On November 9, I made some pretty strong statements on Facebook. Perhaps it colored how people saw me. But their votes color how I see them.
In my heart of hearts, I know that the majority of people who voted for Trump are decent people. They can cook for their neighbors who are going through an illness. They can stop on the side of the road and rescue a puppy. They can be on a first name basis with the guy who cleans the building where they work. They can care for their families and friends with passion, and hold doors open for the people behind them, and say “please” and “thank you”.
And yet a potential tax break, or “shaking up the system”, or a life of Republican votes led them to vote for a man who had demeaned everyone in this country except for people like him. These objectively decent people who weren’t going to rallies, who don’t spew racial epithets, who don’t catcall women on the street said these were all ok things in order to not have Hillary Clinton as president. These objectively decent people said the racism, sexism, and xenophobia were ok as long as they got the tax break they thought sounded appealing. Maybe these objectively decent people thought a wall sounded like a decent idea.
With their votes, these objectively decent people were telling me to get back in my place.
Racism isn’t just donning a white hood and shouting the n-word at people. Sexism isn’t just thinking a woman should be barefoot and pregnant. Ableism isn’t just tossing the r-word around and mocking someone with a physical disability. These things have a scale to them, and the small tweaks to language and conduct that are derided as “political correctness” aren’t small to the people who suddenly go from being ostracized to thinking they may have a place in this society after all.
What this election called out was that we are all a little bit racist. We are all a little bit sexist. We are all a little bit ableist. Social systems are deeply ingrained and pervasive.
This country was built on the backs of black slaves. It’s easy to create a gunning economy when you don’t have to pay millions of people for hard labor, and then keep your superpower status by ending the slave trade and telling other countries they have to industrialize and modernize all while paying livable wages, and utilizing green energy.
When lower class whites could get a high school diploma and enter the middle class, it was because we still kept Jim Crowe around to fill the lower classes with people of color.
We made it hell for women to take any other path but the one from their parent’s house to their husband’s. (I often wonder if a lot of the flaws of current feminism are because Millennial women and younger Gen X women are removed from not being able to get their own credit cards, their own car insurance, custody of their own children. These things seem like givens, when it wasn’t that long ago that they weren’t. But that’s a missive for another day.)
Anyone with a mental disability was tossed in an asylum. The ability for those with physical handicaps to get around consistently and reliably was only solidified in the 1990s with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
These are all ways that we created a society to lift up the men we had deemed the Creators of Civil Society. And yet many of us who are not white men are constantly demanding equal footing at the very least. In his Profile in Courage award acceptance, Barack Obama recently expressed that if the long arc of history is bent towards justice, it is because we grab it and bend it that way, against all the forces – including our countrymen – who would bend it back to the status quo.
The people in my life who I love that voted for Trump may not be overt racists, or overt misogynists, or overt ableists (indeed, they may not even know that ableism is a thing). They may not use the n-word, or the r-word, and will smile politely and say “thank you” to the black man who holds the door open for them. But they also may not understand what a micro-aggression is, or that saying, “You’re so pretty for a black girl” or “You’re not like other brown people” is still racist. These things are all in degrees, shades of grey, with nuance.
I am sometimes a racist. A sexist. An ableist. Socialization is strong. Systemic preferences are strong.
Yet I stand by what I said on November 9, 2016, harsh as it was. This country elected someone who said, and believes, these racist, misogynist, xenophobic things. We collectively said, “We will toss someone out of the pool of electability for spelling potato wrong, but the rest of this is just fine for the most powerful position in the world.”
And that election has green-lit neo-Nazis marching in the street because there is now a neo-Nazi in the White House as Chief Strategist. There are tangible, every day instances of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia that have increased because of that election. Things were not great before November 8, 2016. They have gotten worse because this country said these beliefs were ok for the most powerful position in the world to harbor, so they must therefore then be just fine for the rest of us.