Why I’m Not Mad at Susan Collins

The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the sexual assault allegations brought against him upon his nomination will forever be seared in the annals of American history: think pieces have been written; letters have been penned; and movies will almost certainly be made. The conceptions of Americans left of the political center of their country and their place in it have definitely been disturbed, perhaps even more jarringly so than on the morning after Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election.

As many Americans battled turn-of-the-season colds Columbus Day weekend or prepared, perhaps, to enjoy an extra day away from their jobs in tacit (or explicit — Italian Pride, some call it) celebration of a vicious white supremacist colonial settler, many were also in deep mourning for a republic they thought they knew, a State in which they invested and in which they assumed invested in them, a government that had — until now — almost always worked to protect and promote their interests.

I cannot relate.

I, too, was riveted by the Ford/Kavanaugh hearings, which left me nearly numb with feelings of nausea and despair. Like millions of other American citizens, I grieved on November 9, 2016, but the hearings somehow felt worse than learning that Donald Trump had been elected President of the United States. I was on maternity leave on Election Day, and I proudly bundled up my newborn and took her to the polls, in hopes of electing the first woman president — a candidate whose conservative neo-liberalism left me unenthusiastic, though the mere thought of her opponent frightened and galled me.

Similarly, as Dr. Ford gave her heart-wrenching testimony, I was enjoying the last week of another period of parental leave. I sat, paralyzed, on my sofa with my toddler and a 3 month-old baby, while Judge Kavanaugh yelled and verbally abused Senator Klobuchar, who was bending over backwards to be respectful of him — going high when he went low, if you will.

I am disgusted that Justice Kavanaugh has now been confirmed to the Supreme Court — an institution I, an attorney and former federal law clerk, have revered all my life. But unlike so many of my friends and colleagues, I feel no shock or particular rage at Susan Collins’ vote to in his favor. She did not betray me, nor can she; she is, after all, a Republican, and I am not just a mom, but a Black mom, with more than her share of #MeToo survivor stories. As far as I am concerned, Susan Collins was just doing her job.

In the Trump era, a moderate Republican is someone who knows better and does wrong anyway, choosing to be associated with Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, and Ann Coulter while also pretending to care about people who are not male and white. She is a Republican first, and a hypocrite second. As such, as a moderate Republican, Senator Collins’ job is to kill me softly, while making long speeches about how she wishes it were possible for me to be alive. I learned everything I needed to know about white moderates from Martin Luther King’s Letters from a Birmingham Jail; Senator Collins is dangerous, as dangerous as she wants to be. I can only assume that more than half of Maine’s voters are okay with that, and with her, and sent her to the Senate to hem and haw about believing survivors of sexual violence while supporting Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination.

My rage stems from the hypocrisy of my friends, not that of my enemies. I was, indeed, nauseated when the President ridiculed Dr. Ford, but I am nauseated by everything he does, much to his delight. However, the floor of my stomach fell out when I realized that Dr. Ford’s credibility and likeability were tied to her blondeness and her whiteness. Anita Hill, who Anita Hill, who was mocked and ridiculed by Senators now lionized as heroes by the Left, was not considered sympathetic because of her dark skin and her blackness. I felt a familiar betrayal that made my blood boil, by the weaponization of white womanhood — the same weaponization used against innocent black people in public accommodations and even in their own homes — this time by feminists with whom I should share common goals. I was galled by the open anger that my white feminist sisters expressed when that strategic weaponization failed when matched against weaponized white manhood — beet red, rude, defensive, and irate. Violent.

I am nauseated when women such as Bette Midler who claim to be allies of Black women insult and erase us as a way to protest their lack of privilege and security relative to white men. I become catatonic when I remember that few, if any, folks are catching trains to D.C., to protest on behalf of black trans women who have been murdered, and that Bette Midler had nothing to say about Sandra Bland’s death in police custody or Erica Gardner’s death from racial trauma and heartbreak. I became depressed when I remembered that my willingness to rage on behalf of a white woman seeking justice would never be reciprocated because of my permanent place in the underclass.

I am fed up with the Left’s obsession with the supposed virtues of white womanhood, against which white supremacy and all of its violence have been structured and justified. It confuses and disturbs me to see progressives, feminists single Senator Collins out for criticism because they thought at, as a woman, she might be convinced to do the right thing and keep Kavanaugh off the Court. It is unfair and not just a bit ironic to lay blame for Kavanaugh’s confirmation at her feet when 49 other male Senators voted as she did; allowing Manchin — a Democrat — Grassley, Sasse, Flake, Rubio, Cruz, and Graham to get away with supporting Kavanaugh is a “boys will be boys” argument by another name. It is foolish, and for me, revealing of another depressing fact — that Susan Collins is not the only hypocrite around.

I am also not unaware of the expectations that the Bette Midlers of the world will place black women to get them out of this mess. They will expect me to vote for their chosen Democratic candidates, no matter how conservative and anti-black they are. “Black women will save us,” they will proclaim, with a condescension they won’t notice, while I remember — flanked by my two daughters — that none of them will save us.

When Bette Midler tweeted that women (she meant white women) were the “n-words of the world”, it was a painful reminder to me that black women, whom she forgot existed, are still the world’s miner’s canaries. Our marginalization and erasure are so complete, our own victimhood so fundamental to the fabric of American society that we are able to serve as a prophetic voice to the rest of society. And we have been preaching, but like Senator Collins, many of our friends claim to have heard us but not quite believed that things were as bad as we said. And so our friends have continued to vote with the majority, to believe in the good intentions of the state and the promise of the republic and the reverie of the post-racial Obama years when Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin and Walter Scott and Eric Garner’s lives didn’t matter enough for them to keep them. It is up to our friends to dry their tears and stop their wailing and make the choice to see and hear women like me. And if they so choose, many of us will be ready to tell them, as we have cried out for decades and now centuries, that the USA is actually not better than Susan Collins — that Susan Collins is exactly who we are and what we deserve and that it is up to the people who make Susan Collins possible to change that.

I am not mad at Susan Collins, the close family friend of the Bushes. I am angry at the people who claim to want better than the Republicans’ dystopian vision for America while indulging in the same misogyny, racism, and classism as Republicans, who seek to elevate the position of white women in American society at the expense of women of color and in the name of feminism, who kneel at sporting events to protest Brett Kavanaugh while screaming “all lives matter” at Black men asserting their rights to freedom from police brutality, who participate in the gentrification of historically black and brown urban neighborhoods and fight viciously against the integration of the all-white preserves they create for their children in those neighborhoods.

I am not mad at Susan Collins, moderate Republican. I am busy trying to survive. I am exploiting my persistent invisibility amidst the present chaos and the fact that people are not accustomed to seeing, hearing or believing me, so that I can work in relative peace. I am creating survival plans and working with like-minded people to create progressive, intersectional political movement, because if I wait for the enraged people who call themselves my friends to return from the protests and finally look in the mirror and see Susan Collins looking back at them, it will be too late for all of us.

Human rights evangelist and legal scholar tracking legal personhood, race, gender, and political and socio-cultural movements. Twitter/ IG @MarissaEsque

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