Editor's Note: This article is Part Two of a three-part series of Jesus Radicals contributors responding to the 2016 election. Part One, "White Supremacy: Insecurity with Lethal Consequences" and Part Three, "Despair Is Not A Weapon"
On the day after the election, I woke up to find White supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, ableism and other oppressive energies in full force. Which is to say that I woke up to the same reality as the morning before and the mornings that proceeded it. It was an ordinary day.
That what many of us have known to be true and have been saying—that White rage and discontent, and White male dissatisfaction in particular, is deeply entrenched and widespread; that these sentiments could actually result in this outcome; that White progressives needed to confront, challenge and deal with the festering sores within White communities, yes even among the “rednecks” and “hillbillies” that they disregard and disparage—finally came into sharp relief for some does not make it a wake-up call for all. As I watched the results roll in and got out of bed hours after, I was not surprised. I did not grieve. I did not despair. I did not mourn. I felt vindicated. I felt a tad more resolve than the day before. And I wanted to yell from the top of the tallest building with the biggest bullhorn, “I fucking told you so.” We. Fucking. Told you so.
And I felt rage. The kind of rage that lodges tight in your sternum and threatens to bring hot tears to your face. Except what you really want to do is scream the kind of scream that does not give out until your body does or someone calls the police. Because it did not have to be this way. We did not need a Trump presidency just to witness the obvious, just to acknowledge what people have been saying from Black Lives Matter to Standing Rock to the other liberation struggles of our day and before us.
It did not have to get this far. But it has. And our response, but especially the response of those who were so self-assured, who remained silent, who shied away from conflict, who gave into fear and/or preached moderation, will help determine whether we are facing catastrophe or a catalyst for good.
One temptation will be to re-narrate Trump’s win outside the scope of White cisgender heterosexual male supremacy. Even before all the votes were counted, as Hilary’s fate was being sealed, liberal journalists quickly attempted to make the illogical and unreasonable seem sensible and innovative. Without skipping a beat, Trump’s racist, woman-hating, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, pro-violence antics swiftly became a campaign that “rewrote the rules of politics” and challenged “elites in Washington” on behalf of “the people.” It wasn’t that he was a bigot who openly threatened members of marginalized communities: “Some people” just found “some of the things” he said to be “offensive.”
This seamless backtracking and reframing occurred throughout the evening and continues in every post-election analysis that downplays the role of toxic Whiteness in galvanizing Trump to his position. Thank God for Van Jones, the only Black correspondent on CNN’s election coverage team, for calling the outcome what is, “a Whitelash.” At the end of the day, Trump successfully reassured those affronted by cultural, religious, economic and other real and imagined shifts in power that he can reclaim their assumed position at the top of the social heap. Simply put, this result is an attempt to stabilize this nation’s longstanding but always shaky hierarchies. We cannot fall asleep on this truth.
A second temptation will be to lay fault for Trump’s ascendance at the feet of third-party voters and electoral abstainers. Days after the election, a friend mentioned the ugly comments she received from a close acquaintance after disclosing that she wrote in Bernie Sanders’s name on her ballot, despite Clinton winning by a landslide in her state. Speaking as a conscientious non-voter, I find such hostility to be wildly disturbing in its short-sightedness. To use a sports analogy, it’s like a team that has played sloppily for hours lashing out at the referee for disqualifying a winning score in the last econds of the game.
That is to say, this state of affairs has been approaching for a while now: in the rise of the Tea Party; overwhelming financial and moral support for killer cops; bitter fights against marriage equality and fair access to bathrooms; bans against curricula from nonwhite backgrounds; and increased overall hatefulness during Obama’s tenure, to name a few signs. White middle class liberals getting up in arms at people who exercised their right to vote or not vote as best their consciences allowed* is a handy diversion from the harder task of real self and group examination: How did so many people from your churches, your neighborhoods, your small towns, your jobs, your families conclude that Trump is their best hope? What did you do to understand and counter the narratives supporting that worldview? Did you keep to your geographic and ideological silos because “those people” are hopeless and crazy and stupid? What were you up to as this swell of White nationalism was on the rise? That 58% of White voters across gender, educational and class lines sealed the deal for Trump—and that so many White people are confused by how it all happened—is a stunning reminder/revelation of just how out of touch some folks are.** Had Hilary eked out a win, some might have breathed a sigh of relief, whispered, “That was close,” and went about their business. At least now, our reality is harder to ignore.
