All Quiet on the Northeastern Front

I’ll always remember Wednesday, November 9th, 2016. Not because Donald Trump became our president-elect, but because of the aha moment I had surrounded by fellow interns at the office at which I intern.

I woke up that morning, making a point to wait until the last possible moment to look at my phone. I knew I would’ve gotten the New York Times alert, but I just couldn’t look. I knew the result, but I wanted to hold onto just 20 minutes of hope before I was thrust into Trump’s America.

I traveled to work on public transportation as I always do, but this time I noticed something different: it was completely quiet. No one was talking, everyone was looking down. One woman was reading the NY Times paper with the front page reading “Trump’s Triumph” that reminded me to continue to look down. Even walking on third avenue after getting out of the train was silent – the only thing you could here was an occasional beep of a horn and the sounds of car motors. No one in the office was able to say good morning, we just simply said hi and began to nervously discuss in disbelief the results of the previous night. We all gathered together to watch Hillary’s concession speech, bewildered by her strength and graciousness, and brought to tears by her words. We sat there after she and Obama finished speaking and held each other as we cried. 

This is when I began to become aware of the fact that I was going through the five stages of grief. The tears were a mixture of all stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And if I’m being honest with myself, I’m still grieving and how I’m feeling depends on the day. Most days I’m experiencing a mixture of at least three.

At the end of the day our interns and staff members got together to discuss: I realized in that moment that Trump’s victory was my call to action  to get involved in public service and policy. It’s no longer a question: people like Trump can try to stop me, but they won’t. Looking at the bigger picture though this is a call to action for everyone, whether it means getting involved in politics, showing up to a rally, protesting, writing a blog post, having a conversation, or just asking the right questions.

Now is the time to talk to people and really listen. Why did the people who voted for Donald Trump vote for him? Why did people choose not to show up and vote? Your responses should not and cannot come from a place of hatred and resentment, because that only adds fuel to the fire: it doesn’t accomplish anything. If anything, it gives someone more reason to believe whatever they believe that enabled them to vote for Trump.

A couple of days ago, I made my someone close to me cry: I told him he sounded racist, because he doesn’t want to accept the term white privilege. He takes it as a personal offense, because he immigrated from a communist country and had to fight for all of his rights, including the ability to leave the country. His experience taught him that if you try hard enough, if you fight – with both words and fists, you’ll get what you want. By telling him he is a white privileged male, I’m implying (to him) that he hasn’t earned anything he’s gotten, but that it was handed to him because of the color of his skin. Now I understand how that’s a hurtful thing, to be told that you sound racist and that you are privileged because you are white. It’s not nice being told that your life is easier because of how you look and not how your brain power or how you work or how you play an instrument. But here’s the thing –

Just because you worked hard, doesn’t mean that your life wasn’t easier because of the color of your skin. Just because you treat people with respect and aren’t directly racist towards other people, doesn’t mean you’re not part of the problem, because you are. If you refuse to admit white privilege exists, it means you’re privileged.

I’ve settled my argument with him, I believe I was able to inform him, and he helped me to understand the way of going about talking to people. The right way to get your point across is not to scream. I screamed at him, we screamed, we ignored each other, and I said nasty things. I made him cry, and all of a sudden I realized the power of words. If I had gotten him to cry in a positive way, to channel his struggles as an immigrant, to validate his work ethic, he would’ve listened. People like when you recognize the good in them. So maybe someone doesn’t understand white privilege. Calling them racist isn’t going to solve the problem, because in some cases, like the one above, it’s misinformation, not racism. Everyone is a product of their environment. Learn from my mistake and remember that when you get into an argument.

Listen, I’m just as angry. I’m just as hurt. I’m just as confused as to why a white supremacist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic, islamophobic, and racist man has been elected to our highest office. But it happened, and now is not the time to point fingers, because it doesn’t solve anything.

Now is a time to listen. Really listen, and this means to everyone. Bernie Sanders, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton supporters: ask why? The person I spoke about above, who denied white privilege, he voted for Clinton. But when you talk to people on both sides, you have to come in with an open mind. I used to say “I don’t like closed-minded people” but the vortex in that is that then I become someone who is close-minded. It’s not fair to assume anything about voters: just because I voted for Clinton doesn’t mean I have issues with her. Just because people voted for Trump doesn’t mean they are racist. (Yes it means they might come from a place of much privilege and do not have to consider the affects of Trump acting on what he said he would.) Everyone has a voice, and a everyone deserves to be listened to. If you shut groups of people out, what does that accomplish? More polarity, more extremism.

People will tell you that change isn’t possible, that we can’t fix our broken country, that they’re tired of hearing excuses, that it’s the fault of the conservatives, and that it’s the fault of the liberals. Maybe all of this is true, but also maybe none of it is. Brace yourselves because I’m about to get corny – as a wise woman once said “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” This wise woman was Eleanor Roosevelt.

I live by this quote, and I think we all should. Simply put: have faith, and never give up. If one way doesn’t way doesn’t work, try another.

With all my love,