How To Go Forward With Love Post-Election
On November 9, I went to a watch party for the 2016 election. At first, it was full of hope and promise. We had spent the first half of our days giddy after filling in our very first ballots — ballots with a woman’s name.
This is the day, we thought. Finally.
And then it wasn’t.
My friend Okina and I left the watch party early, because my anxiety was raging and I didn’t want to break my No Xanax Record for a man that looks like a Cheeto. We returned to my dorm room. My three other roommates — Kylie, Shamsa, and Adriana — sat white-knuckled in our living area, CNN on volume 20, our college-issued couch squeaking with even the slightest scared shift.
Kylie couldn’t stay still, sweeping the kitchen and pacing the floor. Adriana was stoic, but loud when he took another state. Shamsa, an international student from Oman, kept checking in on us but just didn’t think the electoral college made sense.
“You’re right, Shams,” we told her. “It doesn’t make sense.”
I took a shower. I cried in the shower. I drank a lot of water. Twitter told me to focus on self-care. My own anxiety ran rampant, but mostly, I was scared for the women with whom I live, the women I love. I can do self-care. But how do I fulfill the empathy that half of my country lost?
We had talked about the possibility of this outcome when we moved in. “None of you guys are Trump supporters, right?” Adriana, whose parents are immigrants from El Salvador and abhorred Donald Trump’s ideology from day one, had asked. We all laughed, thinking “who could possibly support hate?”
Adriana’s best friend Lilly, a Lakota woman, came over that night. They cried together, not just for the present reality, but for the next four years.
“Literally the other night, Lilly and I were planning what we would say or do if we did get harassed because of our identities,” Adriana told me at 2 am, minutes after Trump was elected president. “How can we defend ourselves? How can we deal with them effectively? How can we help others? A lot of my Omani and international friends messaged me and asked if they should just pack their bags now. They felt they needed to leave before it got worse.”
Lilly and Adriana squeezed into a twin bed and hardly slept that night. They needed each other to feel safe. It took less than an hour after the election for people to feel fear so strong and so compelling as to convince them to flee. That is not the America we know and love.
“My friends and I are angry more than anything,” Adriana told me a few days after the news broke. “We hate the ignorance. We are actually aware of the effect racism, discrimination and privilege have on others, which is something a lot of people haven't really experienced.”
Adriana feels that her family is safe from deportation, but her parents and two younger siblings — who live in a small, predominantly white Nebraska town — will still likely be subjected to disappointing, outdated, hateful racism. Many people they know may fare even worse under a Trump presidency.
“My family has fear now,” Adriana explained. “They’re so scared to encounter someone who is racist and isn’t afraid to show it. The people my mom works with have become more open and empowered about their snickering and judgment. My dad’s coworkers are terrified of racial slurs and deportation. Overall, my family is sad they are surrounded by so much hate. We all feel like no one really cares what happens to us. It’s really dehumanizing, scary, and extremely uncomfortable. And it’s hard for members of my family to stand up for themselves when they can’t speak the language.”
As we got to know each other over this first semester, my roommates and I have all shared food, stories, and, after Tuesday, we all now share tears, too. But something else happened after election night: We tell each other we love each other more often. We have given more hugs. We have talked more openly. We have banned together, out of necessity and out of compassion. We aren’t sure what comes next, but we know that we will approach it holding hands and sharing hearts.
“Honestly, I don’t know what to expect,” Adriana said. “A side of me says the racism and hate will get worse, while the other side of me believes that if we all unite, we can essentially take down all the hate and ignorance. I’m not sure how, but I really would love to believe that it’s possible.”
I spent so much time preparing to celebrate with friends on election night that when it came time to grieve with them, I didn’t know what to do or say or extend. But like a fight or flight instinct, the responses came naturally. I took Adriana to pet puppies, she brought home cookies for all of us, we watched a kid’s movie to separate our minds from the endless news cycle, and we talked. We keep our doors open and unlocked, our leftovers accessible, and remember that there is safety in numbers.
We should not have to do any of this. We should not have to defend ourselves. We should not be looking into self-defense classes and the root of modern hate crimes. We shouldn’t be afraid of our president-elect and his future cabinet. But since we have to, we do. And we survive. We get stronger. We love harder.
During the heat of Trump’s campaign, Adriana said to me many times: “I just have so much hurt in my heart.” This outrages me, not because she’s amazingly empathetic, but because she doesn’t deserve such pain.
But she has love in her heart, too, along with compassion, bravery, strength, beauty, and resilience. And, Mr. President-Elect, if you refuse to see that, if you won’t convey that to her (or any of us), I will.
So ladies, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and beyond: I know what you have in your heart. Let it guide you and set an example for the man who needs it most.
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