Still numb from the news of Donald Trump’s unprecedented victory, I came across this headline on social media: ‘Sieg Heil,’ swastikas, racist Trump graffiti appear in South Philly. Already plagued with a stomach virus earlier in the week, another nauseous wave came over me again as I stared at the screen, feeling personally victimized and on the verge of puking, tears streaming down my face.
I don’t live under a rock; I know anti-Semitism is very real, and I know these heinous acts happen all the time in cities around the world. It’s tragic and sad any time it happens, and it kills me that people could have such hatred towards us simply because of our religion. But this time, seeing it felt different.
This time, I knew the new graffiti was a blatant reaction to our country’s election of a man who has incited violence and hateful rhetoric through his speech. Are we supposed to be surprised that this is what we get? I feared his election before (here on Kveller I shared my thoughts) and I fear it’s only the beginning. This is a man who has been endorsed by the KKK. A man who wants to build a wall to keep Mexicans out, who wants to ban Muslims, who has admitted to sexual assault. A man who has mocked disabled people, who bullies and belittles his competitors. A man who I didn’t believe had one iota of the tolerance or temperament needed to run the free world.
I was sharing my concerns with a friend—that I personally feel threatened by him for the following reasons: I’m a woman. I’m a Jew. My children are half-Latino. I am married to a naturalized citizen. I have gay and Muslim friends. I have a disabled sister-in-law. I feel I have a reason to feel, in New York Times’ op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman’s words, “homeless in America.”
This friend of mine is a good person with good intents, and I know her response was not intended to upset me; it was the same response I’ve seen and read all over: that we (i.e., the Trump-fearers) shouldn’t worry.
She tried to ease my concerns, saying that there’s no reason to fear him or to feel intimidated by him: that he won’t do all he says; that he will govern differently than he campaigned. And that may be true. He very well may. But I feel he’s normalized racism and bigotry—unearthing legitimate fear in minorities around the country, undercurrents of which are felt around the globe.
And therein lies the problem. Like anxiety, when it comes to privilege, you can’t see it if you don’t feel it. And as with anxiety, the absolute worst thing to do is to tell an anxious person “not to worry.”
“THIS is why I feel threatened,” I said, sharing the article with her. “Hate crimes like this are happening all over now.”
Exhibit A: On election night, a gay man was beaten in the face in Santa Monica, Calif. with a beer bottle, after having racist slurs thrown his way. And it’s only going to get worse, I fear. A recent Gallup poll shows that hate crimes against LGBTI during July, August, and September increased 147% compared with the same months the previous year (source: GayStarNews). You simply can’t deny the timing: the heat of the election season.
Exhibit B: This Twitter aggregate of “Day 1 in Trump’s America” that makes my heart hurt. Day 1 In Trump’s America
For Exhibits C-Z, just visit Google and type in keywords like “hate crime,” “election,” and, “Trump,” and see how many recent stories you’ll find. It’s not only disgusting, but sad. So very sad.
I could see my friend was beginning to see what I was getting at, even if she couldn’t fully understand my pain herself. Of course, I don’t blame her or anyone else for not being able to understand it. How can you understand something you don’t feel every single day?
And that’s what I couldn’t say to her—what I wanted to say—that her privilege (white, not-Jewish) was why she couldn’t understand why I felt the way I did. It’s not her fault. It’s the same reason many white people struggle with the Black Lives Matter movement; they don’t feel persecuted themselves, so it’s hard to “get it.” It’s why straight people can never understand what it’s like to feel blatant discrimination—or like your love doesn’t matter—because it isn’t your world. It’s why those of us with good paying jobs may not feel the same economic pains that led so many Americans to vote for Trump and for the electoral map to look nearly all red.
But those feelings of being discriminated against … of fearing being attacked or verbally assaulted … like you don’t matter … that you aren’t heart … those feelings are real. They’re valid.
The fear people are experiencing is because of the rhetoric that was spewed throughout this campaign. It is not our job or responsibility to immediately accept this person into our minds and hearts—but it is his job and his responsibility to earn that from us.
If nothing else, what this election has taught me is that tolerance and understanding is going to be the only way we get through these next four years. If we can’t see other people’s pains—be it economic, racial, or social—how can we truly unite?