Many people were stunned as we watched the results of the 2016 Presidential Election and heard Donald J. Trump announced as the 45th President-elect of the United States. Trump even appeared shocked in a picture of he tweeted of him, his family and his staff watching the results. Caption: “Watching the returns at 9:45pm. #ElectionNight #MAGA.”
I remember November 8, 2016 as deeply as I remember election night in 2008 when my best friend called me immediately after CNN projected Barack Obama had been elected the 44th President, the first black President. Somewhere between “Yo…” and “Are you watching this?”, I stood on the deck and cried, simultaneously excited about that historical moment and anxious about President Obama’s well-being. “Lord, don’t let them kill him,” I mumbled.
On November 8th, with each state Trump won, I sat still, not blinking, afraid to breathe. Silent. I wanted to scream but couldn’t find the words. The waking nightmare harnessed my ability to make a sound or move, and I was nowhere near Stage 1 sleep. But around 11:30pm, I exhaled deep, turned off the television and went to bed thinking, “I’m not surprised that this happened, but HOW did this happen? How?” And immediately felt like I was back in high school trying to understand the politics of girlhood while my mother bellowed to me in a protective and scalding tone, “Stop believing that everybody is your damn friend. Everybody ain’t your friend.” That night, America was not my friend.
I awoke on November 9th, released another deep sign and wondered why I had not designated the day after the election as a reading or lab day. I was not feeling it. But I got dressed, went to class and lectured from the moment I walked in the room until dismissal 50 minutes later. No space for questions or discussion. This is rarely how I conduct my classes, but I was not prepared for any questions that morning. I was not prepared emotionally or mentally for much of anything that day. I was empty. And to be clear, the emptiness was not because the Republican candidate won. I’ve watched Republicans be elected White House. And while I voted for her and would have been excited to see a woman be president, it was not because Hillary Clinton lost. I was empty because I felt that we Americans lost something that night, even those that voted for him. Yes, ALL of us. But that’s an entirely different post.
My students and I spent many of the class meetings prior to the election discussing the issues. They conducted research, watched documentaries, participated in a panel discussion – and it was challenging to navigate that space from some semblance of neutrality. I wanted my students to be informed and often stated, “It’s not about for whom you vote but about knowing for whom you’re voting and understanding why you’re voting for that person.” I said that so much that I believed it. I really believed it because it was true. The course is a critical thinking course, and I had no intentions on teaching them what to think but how to think critically, how to make decisions by thinking critically, and to be confident in those decisions. Yet, I often was dismayed as I read papers when, after doing their own research, students were able to critique both candidates somewhat fairly but would end with a statement like, “But I’m still voting for him.” I wondered to what extent my “It’s not about for whom you vote…” had influenced my students’ willingness to write scathing critiques of then Republican Nominee Donald Trump but then agree that they trusted him with to lead this country more than they trusted Hillary Clinton, or any third party candidate. I have many theories about how and why this would happen, but again, that’s an entirely different post.
For the rest of the day, there was an eerie quiet on campus. It was a quiet that I had not expected. I assumed that some students, faculty and staff were lamenting the election results and others were celebrating – though both the lamentations and celebrations were done without drawing attention because: southern dignities.
Posts on my Facebook feed credited the election results to racism, sexism – both – a lack of attention to the working class, white supremacy, etc. There also was mention of “God’s plan” and the suggestion that we [read: black/brown people] “learn to work with the him” and “accept the results because the election was fair” – both arguable and laughable statements that, I assume, might have been posted by Trump supporters who had been social media quiet throughout the campaign because they “don’t talk politics online”. But isn’t it all political? I digress. Another post.
To process, I had planned to disconnect from social media for a week or so, but was sucked back into the Facebook abyss on November 10th when I received the following Facebook message:
“I’m a black, lesbian female …… should I be scared? .. because I am ..”
I felt her question was related to Trump being the President-elect but inquired, “Scared of…?” and she responded: “…what’s gonna happen while trump is president.” I read that post about five times and thought of a response that would ease her anxiety and assure her that Kendrick Lamar didn’t lie to us. We gon’ be ‘Alright’. Then, I responded:
“Well, to be honest, I can’t tell you not to be scared…because I’m feeling some kind of way as well. BUT I will say try not to be paralyzed by that fear. As someone with similar identities as you, I’m really concerned about reproductive healthcare/access, general healthcare, and marriage equality, among other areas. I’m paying close attention and definitely plan to remain abreast of what he’s doing once he takes oath. I encourage you to also focus on mid-term elections as well. That’s one way that we can try to combat changes that result in disenfranchisement for people of color, women, queer folks, etc.
It’s okay to be scared. Allow yourself to feel that. But don’t let keep you from living fully.. ❤”
The Scared Black Lesbian (SBL) was satisfied with my comments and responded she felt better. But I didn’t feel better. I felt like I’d failed her in my response, like I’d failed my students by lecturing that day without allowing them room to process, if needed. I failed all of them because I was too scared to say what I felt, too un-tenured to be real with them. Too much like the “keep your head down, do your work, and stay out of trouble” person that I’d been throughout high school and undergrad.
My email interaction with the SBL has been on my mind each day since November, and on the day of the inauguration, I want to say to this young woman what I wanted to say that day, what I wish someone had said to me at her age:
If she messaged me today with the same question, I’d be more satisfied with the following response:
Being scared is not and should not be the paralysis of truth, dignity and respect – and fight. So be scared. But also: Be present. Be vocal. Be active. Be authentic. Be a fighter. Be free. Be an advocate. Be all of these things, even as your voice shakes, your palms sweat, and your tears form.
I know people will tell you that we’ll survive. And of course, there are considerable readings online about surviving a Trump presidency. Each of these readings offers a number of tips and strategies to make it through the next four years (only). Some of these include getting involved in the community through service or grassroots organizations, participating in midterm and local elections, etc. I agree with many of these “get through” activities. Yet, I’d add a few others.
- Wake up every morning with a freedom mindset. If you wake up each morning thinking of what needs to be done to get free (from any oppression), you’ll resist those that urge you to “get over it” and those who state, “We’ve survived worse. We’ll survive this.” No, you don’t have to get over it. You have every right to be mad at racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic language and actions. You have every right to be mad when policies are proposed that limit or eliminate your access to quality healthcare, reproductive rights, an education, healthy foods, a healthy environment, equitable housing, and an overall quality of life. You don’t have to just “survive”.
- Understand that freedom from oppression based on race, gender, sexuality, religion, body size, physical ability, geographic location/region, and any other identity is the goal. Know that freedom isn’t a compartmentalized concept. If we ain’t all free, we ain’t free.
- Recognize and refute game. Pay attention to folks that claim to be allies but aren’t willing to stand for and with you. An ally speaks up for you when your voice shakes, when you’re silent, and before you’ve recognized there’s a reason for you to speak.
- Practice revolutionary love on a daily basis – starting with self-love. Yes, love is greater than hate. However, love is also mutual. Resist those who encourage you to love those that hate you to the extent that your well-being is impacted. You don’t have to adopt hatred when you realize your love is not bridging the gap. But you also don’t have to keep loving when someone has shown you who he or she is and what he or she believes. Reserve your love for those who understand that love is reciprocal. Embrace and give love where love is given.
Today is the beginning of the next four years, and yes, we likely will “survive”, but we must move beyond mere “survival” as proof of our ability be resilient through hatred. Don’t aim to just survive a Trump presidency; aim to thrive and live through and beyond a Trump presidency. LIVE. And resist hatred and oppression with everything in you.