This week, my mind has been tracing back to these distinct moments in my elementary and middle school social studies classes growing up. I remember when we first learned about slavery, the Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement. I remember thinking that I couldn’t imagine being alive during a period of such racial turmoil and hatred toward people of color. I couldn’t fathom the physical strength and mental resilience that it took my ancestors to endure such dangerous and toxic conditions day in and day out, constantly living in a state of fear and uneasiness, knowing that there was no system to protect your basic human rights because the only system that was in place was created to abuse and oppress you. After that thought is done, my mind traces back to these moments of shock and horror as a little girl, listening to my mother tell me about the America that she grew up in, and the America that her parents grew up in. I remember her rubbing my back gently and reminding me that things aren’t like they used to be, baby. Things are much better now.
While I was never raised to believe that racism had been fully eradicated, I was raised in an America where I didn’t have to live in fear of being outwardly harassed and abused as a result of the color of my skin. Instead, I was raised in an America of ‘post racial’ political correctness — an America where enough progress had been made toward equal rights and access that it was no longer socially acceptable for white people to outwardly display their disdain towards people of color. As a country, we learned how to talk about policy in a race-neutral way, just enough so that racism could still thrive in every nook and cranny of the system, but also in such a way that was undetectable to the naked eye. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan mastered the art of using coded language to galvanize white voters, which we now call dog whistle politics. Reagan understood that conservatism and racial resentment were inextricably linked, but that he had to be strategic about not explicitly naming that to avoid being classified as a racist himself.
For the last 40 odd years in America, being called a racist has become most white people’s biggest fear (excluding the die-hard white supremacists and extremists, of course). Nobody has wanted to appear that they’re on the side of history that is riddled with such vile, public hatred towards minority groups, even if they quietly maintain those same beliefs and values in the privacy of their own homes. I grew up in an America where white people hushed their embarrassing, racist relatives who somehow missed the mark on where we were headed as a country. I grew up in an America that was definitely imperfect, but seemingly moving in the right direction.
Over the course of the last 5 days since Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of United States, I’ve gotten a large, disturbing dose of the America my mother told me about as a little girl. I’ve seen more hate speech, and more bold, unapologetic acts of outright racism in schools, on college campuses, in public places, and on social media since Tuesday than I have throughout my entire adulthood – including the years that I’ve been acutely tuned into and actively organizing against racism. Unlike his conservative predecessors, Trump didn’t hide behind coded, race-neutral rhetoric throughout his campaign. Instead, he gave the green light to all the folks whose voices have gotten lost and swept up in the louder progressive movement towards racial reconciliation over the last 50 to 60 years, to make America great again–great, of course, being a time when white dominance was the publicly celebrated norm, and political correctness didn’t exist yet.
I’ve gotten a taste of what it feels like to try desperately to mute all of the destructive language and hateful actions toward my community and others that are marginalized and vulnerable. I’ve gotten a taste of what it feels like for racism to run rampant across the country, protected, emboldened, and re-energized after decades of trying to silence it. I’ve gotten a taste of what it feels like for acts of racism not to feel so isolated and one-off, reserved for the ignorant “bad apples” who “just don’t know any better.” I’ve gotten a taste of what it feels like to try to reconcile what the majority of the white population in America believes in chooses to turn a blind eye to, evidenced by their passive or passionate support for Trump’s campaign. I’ve gotten a taste of what it might feel like one day to look into my scared and innocent future daughter’s eyes, and tell her about the America that I’ve lived in and experienced.
I don’t have all of the answers, nor do I know where our country will go from here. Many of us are grieving the loss of an America that we thought we were on the brink of, while others of us aren’t surprised by the election results at all. I’ve heard many sentiments this week that Trump’s victory is the wake-up call that America needs to stop acting like we’re further ahead than we actually are. And while I agree that we could truly be on the cusp of an honest revolution that exposes and addresses the intricate and multifaceted layers of our disgusting past and present racism, it’s so painful to watch what it’s doing to the marginalized individuals in our country who already interact with an inherently oppressive system of white dominance everyday.
Here’s to creating an America for my future children that is better than the one my ancestors were able to create for me. Here’s to never letting go of the belief that love and light can truly drown out hate and darkness. I’m with you, my brothers and sisters.