On Tuesday night, as the polling numbers from state after state rolled in, it was as if a curtain was — slowly, horrifyingly — being drawn back across the body of the United States. To the marginalized people witnessing the final hours of the presidential election, it was defeating to realize that underneath this curtain was their country’s true form. When the presidency was called around midnight, one of the more harrowing realizations in a cacophony of emotions was that Donald Trump’s victory had been decided long before Nov. 8. Even despite the last few weeks when everything seemed poised for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s victory, Election Night was a reminder that potent and reactive hatred had been rooted in America long before the curtain was drawn.
White people elected Trump. Not all white people, but most of them. It bodes well to consider that these white men and women may not have supported everything he said, but still they supported the man who said it.
As the shock of Trump’s victory begins to wear off — for Democrats, Republicans and the presidential candidates themselves — a new wave of reaction has followed the initial devastating outcry. Thrown off by the tangible grief expressed by the marginalized people around them, many whites have tried to distance themselves from this outpouring of devastation and true fear. They tell these marginalized people that they, or others like them, voted for Trump despite his bigotry, not because of it. They tell these people to stop overreacting, stop whining. They tell them that not all whites are racist, that all sides need to be sympathetic to the others’ opinions.
For perhaps the first time in their lives, many whites are feeling their own race. Feeling their race when they walk into a class filled with minorities, when they walk by the demonstrations on campus at Tommy Trojan. They want to reassure their classmates that they played no part in ripping down American democracy, that furthermore, their feelings and sensitivities matter as well. This is understandable. A sizable portion of the white population did not vote for Trump, and this number is certainly larger on a college campus. Nevertheless, reminiscent of the #NotAllMen campaign, this new vein of reactive criticism comes from those in a position of extreme and subconscious privilege.
Trump was elected on the woes of white men, but it is everyone else who must endure the fallout. It is not the duty for oppressed individuals to tend to the delicate ego of white America. To reassure them, the day after everything changed, that they are good people.
Before Nov. 8, white Trump voters swallowed their morals to elect to the presidency a man whose litany of bad behavior is endless. They either feared progress or decided they would be fine without it, and yet, the day after the election, they and the people they know criticize marginalized people for the overwhelming response of grief and fear. The appeal to not be deemed racist, the need to remind marginalized people of the complex reasons many supported Donald Trump, is particularly ironic given the label of “oversensitivity” they associate with liberals and people of color.
When white Americans do not try to understand the suffering of marginalized people, they accuse them of being too easily hurt. But when the spotlight is shone on their faces, whites must suddenly remind their peers that their opinions should not be assumed based on race. They equate their hurt feelings with the devastating new realities marginalized people face for themselves and their families.
Global history has proved that the sufferings of minorities matter less than the actions and feelings of whites. It is the habit of the privileged group to equate every perceived insult with their own oppression. Because they are encouraged not to spew racial hatred, they are oppressed by the infringement of “political correctness” on their freedom of speech. Because the day after the most divisive election in U.S. history, they suddenly feel self-conscious about their race, they appeal to people of color not to jump to conclusions that they voted for Trump or voted for him because they were racist.
There are many who will read this article and react with claims of racism. But remember that racism is a systemic and institutionalized phenomenon. One does not experience systemic racism if one has benefited from the system since the birth of this country.
So, in these raw days after Nov. 8, when many fear that they and their families will be deported, that their families will not be allowed to enter the country, that their sexual orientation will not be recognized, that control over their bodies will be taken away, please don’t play the victim. For once in the entire bloody, colonial existence of American democracy, let marginalized people feel their grief. Let them express their anger. Let them.
For 17 months — and practically a lifetime — Trump has showed the country who he is. He, if stretched to his thinnest, can erupt in a cascade of hatred and bigotry. The fear of marginalized Americans is justified and real.
To the white students of USC: Do not tell friends of color, women friends, Muslim friends, LGBT friends, disabled friends, that they are overreacting. Do not tell them to stop whining. Do not tell them that everything will be OK because the nation knows that this may not be true. And if one doesn’t have friends like these, perhaps it is time to make some. If marginalized people need to open their minds to examine why white America voted for Trump, then it is only right for white America to try to understand why these people are so angry and so very afraid.