Like a lot of people, I felt a sense of dread on November 8th. I got up to vote, but I didn’t like my options. After I voted, I refreshed Google’s election projection page all day, even though there wasn’t much to see before polling places closed on the west coast.
I don’t like to talk about politics in mixed groups. It isn’t because I’m afraid of the contentious nature of the subject so much as the fact that I have very strong opinions on a number of issues that, unfortunately, politics have become intertwined with. That being said, here we are. Not a single one of us can say we don’t have an opinion now.
You can’t deny that issues like race, sexual orientation, national origin, gender identity, class, and so on are not at the forefront of this election. On one side, you’ve got the people (ostensibly) voting for the underdog, and on the other side you’ve got those fighting to bring back the privilege they feel they’ve lost and still deserve. Well, who deserves privilege? And why?
For a long time, I’ve been in a group of voters who believe that just by having an opinion of tolerance, they’re being fair and doing their part. That by taking the token progressive stance on issues like abortion, immigration, gun control, and LGBT rights, they’ve shown that they are Good People. They care about blacks, about gays, about women, about access to health care for all. And that’s great. Right?
Trump gave a voice to certain thoughts that many in this country had been having for a long time. As the decades shifted, acceptance of “other ways of life” became the norm. Gays were allowed to discuss the possibility of marriage. Other religions could be practiced and acknowledged publicly. Blacks could even become president!
But not everyone was happy with this. Their displeasure was more than obvious, even though it wasn’t acceptable to use those derogatory terms in public anymore. It wasn’t right to talk down to a woman or tell her what to do with her body. It wasn’t okay to assume one’s religion should be taught to all children and forced into everyone’s minds. It wasn’t funny to treat one’s black neighbor as less than or let one’s son mock the gay kid at school. Somewhere along the way, everybody got too “sensitive” and started whining about how THEY deserve rights and fair treatment, too!
Excuse me? What about whites? What about men? What about Christians? What about the downtrodden working white Americans who had been told all they had to do was show up and they’d succeed? Suddenly, it’s okay to have dark skin, or to have been born somewhere else, or to have a different RELIGION? How is that fair?!
Well, Trump saw this as his opportunity and gave a voice back to all those who felt hushed whenever they expressed their assumed right to this privilege. And many of us on November 8th sat in horror as we watched this voice rise to a clamor. Maybe it was just barely enough, but it was enough.
And what are liberals, the ones who stood up for the marginalized all along, going to do now?
First things first. Have we really stood up? Have we even been aware?
Trump may have given a tangible voice back to the monster of oppression in this country, but until he did so, liberals with privilege didn’t even know the extent to which it was still a problem. That’s the thing. A lot of liberals are themselves white, heteronormative, and advantaged in many ways which put them out of range of the people they say they’re supporting. With the best of intentions, they felt electing a white, upperclass politician who represented them was duty enough. Had Hillary won, many liberals’ support of the less advantaged may have ended there.
But now, we have to put our money where our mouth is. Why? Because the beast of xenophobic hatred has emerged openly back on stage demanding to be acknowledged. Socially advantaged conservatives are talking about how much they hate the changes we’ve been making with regards to human rights, and they want their way of life back. And the liberals who also share those privileged advantages are scrambling.
Before this election, I was pretty uncomfortable talking about race. I felt uncomfortable because if I said anything, I was using my racial identity as privilege in the conversation simply by getting to have a voice, and if I didn’t say anything, I was implicitly allowing subtle racial inequalities to continue. How could I ever truly speak for a member of another race, or speak to their experiences in a fair way? I’m white. I grew up in an areas that had rich Hispanic and Native American populations. I didn’t see my race as something that distinguished me from the kids I grew up with. But that’s a problem in itself, isn’t it? How could I even talk about race without admitting that I had been sheltered from its effects simply by being white in a country where that is the dominant preference?
Those who oppose Trump’s way of life (and the voters who endorse it) because they will be directly affected by it are speaking out, not just against Trump but against the advantaged liberals who claim to care about their needs. They’re pointing out that many liberals have not experienced the way of life that defines their day, every day. Passing though your day unaware of race is a luxury. Passing through your day unaware of gender or sex is a luxury. You don’t think about it because you don’t have to. There’s no reason to! It isn’t being called into question. But for other races, other orientations, for people with different religions or countries of origin, those facts are called into question every day. Every new day is a chance for those things to be brought to their mind by someone or something.
Advantaged liberals may have never had to think about some of these things. Sure, racism is bad, and telling a woman what her rights to her body are is bad, and religious intolerance is bad. We know that. But what are we doing about it? Shuffling our feet awkwardly because we don’t really understand oppression, either?
Well, it’s time to start. Things have gotten real. Not for disadvantaged Americans, because things were already real for them. It’s getting real for advantaged liberals who had no idea how incredibly monstrous the beast of resentment has grown in their neighbors, their coworkers, their cousins. Or no idea that old prejudices that too many had assumed had died out already are still incredibly alive and well. It’s time to acknowledge that having tolerant, open, and progressive opinions about social issues isn’t enough anymore.
It’s also time to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth. We’re a little bit racist. We’re also a little sexist, a little ablest, a little prejudiced, and we don’t even realize it. Sorry, guys, because I know how much that sucks to hear. Before Trump’s election, we didn’t know about our own prejudices. After Trump’s election, we were shocked and outraged at the vitriol pouring in from those we considered friends and family, the very people we share social space with. But what about us? We’re Good People, right? We do our part to help those less advantaged? We have privilege, sure, but we’re doing the Right Thing with it, aren’t we?
You know why you didn’t know about your prejudices? Because you never allowed yourself to be aware that you had them. You never thought about your own reactions and microaggressions and discomfort when faced when something different from you because you were taught that liberals and progressives don’t have those kinds of feelings. We’re tolerant and open. We let others be. Racism, sexism, intolerance, etc. are bad, okay?
Yeah, but they’re worse if you’re not willing to acknowledge them! And I know it makes us uncomfortable to think we may have been harboring some less than savory beliefs ourselves, but it’s alright, because now it’s time to bring those lurking assumptions out into the open and question them. Relearn. Hear from the people you support, but hear it from their angle, not yours.
Here’s what liberals need to do if we really want to fight against a Trump regime. Listen to the groups you say you support. Take their lead. How do minorities want our society to represent and reflect them? How do women want to be regarded? How do immigrants want to participate in their new way of life? What social movements do members of the LGBT community feel are urgent? What promotes safety and tolerance, freedom and fairness? What legislative matters are important to the groups that stand to lose the most? What causes are they championing?
When someone says they are oppressed, we need to listen to them and find out why. What can we do to really help? How can we live in a way that shows we understand? Let’s stop brushing them off because we think racism and prejudice are dying. We know that’s not true. Start listening to what these people have to say, because they’ve been saying it all along.
It’s time to work together for real now!