Monday, December 19, 2016

who will tell the story?

One of my coping mechanisms is imagining the future. When I'm worried about a particularly stressful day of school, I imagine what it will be like to do nothing during summer vacation. When I'm irritated with my mother's rules, I imagine what it would be like to live alone in a few years. When I get jealous of characters in romance books, I imagine being in love in the future.

Donald Trump was voted as the next president, and there isn't a future I can imagine that will make this any kind of better. 

I keep thinking about all of the work people have been doing. Calling senators and representatives, writing pieces about all of the reasons why Trump shouldn't be president, and protesting right outside of Trump tower. All of it is swept aside, even the facts. 

People are so eager to ignore the fact that he's extremely racist, has a horrible record with women, has been accused of sexual assault, and is all sorts of mixed up with Russia. I haven't even touched everything. They'll ignore the fact that Pence doesn't care for the reproductive rights of women or LBGTQ+ people.  

They're both horrible, and I don't understand how this is just ignored. Republicans are people, after all, and I believe that they have common sense. My father's best friend is a republican, and I often wonder if he agrees with all of these ideas and statements. I wonder if all of the people who voted for Trump agree that people of color and queer people and women are less than them. 

They do. I can't come to any other conclusion. 

There are Trump supporters in my school, in my town. I can tell because of the statements made in class, but also because of the stickers on cars. Ever since Election Day, I've been extremely aware of my identity. Even the white people who said they weren't going to vote for Trump must have, since 58% of white people voted for him. 

As a black woman, I'm often in spaces that are dominated by white people. I've found that part of my experience is having to suspend disbelief. Part of being "respectable" is accepting the idea that most white people aren't racist, or at least pretending to. But how can I believe this after watching this election? How do we go from a gorgeous black family in the White House to this?

I've accepted the fact that I know more about racism than the white people who teach me. There are three black teachers in my school, and I haven't had any of them. I wish that I could see them everyday, if only for the comfort of knowing that there is another person of color around. I had to explain the concept of institutional racism to a teacher, and was exhausted by the end. 

It is exhausting, to constantly have to explain myself. Why must I constantly prove that there is a system actively working against people of color? Why do I have to bring in sources and argue in a calm voice in order to be considered? Even so, white people always have the chance to ignore me. I don't know if it's even worth it when I'm done. I'm so tired of this. 

Since Election Day, I've rejected the idea that only some white people are racist. I hate the way they use the word, as if it's some sort of insult. White people ignore the ingrained racism inside of them while pretending that race plays no part whatsoever in their lives. My teacher will lecture me about how black people can be racist while also making fun of the names of black students. 

She doesn't consider herself "racist," because to white people, it is an extreme. In order to be racist, they have to declare that they hate black people, or people from Mexico, or people with different skin colors. That definition is so rudimentary; it is almost as if it was taught in first grade and no one ever expanded on it. That might be because the concept of racism is never taught in school, not past the idea that MLK ended it all before he died. 

The fact of the matter is that our country is built on racism. It's still part of the fabric of this country, and no one has ever tried to pull it away. At this point, so far in our history, racism can not be distinguished from the characteristics of our nation. From the moment that the Constitution was written, black people were excluded. 

Cotton was the source of the economy for decades, because of slave labor. Black people have strengthened this nation with blood and bones and lynched bodies. We've received nothing in return. We were never even asked if we wanted this. And today, we act as if slavery is some distant system that no longer holds any impact on our daily lives. 

White people started off with a hundred year head start, and no one ever made them stop so that black people could catch up. They simply continued running, while we were forced to stop, over and over and over again. Now, we are blamed for our unequal status in society, if it is even acknowledged. We are told to work harder to move up, as if white people had to work through Jim Crow and lynchings and systemic racism while attempting to hold their families together.

White people are born into this system of racism, and many of them do not unlearn it. Black people are also born into this system of racism, but we are forced to learn. From the moment your parents give you the speech about working twice as hard, the moment your mother tells you how to behave around police, the moment you realize that you're the only "good" black child in your class. 

What a tremendous privilege it must be to go through life without being aware of this. Classmates, even teachers, tell me stories of how their ancestors immigrated to this country and built themselves up. I have no idea how my ancestors got to this country. I have an advertisement for a runaway slave, the earliest family member I'm aware of. I'm in awe of his bravery, but I don't understand how he and an immigrant from Poland is compared. 

The Polish immigrant was able to assimilate. He could lose his accent, his mannerisms, and look just like the white people who were already here. Eventually, people forgot why they hated the Polish, and they became apart of whiteness. This could never happen to my ancestor, because his skin was dark and could not be scrubbed off. He lived always looking over his shoulder, avoiding the white man and the KKK. 

Even though most southerners didn't own slaves, they were part of this culture. They believed that slavery kept their lives stable. They believed that black people were less than them. Even Abraham Lincoln was more interested in preserving the Union than abolishing slavery. I know that slavery could've ripped this nation apart, but is a country that only values a white man worth salvaging? 

Lincoln believed so, but perhaps this is because he knew his children would benefit. What a tremendous privilege. 

As my teacher told our class a story about her life, all I could think of was her privilege. She almost failed out of high school, but is successful today. I couldn't help but think about all of the failing black kids in my school who are ignored, except for when adults want to use them as scapegoats. 

"Don't be like them," they say, even if not explicitly. "They have no drive. They won't go anywhere." 

It is this same privilege that has allowed these white people to vote for Trump without a thought of the repercussions. They insist that they aren't racist, as if all it takes is to use the word "nigger." They ignore the fact that they play into this system, that they make behavior more acceptable by supporting Trump. 

They're eager to call out "radical Islamic terrorists," but are silent when it comes to Dylann Roof. I think this is because they know, at the back of their minds, that they created him. They created him with their comments: "black people take advantage of the system," "they're all drug addicts and can't get real jobs," "they're behind us because they're lazy."

They created him with their silence. Those who stand by for these comments are just as guilty. 

As far as I'm concerned, anyone who supports Trump is not my friend. I don't care that white people wanted a "change," that they chose this fate for our country while thinking only of themselves. 

I don't care that the electors wanted to follow in tradition. I didn't expect this group of mostly white people to save me, not when the concept of the electoral college is already rooted in racism. But I find it disappointing that I'm not yet old enough to vote, and I already don't trust my government. 

I don't care that people are burning flags and sitting down during the pledge. I don't care if you get upset that I refuse to acknowledge Trump as president. If these are things that you are worried about, talk to people like my parents, who are worried about how our lives will change. 

Talk to people like my Muslim friends, who are already terrified at rising hate crimes. Talk to my trans friends, who know the vice president does not care about them. Talk to young women like me, who worry about my reproductive rights with a GOP dominated Congress. 

This is not as simple as disliking the person who won. I am worried about my quality of life. I am worried about friends getting deported, families getting ripped apart. I am worried because this country stopped caring about me once I stopped picking cotton and taking orders. My heart aches for people like Van Jones, who do not know how to explain this fact to their children. 

I have come to one conclusion: white people voted against their self interest because they were afraid. Working class white people are upset that they are slowly fading from the focus. They desperately want to hold onto the times where they were the only ones who were important. When they say "make America great again," they mean times where uppity people of color weren't demanding rights. White people were afraid of losing the privilege this country constructed for them. 

I've been trying to think forward, four years from now, but I'm not sure what it will be like. I'm already apprehensive around white people, angry at all of them, even though I know it isn't fair. I just can't bring myself to care about fair, not when the race was never even from the beginning. 

Perhaps one day, when I'm older, I'll be able to talk to people about this. I'll tell them that I wasn't sure how to fight, but that I kept writing. I hope that writing will be enough. I hope that stories will be enough, as they have been in the past. No matter how hopeless I feel, I will keep telling them.

I owe it to those who came before, and those who will come after. 

(An ad for one of my ancestors, Isam, who was 25 years old when he escaped.)