Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I Am Not Okay

It is 3:30 in the morning, and I am not okay.

I woke up a little less than twenty-four hours ago, dropped my baby son off at daycare, and came back to walk with my husband to vote. I felt a wave of enthusiasm and pride. I even remarked to my husband, as we walked home, how proud I was that my kids were going to grow up just thinking it was completely normal to have both a black president and a woman president. They would grow up in a world where gay rights were always present. Sure, there would be battles, but they would have a base in a world where equality, tolerance, and progression underpinned their understanding of the American project.

I picked my daughter up from kindergarten where she had held a mock election. Nine students had voted for Clinton. "Can you believe four people voted for Donald Trump, Mommy?! He is a bully!" She went to bed chanting (with no prompting from me) that Hillary Clinton was going to be president. What a wonderful image for my little girl to have: a powerful woman who had worked hard in public service her whole life ascending to the top position in the country through experience and compromise. Was she a perfect candidate? No, but there is no such thing.

Though I had gotten nervous in the past few weeks as Clinton's chances became less stable, I turned on the news expecting to see a repudiation of the vile, racist, misogynistic hatred that Trump not only oozed but championed. I thought about every time he kicked someone out of a rally, every time he demeaned women, every time he called for a ban on Muslims, every time he made a racist remark about the "inner cities," every time he incited his base to violence. I thought about how he was literally endorsed by the KKK. I thought about the way he had mocked a reporter with a disability, a Latina beauty queen, a Gold Star family.  I was ready to bask in some schadenfreude. I was ready to watch him see that his coalition, while loud, was also small, too small to hand over the nuclear codes to someone who couldn't be trusted with his own Twitter account because of his instability and poor temper.

You know how the rest of my night went. Perhaps your night went the same. Perhaps you felt the first wave of tension as North Carolina drew ever closer. Perhaps you told yourself, "Well, she doesn't need Florida to win." Perhaps you continued to hope until after midnight. Perhaps you felt the dread rising up around you.

This is not about losing to a Republican. I live in Missouri. I lose to Republicans all the time. My state has gone red when my vote went blue over and over again. This is not even about electing a bad president. We have had bad presidents. America is strong enough to survive an electoral error.

This is about finding out just how much of the country hates everything I love. This is about finding out just how many people around me hate me because I am a woman, hate my family because it is multi-racial, hate my friends because they are gay, hate my friends because they are Muslim.

If you voted for Donald Trump, you are not my friend even if I am yours. This is not in the sense that I will "unfriend" you for thinking differently from me. I hope that I have demonstrated, through countless hours of respectful debate, through refusing to cull my social media feeds of acquaintances even when they spewed vitriol that I am open to conflicting views. I support rhetorical pluralism. I believe we need to hear each other.

But friends have to protect one another. Friends look beyond their own interests alone and ask themselves, "What will this do to those I love?"

If you voted for Donald Trump, did you ask yourself what it would mean for my children? Children of color who have to grow up in this world? Did you ask yourself what it would mean for gay couples who are already constantly vigilant against efforts to deny them the right to exist? Did you ask yourself what it would mean for me, a woman who has been sexually assaulted? Did you ask yourself what it would mean for millions of people who cannot safely walk down the street without fear of harassment? If you did not, then you cannot call yourself my friend. If you did and still came down on the side of hate, then I don't know what you can call yourself.

I have never felt like this before. I have always believed, deep in my heart, that love wins. I have always believed, even in the face of anger and disrespect, that people will find the right path eventually.

For example, many members of my extended family have treated my immediate family horribly. Some of them are probably reading this. I hope that they are. When I was 19, I brought my now-husband/then-boyfriend home for the holidays. When we entered the community building where we held the extended Christmas, the air grew palpably tense. Most of my family would not look at us, let alone speak to us. The ones who did speak to us did so with apprehension. You see, my husband, by being a black man, had somehow offended them. His existence offended them.

Two of my uncles were so offended that they could not contain themselves. They made a big show about physically moving away from us. One of them refused to eat under the same roof as my husband. He marched his entire family out the door rather than do so. They walked out in front of me. I went in the bathroom and sobbed.

Most of the other members of my family said nothing! A few of them tried to comfort me with placating statements like "You have to understand, it's just his way." "He was raised in a different time."

