Like you, I spent the rest of election week feeling exhausted.
I could barely keep my eyes open. My brain was in a fog, as if weary from longing to see through a muddy or rain-soaked windshield blocking my view of the road ahead. My children and I became sick, but I think that was a coincidence. Either way, I needed a few days to take in both the election results AND all the chatter about what those results meant.
Since then I’ve been reading think-pieces and opinion polls nonstop. The pundits and pollsters say they have evidence of what we missed, why we missed it, and what this means for Americans (or the globe, depending on how apocalyptic they feel). As a Black American female, nothing has changed for me. I will still receive oppression due to the color of my skin and the anatomy of my body. I will still be asked weird and uncomfortable questions about my history, my family, and my hair.
If 2016 had one shining beacon, it would be because it was the year I got to know a deeper Black America than just my childhood home. The depth of racism and prejudice towards “the other” in America is as loud as thunder. It is so uncomfortable that people would rather deny it to your face than sit with the idea that they themselves may not be the ally they thought they were. Because I filled my soul with the stories of the disenfranchised, I was already awake when that thunderous roar was finally loud enough to rouse a sleeping nation to what Black America had endured since we stepped off the boats. Now everyone could see it (but probably because it was aimed at many more people). Racism and bigotry ran for president and won. Many Black Americans saw it as inevitable and lacked the surprise or disillusionment so many of our White American friends found on their faces. Now a mourn of cries have filled the air thick with sorrow and regret.
But Black America did not weep this election.
I have been reading black history accounts and think-pieces written by writers of color all year. Stories by Octavia Butler that predicted this horrible election and Ta-Nehisi Coates about the reality of the unsafe black body. Adichie’s commentary on black american culture from a non-American black (Americanah) is almost necessary to drown out the confusion. I listen to Lemonade (Beyoncé) and A Seat at the Table (Solange), which made my voice (black womanhood) the framework for their art. I finished watching Luke Cage, which made a bulletproof black man the hero of Harlem. I watched documentaries on black lives ranging from the prison system to racial identity. I read poetry so beautiful it hurt. I lived many lives this year and all of them were black.
But I was becoming consumed by those mournful American cries. In the liberal headquarters that is suburban Los Angeles, strangers on the street would give me looks of sorrow- the air smelled of death without the requirement of a corpse. It became overwhelming!
Until I watched Dr. Cornel West give an interview the day President-elect Donal Trump met with President Barack Obama.
Speaking to a BBC correspondent, Dr. West critiques the Democratic party and Obama for their lack of effort in speaking to the concerns of working class and poor people. ALL working class and poor people, NOT just white men. This notion was similar to other critiques of the left-leaning party and by this point I had no reason to think otherwise. Like I said, I have been reading think-pieces all week. But what he says at the end really got me:
Interviewer: Do you fear for your country’s future at the moment?
West: I have always feared for the future of America because every democratic experiment is very fragile and I come from a people who have been enslaved, Jim Crowed, hated, lynched, but we never lost our spirit, we never lost our willingness to love, to laugh, to live, and embrace others. So yes, I have deep fear for the future of this democratic experiment, the American empire is in deep crisis, the aim is, how do you revitalize it? You revitalize it by remaining true to the truth-telling and the witness-bearing for justice that have kept American democracy alive, though often times, very very difficult times, including bleak moments like today.
(Italics my own)
(Update 11/18: Dr. Cornel West wrote an even longer response to this concept in the Guradian.)
The people he spoke of, the people I have been reading about, watching, and experiencing at full force are the same people I come from. And in times like this, we find ways to laugh and love and come together. We make food for each other and talk. We sing joyous songs and dance with our children. We use our angst and sorrow to make intense art and in that art we make a statement of justice and social action.
Because I was done sulking, I stepped into action.
The next day proved Dr. West’s point beautifully. A friend invited me to a casual get together for black women to commune with each other. We played music and made jokes. We sat in silence but also talked and talked. We ate junk food and mango smoothies because sometimes you need a little of both. It felt so good to feel all of my emotions in the company of other who would not dismiss them as unfounded or inappropriate. We all could be “unapologetically black” in whatever ways that meant to us, and then able to channel all of those feelings into constructive ideas for change.
One woman (an elder) was old enough to remember the first Civil Rights movement. Of small frame, fair skin, and her hair worn in a high bun, she spoke with a soft tone and dignified clarity. We would all have to lean in around the warm fire pit to hear her poetic phrases. We pressed her about her feelings on race, harmony, and the need to really find ourselves. She reminded us that it takes many hands to do all of the work. Gesturing as she talked, she gave examples of social activism that might not always look as such.
“Someone has to be over here to hold up the wall of oppression so it does not come crashing down on all of us. Someone has to go and feed the children so they will be nourished and able to learn. Someone has to teach to the ones who are not like us so they can give that message to the ones who will not listen to us. And we must all learn to commune in ways we are not accustom anymore. You find out what your purpose is and find your peace. “
I had walked into that circle with confusion and angst; but with her guiding words and the love of the group, we all felt renewed. None of us knew what our next steps would be, but we were ready to make them. She had carried in compassion, engulfed us with knowledge, and pushed us all back into the world.
I know you are tired too. So what do we do now?
The onslaught of news after the election paired with stress and news of the election has some of us watching this train wreck with heavy hearts. Many of you thought the next couple of years would be easier- you thought you might be able to take a rest and breathe easy. How embarrassing for so many of us to be so wrong?
If you can stomach don’t look away. Watch and react, and in some cases, act up. Make your shock and horror be known to the people begging for peace- they are not your allies. They will tell us to quiet down and be patient, that this isn’t the time, and we just need to wait and see. I simply cannot- many of us are not on the side of the road but on the train, asking those who can to help.
So really, what should we do?
We take care of each other: If you haven’t already, find someone (or a group of someones) and talk. Get it out of your head and lean on someone. Let someone lean on you. Stop waiting for someone to ask for help. Hate crimes have increased since the election results, so be vigilant. It’s happening in blue states too.
We take care of ourselves: The article How Women of Color Are Practicing Self-Care in a Trump World shared what women all over the country were doing to stay sane. I personally like to take a long shower and deep clean my hair. All self-care looks different so this list is a suggestion.
We learn: Books are the first defense against misunderstanding and fear. Learn about people you know nothing about. Understand the history behind oppression and suffering.
We fight: There are protest springing up all around the US. If protest is your fight song you should be marching on the street. Another way to fight is to call your local congressmen. Calling is much better than writing. Join a local activist group or donate money to organizations in support of causes you care about.
You don’t have to be able to do ALL the work. Find your passion and go from there.
If you’re still feeling terrible by this point, let Amber tell you why you should #jointhefun!