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While you were fighting race, we were fighting hate

There was a failure to witness the suffering of people of color in this country. The election of Donald Trump was a rejection of reality; it was a refusal to witness.

/Courtesy of Partners for a Racism-Free Community

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I am not an idealist; I’m a realist. I don’t pretend to see things that are not real and I constantly confront false truths when presented with narratives that seek to confuse and misinform. With that in mind, I write this piece out of a place of great discomfort. I write this as I sit in Atlanta reading endless news stories of acts of racialized aggression being embraced by adults and being modeled by young people. I write this as a race educator that recognizes the very real limits to the work that I do. I write this as an ally to my LGBTQ friends. I write this as the daughter of generations of veterans. I write this as a black woman living in Grand Rapids, fearful of this moment; hopeless in this instance.

If I’m being honest about my true emotional state, I am devastated by the results of this election. And it is not because I didn’t know that racism didn’t exist; I am painfully acquainted with racism and how pervasive it is. However, my disappointment came with looking at the numbers. I look at nearly every 1 in 2 people in the state of Michigan voting for hate fueled fascism and it scares the shit out of me. The idea that every face that smiles when I grab my cup of coffee is the same face that would smile and yell “make America great again,” at a rally later that day is horrifying. The idea that folks I share space with when I choose to attend a symphony performance, or walk into an art gallery are those same people that can vote for a man like Donald Trump is traumatic. The fact that I live in one of the country’s most devoutly Christian cities and yet the teachings hailed in that same book are not applicable in the communities in which congregants live is shameful.

In the aftermath of the election, I read one comment in particular that has stayed with me. Actually, a comment so dismissive it infuriated me – essentially telling folks to stop complaining about the results of the election every second and move on. It was so dismissive it was hurtful and it hurt because it came from a place I least expected it; a person I thought I knew. In that moment it dawned on me that, even in my operationalized space of facts and reality, I failed to see how divided of a space this is. Optimism very much so fueled my perspective of this space and I cried in horror Wednesday morning because I recognized the death of that space, in that moment. I realized that the people around me suffer from an apathy so dangerous that, as best said by Yomaira Figueroa, PhD at Michigan State University, there was a failure to witness.

There was a failure to witness the suffering of people of color in this country. The election of Donald Trump was a rejection of reality; it was a refusal to witness. People of color asked white people to witness the hatred on the table this election cycle. People of color were empowered to require a stage and make people listen. You see, progress is cool when you’re not asked to do any work; this time around, white people were asked to be accountable. White people were asked to look at their churches. White people were asked to look at their families. White people were asked to look at the institutions they built. White people were asked to hold themselves and those around them accountable. White people were asked to be uncomfortable – and some stepped up to the challenge. Some recognized that you are complicit in sustaining systems you specifically benefit from when you do not challenge the structural inequities that allow them to exist. For others there was a rejection of this narrative. A refusal to recognize privilege in the midst of their own economic strife; a desire to assign blame to other groups who they perceive to have specifically benefited from policy changes over the last 8 years. There was a desire to reclaim this perception of power and recreate the illusion of unity; a unity that only exists to be separate and unequal. A unity that provides comfort to the powerful majority by silencing the disenfranchised minority. There was a refusal to witness suffering because it made too many people uncomfortable. There was a refusal to recognize the imperfection of reality and the volatility of your neighbors.

In this moment, we are forced to make some decisions. We are forced to decide if we will be complicit in supporting hate. We have to decide if we will passively participate in a fascism powerful enough to activate the worst elements of our nation. More importantly, however, white people have to decide that enough is enough. White people have to decide to share the power. White people have to decide to make the kitchen table uncomfortable. White people have to decide to challenge the beliefs of their fellow congregants. White people have to decide that this country can be better because people of color have operationalized that belief to limited success; we cannot do this alone.

On this Veterans Day, I must honor my deceased grandfathers by recognizing their sacrifices as World War II veterans. They fought an idea that they believed was destructive enough to destroy the world should the institution be met with power and success; a hatred that killed discriminately. Today we are met with that same challenge – fighting a hatred that will destroy us all. 

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