An open letter to the man who spat on me
(And anyone else who doesn’t understand why people are justifiably horrified)
I don’t know why you did that. I can only assume it was my Wellesley sweater. Or perhaps it was just because I was a woman who looked sad. Either way, I guess it was something about my physical appearance that indicated that I might disagree with you.
So, as you were rushing to get off the BART in Oakland, you leaned down, spat on me, and quietly (cowardly) jeered, “Merry Trump Christmas, bitch.” And then you left.
I’ll never know exactly why, because you didn’t stop to talk about it. You didn’t ask me why I looked so sad or why I had put on that sweater. But I’ll tell you anyway.
Before I do, I’d like to introduce myself, just for context. Hi, I’m Brandi.
First, you should know that I’m registered Independent. I don’t want you to get the mistaken belief that anything I say is driven by tribal allegiances — political, gendered, or otherwise — it’s not. This message is about my core beliefs and values.
My family is from the rust belt. Danville, IL, to be specific. The men all worked at General Motors. My mom was the first person in my family to get a college degree. She’s a teacher.
I grew up in Florida, in a privileged, white, conservative community where many of the warm, intelligent, kind people I know voted for your chosen candidate. And where many others didn’t speak out against him.
For the past 12 years I have been a part of what you would probably call “the Liberal elite” at places including Wellesley, Duke, Harvard, and Silicon Valley. I felt very lucky to be there. I’m still only the second person in my family to graduate from college.
I’ve spent my adult life splitting the difference among these communities. And to help keep myself sane, I spend a lot of time talking to them and taking their perspectives, trying to understand why the people I know and love say such different things. Even when I disagree with every fiber of my being, I listen. And if you had given me the chance, dear spitter, I would have done the same for you. I still will.
So, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I’d like to get back to what I wanted to tell you: why I looked so sad, and why I put on that sweater. This is going to take a few minutes. Please bear with me.
Normally, elections — especially presidential elections — are between two candidates with different strategies, tactics, beliefs, and policies, but who share at least one important fundamental trait: they are decent. They act with civility and respect, and they comport themselves according to basic social and moral norms.
When someone wins the election, we may be delighted, we may be disappointed, or we may be apathetic. Regardless, we congratulate the winning party, we start thinking about ways to work across the aisle, and we get going on the give-and-take that is democracy.
That’s what happens in a normal race. But this was not a normal race. This was truly exceptional. And that is why people, myself included, are having truly exceptional reactions to it.
This race was exceptional because Donald Trump is an exceptional candidate.
He called Mexicans rapists. He failed to immediately disavow support from the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He mocked a reporter with disabilities. He vowed to ban an entire religious group from entering a country that was founded on the principles of religious freedom and tolerance. He bragged about using his position of power to sexually assault and harass women.
I could go on, but you know the list by now and have formed your own opinions around whether or not you think those things were okay. But for what it’s worth, let me state that they were not okay. They were in fact, the definition of indecent. And they are dangerous to the values of inclusion and equal protection that I hold most dear.
Let me linger on that last example of his behavior for a moment, because I think it is the one that might matter the most. Not because it’s about a class of people to which I happen to belong, nor because it’s about the most vulnerable group that he has attacked (it’s not), but because it’s the one where he was caught red-handed. It wasn’t stated in wiggle words or innuendos. It was stated outright. We got a chance to see how he behaves when he thinks no one is looking.
And we brushed it off. And so, we condoned it. And so, we normalized it.
“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women] — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
— Donald J. Trump, President-Elect of the United States
Dear spitter, you seemed like a smart guy. I know that you’re too discerning to believe that this is just “locker room” talk. It wasn’t the talk that concerned me. It wasn’t the use of the word “pussy.” I’ve heard and said obscenities before. We’re all grown ups here. The sad truth is that that kind of language is status quo. No, it’s not the lewd language or the objectification of women that really got me. What’s most concerning to me are:
- His gleeful bragging about sexual assault. Not the words, but the actions he claims to have taken.
And even more so:
2. His ignorance of the responsibility that comes with power.
He brags about the way he abuses power. And we just elected him to the most powerful office in the world.
Okay, so let’s step back. Take a deep breath. I know that I may have just triggered you to be angry, or to believe that I’m one of those overly-sensitive, hypocritical, politically-correct Liberals you loathe. I hear you.
But please, stay with me. Think about Donald Trump in another context, outside of the presidential campaign. Imagine him as just a random guy, a party guest coming into your home for a dinner party. And imagine that this party guest says and does the things that Donald Trump has said and done. To your wife, maybe your daughter. Or to your friend who is a second-generation, legal immigrant from Mexico.
