One of the people I have come to have great respect for is our First Lady, Michelle Obama. She’s bright, thoughtful, articulate, and has an ability to look at the big picture that seems to often elude others in Washington. Her speech at the Democratic convention this summer was hailed as a home run in my liberal leaning world.
Lately, after half of America decided it was electing a candidate who spewed hate, racism, sexism and innumerable non-presidential qualities during the lengthy presidential campaign, I am wondering where that leaves us as I grieve my country’s choice and wish the result had been a Hillary Clinton victory (Electoral College).
But post election I find myself coming back to Michelle Obama’s signature civil statement during the uncivil name calling that was America’s presidential race. She said “when they go low, we go high.” When she gave that speech I cheered. I nodded. Right on. But now?
Now I am asking when will the”they” and the “we” become the “us?” Were we truly ever “us?” I search my soul and conclude I do want an “us,” a United States of America. I want that for my children and grandchildren and for everyone who is my neighbor, my community, my country.
I juxtapose this intense desire for an “us” with my black friends telling me after Donald Trump was elected president that they “could not breath.” Those of us who are white don’t get that you may say? But really anyone who listened to Donald Trump’s language during the campaign should get it. That’s where many of our fellow Americans in this United States are at. While some Trump supporters now may be saying “suck it up” or your black friends’ fear is not real or “America has spoken,” that does not change this stark and frightening reality for my black friends.
Can we listen to each other to understand, not necessarily to agree? Tell me how I might do my part to help unite a community divided by this election so that my black friends and neighbors can breathe. Tell me what I don’t understand about your version of America that might help move us all forward, so my friends might breathe.
A sixth grader in my community was very disturbed when her Muslim friend told her, after the election, that her family would be moving away because of the hatred and fear they are encountering in the community. This young sixth grader does not understand why this is happening and is understandably distraught. This is not “us.” This is not anyone’s United States. How can creating such an environment that fosters this racism and ugliness possibly be making America great again?
The Southern Poverty Law Center has counted more than 200 complaints of hate crimes since Election Day, according to USA Today. Those are just the ones reported. Muslim women are being harassed, robbed and having their hijabs pulled from their heads. Muslim women are telling their daughters not to wear the hijabs so they might be safe. This is not “us.”
When they go low, we go high.
in New York, friends of transgender Americans are organizing to be sure their trans friends have escorts on the subway because of the harassment taking place since the election. This is not “us.”
Actions have consequences, as do elections. I get that as someone who was elected to the state Senate once and then unelected four years later. But sustained vitriolic hate speech by our President-elect Trump during the all too lengthy campaign has emboldened a certain element of his supporters to harass and intimidate their fellow Americans now that candidate Trump has become President-Elect Trump. Their actions are violating people’s civil and human rights. Their actions are preventing people of color from being fully American, from being fully human, from breathing.
I am reminded of how important maintaining and protecting Second Amendment rights were and continue to be to many of my fellow Americans who voted for president-elect Trump. They had eight years of worrying about Presidenrt Obama taking away their guns. Yet, that never happened. Will you be as vigilant about protecting my black friends’ rights to equal protection under the law pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment to that same Constitution you and I and all Americans who make up the United States of America cherish and hold dear? Will you speak out against the harassment and hate crimes being perpetrated against your Muslim neighbors for exercising their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion? Will you explain to sixth graders in my community why it’s wrong to violate any persons constitutional rights, be it First, Second, or Fourteenth Amendments?
I will do whatever I can to help President -Elect Trump succeed. Why? Because I want “us” to be the United States. But that United States includes my black neighbors who can’t breathe, so I will work tirelessly to give them breath, because that restores breath to all of us. That United States also includes Muslim community members being wrongfully harassed, assaulted and forced to move. It includes those who support womens’ reproductive rights and those transgender folks who are afraid to ride the subway. It includes Natives who are our water protectors in North Dakota. It’s all of “us.”
What can those of us who enjoy white privilege and represent the only racial group whose majority voted for Donald Trump do? We can join the ACLU or other civil rights group. We can intentionally become friends with a person of color so we know who they are as fellow breathing human beings. We can call out the racist comments by our uncle or grandpa at Thanksgiving dinner that our families have long failed to condemn, telling them their statement is racist, unacceptable and hurtful, and needs to stop. We can be kind. We can and must show up and speak out for all of “us.”
I will continue to take the long view of the arc of Justice. That means asking hard questions of myself and those elected to be temporary leaders and defenders of our Constitution. That means being disappointed. That means being curious. That means listening. That means being vigilant.
This is going to be really hard.