or, How I Lost the Election and Tried to Understand the War
I am not a Person of Color. I am not LGBTQ. I am not a member of a Religion that people are afraid of. I am not an immigrant. My ancestors were not slaves. I have never been denied my rights. I have not lived my life afraid. As a woman, my experience with misogny, or even the patronizing, condescending ways a women can be treated by a man have been comparatively marginal. Honestly, I don’t think I have ever really understood the full definition of “White Privilege.” Until now.
I say this because I woke up Wednesday, November 9 in a deep panic of the soul. My heart bled when I saw the tweet of a friend who, while walking with his boyfriend, was called a “faggot” by a stranger. My tears fell as I read the series of emails that journalist and activist Shaun King posted from people who have been taunted, harassed, threatened or abused in the last 48 hours since the electoral college decided that Hillary Clinton would not be our President. My stomach turned as I thought about what’s in store for the women who spoke up publicly about Trump’s assault. I felt powerless as I saw news images of swastikas, and Pepe the Frog, and Confederate Flags, and college students in blackface. I shuddered as I read the story of a young Muslim female who removed her head scarf before she went to work on Wednesday morning because she was afraid.
And yet, as I search for the words to comfort, calm and activate myself and those who are being so deeply victimized, I realize that I don’t know what to say. Because I can’t know what it feels like. It is impossible to imagine ‘what they must be going through.’ Because I am not them.
This is my Privilege. And it makes me sick.
My Privilege raised me to say ‘we’re all equal’ instead of recognizing that we have a tremendous debt to pay both backwards and forwards for the great sins of our past. My privilege led me to practice ‘color-blind’ casting in my work, instead of writing roles that explore and celebrate the different races. It allowed me to have the kind of close friend who would innocently say “All Lives Matter” without her realizing why that phrase is so insulting and careless.
My Privilege allows me to get pulled over by the police and live to tell the tale. Walk the dark streets in a hoodie. Peacefully protest without getting tear-gassed. My privilege ensures I don’t wake up in the morning afraid for my life, my future, or my family. (And yes, you can say that as I woman I am allowed to be afraid. But not like this. Not even close.)
As I try to make sense of how this election got away from us, I have begun to understand that my Privilege is also the Privilege that has blinded so many people in this country as they allowed themselves to get caught up in economics, in emails and shouts of corruption, in disillusionment and dissatisfaction. That is what kept the Bernie Brother from voting for Hillary. The White Republican Wife from contradicting her husband’s vote. The Conservative from crossing party lines. And, worst of all, what kept way too much the country home on election day, voiceless, opinion-less and voteless.
Through that prism, things started making more sense to me. Certainly, Trump’s Basket of Deplorables is distressingly full, but what about the rest of the voters? I refuse to believe that everyone who voted for Trump shares his ideals, his lack of respect, his distaste for those with a genetic, cultural or religious make-up different than his. I believe that their Privilege — — and worse, their utter unawareness that such a thing even exists — made them blind to exactly what their vote (or lack thereof) really meant. And here’s why:
Through this entire election season, whenever I engaged in a conversation with a friend/co-worker about why Trump represented such ugliness to me, I was met with phrases like “hysterical liberal bias” and “hyperbolic identity politics.” My friend chose not to vote for Hillary because he fancies himself an anarchist. A voice for change in a broken system. I don’t know if he voted for Trump (and I’m afraid that he might have), but his distaste for the status quo led him to a place where he couldn’t support a Clinton Presidency. He’s a straight white man. While I can’t argue his point of view about the system, I hold him responsible for enabling this New America, the America where once again a bully can tell a person whose skin isn’t white to “Get to the back of the bus.” I blame his Privilege.
A young family member of mine voted for Trump because her father, now deceased, was former military. Before he died nearly two years ago, he told her never to vote for Hillary because “she got my friends killed.” She’s a straight white woman. She voted as her father wished her to. While I can’t be angry at a young girl who loved her dad, I hold her responsible for where we are now. I blame her Privilege.
One of my friends put it best, after showing up to work yesterday and having a co-worker guilelessly talk about how all we need to do now is Unite in Love. She said to me, “I always thought White Privilege looked like young frat white kids in polo shirts, or white hicks with beer bellies and confederate flags, but the real white privilege lies in the every day white person, who maybe just cant see past their ‘unite in love’ optimism and understand the true meaning and gravity of fear and hatred in this country.”
I don’t think that many people in this country fully realized that the absence of a vote for Hillary was essentially a vote for Donald Trump’s America. An America where David Duke is smiling. Where drunk sexually predatory frat boys are cheering. Where racists and bullies are emboldened. Where White Privilege isn’t a concept we’re just beginning to understand, it’s the disease that gave voice to the disrespect Donald Trump preached from his campaign pulpit.
I would like to say “Forgive them for they know not what they do,” but I can’t yet. I am too angry. Angry at the white women, the college-educated millennials, the hipster pacifists, the apathetic non-voters who, in not casting their vote for Hillary, cast their vote for the situation we find ourselves in now. I am angry because a good portion of white society flat out does not get it: we fucked up. In our bubble of Privilege, we didn’t just let the diverse culture of our nation down, we contributed to their terror. For this, I am ashamed, and outraged, and deeply, deeply sorry.
Executive Producer/Co-Creator/Showrunner, “The Vampire Diaries,” “The Originals” and Fellow Human Being
PS. My friend and fellow writer Carina MacKenzie, whose mother is Muslim, suggested I add something positive and proactive to my post. These are her words, and I am very grateful for them:
“We can strive to educate ourselves about our privilege and about the experiences of others (and not expect people of color to educate us) and to be more mindful every day.
We can pledge to intervene when we see marginalized people being threatened, even if it puts us at risk — because that risk is something they wake up with every day, just by existing in their own skin, and if we can bear some of that burden then we should.
We can strive to fill our workplaces with people who represent the population, even if that means taking a chance on someone who hasn’t yet gotten a foot in the door.
Most importantly we can work on making art that is inclusive — this is something that we can all do better at — because art does not have a term limit. Art is accessible to all sorts of people. Art travels and it can not be stopped by a wall. We can tell our stories AND also do our best to help other stories — stories that we might not understand or relate to — get told, too. We have to take risks for people, basically, because their whole lives are a risk. Only then will they feel heard and only then will hearts begin to change.”