Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Working with the Fear: Responding to the Election

Today is a very emotional day in this country.  Some are feeling validated and joyous, but many others are overwhelmed by fear, confusion, and sadness.  I know there are reasons that the election happened the way it did.  I know that people voted for Trump because of strong beliefs and ideas that they didn't want to compromise on.  And while I can't agree with the decision, it was within those individual's rights to make the choice they did.  I'm not going to attack those people.  I'm not going to add fuel to a fire I already see blazing around me.  What I am going to do is try to explain the fear.  I want people to understand why, for many in this country, this election has left such terror in its wake.  I don't think there can be any kind of healing in this nation until this fear is fully addressed...and validated.

Last night, as I watched the results of the election begin to solidify Trump's position in the world, I was overcome by one terrifying thought.  I needed to make sure my brother was safe.  For anyone reading this who doesn't know me personally, I have a younger brother and sister, and we are all adopted.  My siblings are both African-American.  I feared for their safety last night, especially my brother's.  I still fear for his safety.  I texted him to tell him to be careful, that most likely nothing would happen right away, but that there was still a chance something could.  This fear is something that has been simmering inside of me for a very long time now.  I'm scared for him to be away from home because I can't guarantee he'll be safe, or that he won't encounter people that will look at him differently or treat him differently because of the color of his skin.  I can't guarantee he won't be the next innocent person shot in the streets.  I know my experience with this only scratches the surface of what it's like to be a member of a minority group in this country, because I myself am white and don't come face-to-face with this reality every day of my life.  The fear, though, the uncertainty, the sheer dread that people feel is something I can at least relate to, even in a small way, because there are people I love very much who I'm not sure are safe anymore.

People have been saying that "it's not that big of a deal", "they're just being sore losers", or "don't be so dramatic, it won't be as bad as you pretend it will be."  Maybe things won't be as terrible as I imagine they'll be.  Maybe it will have all been blown out of proportion in the long run, and it's not the downfall of the United States as so many predict it is.  That doesn't make the fear people are feeling today any less real or any less valid.  When an individual who has openly targeted immigrants, women, minorities, and his opponents is given the kind of power in the nation that Trump was elected to last night, that normalizes all those terrible things he said and did.  It makes it seem okay for everyone else to say and do those same terrible things, so those groups are of course going to be afraid.  I'm living in the reality of this fear on a college campus, where minority students don't feel safe, where immigrant students are fearful of losing their families to deportation, and where female students are fearful of how they'll be treated by their male counterparts.

I'm afraid.  I don't know what's going to happen, and the uncertainty is killing me.  I'm afraid for my brother and sister, I'm afraid for my Muslim friends, my Hispanic friends, my female friends, my LGBTQ friends.  I'm afraid of how they will be treated from this point on.  I'm afraid not only of physical violence and discriminatory legislation, but of how they will be spoken to, how they will be viewed.  I'm afraid that the Walmart greeter who smiled at all the white people but glared at my brother will be vindicated in her racism.  I'm afraid the men who think they can tell a woman how to act, dress, and speak will be vindicated in their sexism.  I'm afraid the people who mutter under their breath that "All Muslim's are terrorists" will no longer bother to keep their voices down.  I'm afraid that businesses that refuse to service LGBTQ people will be vindicated in their discrimination.  I'm afraid, not only because I think we're in danger of moving backwards politically or because the Supreme Court appointment might not be the moderate I was hoping for, but because by electing this man to the highest office in the land, we have also sent out the message that certain people are not welcome in this country, certain people are not valued in this country, and certain people are not equal in this country...and we don't ever want them to be.  Is it fair to say that all Trump supporters had this thought in mind yesterday when they cast their votes?  No, it's not.  But that is the message that comes with Trump, whether you like it or not.  That is the message he himself promoted throughout his candidacy.  It's a message of fear, and it's one that many of us are reading loud and clear today.

So, in the end, what's done is done.  No matter how this election turned out, it ultimately highlighted that this country is more divided than ever, and lives in more fear than ever.  So no matter which side you voted for, no matter your reasons for doing so, please remember that the feelings these groups have today are very real.  They are not being overly dramatic, they are not simply sore losers.  They are men, women, and children all afraid of the uncertainty of the future because they have already been targeted during this election in some form or another.  We need, more now than ever before, to show compassion to each other, to comfort each other, to reach out a hand to try and understand each other.  Recognize the fear, understand the fear, validate the reasons for the fear, and then we can try to work together to make sure fear never rules us ever again.

Until next time,

Because Colbert is right - "You cannot laugh and be afraid at the same time"   

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