To my white – particularly straight and male, friends – who have stressed the importance of compassion, understanding and forgiveness in the wake of this election, as a means of becoming a less divided country:
As a person passionate about politics and government, I can understand and even appreciate your sentiment. However, as a woman of color and first generation immigrant, I’m also having a lot of difficulty accepting it.
I’m glad to hear that you are willing to stretch out a hand to the other side in an effort to understand why this happened. However, it’s only been a few days since America woke up to the reality that Donald Trump had been elected its president. And maybe you’re willing to accept that as reality and maybe you’re ready to start “humanizing” Donald Trump supporters, or ready to start understanding why people voted for him, and that’s great. But I think it’s a lot to ask of people who have been violently denigrated by Trump’s campaign to start forgiving only few days after they found out that many people in this country were okay with, or even excited by, the prospect of voting for someone who actively hates them.
In just the past few days, there has been a surge of hate crimes and acts of bigoted vandalism across the country. At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Muslim and Sikh students were told to stay in their rooms and Uber to class if they didn’t want to get beaten up by Trump supporters. A video of a middle school in Michigan has gone viral, showing students shouting “build a wall” at their Latino classmates. Multiple instances of vandalism containing racial slurs and swastikas have been reported across the country. A church sign announcing services in Spanish in a neighborhood with a particularly high Latino population of my hometown back in Maryland was branded with the words “Trump Nation: Whites Only.” These are not circumstances under which targeted groups of marginalized people should be expected to “humanize” Donald Trump supporters or should be expected to try and grapple with the reasons they may have voted the way they did.
People of color voted en masse for Hillary Clinton and not necessarily because we loved her (considering she has made her share of mistakes in dealing with us too); many of us voted for her as a vote against him. Exit polls show that 94 percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton. 65 percent of both Latino and Asian voters sided with Clinton as well. People of color showed out. We did our part. Now, here we are: Donald Trump is the president-elect and we are already starting to suffer the consequences of his win. Yet, we’re expected to try and “humanize” people who literally voted against our lives (whether they directly intended to or not)?
“How did he win?” It’s an important question to ask.
When you look at the numbers from exit polls for white people, 53 percent of white women and 63 percent of white men voted for Trump. Upon seeing numbers like that, one may think, “Well, it must have been the poor and uneducated.” Yeah, it was them. But they’ve always leaned Republican. However, part of what made the difference was that, on top of the no-college-degree, white vote, was also the plurality of the college-educated, white vote. Forty-nine percent of college-educated, white people voted for Trump, while only forty-five percent voted for Clinton. So, while I think it is important for the left to try and empathize with the fact that many poor, white people without college degrees have been disenfranchised by the government and have often been led to believe that at the root of their problems are immigrants and people of color, the left must also not forget that those who gave Trump the election were not just poor and uneducated.
With regards to the college-educated, white people who voted for Trump, maybe the driving force behind their support for him was not his bigotry. Maybe they were tired of Obama’s more liberal approaches towards the economy and towards both foreign and domestic affairs. However, I am having a very difficult time reconciling the fact that anyone could vote for Trump over something like the promise of lowering taxes (which I emphasize is a “promise,” not necessarily a reality he can accomplish) with my livelihood at stake. For someone like me, the fact that he’s a virulent bigot cannot be separated from all of the ideals that would possibly make him a good candidate for president. I cannot vote for someone based on their tax plans if that person has also made it ever so clear that he hates people who look like me and that he will not hesitate to make us suffer at every turn. Donald Trump has associated immigrants with criminality, particularly Latino immigrants, since Day one of his candidacy. He was endorsed by the white-supremacist, anti-immigrant Klu Klux Klan and failed to condemn their support upon being directly asked about it by a reporter. One of his first acts as president was to appoint Steve Bannon, a well-known, anti-Semitic, white supremacist, as his chief strategist. Donald Trump has also bragged about sexually assaulting women. Even if he didn’t actually commit any of the assaults he’s been accused of, he still condoned the idea that men in positions of power and influence can force themselves upon women. Whether or not these truths translate into policy is irrelevant. The fact that a man who identifies with these truths has been elected to the most powerful position in the nation normalizes these attitudes. The normalization of these ideas enables violent behavior against the groups the ideas target.
Maybe they voted for him because they are frustrated with the political establishment. I think it’s fair to be frustrated with the political establishment. People of color are, for the most part, certainly fed up with it. Historically, the political establishment has not been too kind to us. Yet, we still voted for Hillary Clinton. Whether they intended to or not, people who voted for Trump in order to “shake things up” in Washington, threw people of color and many other marginalized groups of people under the bus to meet that end.
With regards to the non-college-educated, white people who voted for Donald Trump, I can understand (from an academic standpoint) why they may have believed in his bigoted rhetoric or why they may have been willing to look past that rhetoric at the promise of getting back their jobs and being able to rebuild their lives in, generally, isolated areas that are falling apart at the seams. Maybe they voted for Donald Trump because they too were tired of establishment politicians. I can understand how they feel the establishment, particularly the liberals, has failed them by writing them off as nothing more than “white trash.” Point taken. However, I’m also really tired of being told that I have to empathize with them. People of color are always the ones that have to wait, that have to understand, that have to police their tone, that can’t be angry, that must forgive. Why do we have to be the ones to always work around everybody else’s needs? Everybody else’s comfort?
Where are our white, liberal “allies?” Why does it always feel like we’re taking on this fight alone?
I am distraught. I am dejected. I am disappointed. I have been living with a throbbing feeling of discomfort in my stomach for the past few days.
So, friends, I think it’s great that you want to try and identify the concerns of Trump supporters in order to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again. However, I also ask that, for right now, you be sympathetic of me when I say that I’m not ready to join you in this effort of compassion and forgiveness. I ask that you keep in mind that people of color did not do this to themselves; about six out of 10 white Americans did this to us. I ask you please recognize that, as people from privileged backgrounds, it is a lot easier for you to listen to the concerns of Trump voters than it ever will be for people like me. I ask that you acknowledge the ways that the “elitist,” white liberals have failed people of color as well as the disenfranchised, white poor of rural America. This acknowledgement must be made before a real effort to end bigotry in this country can be made and before we can ensure that something like this never happens again.