In Trump’s America

I realize I’ve been resharing and retweeting, but I haven’t spoken up with a clear picture of what I’m thinking or feeling in my own words. Here’s an attempt to amend that: where I am and how I got there.

In the Democratic primary, I voted for democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. My dreams for the future of the United States include such things as guaranteed basic income, total reliance on sustainable energy sources, and universal healthcare. Sanders talked openly of moving the country in that direction, and thereby earned my vote. It pleased and excited me when he won the state in which I voted.

As the primary continued, however, I grew disillusioned. Sanders exhibited a broken-record tendency to reiterate his domestic economic agenda when questioned on other topics. He seemed not to have a clear idea of how he would implement the changes he espoused. He displayed a startling indifference to the particular concerns of women and people of color, for whom economic inequality is bound up in deeper systems of oppression. He enacted sexist microaggressions on camera during his speeches and failed to disavow the misogyny among his supporters. When he suffered a setback or loss, he grew petty and turned to conspiracy-theorizing. I came to the conclusion that while he made an admirable Senator, he would be a poor President.

Reluctantly, then, I turned my attention to the candidate I’d at first wanted Sanders to defeat: Hillary Clinton. I started reading the blogs of a few of Hillary’s supporters, wondering how they could be enthusiastic about her in the face of her corporate ties, her warmongering, etc. I discovered there that many of the hateful things my liberal friends said about her originated in Republican smear campaigns long since debunked. I learned about the numerous liberal causes Clinton had fought for in her long career. I watched as Clinton made missteps on the topic of race, but accepted criticism and corrected her course. Above all I read and listened to the advice of women and people of color, who exhorted an approach of voting for Clinton, but holding her accountable and supporting or opposing her on an issue-by-issue basis. My mind was changed!

Between the primaries and the general election, we had a summer of terrible violence inflicted on people of color by the police. Angry and despairing, I asked my Facebook feed what I could do to help the situation. Friendly advice directed me to a local Unitarian Universalist congregation active in social justice issues. I began attending meetings and services there, learning more about our culture of white supremacy and what I, as a white person, could do to combat it. As Donald Trump continued to gain support in a campaign with an openly racist agenda, the need for concrete action felt more intense than ever. On November 6, the Sunday before the election, I officially joined Unitarian Universalism.

Then the disaster we’re still reeling from occurred: Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. Pundits, pollsters, and ordinary people alike have since put forth a hundred explanations for how this could have happened, laid blame at the feet of a hundred different scapegoats. But in the context of my growing understanding of racist America, I am thus far convinced that the overwhelming cause was white supremacy. And I mean that only in part as the white-hood-wearing, swastika-tattooed image that no doubt jumps to mind at the phrase—that was involved here, no doubt, but white supremacy is not always so cartoonishly villainous. White supremacy acts in the indifference of voters to the suffering women, people of color, Muslims, immigrants, etc. etc. will face (indeed, are already experiencing) as the result of this election outcome. It acts in the Electoral College, subtly devised to ensure that Black votes weigh less than others. It acts in the 2013 rulings that gutted the Voting Rights Act, and the voter suppression laws that followed. We have been a country of racial hatred since we first pillaged Native lands to found it; that fact only took a new form this election week.

To my friends and family who voted for Trump: I am furious with you. The victory of your chosen candidate has already hurt me and people I care about, and will continue to have horrific repercussions for those same people and the rest of the world. I dare say you probably won’t come out the better for it either. If you want my trust again, if you care at all for my well-being and that of this nation, I hope you change course and stand in resistance against the totalitarian state that Donald Trump promises to found.

To my friends and family who voted third-party or refrained from voting despite being able: I am disappointed in you. I understand your reasons; I have heard your disaffection with the current system and your hope for a better option. I do not blame you for this terrible event, but I am deeply saddened that you chose not to help prevent it. I beg you, make good on your hopes and ideals by fighting tooth and nail to protect the freedoms of marginalized people in this regime of hate.

To my friends and family who voted for Clinton, whether affirmatively or reluctantly: I thank you. It may not have been the best possible option among imaginable worlds, but it was the right one when the time came. Let’s commit to driving this nation toward equality by means beyond the vote, and show Donald Trump that while his malicious vision may be the America we have now, it need not and will not be the America we live in for ever!

White Shame

A recent post by Chuck Dunning making the rounds on Facebook had this to say:

If I say, “White privilege is real and it means White people have some unearned social advantages just because they’re White,”

and you think I mean, “White privilege is real and it means White people should be ashamed of themselves just because they’re White,”

we’re having a misunderstanding.

That’s a fine enough bit of insight. But as I think about it, I wonder.

Shouldn’t we white folks be ashamed?

Shame has taken a beating in the public consciousness in recent years, and for good reason. At least here in the States, shame does quite a bit of harm. Due to social pressure and messaging, people feel ashamed for being gay, for weighing more than a sack of flour, and indeed, for having dark skin. These are terrible failings of our society, and we are right to say, “you shouldn’t be ashamed of that.” By the same token, it’s not simply being born with pale skin that anyone should feel ashamed of, that being something we have no say in or control over–so as far as that goes, Mr. Dunning’s implications in his post are on point.

There’s real value in shame, though, and we lose out on it (baby, bathwater, etc.) if we reject shame entirely. Shame motivates change. When we screw up, that squirming, burning discomfort urges us to do better in the future. When someone we’re close to, or identify with, or admire, screws up, the shame mixed in with our anger and disappointment prods us to consider: ought I to call this person to task, or distance myself from them? And that very calling-out, especially when seen at a community or societal level, aiming to make the offending individual feel shame in turn, is how our social norms advance.

As a white person, I should feel ashamed when police, paid for with my taxes and ostensibly defending my safety, brutalize and kill people of color.

As a white person, I should feel ashamed when politicians, representing me in our government, make public remarks indifferent to Black suffering and enact policies targeting Black people for disenfranchisement and incarceration.

As a white person, I should feel ashamed when I take advantage of my privilege to keep my social circles empty of people of color, to sit at home instead of protesting injustice, to earn and spend without furthering any causes beyond my own comfort.

It’s useless if it remains at shame, of course. That’s why “white guilt” has a bad connotation: it’s white folks squirming over how bad people of color have it, making public shows of sorryness without ever doing anything of concrete worth. But as a first step, an impetus? Perhaps it’s better that we acknowledge and understand our shame, rather than deny and defend against it. Only then can we put it to work erasing the prejudices and inequalities worth feeling ashamed of in the first place.