The election result wasn’t the most surprising thing to happen this week.
At first I thought it was. I love electoral numbers, so it was only a little after 7:00 pm (ET) when I started to panic. Virginia was tight. What? Virginia? I got a glass of wine.
Florida wasn’t looking good. Then North Carolina. Then Michigan at 8:00 pm. I was floored.
I had another glass of wine. I rarely drink – I don’t even need all my fingers and toes to count the number of drinks I have in a year – but the night seemed to call for it.
By 9:00 I was watching results with my hands over my face, the same way I suffer through the gory horror movies my husband likes. (Have you guys seen The Hills Have Eyes? WHAT THE HELL with that movie????)
I had more wine. I obsessively refreshed fivethirtyeight.com. I cursed. I commiserated online because it was too late to call people.
I started coming to terms with the reality: Way more people than I ever imagined agreed with, or were at the very least okay with, the things Donald Trump stood for… Things I’d thought for sure were disqualifying.
My husband and I said to each other, over and over, “I thought we were better than this.”
I had more wine. I cried. I got angry.
The most surprising thing about my week was how I responded to the election result.
Before Tuesday, when asked how I’d feel if Trump won the election, I used dramatic words. Devastated. Crushed. Horrified.
But those were purely philosophical answers, because I never took the possibility seriously.
When Trump actually did win the election, those answers weren’t wrong – I was absolutely devastated, crushed, and horrified – but they were incomplete. Because I ended up feeling so many other things, too… simple words that carry more weight than the dramatic ones:
I had more wine.
I lashed out, something I think even people who don’t like me very much would say is out of character. I have a great many faults but cruelty is not usually one of them.
Until it was.
I googled states where marijuana is legal. I’ve never smoked (no lie, not even in college) but as I tried to rein in my out-of-control emotions, it occurred to me that pot would probably make a much better occasional vice than wine.
Massachusetts is the nearest state to me where recreational pot is legal. But it’s still an 8 hour drive, and it was the middle of the night, and I was drunk.
It is really painful to come to terms with the worst parts of who you are.
Yesterday, I wrote: “Everybody is capable of being lovely, pleasant, and reasonable… when certain conditions are met.” I used it in the context of Trump supporters, but when I wrote “everybody,” I really meant EVERYBODY. Every. Body.
This thing about conditions is something I know as a writer. When I write fiction, I know what my characters’ conditions for greatness are… and then I take them away. The result is never pretty. That’s what makes for an interesting story.
Turns out that it works the same way in real life.
I have a major condition. I need to believe the world is inherently on the side of goodness. That justice and love always win, with “always” being key. Not “in the end,” or “in the long run,” or “eventually,” but always.
Tuesday night, that condition was stripped away and it was like gravity disappeared. And I learned that my own goodness was not as inherent as I thought. I didn’t even wait to unravel at 2:30 am, when Hillary Clinton conceded the election. I began to unravel at 7:00 pm, when my condition was merely threatened.
There’s a lot of sociological and psychological analysis happening.
We are drowning in assessments of what Trump supporters want and why we should understand that.
Same with all the think pieces about how the Clinton campaign got the message wrong.
I’m not particularly interested in either of those topics, mostly because Clinton won the popular vote – by quite a lot, actually – and so it seems to me that the majority of Americans don’t want what Trump supporters want and don’t disagree with the Democratic message.
I think it would be counterproductive to try to shift the entire nation to the right in response to positions that won on a technicality.
Rather, a worthwhile use of analysis would be to check our own understanding of the world.
Where the Clinton campaign – and everyone who supported it – failed was in imagination and strategy.
And that was because we didn’t see the world right.
I think that my condition, the one I lost on Tuesday, is not an uncommon one. And I don’t come by that observation based on my experience this week, or even what I see other White liberals saying or doing.
I come to that observation by recognizing it’s what people of color have been telling us all along.
Marginalized communities are NOT SURPRISED by the election result.
It doesn’t matter how much you volunteer, attend community meetings, or get involved… if you are White and you were surprised that Trump won, you are not as “woke” as you thought you were.
That’s what happened to me this week. I finally woke up.
People of color have been telling us this for years. Other minority communities, too, but people of color, in particular, have been vocal and focused and insistent on this message: White liberals, you are not as “woke” as you think you are.
Even those of us who patted ourselves on the backs for seeing that Beyonce’s Lemonade was not in our purview to analyze, were not woke enough to see what now is very obvious:
Justice and love do not always win.
I have a Ta-Nehisi Coates book on my nightstand. Not for show; I’m actually reading it. Before Tuesday, I felt good about this. Today, it makes me sad.
The liberal failure was not that we didn’t listen to the right. It was that we didn’t listen to people of color.
But if we’d been listening, we would have known this could happen. We would have fought harder.
Bernie folks (of which I was one during the primaries), if we’d been listening, we would have gotten our candidate more outreach in communities of color, where he failed miserably.
Clinton supporters (of which I was one after the primaries), if we’d been listening, we would have questioned the polls and not been had so much faith in other White people to make the reasonable choice.
White liberals: We cannot miss the lesson that’s been put in front of us here.
We thought we were allies, but we were really only supporters.
Allies get in the trenches.
Supporters cheer from the stands.
Disenfranchised communities have been waving us into the trenches with them for ages. We waved back and said, “It’s cool because we can see you.”
It’s not cool.
This past year, I’ve been arguing with “All Lives Matter” people. I tell them that we have to listen to what communities of color have to say about their life experiences. I tell them that just because we don’t have those experiences doesn’t mean they don’t happen. I tell them it’s White privilege to apply White life experiences to Black people and use that to tell Black people they’re wrong. I tell them it’s White fragility to get upset when Black people challenge us.
But ask me if I joined a single Black Lives Matter meeting.
What a great supporter I’ve been.
What a lousy ally.
I think the reason I’ve been so devastated this week is because of what I learned about myself, and not what I learned about Trump supporters.
Crow tastes like shit.
Now that we see the world with new eyes, what are we going to do about it?
I recently heard a complaint from someone, about what it means to be a White, Christian, heterosexual man and feel like that means a person has to apologize.
Here’s what I think about that: Apologies aren’t worth the air they blow in on. What people want is for White, Christian, heterosexual men to care more about the real lives of real people, than they do about feeling butthurt that someone might want them to apologize.
Probably the truest words I’ve shared this week are, “Apologies don’t accomplish anything.”
Apologies – a fleeting moment of feeling like you care – are the comfort zone of White liberals. They are the work of supporters.
Allies take action. Allies use their time and energy and talents to dismantle systems of oppression.
I wrote yesterday about some of the actions I’m taking. There will be more. I don’t know what they are yet. They will come.
I don’t know if I’m all the way “woke” yet. I’m not going to count on it.
I am a student and will try to remember that.
If I forget, check me.
White liberals, we need to lean on each other and do this homework together. There is a gulf between where we are and were we need to be, and it is up to us to cross it. Communities of color need to keep moving forward… coming back to drag us along slows down progress.
I still do think justice and love win… eventually.
Maybe this is what will stop me from ever being fully “woke.” So be it. I hope my friends and neighbors can forgive me the conceit.
I still have faith that we fight this battle because we can win it.
We’ll be strong together.