What we wonder, what we know

Well.

This is a difficult one. What to say. What a weird feeling, to simultaneously feel the urge to speak and yet have no words. Shall we stream of consciousness it? Why not.

I have been engaged in thinking about race and social justice on some level for literally my whole life. First of all, I was raised by parents who not only had lived experience in this arena, but talked about it a lot. We were a talk-about-politics-around-the-kitchen-table family. It was just a part of what I was expected to know about, and I was not protected from the grown up conversations about injustice or empowerment. What we think politically, I was taught, is part and parcel of who we are. I can tell you who my parents’ political influences are, very specifically, and why, and it seems strange to me that other people can’t do the same with their parents. As I got older, I worked for an arts organizations and academic departments centered on race and social justice. It is a huge part of my current work, that I talk about pretty much every day. I say all of these things not to proclaim myself any sort of expert, but only to make the point that I am not new to the idea that our country struggles with these issues. I know that we try and often fail to be inclusive. I know the stats. I can quote the research. Racism, both personal and institutional, is not news to me. Like many other people of color, the embodiment of virulent racism that was being expressed in the presidential campaign was not shocking to me. I knew this was here, living and breathing, in our country. I just figured I was watching it being given a clear, loud, narcissistic voice.

And yet. This outcome is…well, shocking is the wrong word. Surprising is not the right word. What is the right word? I have not found that yet.

If you are a white person reading this, I am going to tell you a secret. It is a deep, choking secret that it pains me to think about overtly and pains me even more to tell you. For most of us of the brown persuasion, because of the things we have seen, the things we know, our history, data, research, everything about our lived experience, it is hard to trust. We (and forgive me for speaking for all POC so I will stop that now although I am confident about what I am saying)… I see something racist happen, let’s say in the news, or in a movie or tv show. Some depiction of us as less than human, as a caricature. And it’s hard for me not to look around at my white peers, my colleagues, even a lot of my friends, and wonder: Is that what they think of us? Deep down, in their hearts, is that what they think of me? That I am lesser than them? That I do not deserve what they have? And a lot of the time, these questions remain unresolved. There is literally no way to know, especially with nice people, with polite people. People who would never say that they have these thoughts or indeed even understand that they are having them, they are so ingrained. So many times I sit through terrible racism in pop culture and when I point it out, I see that they have not seen it at all. What could that mean? It could mean that those images, so obviously terrible to me, are not terrible to them because that is what they think of us, in their hearts. And so I try to make a conscious decision at times to just trust, to hope, to believe, that people are not thinking those things, even while knowing that some must be. With some people I build trust to the point where I never have that doubt again, like that beloved dude of mine. But not as many people as I would like. Not as many as there should be. Truth be told, when I consider how many people I know, hardly any at all.

And so, in this lifetime of doubt, we come to Tuesday. And when the results started pouring in, it was not a surprise. It was like a terrible awakening. I recognized it right away. Ah, I thought, there it is. Millions and millions of votes for our current president elect. Each of those votes, as clear as a bell, saying to me: this IS what we think of you, after all. You are lesser than us. No wondering necessary, no shadow of doubt. All that speculation that I have had over the years, that many of us have had, confirmed by millions of people, all in one night.

Imagine sitting in a room and looking around and wondering if anyone in the room had qualms about your basic humanity. Imagine wondering if anyone in that room had dehumanizing thoughts about you without them even knowing it, it was so normalized to them. I have been in that room. I am so often in that room. And on Tuesday, that room was our country. And I did not have to wonder. Sixty million people, individually, told me.

I have known this issue to be a reality for my whole life. I guess I just never knew it quite this way, on such a scale.

It’s taking me a while to take that in. I don’t know that I ever will.

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3 comments

  1. As a white woman, I just want to say I’m so, so sorry for how this election has gone. I want to be able to assure you that no, of course we don’t think of POCs as less than human, but I just can’t speak for all white people in America. I can assure you that not all of us think that way, and that many of us hate the way this country seems to be moving.

    I just…I am so, so sorry. I really am.

    This election has left me in shock, tearing up, being actually sick. I just…I can’t even.

  2. I’m catching on your blog (I’m pretty much catching up on everything) and I just want to say thank you for sharing this. Hearing your perspective, knowing that you feel that your worries are confirmed with this horrible election–I’m sorry. I don’t know where we, as a country, go from here, and it just makes me feel ill and I’m so so sorry.

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