The World Turned Upside Down: Post Scripts from the Losing Side.
Waking up yesterday morning to the 2016 presidential election results, I thought immediately of the musical Hamilton. In the show, there’s a song that references an old British battle tune called the The World Turned Upside Down which dates back to 1646. And yet, before November 8, 2016, many of us in the US had not experienced this: the moment where you feel the wheels of change turn so quickly and so viscerally that it hurts. A shocking change of guard, an unexpected leader now ascending to the highest seat of power. A leader you did not choose and one for which many of your friends and family hold a deep mistrust. The World Turned Upside Down.
I share, with many Americans, the feeling that our next presidents’ campaign was fueled on racial divisiveness and the coded language of hate that has been part of the national dialogue since the days of Nixon’s Southern Strategy. (Ava Duvernay highlights this beautifully in the trailer for her powerful documentary, “13th.”) But I don’t want to sing the same tunes about race today. I’d rather, to paraphrase Hamilton: modulate the key to avoid post-election debate monotony.
These are the three things that matter most to me in the weeks ahead:
- How to embrace losing with grace.
- Tending to my wounds and my wounded.
- Helping my child heal and grow in confidence, with the deep belief that her birthright in this democracy is secure.
First, about the whole losing thing…. So much about these election results felt like a personal affront to me: as a woman, as a black woman, as a Latina, as a first generation American and the daughter of immigrants. But I know that part of the work I must do in the weeks ahead, is to get good with the fact that we tried to elect the first America’s first woman president, Hillary Clinton, and we lost. I literally fell asleep mumbling the words Madame President, Madame President, as if whispering the words could undo the unexpected splatters of red on the CNN electoral map. I never thought HRC was perfect. I did think she was the best person for the job. In his post-election remarks, President Obama reminded us of this when he said, “So this was a long and hard fought campaign. A lot of our fellow Americans are exalted today, a lot of Americans are less so, but that’s the nature of campaigns, that’s the nature of democracy. It is hard and sometimes contentious and noisy and it’s not always inspiring.”
Second, about our wounds and our wounded. As Solange says on Mad, her recent duet with Lil Wayne, we’ve “got a lot to be mad about.” Yet even Lil Wayne knows that the healing can only happen when we release it. Talking about his suicide attempt for the first time, Wayne raps about how the failed attempt made him so angry and how he counseled himself to let the hurt feelings go.
I spent a lot of November 9, 2016 listening to music. All of Solange’s sublime A Seat at the Table. Kendrick Lamar’s Alright. NoName’s Reality Check. Stevie Wonder’s Ribbon in the Sky. Nina Simone’s Young Gifted and Black. Lena Horne’s Love Me or Leave Me:
All day, I listened to songs that reminded me of who I am at the core: the me that has felt unseen and unheard in so many of the cheap shots and low blows of this campaign.
My friend, Will Schwabe, posted lines from Auden on his Facebook page and in just four lines, I felt connected and lifted:
“The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.”
Poetry is important because sometimes in the midst of all the chat box chatter, we need fewer, more carefully chosen, words. I will be diving into poetry in the weeks and months ahead. Books by Eavan Boland and Elizabeth Alexander, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Paul Muldoon. I am thinking about Derek Walcott’s Love After Love, Adrienne Rich’s Diving into the Wreck and Nikki Giovanni’s Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day. In this post-election period, poetry feels to me like cotton candy on a rainy day.
When my daughter was five years old, we memorized the words to Emily Dickinson’s I’m Nobody, Who Are You. There are days, even now all these years later, when she will crawl into bed and whisper:
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you — Nobody — too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise — you know!
And it will tell me all that she cannot say about how she’s feeling, and why she needs to cuddle and be close.
These words, the words of poets, come to me without the need to flip open my laptop or even, sometimes, open up a book, from the days when I learned poems by heart. In one of my favorite books, Possession, A.S. Byatt wrote: “An odd phrase, “by heart,” he would add, as though poems were stored in the bloodstream.”
I need that now. Poems in my bloodstream.
What do you need? What do the people you love need? What can you give to yourself or others that is easily within reach and outside the scope of this public political conversation we’ll be having for months and years to come?
Third, like many parents of color, I am worried about my kid. I’ve already seen how “build a wall” has become a bullying tactic in schools across the country. But I want to be careful about setting my daughter on the defense about race. She’s only nine now and the slights she may encounter may be too subtle or complex for her to fully grasp or recognize.
We have to make choices about where to focus our energies as parents who are raising kids in a country where race continues to be a powder keg subject. As the parent of a 4th grader, what I most want to instill is confidence. My daughter is at the age where she gets that there are inner circles and hierarchies. It already happens with sports and it happens with the shifting winds of popularity. What I am trying to teach her in this post-election era is that one person, one vote means that she can proudly claim her space in this country. It doesn’t matter that our candidate lost. It doesn’t matter that this campaign, which represents more than 10% of her entire life, has been filled with so much that is disturbing and that she has found frightening. At nine, she has taken it all in: from what it means to grab a woman by her private parts to the bullying, the race baiting and the coded hate language that incites violence. What I need my daughter to know now is that every day, despite what she may hear at school or on TV, she can claim her space, with confidence, as an American. Yes, other voices have prevailed this election. That does not mean she has no voice at all.
When I was my daughter’s age, I had the great good fortune to live with my grandmother. She often said to me, “Live long, see much.” Four little words, but at every stage of my life those words have come back to me. They came to me when I was a teenager and in dangerous situations. I knew that the choices I made might well affect my ability to live long and see much. In my late twenties, I began to lose peers for the first time. When friends did not live to see thirty, I thought of my grandmother’s words; I realized that it would be a gift to live long, see much. Now that I am in my forties, as devastated as I have been by this election, my grandmother’s voice urges me to take the long view. Yes, on election night, the world as I knew it, and hoped it might be, was turned upside down. But it’s my intention to use my energy to Keep on Pushing. I believe I will see the world turn upside down again or at the very least, I will do my part to keep it tilted on its axis so that my daughter and her generation can inherit a land of greater justice and a well-earned peace.