Living with This
When I was nine-months pregnant with my youngest son I went through the stereotypical nesting phase that strikes many women. I cleaned out linen closets with my mother and was inordinately joyful when she and my husband bought some green paint and painted the baby’s nursery, which had previously been an office. We got rid of a huge L-shaped desk that was there and moved the kids’ computer upstairs to “the children’s library,” the small room on our house’s top floor with built-in bookshelves that hold most of our children’s books, and this meant we needed to buy a new, smaller desk.
I felt a sense of urgency around this purchase. My husband and I went to Target and I immediately zeroed in on a plain, small, wooden desk with one drawer that would fit by the library’s single window.
“Let’s get it,” I said.
“Well, we should look around,” he said, “to make sure there’s not something just as good but cheaper.”
“No,” I replied. “I want to get this one. Now. I don’t want to waste time when we still have to set it up and do a hundred other things before the baby comes.”
“But it’s $(insert price here, I don’t recall what it was). I’m really not going to be comfortable just buying it in a rush like that,” said my Consumer-Reports-subscribing-very-frugal husband.
I waited a beat before responding, “I can live with that,” and we bought the desk.
My mother loves this story, and she’s adopted the line “I can live with that” when she’s been in similar situations. It’s a good line! And its employment illuminates where we draw lines in the sand in conversations, decisions, or conflicts, big or small.
I said something to its effect in countless conversations about my support of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for the presidency despite my misgivings about some of her stands on criminal justice reform and foreign policy, and despite concerns about the degree to which she might be aligned with the disastrous criminal justice and welfare reforms enacted under her husband’s presidency. “Can I live with that?” I asked myself. And, I swallowed hard, looked around, and decided I could.
Of course, after the primaries, I also knew I did not have another viable choice in terms of a candidate who would best support my progressive values. I gave money to Clinton’s campaign, slapped an “I’m with Her” bumper sticker on my minivan, and I supported her on social media, and in interactions with others. I encouraged people to vote. I also committed myself to holding her accountable on issues where I disagreed with her. And the more I saw of how she handled herself in debates and throughout the campaign, the more I believed that she could listen and evolve and offer concrete plans to effect positive, progressive change. I celebrated the chance to vote for a woman for president, and not only did I decide that “I could live with” a Clinton presidency, I became enthusiastic about the prospect.
There was much made of a supposed “lack of enthusiasm” among Clinton voters, as opposed to that which her opponent enjoyed. I think some of this “lack of enthusiasm” arose from voters, like me, who took time to become enthusiastic about her campaign, but did. Some of this “lack of enthusiasm” was truly sexism — there were many who weren’t keen on the thought of a woman as president. In 2016. And I think some of this supposed “lack of enthusiasm” arose from a contrast with the sheer spectacle of her opponent’s campaign, with crowds echoing their candidate’s bluster and vitriol — much of which was grounded in racism.
Everyone who voted for him … heard what their candidate said about Mexicans and his proposed Muslim ban, among many, many other statements, and said, in effect, “I can live with that.”
Now, I hear many in the media, on social media, and in personal interactions saying something to the effect of “Not everyone who supported her opponent was racist. They voted out of economic concern, or because of (insert-other-motivation-here).” When I went to a vigil on the town common with my family the day after the election, I heard well-meaning, progressive, White people, talk about how we need to reach out to those who voted against Clinton and to try to understand the non-racially motivated pain and fear that drove them to their decision.
And I get that, I do. White progressive people, especially, must reach out to our families and other White people and understand that ally is a verb. We must do this work, and lift the burden of consciousness-raising from the shoulders of the marginalized and the oppressed. But even as I see the need to reach out to other White people and have those conversations, I am unwilling to accept the idea that any vote for our president-elect was not a racist vote. Here’s why:
Everyone who voted for him, whether they say they did so out of economic concerns or other motivations, heard what their candidate said about Mexicans and his proposed Muslim ban, among many, many other statements, and said, in effect, “I can live with that.” That acceptance is, in and of itself, racist, no matter what other motivations surround it. Or, if I’m being generous, maybe some people swallowed hard, looked around and said “I can live with that” and then committed to working against stereotyping of Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers, or against the building of “the wall,” mass deportations, or the proposed “Muslim ban” or “Muslim registry.”
I do believe that some were motivated by a righteous anger — about income inequity and other injustices. But I also believe that this intersected with a racism that, at the very least, allowed them to hold their White noses and say they could live with their candidate’s racist statements and policy proposals.
Maybe I’ve missed them, but I haven’t heard of such commitments yet. Instead, I’ve seen a doubling-down on them, and a giddy lining-up behind the president-elect from Republicans of all stripes — even those who refused to support him during the election. I’ve seen others call for the country to unite and accept the results, saying that we must be hopeful and resolute, that we can trust the checks and balances of our governmental system (even though we are entering an era of one-party rule and SCOTUS vacancies), and that we will survive.
But of course, not all will survive. It’s not hyperbolic to state that the planned overturning of the Affordable Care Act will kill people, and there are many, many other reasons to literally fear for the lives of people here and abroad under the next presidency. Many people may not be able to live with it.
So what do we do? I do not pretend to have many answers, but I am listening to activists and others to try to move beyond the feelings of despair, sadness, fear, and hopelessness that have washed over me. But I am not trying to move past anger, and I am also listening to those who came before us, among them, Audre Lorde. Her essay “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” states: “Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can be become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change.”
When it comes to White voters who voted for Clinton’s Republican opponent, I do believe that some were motivated by a righteous anger — about income inequity and other injustices. But I also believe that this intersected with a racism that, at the very least, allowed them to hold their White noses and say they could live with their candidate’s racist statements and policy proposals.
And I am angry about that.
I can’t live with that — not silently, anyway.
So I am focusing that anger with precision and using words like “racism” and “White Supremacy” in my conversations with White people asking “How could this happen?”
And I am talking about how, in the words of Van Jones “this was a whitelash.”
And I am mindful the historical precedent, as journalist N. Hannah Jones tweeted:
And I am reassuring my kids of color that we will keep them safe and fight the good fight in this new era.
And I am heartened by my nineteen-year-old Black son, who sent me a photo and a text reading “We got this” as he protested the election results with other college students on the Boston Common.
I teach at Simmons College, and one of my graduate students wrote to me saying, “I am finding that connection and community are all that’s giving me hope right now.” I feel this, too, alongside an ever-deepening resolve to turn to other White people I’m connected with to demand that we meet racism where it is, whether it’s overt or embedded within passive acceptance of slurs and stereotypes, registries and walls.
I’ve alternated between feeling comfort and despair when I look at my children this week. My husband told them the day after the election, “We are still the same people. We have each other and we love each other.” My youngest son, asleep in his green nursery as I write at the desk I bought with his frugal dad when I was nine-months pregnant, is just under two-years old. The first president he will remember is not a woman who shattered the highest glass ceiling, but a man determined to build a wall. I am determined that he and his siblings will also grow up to remember the concrete ways that our family met hate with love, injustice with righteous anger, and indifference with concerted care.
That’s how I can live with this.
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