"They don't understand what it means to me...Where we chose to go, where we've been to know." – Solange
Mid-terms and deadlines were in the midst of devouring everyone's lives when news of the new President-elect swallowed campus; a barrage of white and red dad caps ushered a palpable fragility into the fall semester. This fragility hung around in the air, not knowing if it was misplaced or what, stumbling from interaction to interaction. We all waited for either a riot or a riveting rendition of "Kumbaya", but neither happened. Instead, I was offered small smiles, apologetic stares and a dozen awkward "you goods?" repeated across the country from well-meaning white friends everywhere. And a handful of safety pins. Midwestern folks are very polite but not southern, so they don’t unnecessarily linger. With each heavy glance, or trailing conversation It dawned on me that I had apparently lost. This election had been marketed to as the final showdown between progression and regression, and I, the apparent center of the feud, was clearly awaiting my trial for preference of the losing candidate. As students began swarming campus I saw far more instances of students of color rubbing white women's' shoulders on behalf of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's ghost. Once again we found ourselves at the dinner table, and once again minorities were relegated to elephant in the room. After all we were., but on that day we all watched, we glances lingering a little, conversations trailing a bit. So I was pleasantly surprised when...
"Tough day, eh?" President Bruce Harreld asked me as I crossed from the Anne Cleary walkway toward Macbride.
A couple of days after the election my friend looked up from his burger and said, "You wanna know a secret? I don't know what it was or why but seeing Luke Cage break through a wall just rejuvenated me.” Which was funny considering representation was the last subject I was thinking about, but it reminded me that Black people are ever-vigilant. Disappointed, Black students nodded acknowledgment to each other in passing; hugged and talked briefly about the election; listened to our favorite songs; came to campus in our favorite jeans; went to work out; googled the electoral college; googled A Tribe Called Quest's new album; and/or stayed home and rested for the day.
Trump's election doesn’t represent progress for us, of course, but it doesn't necessarily symbolize regression – to say that is to assume we had no idea racism was so prevalent and racists very resourceful. Found in yet another stalemate, we mourn but we don't panic. We shouldn't panic. Black people have spent 2016 looking for indictments that never came and caskets for our bodies. Voting was a break from being a Black American, a moment where we can feel unequivocally equal to everyone else. While it's true that the election’s results served as a reminder that even a Black president and reformed Clinton couldn't prevent, it wasn’t geared toward us. There was already an entire team of artists who talked about that very effect, who discussed the importance of representation and fought to get a Black man on screen to rejuvenate some Black kid’s life. When progress is rolled back, we're already in the trenches to push it forward again. It's in our DNA. For all the strength and trauma bred to us, resiliency was the coproduct of what was supposed to be a spotless equation with an understood, expected outcome. In all honesty, America's founding fathers have been rolling in their graves since Reconstruction. Black people, we are okay. There have been calls for organization as if there aren't hundreds of grassroots causes fighting against everything from black on black crime to childhood poverty.
Crunch time doesn't mean we all band together and push everything forward and fight with all our might until it's done, finally done, within 10 years – with progress 6 months into the first step. It's easy to get discouraged, even easier to believe nothing is happening. Crunch time never ended. A Trump presidency is a Reagan presidency is a Clinton presidency is a Johnson presidency. As racism evolves, the scope of its expression does as well. And that's frustrating for white people to understand, even more frustrating for us to endure, but it was our grandparents struggle that brought the fruits of our parents strive. We sip our tea and move on, hopefully with as many allies as possible, but especially without. It's hard to be optimistic when attempts to block progress are so great.
The reality check was really for white Americans treading the interim. The election revealed that racism is more than real – it's a driving force. Minorities have plenty familiarity with how multi-faceted and all-encompassing racism is, how it can prohibit, navigate and organize, but this is many white people's' first battle with the monster. The election opened up a gurgling wound for white people who thought the country was far removed from Uncle Jim Crow's views. For them, racism was a wound on America's legacy – painful to the touch, but forming a scab. Healing. To them, Donald Trump's election peeled the scab back. And the pus is leaking, and it's ugly and it's awkward but, honestly it’s necessary for healing. Those awkward "you goods" from white folks are as essential as a toddlers' teetering feet – it's a start to what could turn into a beautiful stride. And even if it’s not, we continue business as usual.
“Eh. It’s an average day,” I responded to President Harreld.