This day happened before it even began: years of oppression, years of insults to women, people of color, to the LGBTQ+ community, to the disabled.
All that hate. Materialized.
Just like that.
The morning after the election, I wore all black because I couldn’t think of anything better to wear. I passed by white students in their colorful, everyday clothes, discussing how “everything was so strange” about the election results last night.
Yeah. No shit.
The hurt that comes with the impending doom of the next four years is an affront to human decency. Of course that’s “just my opinion.” Of course that’s “just some POC talking shit about everything and their pain blahblahblah.” I’m used to that.
Well, here’s a story, just for them:
In middle school, my history teacher made us interview family members who remembered 9/11.
It was supposed to be a patriotic exercise, one about bonding together during times of crisis. Red, white, and blue piercing through the smoke of terrorism. Good stories, those.
So I interviewed my mom. She sighed.
“Well,” she began, “I remember 9/11 was scary. I don’t really remember much of that day, but I know I called your dad. You were home with me, but I went straight to the kindergarten to pick up your brother because I wanted you two home.”
“But the scarier thing was how all the white Americans turned against Muslims. How they turned against anyone who they thought was Muslim. And I thought, if something like this happens again, we’re not Muslim, but if anyone who looks like us did something that could be very bad, we’d be next. You know, at the time, we were only living here on work visa. It would’ve been easy for them to send us back.”
So I wrote everything my mom said on my middle school worksheet. And while all my white classmates talked about how scared their older family members were, how Maddie’s mom called Aunt Sara and tried to make sure she was okay and cried when she found out she lived, how Cousin Joe was a police officer and saved many people, I stood up before my class and said that 9/11 taught my mom that my family’s belonging in America was contingent on the whim of white society.
To which my white classmates responded with silence.
So to answer a friend who told me I was freaking out today as if Hitler got elected– no, Hitler didn’t get elected.
America, a white supremacist who equates economic convenience with the disenfranchisement of fellow humans. America, a monster who consumes the well-being and words of any marginalized group with silence and silencing. America, the self-congratulatory bully who gloats while I’m on the verge of tears.
You might not have noticed it or known its name, but America reared its ugly head and spat in my face. In the face of my parents, in the face of all our friends.
I am angry that in the over ten years after 9/11, my fear of living in my own country has exacerbated. Despite my Yale education, despite my economic privilege, despite the safety of living in the openly liberal state of Connecticut, I am scared of speaking. Even in this piece, I speak anonymously so that my words will not be traced back to myself or my family.
I am angry about all these things. But indulge me. Let me add one more thing to “be mad about”.
On the day that I presented my mother’s fears of America to my white middle school class, nobody said anything. Nobody said anything until I added that “my mom was also impressed with the emergency response.”
To which the room nodded their heads and my (white) teacher gave emphatic assurances to the class reaffirming America’s kindness.
And today, that sound– this selective hearing paired with selective commentary– is deafening. I heard it in the offhand conversations on campus among white students:
“Everything is so strange.”
“I don’t even understand how it happened.”
“I don’t know what’s gonna happen now.”
But if I admitted the same, if I told these white classmates, “I’m scared because the shit you’re scared of would actively hurt me and all the people I care about,” would you support me? Hell, would you even hear me?
At what point will my words– my colored words, my transgressive words, words you don’t listen to– at what point will you heed them and even recognize them?
This election day began hundreds of years ago. It began with the beginning of this nation. It began when our forefathers and teachers told us what is worth caring for.
It began in a history classroom where no one cared to listen.