I know that you would not invite him back, dear spitter. Because you are good, and caring, and decent. (Most people are, so I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt here.)
But Donald Trump is indecent. You would not want him in your home. You would not want him around your kids. No.
Donald Trump is singularly indecent. He is unlike any candidate in our nation’s modern history. And we just elected him to be the leader of the free world.
I mentioned earlier that I went to Wellesley, a fact that you may or may not have gleaned from my sweater before you spat on it. Well, I’d like to reference my alma mater now, because the president of the college sent out an email to our community on Thursday that articulates my deepest held beliefs much more eloquently than I ever could. Keep in mind, as you’re reading these words, that they represent my very deepest, most cherished vales. I live and breathe by them. They are in the very marrow of my bones.
“We stand for a path forward for everyone, no matter your race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic background, country of origin, immigration status, or political affiliation. We stand for the pursuit of knowledge that is based in fact. We must expand our ability to have civil discourse that opens our minds and our hearts.
Wellesley is a place where we uphold justice and equity. This is a place where you are valued and celebrated.” — President Paula Johnson, Wellesley College
Given those beliefs, and the words and actions of Donald trump, I hope I’m making it clear why this was not a normal race for me (or many of my friends and family).
This was, for many of us, a battle between right and wrong, good and evil. And evil won.
That may sound hyperbolic to you. But it’s not.
This was the United States’ chance to stand up and say, “this is bigger than policy.” “This is more important than my team winning.” “I cannot sit by and watch this man become president.”
This is the fact that upset me most on Wednesday morning as I was reading over the exit polls, right before you spat on me.
I truly believed that we, as human beings, could rise above our tribal identities and our political habits to deliver to this man and his staunch supporters the message they so deserved:
This is not okay. And we will not stand for it.
But we failed.
And now I’m getting to the meat of it:
I’m not upset because the candidate I support didn’t get elected. I’m upset because I’m questioning the very existence of human decency. I’m upset because I’m clawing to hold on to my belief that at their core, people are good. This has shaken my fundamental assumptions. I have *literally* lost my faith in humanity, and I am heartbroken.
That’s why I put on that sweater. To wrap myself in the values of love and inclusion and equity that it represents. To broadcast to the world that this was not okay with me. And to find some comfort in my community.
I don’t believe that everyone who voted for Trump is a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, bigoted asshole. I’m not even sure that Trump is all of those things, as he’s made it very clear that he projects a carefully crafted persona that may not reflect his true beliefs.
I understand that many people voted for Trump in spite of his representing all of those things and feel personally attacked by being lumped in with that so-called “basket of deplorables.” Maybe you’re one of those people.
Okay. But here’s how I hear it:
“I don’t hate you. I just don’t care about you.
I don’t care about human decency. I don’t care about inclusion, or civil liberties, or those among us who desperately need the protection and rule of law.”
At least, I don’t care about you as much as I hate Hillary. Or as much as I care about my tax breaks. Or as much as I value my identity as a Republican. Or as much as I’m scared.
Like it or not, this is the message that we’ve sent to each other, to our children, and to the world. Many people on both sides are treating this as though it was a normal election after which we should all come together and hold hands. It wasn’t. Please stop.
Instead, prove me wrong. Stop spitting filth. Help me and people like me regain our faith in humanity. Because we’re all in this together. And because it’s the right thing to do.
Dear spitter (and dear reader) please, do your part by calling out Trump and his supporters when they say and do things with which you disagree. Hold Trump to at least as high of a standard as you would hold a party guest, and demand, relentlessly, that he acts and speaks and leads like a man who is truly a president for EVERYONE.
I will be working to do my part, as well. And that will start with listening.
I want to leave you with a few final disclaimers, just so I’m perfectly clear:
I blame myself, too. I’m having trouble looking kids and people of color in the eye. I feel like I failed to use my position of privilege as an educated white person to be a real ally, to advocate for my friends and our nation’s future. I didn’t fight hard enough. I’m embarrassed.
I also don’t want you to mistake these for the words of a victim, just because of the way we met. I’m not upset because I want your pity, or because I feel powerless. I don’t. I’m not. I’m personally surprised by the strength of my own emotional reaction. It feels a lot like grief. Like someone close to me died. I wouldn’t have predicted it, and I can see how it would be hard to understand from the other side. But I know I’m not alone.
Just give us a second to grieve and organize, dear spitter, and you will see through our actions how little we resemble victims.
With all my love, and hopes, and dreams for what this country — and human decency — can be,