need to strategize about ways to both reach and help them. I need further education. I need to work with those who are marginalized, not for them. I mean, how naive and, yes, racist and elitist of me to presume to be anyone’s savior.
I need a new approach. I need a new something.
I don’t know what that looks like yet. I’m still swirling in emotion. But when I do, I pledge to give it an honest go. I do not promise that I won’t make mistakes. I will. I am but human. But I do promise to try.
Because my eyes are opening. Slowly but surely, they’re opening. And I’m not sure I like what I see in the mirror right now.