Wake Up Everybody

An image of a record featuring the song "Wake Up Everybody" by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes featuring Teddy Pendergrass.  

An image of a record featuring the song "Wake Up Everybody" by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes featuring Teddy Pendergrass.  

Since my last post was about awakening and listening to what the universe tells you, I cannot help but see the connection between that and yesterday’s election results. 

Though I am left completely aghast at the reality of a Trump presidency, I do think there is a larger plan at work here. While I don’t know what that is, I do know the message of opening your eyes and seeing what is really in front of you resonates now more than ever.

Last night, the nation chose white supremacy. And while over 59 million people did not, we still woke up this morning to the news that a white man with no governing experience who based his entire candidacy on fear, racism, sexism and xenophobia is now the president-elect. 

Despite all the talk before the election about whether or not the Obama coalition would show up, one thing is clear and we do know who did show up. White people. White people overwhelmingly voted across religious, gender, education and class lines to vote for Trump. He never hid who he was. He made it perfectly clear that he had no respect for women, "the Blacks", "the Hispanics", Muslims, immigrants, people with disabilities. And they chose him anyway. No matter what we say to make ourselves feel better, hate actually did trump love, at least temporarily, last night. 

So if you are a member of one of these groups, or hold multiple memberships in these groups I listed above (as I do), it's hard to not see this as a vote against you. A vote that serves in the most sobering of ways to remind you that some people were so undone by 8 years of an Obama presidency, became so unhinged at the changing demographics in this country, felt so uncomfortable with some of the social progress that we have made, that they decided to vote this truly terrible human being with no experience into office.

In case it wasn’t before, it's very clear now that there is absolutely no threat to white male patriarchy. Some 58 million voters, the majority of them white, made sure of that last night. Including white women. Especially white women.

For me, that’s the part that feels the most frightening and the saddest.

I’ve been around white women my whole life. White women were my best friends in elementary, high school and college. White women are my cousins and aunts. They are, in the literal sense of the word, my family.

But I also know that I, as do many black women and women of color, have a tenuous relationship with white women. Or more specifically, white womanhood.

The truth is that, for all their presence in my life, white women are generally the ones who don’t get me, or rather what it means when I talk about what it is like to be a woman and black. Though many of them claim feminism, I experience many as practicing a kind of feminism that is not intersectional and doesn’t recognize the layered oppressions of misogyny and race and class and sexual orientation. Some don’t even want to do the work of unpacking those layers. In my essay about Hillary’s nomination, I said that I was well aware that gains for white women didn’t necessarily translate into gains for non-white women. I have experienced many white women as looking out for each other in school, at work and in life while doing the exact opposite for sisters of color.

I have also experienced white women who are progressive but behave in equally damaging ways similar to the above. The ones that think that because they are married to or in relationship with brown people, they know more about race and racism than I do or that they are impacted by it in the same ways that I am. They often talk over me in conversations about social justice or try to silence me or center themselves and their experiences with oppression because they haven’t quite done their own work. They, too, haven’t yet tried to understand what it means to be a woman and black.

Either way, the experience is the same. They haven’t learned how to listen to black women.

And yet, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that I also have experienced incredible allyship with some white women. White women who celebrated engagements with me and consoled me in heartbreak, white women who send me notes to say they are thinking of me and appreciate my voice and writing and wisdom. White women who are Jewish or immigrants to this country who can have complex and nuances conversations about race and class and gender. White women who came to my dissertation defense. White women who chaired my dissertation and were my fiercest advocates in graduate school. Queer white women who are some of the best diversity practitioners and racial justice workers I know.

So, this election is so deeply personal for me, in part, because it brings up the complex duality of the relationship I have with white women. And makes me wonder what the state of relationships across gender and race can be in the wake of a Trump presidency.

If you are white and especially if you are a white woman, and especially if you voted for Hillary, you may feel anger, guilt, shame or defensiveness when you hear people and me name you, as a white person, as responsible for this madness.

While I'm clear my job isn't to center you as white people in this moment, I can actually see where you are coming from. White people are not used to being seen as a group. One of the ways that power and privilege function is that when you are in the dominant group, you get to see yourself as an individual. And since many of us pride ourselves on thinking that we are good people individually, and do not recognize group identity, privilege and its impact societally, it hurts to think of ourselves as participating in the oppression of others; especially if they are people we care about.

I confess that I struggle all the time with my privilege. As a native born American, as a multiple degree holder, as a straight person, as a cis gender woman… the list goes on. One of the things that happened more recently to remind me of my privilege was the shooting at Pulse Night Club in Orlando.  I wasn’t quite sure what to do. But I did my best to show up in a way that wasn’t toxic. I sent texts to my queer friends to tell them I loved them and was thinking of them. I read every one of their Facebook posts and chose not to comment when I was feeling judgment or defensive. I listened when they talked and screamed and cried about feeling targeted because of who they are. I went to a vigil and kept silent. I tried hard not to draw attention away from them or trying to “connect” in that moment by sharing my experiences as a black person and a woman. I acknowledged that I didn’t know how they were feeling but that I deeply cared.

Because, in that moment, I didn’t want them to feel shittier. And I felt like those things, those very small things, were the least I could do. I also felt a responsibility as a member of a privileged group, when it comes to sexual orientation, that I needed to own my group membership.

I don’t hold most individual white people I know responsible for the election results. But I need them, those “good white people”, to collectively take ownership of their group membership and understand what it means in this context. 

I need them to acknowledge that this impacts me differently than it does them. Because while I have no doubt that this election has set back gender relations decades and means we still haven’t broken that highest glass ceiling, it also isn’t the same when I think about walking around in my black woman skin after this election. I live not too far from the U.S. Capitol and all I can think about is what happens when I am walking my dog near Capitol Hill post inauguration and someone yells a racial slur at me or tells me to go back home. What if I’m by myself? What if I’m with my Hispanic immigrant husband? What will our city of Washington DC feel like when the active KKK members who supported our new president come to town? Will it still feel like home? What if they become violent like they did at his rallies? I need the white people in my life to be aware that I do not have whiteness as a shield to protect me from these things.

Like I said in my previous essay, now more than ever, I am fully awake and aware of everything around me. Including what the election results mean for people who look like me.

I need white people, and especially the white women in my life, to be aware and to see it too.