The Incompleteness of Words

I have started and stopped writing a blog post on the recent U.S. election several times over this week. I have largely hesitated to write something on the results because I don't even know how to write something that captures the magnitude and nuance of what transpired. I also have nervousness in sharing my thoughts as a woman, business owner and non-citizen. However, this blog is about my observations on culture and communication in an effort to provoke thought and in some cases change. To be silent is to be complicit; separating myself from those who voted against the civil rights of others denies my culpability as someone who benefits from whiteness. As a budding blogger committed to social justice and social change, I have to say something, however lacking or insufficient, to address the enormity of what happened.

In the wake of November 8th, I, like many others find myself at a loss for words. I am unsure what to say, what I can say, or what I should say. I don't profess to think I can say anything that will make the result better or less painful. I have felt a complex fabric of emotions, ranging from emptiness to disgust to disbelief. Trump's election impacts me directly as a woman and (aspiring) ally and impacts many people I care about in devastating ways.

The pain I have experienced, absorbed and witnessed from, and through, other people online and in person is indescribable over the past six days. The President-elect's campaign rhetoric, woven deeply with racist, sexist, classist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, and xenophobic sentiment, exposed a deep divide in this country. Because of this, many people, particularly those most marginalized are legitimately scared about what comes next. They see and feel danger and risk in our new President-elect's policies and ideals. And those feelings are absolutely legitimate. The language of exclusion is a "normal" experience for immigrants, folks of color, trans people, LGB people, folks with disabilities, and women in this country and that reality goes a long way to explain the "how" of why we find ourselves in this place. For many, Trump's election was not surprising. As I scroll through the various Facebook posts and news articles, as I speak to friends, and hear from students, the fear of what is next is palpable. I am at once numbed and enraged by it.

My fear about the totality of what may come next is punctuated by my deep disappointment at the fact the USA couldn't bring itself to elect a woman president. I feel an immense sense of sadness over this. I don't think I realized just how invested I was in seeing a woman in the highest office in the U.S. until I woke up to the news it wasn't happening. That Hillary Clinton was not elected is unsurprising in the most pedestrian of ways, and yet I find myself ping ponging back and forth between this acknowledgement and the shock of it all. It feels like a bad dream that I desperately hope to wake from. I have worked for years to support women and girls, to break down gender and gender stereotypes that restrict and inhibit all of us from achieving our potential, and in particular to end violence against women. I cannot shake the fact that millions of Americans of all gender identities heard Trump's multiple comments about women and decided that it wasn't enough for them to cast their vote elsewhere. Women's value in contemporary U.S. society is so insignificant that voters just passed over his disdain for 50% of the population. They heard his comments and simply explained them away, were indifferent, or worse, acknowledged they were problematic and still voted for him. This is also true for his comments on Muslim people, refugees, and Mexican immigrants. His racism and misogyny was not a deal breaker for the 60 million people who voted and the many million more who did not.  

The undercurrent of sexism was, and is, so very apparent. One young woman interviewed on NPR about why she either didn't vote or voted for someone else was as follows (paraphrased): "Hillary is really smart, really experienced and she can absolutely get the job done...but she isn't as charming as Barack Obama." Charming? Really. That is the key qualification you look for over and above smarts, experience, and ability to do the job? Another person shared that while Trump is "clearly crazy" (recognize the ableist language here), he voted for him anyway. I don't even know how to respond to these kinds of sentiments. How do women compete in a culture that minimizes sexual violence against them and thinks "volatile," "reckless" and "erratic" are more compelling qualities in a man, than electing a smart and vastly qualified woman?

As John Oliver stated in his last show of the season, we must constantly remind ourselves that this reality should not become our new normal. Years ago, at a multicultural retreat I was facilitating, a colleague shared that "we (those with privilege) must smell the air, even when it doesn't smell for us." I have never forgotten his statement. This could not be more vital right here, right now, particularly for men and for white people. If we explain this election away by saying well, Hillary wasn't charming, or Hillary had too much baggage, we legitimize a culture and a system that endorsed and elected an openly bigoted man by (in part) blaming the woman who ran against him. If we try to persuade ourselves that everything will be okay, that should be our sign that we have lost sight of the abnormality of what just happened and of our own privilege.

I acknowledge that my experience of the result is mediated by my own identities, my own lack of voting power, and the reality that I am tied deeply to those who voted for Donald Trump through my social identities (in particular, white women). I am ashamed and embarrassed but neither of these feelings will slow the tide of bigotry that has been uncovered during this campaign. As I mentioned earlier, racism and sexism are normal experiences for millions of people in the U.S., but we cannot let that continue. We must not get complacent as the days turn into weeks and weeks into months and the election fades from our view. As incomplete and imperfect as these words are (because there is, I hope they are helpful, even minimally, for anyone who reads this blog. In peace.