The Week After 2016
A week ago on Election Day, I made the trip to the Javitz Center in New York City.
I went with the intention of bearing witness to history. I wanted the opportunity to say I saw the exact moment where America turned a corner and took a step towards a more inclusive society.
Instead what I saw before my eyes was hope and optimism turn to tense skepticism turn to sheer horror and genuine, warranted fear.
What I saw and felt was a most painful affirmation that a hearty minority in America was hell bent on preserving a fading cultural identity based on skin color, gender, and sexual orientation under the guise of “economic” understanding and “strong foreign policy.”
The mantra that we draw our strength from our melting pot culture was wholly rejected in just a few hours and I watched it live.
In the subsequent days, I have wrestled with (and continue to wrestle with) the question: where do we go from here?
My politics took a gut punch- I can deal with that. It’s not the first time and likely will not be the last (although perhaps it will be the hardest)- but what really damaged my psyche was the willingness of people who I thought I knew to cast their ballot for someone who qualified on exactly zero levels for the office of President. And perhaps worse, someone who is presently surrounding himself with absolutely no one who will even attempt to enact any mechanism of accountability.
Those that I have shared aspects of my life with, broken bread with, laughed and cried with, embraced and loved decided to side with a candidate who built an entire ethos, persona, and campaign on disparaging others. I don’t know if I will ever be able to reconcile that people who I have made the effort to see the good in decided to choose the principles of endless phobias and isms (and in the post-election, tout this as a massive victory while explaining to others how their reality is in fact not real because things like racism and sexism don’t exist, much to my sarcastic amusement).
Coming to terms with the reality that I personally know people who have made the political decision to embolden neo-nazis, and the kkk among other hate groups gives me tremendous pause and I am really struggling with where, how, and if these people can fit in my life.
Do I hate them? No.
Do I feel betrayed? Absolutely.
What this will mean for the future? I don’t know yet.
What I do know is that it was personal and the wound runs deep.
It’s not a matter of creating political echo chambers. It’s not a matter of creating the safe spaces that are fraudulently disparaged time and time again by those that refuse to take the time to understand the need. It is the pure and simple fact that my trust in them to respect my humanity and the humanity of those that do not share a socially dominant identity is gone.
To me, the claims that now we’re going to be economically prosperous, stronger on the world stage, and that now is the time to come together as a nation under the Star Spangled Banner fall considerably short and feel like a glass brimming at rim with the poison the alt-right has concocted.
The past eight years have seen the economy recover from the brink of long lasting disaster, an increase in those that are insured (although without question, Obamacare has its flaws), crime is statistically at all-time lows (although if you tune in to fox news, you’d think we’re in a constant state of civil war), we’ve made significant strides toward opening the gates to Cuba, and a (tumultuous) legalization of same-sex marriage. All of this while a Republican House of Representatives (and now Senate), tea party movement, birtherism, and the rise of the white-nationalist alt-right worked tirelessly day and night to undermine all of it. One could make arguments all day about their dislike of President Obama and/ or his administration- he isn’t perfect but the numbers and statistics are there, plain for all to see.
Now it may seem as if the blame is being laid solely on Republicans and conservatives, which is simply untrue. Coastal “elites” (a group which one could make a strong argument that I am presently part of) have collectively looked down on those underrepresented and underserved and have not taken seriously the valid concerns that have been put forth. It is this in conjunction with the conspiracy theories about the “liberal media,” akin to denying climate change or the fact that we did make it to the moon that has served as the heavy weight dragging us down into the deep abyss where we are now.
But now that we are here- in the dark trenches of this personal and political despair that I am making the conscious decision to hold on to the virtue of hope. The same hope I watched evaporate in the Javitz Center under a literal glass ceiling that contained us, can be recaptured- it’s going to take hard work and a considerable look in the mirror of who we are as a people, but we have no choice other than to get the job done.
So as we see a spike in hate crimes by folks with dominant identities (in this case, white people) of all ages- physically and verbally harassing people of color, the LGBTQ community and non-Christians, the inevitable thought of “what can I do?” is starting to settle in for many now that the dust has cleared and the early onset of the dark night is upon us.
With such deep cultural and social wounds across a broad swath of American identity and politic, a tremendous opportunity to build strong coalitions and movements based on existing infrastructure and systems presents itself. It is under this framework that the collective intellectual might of the people can be brought together (and when I use together, I mean not in the sense that we blindly support a white nationalist, racist, sexist, bigoted President-elect, but together in the sense that we embrace all of our backgrounds and humanity- something that the President-elect has made clear he will not participate in during his year-and-a-half long campaign).
We can continue to construct the visionary future we deserve with a tenacity and vigor like never before.
We can and must unite in this night.
The key to building is taking the time to acknowledge our own privileges and check them at the door for the greater good.
In other words- get yo’ people.
I know my identity as a cis-gender, heterosexual, Black, “over-educated,” man gives me certain deficiencies in the way I am seen (like being falsely perceived as non-intellectual and violent among a laundry list of prejudicial views), but it also affords me comforts and audience that others do not have access to.
I need to be willing to listen to the viewpoints of those that don’t share my identity and that have been forced to live on different margin of society that I do- perhaps more importantly, I need to encourage- rather demand, those that share my identities do the same.
It’s most certainly not easy or comfortable but it needs to be done and it is long, long overdue.
The highly educated can no longer look down upon those that have not had that opportunity.
Men can no longer grip tight the false belief that they are somehow superior to women.
Black men must come to terms with sexism, homophobia, colorisms, among other isms and false fears that have plagued our community and contribute to the erasure of others.
And those are just things that people who share my identity can do. None of this is particularly new thought, but it yet again demands to be said.
I could roll on with other identities but there is a certain power to self-discovery through the truth of an “other” that I won’t strip from someone reading this.
We’re going to have tumultuous times ahead of us and I take solace in the fact that the majority of those that participated in the election reject the notion that the President-elect represents what our values have the potential to be.
I believe in the power of the people and the power of the people gives us hope.
So as I sit with the inability to dedicate complete focus to anything beyond the thought that we face the steepest climb and most dire (proverbial) battles ahead. I find myself cornered into explaining my reconciliation with truths such as my respect and admiration for those who serve the country in the military with my decreasing ability to find reason to stand an anthem that celebrates a nation that has explicitly spoken out against my very existence through the electoral process (which to be very clear- can be reconciled but many folks have trouble wrapping their minds around it), I offer this:
We must not rest on a crescendo with the bogus notion that things will take care of themselves, but we all must acknowledge that we are enough.
If you’re mad in this moment… Good.
Now use that motivation to do good for yourself and those around you.
Look to your left and look to your right and bring those people on the journey to the top with you.
There are a lot more folks out there counting on you than you might believe.