*The following is a letter I wrote to my sociology students two days after the 2016 Presidential election.*
My Dear Students:
I’m sure you’re coming to class today in anticipation of what I will say about the election.
First, I am not from Jersey City. I live here because I chose this city. I live here on purpose. I live here because this city reflects my values – which for the sake of this conversation could be pigeonholed as “leftist.”
Also, you know me as your sociology professor, but none of us are confined by our work. We know from our understanding of sociology that our membership in groups matters, so to provide an honest reaction to this election, I have to acknowledge and respond from the intersection of those groups.
I am a white anti-racist, bisexual feminist poet, woman and mother.
Through years of education and research (that I acquired while my friends and family members built careers that paid salaries which supported my teaching habit) I have learned the nuances of both American history and critical thinking. So for me, it is important to live and raise my two white children (both boys) in a city where we could experience racial diversity as our norm.
And since parenthood is the longest semester you’ll ever give lessons in, I cannot separate my children from my pedagogy.
I cannot, I will not, teach my white sons to become part of the system of complicity that so many white boy children grow into without their knowledge or consent. It is my responsibility to break the cycle of white males in America, at least in my own household. And if I fail in that task, I will have failed my country as well as my family.
Therefore, I choose to live in a city that can help me. In this city, even if I do nothing proactive (I will), even if I read my sons zero books about Rosa Parks breaking the law (I will) or if I neglect to raise a single criticism about Columbus Day (I won’t), they will at least see and make friends with classmates and neighbors who experience race in a way that is different and more oppressive than their own experience. When their class goes to Ellis Island, I will explain to them that some of us came, and some of us were brought. I will explain that brought is the wrong word, and that words matter, and I will explain that American history did not begin in America for any of us, except those of us whose homes were invaded and villages burned.
My children will not grow up to make comments like “race doesn’t matter” because they will know that to the police, (and to the president) it does. They will not tell their friends that they are colorblind because they will be aware how a person’s race changes the way they experience the world, and the way the world interacts with them. They will honor those differences by listening, and they will attempt to empathize with their friends. As they grow, they will not be shielded from the pain that racism causes.
I have learned that as a mother I can hope but I cannot make any promises.
Circling back to the election: The President-Elect’s unabashed racism antagonizes me. It opposes the years of work I have completed as a way to influence a more humane future of my children, my country and you, my students. The racism that the President-Elect has brought to the surface, and even encouraged as a natural and ordinary conclusion, is dangerous to the physical, emotional, and spiritual safety of my children, my country, and you, my students. And that infuriates me. (We should note that our city, this city that we chose, did not vote for him. There is some solace in that.)
So what, then? What do we do?
Unbeknownst to many of you, dear students, maybe to all of you, there is a rich history of resistance in this country. So as not to stray too far from this present moment, I will say just this: Abraham Lincoln did not free the slaves. The slaves freed themselves. Which is to say that resistance matters. And resistance sometimes looks like thousands of people walking in a public place with signs and shouting messages of solidarity but sometimes it looks like sabotage of the master’s tools or equipment. Sometimes it’s harder to see. Sometimes it’s hidden, but if you look for it, you will find it.
My country – this election – has demonstrated to me and to all of us, that AT BEST, to at least (approx.) 50% of us, racism isn’t important enough to stop a candidate from acquiring the highest position of power in the land. And at worst, it’s a reason to give him power.
(If you’re reading this thinking, “wait, he’s racist?” or worse, “he’s not racist,” then your knowledge about this election and/or racism is lacking so severely that you need to immediately begin the difficult process of educating yourself because our educational system (and your parents) have failed you. And for that, on behalf of parents and the educational system, I apologize. At a certain point you become an adult, and have to take some responsibility for your own knowledge. If you’re saying “wait, he’s racist?” or “he’s not racist,” then that time is now.)
As far as the sexism goes – we live in a country that has a clear history and current policy of disdain for women. Take a look at our maternity leave policy, for example. (6 weeks.)
We live in a country where a man or group of men can rape an unconscious woman and for that spend only 6 months behind bars, for example. We rarely see women over 40 on television unless we’re watching The Real Housewives. Kerry Washington (powerhouse that she is) had to be a mistress on Scandal. (Unpack Scandal – there’s a lot to talk about there. I can’t do that right now. I’m already at 900 words.) Women are consistently used as props in advertising. Women are pictured bound and gagged while you were just flipping through the channels. Anyone who thinks Hillary Clinton’s sex didn’t matter is wrong.
In fact, it’s even possible that the infamous “grab her by the pussy” comment helped him win. Hearing those words, and his defense, and his team’s justification of that sentiment, reminded so many of us of our private shame, of our silence, and of our ability to be victimized so callously. What kind of quality is that in a leader? Is it possible that those comments didn’t contribute to the dehumanization and humiliation of the female candidate?)
Ok so it’s getting ugly. I would be remiss if I let you off the hook by repeating the “don’t worry we got this” mantra. It’s not true anyway. We don’t got this.
The President-Elect gets to appoint a Supreme Court justice with approval by the senate. Which this president now has. If he tries to pick someone they don’t like, they’ll obstruct it. That means adios to the Affordable Care Act. Welcome back preexisting conditions. (Pregnancy is one, by the way.) That means abortion rights could be re-tried and reversed. And by the way, women will continue to have abortions whether you agree with them or not. The only thing that legalized abortion does is ensure abortion is carried out safely. Ask a nurse about coat-hanger abortions. They’re real. The Supreme Court problem is a real one. (Also note that Supreme Court justices are appointed for life.)
Let’s say he’s impeached, or chooses not to govern, which is entirely possible. Next in line is Mike Pence. Mike Pence is the guy who agreed to a law that required that aborted or miscarried fetuses be buried or cremated. Is he better?
This election, my dear friends, has long lasting results. Much longer than 4 years.
So be uncomfortable. It’s a reasonable, if muted, reaction.
But I’m almost done. I’ll lift you up now.
You didn’t vote for him. Americans aged 18-25 saw, smelled, and called bullshit. Keep doing that. But don’t stop there. Know that your power, while it may lie in the voting booth, lies elsewhere too. Find your power. This isn’t happening to you, it’s happening with you. Look at it. If you don’t like what you see, try to figure out what kinds of change-making methods people have invoked in the past that have been effective, and then build on those. Search though. If we do nothing, Native Americans get slaughtered, Africans get kidnapped and sold into slavery, and Japan gets nuked. Twice. Know and remember that the only country ever to use a nuclear bomb is the United States. And we did it twice. Doing nothing won’t work.
That’s all. See you guys on Tuesday. Let me know what your plan is.
For more 2016 Presidential Blogs see: