We expected a change in public opinion, we needed a change of heart

by | Nov 11, 2016 | Opinions | 0 comments

I know what it’s like to be too shocked to cry. I know what it’s like to feel nauseous. I’m also familiar with the nervous anticipation that accompanies moments of uncertainty.

On Tuesday night, I felt all these things at once: there was a rock in my stomach, an unrelenting lump in my throat, and what felt like hundreds of creepy-crawly insects coursing through my veins.

As I streamed live coverage of the presidential election, I was not as afraid of a Trump administration as I was of a Trump America.

Granted, his opinions are frightening: he’s said women should be punished for abortions; Muslim immigrants and Muslim Americans should be listed in a database; and “stop and frisk” practices should return. It’s likely that those ideas could ascend into the proper legislative channels and become real policies enforced by law.

But that’s not what I was afraid of on Tuesday night. That’s still not my biggest fear.

The source of my concern is the same as it’s been throughout his campaign: I am deeply afraid of the kinds of people who support and are complicit in the violent and flagrant racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and religious intolerance that the Trump-Pence ticket represented.

Trump will continue to be someone detached from the real people of this country: he has lived his entire life with the kind of privilege that most Americans — including most of those who voted for him — could never imagine. And now he will be, quite literally, one of the most powerful men in the world.

But the people who shouted and spit and fought at Trump’s rallies, the people who have been bred to despise minorities, the people who were emboldened by Trump to do so? Those people live in the next state over, around the corner, up the street.

These people aren’t some far-away enemies. They aren’t across waters, through deserts or on the other side of the world like so many other adversaries throughout American history. They are here.

When I say the next state over, I literally mean it. Pennsylvania, a state that hasn’t been red since 1988, showed up to the polls for Trump and won him 20 critical electoral votes.

When I say around the corner, I’m talking about my (very nice) high school classmate’s little brother, who was banned from the campus of Wellesley College after he and another white male were found riding around with a Trump flag in their pickup truck, targeting students of color with threatening language. I used to trick or treat at his house.

When I say up the street, I mean another privileged white boy, who swears he’s disenfranchised, that used to climb trees and ride bikes and splash in puddles with me as a child. Long before Tuesday night, I had to remind him that my family and our childhood friendship would not be his saving grace when people accused him of being racist for supporting and promoting a candidate who ran on racism.

These people aren’t some far-away enemies. They aren’t across waters, through deserts or on the other side of the world like so many other adversaries throughout American history. They are here. They sing our national anthem and salute our flag. They wear badges and guns and swear to protect us. They go to our schools. They shop at our grocery stores. They like the same toppings on their pizza.

The scary part of this is that we can never tell when we are in the presence of someone who hates minorities — or is overjoyed to help elect someone who hates minorities. I know to be frightened because some of the scariest moments of my life were encounters with these kinds of people.  There is no way to tell what they think just by looking at them, but they take one look at my brown skin and natural hair and see someone who isn’t equal in dignity or rights.

At the same time, though, these similarities give us to smallest bit of hope. It cannot happen with an administration of bigots in office, but when we get to the other side of this, we might be able to come to some understanding with one another.

We must explain to those who love us why they should love others who are different in every way, but equally human in every way.

As we have seen in our country’s long history of discrimination, trying to discourage people from voicing their prejudices is not the answer to ending hate; we have to teach love instead.

I promise you this: the process does not begin with minorities having to suck it up and confront people who are spewing hateful messages. The work does not begin with minorities reliving and recounting hatred just to educate those with privilege.

It begins within our own communities. It begins at the dinner table, at the family reunion, in our homes and workplaces. If Aunt Betty thinks conversion therapy sounds like a good idea, explain to her why it’s not. If distant cousin Eddie says Muslims should be banned and ejected from the country, remind him how and when your family got here — the only people who get a pass on this are Native Americans. And seriously, if your colleague cracks a rape-y joke about the intern who came in for an interview, say that being a sexual predator is not professional, acceptable or funny.

The fear I have for my country is not about politics. It’s got very little to do with economic policy or even who is appointed to the Supreme Court. Our nation’s laws have become more inclusive and accepting of difference over time. The American people? Not so much.

In the 60+ years since the civil rights era, the biggest change has not been in the minds of Americans, but in their mouths. It stopped being acceptable to be prejudiced in mixed company, but we didn’t take the time to explain why and how we should choose love instead of hate.

“They kilt us, but they ain’t wupped us yet.”

That should be our goal now. We must explain to those who love us why they should love others who are different in every way, but equally human in every way. If we start leading with love in spite of the hateful words of our next president, we will be a better America when this is all said and done.

As Kaine said, “they kilt us, but they ain’t wupped us yet.” This is the lesson of my enslaved ancestors, of my social justice warrior relatives, of the many others who broke their backs to build the America I love. I was born here, I plan to die here, and in the meantime I fully expect to see my country progress in times of triumph and in moments of sorrow.

I vow to do my part in aiding that progression. I hope you will too.

You can catch up with Danielle on Twitter.

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