Presidential Election 2016: Overcoming Hate, Finding Hope In Unlikely Places With My Mother and Kendrick
It’s been five mornings of waking up to what feels like a nightmare of a reality with the new President-elect of the United States. I won’t say his name, just as I avoided the social media postings displaying his racist, misogynistic, homophobic, Islamophobic pot stirring over the course of the campaign. I didn’t want to promote his image or his message, and I didn’t want to internalize that negative energy myself. To be honest, I didn’t click Like and Share on Hillary articles either. I admit to not being fully knowledgable of the complexity of, or the mechanics of the political machine. But I know I didn’t think Hillary was a perfect candidate either. Bright, strong and accomplished, yet also seemingly “bought” by the corporate powers that be. It was under the Clinton presidency that the era of mass incarceration of young, Black men persisted, thanks to legislation that Bill Clinton passed. It was the same era in which Hillary Clinton used the term “super predators” to refer to young, Black men of color said to be predisposed to committing horrific violent crimes, like the wrongly accused Central Park Five. Still, I believed that she would make the better leader, and that those of us concerned, could keep an eye on her and take her to task when making or not making moves to break down systems of oppression, and other leading issues.
But, this! To have a person win who ran a campaign based on racism, bigotry and fear mongering, that pulled the veil off of fellow countrymen, women and their children, who obviously couldn’t stand having a Black President, and who continue to live in fear of the darkening of America. —Whitelash! I’m not sure if it’s a new term, but I’ve seen it used this week to explain that fear, stemming from ignorance, from hate, from worry of losing one’s footing and entitlement–entitlement based on the falsehood of having earned their place, as if their immigrant ancestors didn’t reap the benefits of their colonization of America, of stealing land from Native American people, of overseeing slaves who built this country’s economy, and literally, its’ buildings–grand structures–including Monticello, and the White House, and, as if they haven’t benefited from federally mandated housing discrimination, and, as if their European immigration status didn’t eventually afford them the opportunity to become white, and, as if they haven’t benefited from good schools, good neighborhoods, call backs for job interviews with their white-sounding names, and, as if their self-appointed patriotism makes it okay to now turn their backs on future immigrants entering this country because they might be terrorists, like perhaps your mothers or fathers thought of my Jewish ancestors who sought asylum during the rise of Hitler, and, as if they haven’t been emboldened to terrorize their own neighbors with threats of deportation, misogynistic promulgation to “grab pussy,” but not let those who have them have control over what they wish to do with them, and, as if they think building a wall, pulling at a woman’s hijab, spray painting swastikas, shooting unarmed Black men at traffic stops is their right, and, as if those of us who don’t want to accept this President-elect, should just suck it up, and not expect a Participation Trophy–yes, I keep seeing this line being used over and over again–and that we should simply live with racism, and a renewed brand of domestic terrorism we haven’t seen so openly since the Civil Rights era.
I work as an Activities Therapist at a hospital. The morning after the election, I couldn’t focus. My body felt like lead. I wanted to cry during group time. Worst of all, I had to stand beside some of my co-workers I knew voted for, and fully support the President-elect. I could not look them in the eye. I didn’t think I was a good person, better than them, but I was hurt, angered, confused as to how they could stand with someone who stirred up hate toward others they claim to love. I consider myself someone who practices grace, who avoids conflict. Though with my own journey of desiring to become more and more woke, I do not remain silent. Yet, here I was, Wednesday, without words. At home that night and through Thursday, I scrolled through post after post on Facebook. I do not have any friends who support him, but did see co-workers’ posts filled with gloating, demeaning words, again, commanding us to “suck it up,” and in the next breath seemingly trying to prove they’re not racist. I couldn’t see through the thicket, the tsunami of hate on one side, and devastation and fear on the other–the posts of my friends who are Black, gay, Muslim, women. A glimmer of solace was the brilliance of one of my co-workers, a white woman, who spit out post after post that cemented her solidarity with her marginalized brothers and sisters, and deftly denounced the haters. I silently cheered for her, my writer comrade, my own writer’s numbness blocked me from being able to do anything myself. She helped me hold onto the vision, the fire inside of me to learn how to strategize and act. Helped me to cut through the thicket of thorns, and get moving again.
That Wednesday afternoon at the hospital while out on a group walk, I sat on a swing beside a patient. We shared about our dismay over the election, with the patient stating they teased their mother that the mother would now have to return to her country of origin. We briefly laughed a necessary laugh, and then shared a few words to prop ourselves upright, to grab for hope. In the quiet that followed, I looked up at the willowy pine tree before me, its needles a faint sea-green, spare and fragile. I saw my mother floating atop one of the branches. She’s been gone twenty-seven years now, and mostly I see her in daisies, her favorite flower, but she was there for me on Wednesday, because I needed her to be.
I asked her, “How will we go on, Mom?”
She answered, “we will go on…remember how you loved Martin Luther King, Jr. when you were a young girl, and you even told me you remembered his funeral on TV, even though you were only seven, and remember how much later on, in your forties, when you finally got to visit the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and heard Dr. King’s recorded voice boom through the chapel, you sat silently and wept? And then you went to the King museum there, and you wept too. You stopped in front of the photo where King is looking out his window and read the text panel that spoke of his despair and how he felt he couldn’t go on…and in that moment you vowed to make him proud of you, a white woman, who would live your life and do work to help make things right for Black people in this country. Do you remember?”
And, then my mother, I envisioned her, her tall self, short brown pixie-cut hair, in a white robe, because my imagination as a Jewish woman is not so advanced when imagining the wardrobe of heavenly angels. My mom, a beautiful woman, but an awkward dancer, clumsily swayed back and forth on the narrow branch, snapping her fingers off-beat. She opened her mouth and sang out, “…we gon’ be alright…alright..we gon’ be alright..”
And, so shall it be. I have much work to do.