I’ve been trying to collect my thoughts and feelings since last week’s presidential election, when it was announced that the majority of the U.S. electoral college voted for Mr. Trump. (The majority of the popular vote was for Mrs. Clinton.) Mostly I’ve been trying to have conversations with friends and family members. Many of the people I love and cherish have been rationalizing Mr. Trump’s words and behavior since the beginning of his campaign. It’s hard not to take it personally when I’m one of the marginalized people his presidency would affect; it’s even harder not to feel dismayed knowing that so many others are going to suffer even more under his leadership.
Most recently, Mr. Trump has announced his choices of RNC chairman Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff and openly racist white nationalist Stephen Bannon as Strategist. Even more alarming, David Duke announced his approval of these choices.
People I love continue to rationalize and normalize Mr Trump’s actions.
These are some Breitbart headlines. Their white nationalist CEO is now Trump's top White House strategist. Pay attention. pic.twitter.com/2y2NLiOv0B
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) November 14, 2016
Right now I feel like the lone hysteric shouting in the middle of the room: “We’re in trouble. This is serious. Please listen.”
Throughout the past couple of years, I’ve been trying to educate fellow white friends and family on privilege: how it works in tiers, how it builds a bubble around those who are more privileged than others, how it harms marginalized people. I’ve gotten into arguments with friends and family. People have tried to discredit me by saying “You’re not making any sense.” I am an educated adult with a college degree and also a published author, so I found this dismissive and sometimes even insulting. I’ve seen friends and family who previously thought racial relations in America were fine eventually begin to see that they’re in fact not, which gave me a lot of hope. Maybe I really could make a difference. Using my place of privilege—white—to educate others and elevate marginalized voices has worked, albeit slowly.
But I fear it’s no longer enough.
Right now, even friends and family who previously agreed that Mr. Trump’s campaign was toxic are beginning to normalize his behavior. When I say things like “He enlisted Stephen Bannon as his Strategist,” they say they don’t know who Bannon is. When I express my concern for our country, they tell me it will be fine or to give Mr. Trump a chance. At the very least, I and thousands of economically disadvantaged people are going to lose their health insurance and therefore our healthcare. At the very most, we’re about to have a president endorsed by the KKK who has made white supremacist statements. I’ve been told that I’m being ridiculous. I’ve also been told too bad, I’ll just have to live without my healthcare.
We live in a culture of busy. In fact, it’s glorified to be overwhelmed with items on a To Do list. If you’re a busy person, you’re an Important Person. But along with the rise of this fast-paced culture, I’m seeing a decline in critical thinking. Maybe it’s my love for reading and learning, but I’ve long been passionate about reading widely and trying to be objective. Being busy and having a position of privilege, I think, creates a vacuum around people. There’s less reading of a wide array of topics, less interaction with marginalized people, and more reliance on the environment around you to help form your opinions on issues—creating a more narrow perspective.
I’m surprised by how many people flippantly say Mr. Trump was just saying the things he’s said to get people’s attention or that the media created this bigoted image. There’s the old adage that if someone shows you who they are, believe them. Mr. Trump has been showing us who he is, and continues to show us. Even more, the mainstream media have done little else than schmooze him. His campaign has had unprecedented coverage from mainstream media, with little actual journalism. Journalism is intended to be unbiased, to investigate, to question, to present researched facts. Media outlets have gone so far as to praise him, without ever questioning the inflammatory things he’s said about disabled people, women, queer people, trans people, Muslim and Jewish people, Black and Latinx people… the list goes on. There is not a single marginalized group of Americans that Mr. Trump has not at least blatantly offended, yet the media continued on as if he was our lord and savior returned.
This election is not about politics. It never was. It’s about civil rights, about Americans’ unalienable rights and freedoms as described in the Constitution. The ACLU—a non-profit, nonpartisan group of lawyers who work to protect the Constitution—has expressed their shock at Mr. Trump’s beliefs and promises. They have mobilized their lawyers, researched the law in regards to Mr. Trump’s campaign and plans, and outlined the Constitutional violations that his promises represent.
Respected political analysts, economists, independent journalists, historians, environmentalists, and other unbiased and educated people have long commented on how damaging a Trump presidency would be to our country and, in ripple effect, the rest of the world. These are people with PhDs and published bodies of work, people who have dedicated their lives to studying their areas of expertise, people who have fled similar crises in other countries, all lending their voices to the same chorus: “We’re in trouble. This is serious.” We are witnessing a global shift.
— Jacob Marley (@bbofun) November 14, 2016
The amount of apathy in Trump supporters or people who previously did not support him is startling. It’s made me question my relationships. It’s made me wonder whether people can really be so oblivious. It’s made me consider that maybe these people are truly secretly supportive of the bigoted views Mr. Trump holds. Which makes me wonder what they in turn think of me: a queer disabled woman. Do they quietly look down on me with contempt? Or are they just victims of their inherent privilege?
The thing I’ve realized is that there comes a point when one can no longer use their privilege as an excuse. Checking and acknowledging your privilege can be a difficult act, but as autonomous beings with naturally curious and logical brains, it’s not impossible. Nor is it impossible to turn off mainstream media and start reading academic articles and books outside of your own views. There is no such thing as being a victim of privilege; there is only a choice. We can either continue to live in the safety of our privileged bubble, or start to grow.
Here’s the thing about the safety that privilege affords: It’s merely an illusion. It’s an invisible cape that has protected those who are more privileged than others from being marginalized or oppressed too. It’s only a luxury that can easily be taken away in a different social or cultural context. Looking at the events of the rise of German nationalism pre-World War II, there was a systemic violation of privilege in tiers. To quote Martin Niemöller, a Protestant pastor who loudly spoke against Hitler:
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
I quote this poem not to insinuate that we’re on the brink of our own nationalism and third world war or even second civil war, but to demonstrate the power of apathy. When we do not speak for others who are economically, racially, or otherwise less powerful than we are, we are only paving a path to ourselves and our peers.
However, I can’t help but notice the parallels between nationalism and autocracy in other countries and what’s happening now on our own soil. Those similarities scare me more than being without health insurance.
I love our country and I love our people. I think we’re already a great country that can only be better, especially under the leadership of qualified, experienced, and compassionate individuals. Just as I’ve never stopped fighting for my own right to equal healthcare, I will never stop using the privilege of being born white to elevate others’ voices. I will never stop fighting for marginalized people’s civil rights.
And I will never stop begging my friends and family to open their eyes and do the same.