Image: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

Open letter to the Trump supporters in my white, rural family on being called “racist”

I can see that many of you feel hurt or misrepresented by accusations that those who voted for Trump are racist.

“I didn’t vote for Trump because I hate people of color,” you might say, “I voted for him for x reason.”

I believe you. I know that many of you show nothing but love and kindness to every human that crosses your path.

But the same is not true for many of your fellow Trump supporters. They have been emboldened by Trump’s election. They are making their hatred known. They are attacking Muslims, black people, Latinos, and women in ways large and small. You may not have been motivated by your desire to see that happen, but electing Trump validated this behavior.

These are the people who Clinton supporters fear — the ones who are taking Trump’s brash, “fuck political correctness” attitude and using it as an excuse to act out their hate.

They are misrepresenting you.

But they’re not the only reason Trump supporters are accused of racism. Some people are saying a vote for Trump is inherently racist.

Let’s walk through that reasoning.

If you voted for Trump, you did so because you are able to put your desire for whatever promise he gives you over the safety and livelihood of immigrants, minorities, women, and — if he delivers on policies that will reverse progress in climate change legislation — your children and grandchildren.

You’re able to observe Trump and Pence make promises to register Muslims, deport immigrants, and diminish women’s healthcare and either tell yourself he won’t deliver or decide that it doesn’t matter. You will be fine.

Millions of people in the United States do not have that privilege.

For them, Trump may well ruin their lives. He has expressed plans to do just that. We don’t know for sure what he’ll actually do, but when given the choice between a president who will champion all human rights and one who might obliterate them, the answer was obvious. Note that Clinton won minority votes by wide margins:

Your vote may not have meant a choice between who gets human rights and who doesn’t to you, but in practical reality it did to millions of Americans.

You voted for him anyway. You could put the fact that he presents a risk to millions of people in a box and hide it from your sight. You may never encounter it. Many rural voters never see racism in action. Why should they know how much of a problem it is?

In this increasingly connected world, it is important to put effort into knowing and appreciating the experiences of others, near and far.

When you voted for Trump, you put your personal economic gain, need for novelty, or whatever other asset you decided he has above the people he threatens. You made that decision because you have the freedom to.

Third party voters did the same. They knew their candidate didn’t have a chance, and they put their clean conscience over the livelihood of those Trump threatens. They made that decision because they have the freedom to.

It seriously sucks that that’s the decision we were forced to make in this election. But the GOP nominated Trump. And Trump is unquestionably a misogynistic white supremacist with intentions to make life for non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual individuals much more difficult than it already is.

And you voted for him.

How is that racist?

“Racist” probably sounds like an unnecessarily harsh assessment to you. Maybe the “racists” in your head wear white hoods and kill people of color for the crime of existing.

In truth, it’s usually much more subtle than that.

Racism, homophobia, and xenophobia aren’t loud, obvious, or even hate-fueled all the time. They are internal. They are byproducts of human cognition planted by our ancestors, imbued in our culture, and expressed in whispers.

If you don’t know to check yourself, or if you choose to willfully ignore that you are — that we ALL are — biased in some way, those biases will control the way you act and cause harm in ways you may not recognize.

For one thing, those biases probably made it a lot easier for you to write off the threat Trump presents to marginalized groups.

You might be thinking: wait, that graphic up there shows there are still many minority individuals who cast votes for Trump. And in fact, nearly half of American women cast their vote for him. If those people are so at risk by Trump’s election, why the heck would they vote for him?

I’ll reiterate: we are ALL biased. Even against those who share our identities. We all live in the same society, which at different points has told us that women are the property of men, that black people are worth less than white people, and that illegal immigrants are lazy and take our jobs. Those assumptions shape our perceptions of the world, whether we are aware of it or not. They always will.

Think of biases as shortcuts for your brain. It’s much easier to act on an already defined assumption than analyze hundreds of unique situations — or even one unique situation — and arrive at a compromised conclusion. That’s a lot of work.

We owe it to our compatriots to do the work.

You would want it done for you.

We are not a country of individuals. We are the United States of America. We all live under this roof. It is essential that you take others into consideration when you cast your vote. Because if you have the freedom to make choices that others can’t because of their race, gender, religion, or sexuality, you are benefiting from a rigged system — cheating, as it were.

Now seems like a good time to share Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” which clearly explains how white privilege works. When I first read it, I couldn’t believe all the things I hadn’t considered that make it so much easier to be white in this world. Her model applies to more than race. It applies to gender, ability, sexuality, religious beliefs, and more. It’s required reading.

If you and I are on the same page right now, you might feel ashamed and exhausted. I’ve been there. Hell, I still am there.

We are far from hopeless, though. There are little things we can do every day to offset the negative effects of systemic subjugation. I’ll include a list of resources at the end of this article that give you a place to start.

But as a Trump supporter, there are some specific ways you can help.

You can recognize the fears of those who now have to live under a president who believes they are lesser. You can be actively involved in making sure those fears don’t come to fruition. You can help make sure the president you elected because you believed he would help you is beneficial to the rest of the American public.

I didn’t vote for Trump, but I’ve accepted that he is the president of my country. So I’m going to work hard to make sure he does good for me, for you, and for every other citizen, no matter color, creed, gender, or sexuality.

I hope you’ll join me. Because it’s on us. It always has been.


How to Become an Ally

5 Tips for Being an Ally

9 Ways You Can Use Your White Privilege For Good