The morning after the election I felt as if I woke up in a foreign country that isn’t what I thought it was, and yet, of course it’s exactly the country I know it is.
Its as if the boil of racism that has been festering on the back of America for hundreds of years has been laid open and the poison is flowing out. The poison must come out, and it makes sense that now is the time. We elected our first black president, twice, and though he saved us from the brink of a terrible depression, inspired us with his words, modeled to us what it means to be devoted to family and country, he was opposed by people who couldn’t shake off hundreds of years of conditioning that led them to feel a deep sense of unease, a distrust that this person with brown skin and a foreign sounding name, could be what he seemed. Add to that the uncertainties of the world: the rise of terrorism; globalization; the growing wealth gap; climate change, and along comes a figure like Donald Trump and the legacy of our past has burst forth. It’s so painful. And it’s so tempting to vilify all those people who voted for Trump. To label them racists, bigots, misogynists, ignorant. Sadly, though, our racial history and present uncertainties have created a circumstance where people are just trying to hold on to their sense of themselves, to navigate huge forces that are beyond their control, to make sense of their “dis ease” by blaming others.
It’s a profoundly frightening moment but we cannot give in to fear. And we can’t just write all of these people off. We have to find the courage to make connections at the very moment we might want to despair, to hunker down and hide ourselves away.
Here’s what gives me courage.
Our beautiful family! Think about who we are! We are white and black. We are descended from immigrants who came to this country to find a better life. We are descended from Native Americans and enslaved African Americans. We are straight and gay. Some of us made it as far as high school, others of us hold PhDs. Among us, we are driven by the most diverse range of passions: to the land; to financial success; to art; to education; to health and fitness; to innovation; to community.
We aren’t a perfect family, but think about the deep and enduring love and affection we have for one another. Think about what a miracle our family is. The miracle isn’t how unique and special we are, but how ordinary we are. We are an American family, and there are plenty of families just like ours, a microcosm of our country, a living example that our lives have a richness and meaning and strength because of our diversity.
So please don’t despair. I won’t pretend that Trump cares about anything other than himself. I was hoping that Trump’s extreme need for approval would shift from his desire to win a presidential contest, to a desire to be a decent president. If that doesn’t happen, let’s make sure we don’t get infected with the poison of our racist past. Let’s turn off the media for a while, and talk to each other. Then, let’s refuse to vilify our fellow citizens. Let’s build relationships with those who hold different views. Most importantly, let’s continue to support and love each other.
Sara and Amanda, keep on being happily married, and planning joyously for your future. Sam, keep working towards your big and bold entrepreneurial dreams. Alex, keep leaning in to art and faith and all that sustains you. Ellyn, keep on working the land and turning your unsentimental gaze and unique voice into words.
Mom and Dad, keep the faith that this little tribe you preside over will continue to flourish. We will dig deep and find the courage to walk away from fear and towards a “more perfect union” even in the unlikeliest of times.