A few years ago, I told my friend, Melanie, who is black, about a black family, all adults, I’d encountered on a plane. The family shouted in glee as the plane took off. I asked the father if this was their first time flying and he said no, they just loved it. I commented to Melanie that it was an example of a difference, broadly speaking, between white and black people. No white people I knew would ever whoop it up on takeoff just for the fun of it. We’re generally too reserved.
She asked me had it been a boisterous white family, would I have thought, “Hmmm, first time”? I answered that I would have.
But that question stayed with me. I didn’t know why. I’d find myself reminded of it, and turn it around in my head. I’d picture a boisterous white family on the plane, and I’d re-confirm that yes, I would have assumed it was their first time.
Still, I’d find myself thinking of it again a few months later. I finally began to think it was just one of those things we writers do. We’re interested in human nature, we ask difficult questions and noodle on the answers obsessively.
Then, a few months ago, four years after she first asked me the question, I realized I’d been wrong. And it came down to the clothes.
The black family on the plane were dressed up—suits and ties, dresses, heels. The white family in my mind, the one I was sure I’d also assume was flying for the first time, were dressed like poor people. I can see them now: a housedress, frayed t-shirts, jeans. When I re-imagined the white family dressed like rich people, I realized no, I wouldn’t have wondered if it was their first time flying. I would have wondered if they were drunk.
Currently, in this country, we have a disagreement about what racism is.
It’s not just the obvious list of people who spray-paint swastikas on synagogues and won’t let their daughter marry a Mexican.
Racism is also quiet, the silence that doesn’t call someone out for using the word “nigger” in a joke, or assumes black people, like poor people, can’t afford to fly, or allows a candidate to perpetuate the myth that President Obama wasn’t born here and many illegal immigrants are “rapists” who bring “tremendous crime” to America.
It’s this allowance, this acceptance–this refusal to noodle on the question–that is as dangerous as any guy in a white hood.
People voted for Trump for all kinds of reasons, I understand that. I want change, too. I want lower debt, manufacturing jobs, less gaming of the welfare system. I have more in common with Republicans than many of them think, and I voted for one on the ballot this year.
As someone who didn’t vote for, or like, Clinton the first time she ran, I can also understand that some people didn’t want to vote for her.
I can understand why it’s hard to self-reflect on racism. No one besides proud racists thinks they have racism in them, including me.
What I haven’t yet been able to understand, no matter how many conversations I’ve had or articles I’ve read, is how people were able to ignore some of the more objectively unacceptable of Trump’s offenses. The ones that can’t be nuanced or finessed or explained away.
None of us—literally, none—would be okay with some old guy peeping at our daughters in a locker room. How, then, are some of us okay with our president-elect doing it? This isn’t some crazy liberal accusation. Trump admitted he did it.
None of us would be okay with a man grabbing our genitals without asking. Even if you believe Trump was simply bragging on the bus like a drunk nineteen year old (and believe all the women who have accused him of sexual assault are lying) the Republicans I know would knock out the sonofabitch who talked like that about their daughters, not elect him president.
How do we tell our daughters it’s what is in their hearts and minds that matters, not the shape of their bodies, but support a man who rates women using a number?
How do we promote kindness and tell our children bullying is wrong, that mocking the disabled student in a wheelchair is wrong, when we allow it in our candidate?
It’s this disconnect—the refusal to put up with it in our private lives but the willingness to endure it in a president—that have many people stunned.
The deepest disappointment I feel–the one some on the right are telling people like me to get over–isn’t about policy and it’s not about losing. It’s not about “what might have been” if we’d elected a woman president.
It’s about my core values, the ones I impart to my children, and knowing that my future president undermines them. Since I was a 4th grader devouring biographies on Lincoln, I have admired leaders who appeal to the better angels of our nature. Trump didn’t do so as a candidate. I hope he can rise to the occasion as president.