I avoided them all for years. Four years later, I got married, and one of those same uncles tried to talk another family member out of walking me down the aisle. Think about that for a second. It wasn't enough that he sit in his hate on his own; he needed it to be spread around. Thankfully, his efforts failed, and I did have a smattering of love and support from my family on my wedding day. It was only a fraction of the very large collection of aunts, uncles, and cousins that could have been there (that I invited despite the tension), but there were some.

Years later, we had kids. I wanted my children to know their family. They're already down to one grandparent. My father and my husband's mother died before my children were even born. Last year, we lost my father-in-law on the same day I miscarried what would have been our second child. My mother rarely sees us because she is afraid of "the city." (Little does she understand that I'm afraid of "the country" for reasons much more concrete than hers. Her neighbors literally shot guns into the air while screaming the n-word at my husband. I guarantee you that my neighbors have never done that to her.) The lack of family in our lives hurts me. I value family very deeply, and I miss these connections so very, very much.

So when a few members of my extended family offered olive branches by inviting us to big gatherings, I swallowed my anger and pride and went. Everyone was cordial. Some of my family was even genuinely kind and interested in my life. Most of them seemed to feel awkward around us, and that could easily have been as much a factor of not knowing me as an adult as thinking about their own past behavior.

But here's the thing: No one apologized. Not the uncles who walked out at Christmas. Not the family members who stood by silently and said nothing as it happened. In all that time, one cousin privately messaged me to say that she was ashamed of not having spoken out and was sorry. Other than the one family that I was already close to (which included the man who walked me down the aisle), no one even talked about it. They wanted to sweep it under the rug.

And I let them. Privately, my husband and I talked about it a lot. I didn't want to deprive my children of a family to know and love, but I also didn't want to put my husband in the difficult position of having to go make nice with people who had so overtly mistreated him. He went and was gracious because he is an amazing man.

In my heart, I thought that they were ashamed of the way they had acted and didn't know how to express it. I thought that they recognized how wrong they had been and were trying to set it right. I was angry and hurt, but I worked very hard to set it aside for the sake of peace.

I'm supposed to go see them in two weeks. We're having a family gathering of thanksgiving and love. I don't think I can go.

I know that many of them voted for Trump. (And this isn't speculation. A lot of them posted about their decisions. Some even posted about how difficult it was to make the decision because they didn't want to support him but ultimately "had to.") Many of them voted to throw our country back into a time when my marriage would be illegal, when the discrimination against my children and husband was codified into law. They weren't sorry (and I should have known, since they never said they were); they were tolerating me until they could destroy everything I loved. When they saw their chance, they pounced.

Right now, I am reflecting on a lot of interactions I have had in the past. I've always tried to look past the hurt of these kinds of conflicts and understand the individual person within them. I've always tried to meet these slights with compassion. I've always given people the benefit of the doubt that even when they did things that were cruel and bigoted, they were on a path toward figuring things out and that basic human decency would prevail.

Now I feel like I was a fool. How's the Maya Angelou quote go? "When people show you who they are, believe them."

I believe you now. And maybe me letting it all get pushed under the rug helped create this America, this America where hate wins the day. I feel like I did not do enough. I did not fight enough. I did not make it clear enough that these words and actions were not okay. By allowing racism and hatred to exist in this closeted way without my direct objection, did I help allow it to become bold enough to march out and vote yesterday?

I don't know how to go out into the world tomorrow. I don't know how to look people in the eye without wondering: "Do you hate me?" "Do you hate my family?" "Do you hate my friends?"

Because make no mistake, if you voted for Trump, you voted for hate: raw, red, fiery, vitriolic, painful, discriminatory, degrading hate. And I am on the receiving end of it. My family is on the receiving end of it. My students are on the receiving end of it. My friends are on the receiving end of it.

If you voted for Trump, you voted against us and everything we have worked for.

If you voted for Trump, you voted against me.

And now I have to face my daughter in two hours and tell her that the bully won. In three hours, I have to face my students, already plagued by a racist system that has them despondent, and try to tell them that democracy is a process. Every day, I have to face myself and try to believe that I hold value in a country that just told me very loudly that I do not.

And I am not okay.

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