Beautiful Awful Days

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Image by Jennifer Dauphinais

It has been perplexing to process what the recent election results will mean for white teachers, white allies, white scholars and academics. Over the past 72 hours I have spoken with more strangers, hugged more people in public spaces, and experienced more tears and more touch than in six months’ time put together. I have been invited to people’s homes for the first time while being kicked out of some for good. I have hugged closer, heart to heart with people who, while in their embrace, have shown me a new language that cannot be covered over or taken away. In many ways, I am convinced that this tumultuous moment, as in many moments of simultaneous ends and beginnings, can be felt as beautiful awful days. Yet as the shock settles to a sobering truth, we are faced with the fact that it was the educated white women’s vote that swayed the election in Trump’s favor. Where did we go wrong?

At this moment, we are once again face to face with the critique of the limitations, dysfunctions and failures of white feminism; how we will show up today for fear of a perpetuation of a culture of sexual assault, while we did not show up on the day the police took Sandra Bland, Korryn Gaines, Janet Wilson, Laronda Sweatt, Kisha Arrone, India Beaty, and Sahlah Ridegeway each taken within this year alone. And it’s not about being sad for others or ourselves at this late hour. It’s about taking up the growth.

When the map started to turn red on Tuesday night, my stomach churned with the realization that we had failed. I knew we were at risk to pay a dear price as a nation. While I felt like the value of my womanhood begin to depreciate the minute the New York Times election ticker tilted right. I became seriously concerned for my vagina, the vaginas of my friends, and all future vaginas. Even as many friends and family tried to quell projections about the future with their give him a chance rhetoric, my concerns quickly turned to friends and colleagues who I have sat with side by side in the work over the past several years. As hundreds of students gathered in the hallways and safe spaces of Teachers College to listen and speak on Wednesday afternoon,  I heard the voices of international students expressing their fears of deportation and of families being ripped apart. I heard teachers express disgust with students who were using phrases from the President elect to bully one another, while queer and trans students spoke of their own wellbeing. I heard students of color ask why there were suddenly so many “white tears” and that this fear of safety we were all waking up to had been something people of color had faced all along.

The problem is, it’s not like I didn’t know. In studying the historical and sociological layers of white patriarchy, positionality and institutional oppression, I was awake to this. In facing and unpacking power relations within white social structures, and the marginalization and rejection that I was both a part of and apart from within my own race, I’ve become more familiar with how covertly the white supremacist paradigm operates. White guilt and discomfort take many forms and many iterations of denial in order to recede, if at all. I’ve confronted the familial betrayal, the social micro-aggressions, and the shame of confronting our racist roots and the blind spots used to keep our eyes closed to the oppressions at play. How could I have not been more vigilant? Perhaps I went too easy on the work. At the same time, what I’ve learned in grappling with the subterfuge of predominant white authority is that the chastising of its presence is exactly what won Trump the presidency. The calling out of white discourse is what perpetuated the denial we see coming to the forefront. When you attempt to shine a light on the actors perpetrating injustice, they react as if they are the marginalized ones. The logic is turned around and the punishment from the other side is blind denial, blatant hate and subversive retaliation.

That being said, I neither identify as a Republican or a Democrat and my investments and feelings are in neither candidate per say. I believe in the hope for a fair and functioning government as many do. What we protest today is the hurtful nature of fellow citizens that have been drummed up by this campaign. I fear the particular “victory” at hand will give many folks “permission” to speak and commit acts of aggression against rightful citizens in the likeness of “their President”. I am deeply concerned that the efforts and progress made during the Civil Rights movement and the years that followed, will be pulled at and pushed upon by the recent political uptick of “the white working man’s” rationale. Through the reflection of our missteps, we will be forced to question and reimagine our very purpose, as educators and allies, leaders, traitors and theorists.

So today, I protest the mindset that will use this election as an excuse to continue the violence against our families, neighbors and our friends. I protest the part of me that relied on Facebook and Instagram and the inner realms of academia to express my disapproval of things that put our bodies and lives at risk. I protest the very space that taught me everything I know about what hurts as the catapult for fighting against it. And – in this moment of grief and disappointment, I find solace in the stories I tell myself about the subversive wisdom of the Beats in the 1950s, the passionate vision and activism of the 1960s, the pioneering voices that reshaped the world in the 70s, and the rageful resistance of the punks in the 80s. In recovering these old bones, I hope we can find a way to raise a voice in the spaces recently found and discover a new voice where we find we have been lost all along.

In this act, I draw upon the words of Tagore, written at a time of uncertainty, shortly before India’s independence, as shared by a fellow dissident today on our campus:

“Where the mind is without fear

and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up

into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by Thee

into ever-widening thought and action —

Into that heaven of freedom,

my Father [sic], let my country awake.”

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