You created that narrative to keep yourself warm at night. That warmth made you complacent. And you forgot why we were fighting.
— Marco Rogers (@polotek) November 9, 2016
It’s a cliché to say this now, but the election results were a complete and utter shock to me. Maybe that makes me blind. I was in disbelief as the numbers climbed on the TV, dismissive of Florida when it went red (“typical Florida”), betrayed by my home state of Ohio when it followed suit, and bowled over as more and more Midwestern states voted for a reality TV star rather than the most qualified politician to ever run for president. I kept watching til 2AM waiting for things to change, before my friends and I began the slow process of coming to terms with our new reality. I slept for about five hours before waking up and scouring the internet for strategies Hillary might use to still eke out a win—something about recounts or the Supreme Court or something?—but of course there was no such path. This is really happening.
Yesterday was a weary and emotional day of realizing that I was not celebrating the election of the nation’s first woman president. Instead I tried to come to terms with imagining my future under President Trump, hearing him give more speeches, representing our country internationally, appointing justices, and facing little opposition or checks and balances in the legislature or the courts. My brain knows that fear is not a productive response, but it’s hard to drive it out. I keep thinking how my life will change on a personal level: how will my career be impacted by budget cuts? by cutting access to health care? by new policies that target reproductive health? I am certain that women will not experience equality under this administration. The hostility I feel from the President-elect toward myself, i.e., toward women, is unlike anything I’ve ever felt in politics.
My next thought is, if this is how threatened I feel, as a straight white cis woman, how much more endangered must others feel who are more marginalized than I am? My heart breaks. Many of the students that come to the Writing Center at Medgar Evers, where I work now, are immigrants, mostly from Caribbean islands. Nearly all of them are black. Most are women. Many are Muslim. What are they feeling now? I’m thankful that I don’t have to tutor again until Monday, so I have time to straighten myself back out. I tutored two students on Election Day. Both of them assured me they were voting. One informed me that she always volunteers as a poll worker. When she said this, a tutor complained that her name had been removed from the voter roll, and this student helped the tutor understand her rights and what to do. She stayed a while after I was done tutoring her, talking about the dread of the election with other students and tutors. At the end of our conversation, while my student walked out the door, she said, “Well, tomorrow morning we’ll be waking up to President Trump.” I said with a smile, “No we won’t; don’t say that.”
Lying in bed at 2AM on election night, sickened, remembering this exchange, I realized how my unwillingness to see the racism and sexism of America for what it was allowed me to believe the election would go the way I wanted it to go. My unwillingness is a product of my white privilege. I didn’t listen to people less privileged than I, who were literally telling me that Trump had this election in the bag. But because I didn’t want to believe that the country would elect a stupid, racist, sexist buffoon with anger issues, I was able to imagine that my country was better than it is. This didn’t cause me any dissonance, because I’m able to avoid seeing racism myself. I didn’t listen to people who actually are forced to deal with racism as a part of their everyday life, and I told them they were wrong.
Yesterday I read the Twitter thread I linked at the top of this post and felt an incredible resonance, like Marco Rogers was talking directly to me. I had the luxury of crafting my bubble. I’ve left the Midwest and the South in my past, moved to New York City, avoided talking to old friends and family whose opinions make me uncomfortable. So that’s evidence of my privilege, the fact that I can even do that. And then, I have to consider the charge that in doing that, I’m not being an ally to people of color: instead of running away—a luxury not everyone can afford—I should stand up to these people and try and change their minds, or at the very least, condemn what they have to say. With regard to this last sentence, I think there is truth in that. And it’s painful to hear that I’m not doing my duty, in a way. At the same time, I wonder how productive such arguments would really be.
Before I cleansed my digital presence from all political implications, I would occasionally get into a Facebook fight about politics, where I felt particularly compelled to do so. I don’t get involved in Facebook arguments unless I respect the person I’m talking to and believe them to be intelligent. In these cases I believe these people must be well-intentioned but that they don’t understand why something they’ve said is problematic.
And yet, I can think of only one time where my getting involved in a political argument with someone I respect has ever resulted in that person changing their mind. The rest of the time it’s only led to anger, hurt feelings, and often even damaged relationships with the people I dared to argue with. So how much can I even do? What power do I have?
My Facebook and Twitter feeds were scrubbed of Trump supporters as I gradually unfollowed them so as not to be tempted to get involved in these arguments. Then, living in NYC, of course no one talks about supporting Trump in public here. I and all my neighbors and friends went and voted; the lines were down the block. Hillary won the popular vote. Yet none of it mattered. What else could we have done?
Paradoxically, I also am dealing with regret that I didn’t do more. Certainly I could have done more. I have largely stayed out of it this political cycle. I prefer to remain distant and jokey about my political preferences (in no small part because I don’t enjoy arguments like those I mention above). I secretly was grateful to friends who actually joined the campaigns as volunteers, though I dare not say it aloud, lest I compromise my brand. I didn’t really lift a finger personally to help the campaign, because that’s not me. I didn’t even make a typical political post, because ugh, those are so annoying anyway. This is just “how I am.” But if someone had told me, “Megan, if you make a post like that, if you volunteer one afternoon, you can make a difference,” I would have done it. Funny though, because of course people do say things like that, I just don’t believe them. This is the paradox again.
I do my civic duty, I go out and vote, but that’s not good enough when I insist on maintaining this aloof, joking attitude toward politics. That attitude is a luxury, born of my white privilege. I am sad and embarrassed that I didn’t learn this lesson until my status as a woman felt threatened, instead of learning it as LGBTQ folks and people of color were screaming it at all of us. But better late than never, I guess. I feel better today than I did yesterday. But part of the reason I am writing this is because I want to remember not to be complacent. This is a bit of a watershed moment for me and I need to record it, so I can go back when I slip into my jokey aloof self, and remind myself that this is how it felt when I really finally understood.
Edit 11/11/16: many of my friends have written their own blog posts about this event, and I recommend them all: Bryn Hughes, Michael McClimon, Jill Brasky. Bryn has also assembled an excellent Spotify playlist.