A third temptation will be to channel White panic and anxiety into activities that do not transform and possibly even endanger. I am thinking especially of the safety pin campaign that recently sprung up stateside. There are already strong voices critiquing this action on multiple levels, including the problem of White folks self-designating themselves as allies and safe havens independent of any accountability and outside of the terms set by the marginalized communities. (See here and here and here.) Another major concern I’ll speak to here is a practical one.
On one hand, I respect the need for people in general and White people in particular to signal that they want to stand with those Trump Nation targets. But I am also very suspicious of anyone who thinks that good intentions are all you need to step up in these increasingly dangerous times. Social experiments of all sorts demonstrate that most people flat out ignore public altercations and are even more loathe to intervene. (See just one example here.) It takes intentional rewiring to overcome the impulse to just stay out of it. With that in mind, those who are serious about interrupting verbal or physical abuse toward Black, Latino/a/x, LGBTQ, Muslim, undocumented and/or other neighbors would do well to humble themselves and actually learn how to do so. Because what will not help the cause is a bunch of people standing around with safety pins on their shirts as someone unleashes a tirade against a Latino person at the gas station or refuses to serve someone wearing a hijab at the supermarket. And the very last thing I want is people “helping” in a way that leaves me or my loved ones more exposed to retaliation once the saviors have taken their heroics elsewhere. If you want to wear a safety pin, consider some nonviolent accompaniment and/or nonviolent self-defense training while you’re at it. It’s the very least you can do.
Finally, a fourth temptation will be to hunker down for four years, pray for the best, and as Obama unhelpfully but unsurprisingly encouraged, “Try even harder the next time.” This is unacceptable. At the time of this writing, Trump is piecing together a motley crew of nominees and advisors including a KKK-friendly, openly racist attorney general; a White nationalist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic chief strategist; and an openly anti-LGBTQ ultra conservative to lead his domestic transition team. Now is not the time to take our toys, go home and wait out the storm. There are protests in the street to participate in, a boycott to join, a general strike on the way, water to continue protecting, and a possible “Muslim registry” to resist. The next four years will provide plenty of opportunities to learn what we need to comprehend the terrain—from history and from each other—to strategize, and act in every peaceful way we can to reject this latest iteration of state-sponsored fear and terror. Now is the time to work.
As terrible as the forecast is/seems, this moment compels us to take stock of everything we are involved in and ask ourselves what we are doing to uproot the systemic and interpersonal thorns of supremacy that threaten to choke us all out. How are you orienting your life around this calling? What are you doing to equip yourself for this effort? This shit is not a hobby. It is not a game. It is full time and full bodied and all encompassing, and if that sounds hard, then welcome to the club. Some of us already know the emotional, psychological, spiritual, and/or physical toll of wrestling with these powers daily.
The good news and bad news about feelings is that they give way to new ones. That means whatever grief, pain, mourning, confusion and despair people feel, it will recede. Things will go back to normal. For many it already has. As the calm creeps back in, we will all be faced with the question, “What am I, what are you, what are we going to do now?" How we fare in the face of this poison—a poison that existed well before November 8th—rests heavily on our answers.
Photo: American lawyer, activist, writer, professor, and preacher Nekima Levy-Pounds at a Minneapolis Black Lives Matter march, April 2015. Credit: Creative Commons.
* See Ahmed Greene Hayes’s "#Election2016: Trump Ain’t New, and Clinton Ain’t Savior" and Lawrence Ware’s "Here is Why your Vote is Not Your Voice" for examples.
** Trump’s strongest support included almost 50% of white college graduates and 45% of White college educated women, as well as non-college-educated White women, non-college-educated White men, and working class Whites, especially those over 45). For several articles on this topic visit see Vox, BBC and The New York Times.