on empathy

 

to my friends who criticize the grief over our most recent election:
please understand. we hurt. many of us feel personally targeted by a show of support for the ideology and character that the president-elect has embodied over the course of this campaign season, and over the decades that he has been in the public eye. this is not ‘whining’ or ‘unamerican.’ freedom to express pain and outrage is at the very core of america’s constitutional values. the attempt to silence voices is not.
if you do not understand the pain, my hope is that you might listen to those who do, and that you might listen with tenderness and empathy. you need not support hillary or worry about how this might threaten your party or religious loyalty to listen. you only need to be human.
on tuesday night, my daughter and i read Grace for President and suffragette stories. we talked of the unique position of being a woman voting for another woman in a presidential election that she was sure to win. i was over confident. not because i am convinced that hillary is the answer to the world’s problems, but because i was absolutely sure that america’s majority could not, would not choose her opponent. i tell my daughter that love trumps hate. on some level, i still believe this.
as i watched the map turn red before my eyes, my body trembled. at moments my hands violently shook.
my only thought was ‘america does not give a shit about me or my daughter or my sisters or my mother. america voted to further embolden racists. my country does not care if this puts my daughter, niece, nephew, and brothers in harm’s way. america voted that the sexual assault of its women is okay. my country is affirming that not only my body, but also the body of my six-year-old daughter, is something to parade across a stage for critique, something to impulsively grab.’
as i watched, the screen blurred and my memory darted between my own lived experiences with men who think like our president-elect and the faces of the women i love who know the same. most of the women i love have been assaulted or abused, either once or repeatedly. that thought sobered me.
after my home state of wisconsin turned red, i turned my back on the live feed.
i held my daughter’s sleeping body, and i wept.
the past few days have felt like fumbling through numbness, surviving on hugs, solidarity, and a six year old’s giggles.
most of us will not defect. most of us will continue to live alongside you, we will offer to pick up the tab at lunch and be grateful when you do the same. we will pick up your kids when you are running late. you will be happy to mow our lawns while we are out of town, knowing that these things are reciprocal. we will all coexist.
we will try to understand that many of trump’s supporters did not base their choice on his hate-filled track record. [i will believe that this is not why you chose him, because i must–because many of you are my family members, my lifelong friends.] we will remember how many of you reported feeling dirty after casting your vote, how many of you, for the first time in your lives, considered not voting at all. this will not be easy. but we will try.
the fact is that this election has empowered the most hateful among us. you may not be hurt by this, but this fact cannot be denied. nor can we deny that the hatred has always been here. trump didn’t create this. as i was reminded by a loved one in a late-night message on tuesday, ‘this is sad, bri. but it isn’t surprising. you might be surprised, but you don’t live in dark skin.’ his comment left me feeling even more frustrated with the naïveté of my shock and freshly gutted over centuries of my country’s abuse of non-white humans.
i appreciate those who seem to compassionately be calling for unity. truly. i want this as much as you do. but the way to unity does not come by silencing those in pain. when met with compassionate acknowledgement, pain can begin to dissolve. i am not asking for myself. my pain, as a straight white woman, is not the worst of it.
‘ob la di, ob la da’ is not fair to the brown-skinned girl in texas who has had to go to school the past two days where her peers have been running around shouting trump power/white power.
‘just get over it’ is not reality for the young woman in michigan whose hijab was snatched off her head this afternoon [choking her] as she walked down the street that she works on.
‘move on’ is not felt by the woman in wisconsin who was ‘grabbed by the p***y’ at her place of employment on the same day that our president-elect admitted to admitting to assault, and then minimized it.
‘get it together’ isn’t happening at the moment for the woman in california who lives in heartbreaking terror that the life that she and her wife are building is in jeopardy.
‘shut up and sit down’ cannot be expected of the students on eastern michigan university’s campus, the ones whose safety and education are compromised by repeated tagging of ‘kkk’ and ‘leave n****rs’ on walls of buildings over the past few weeks.
‘life goes on’ cannot be embraced by anyone whose families live on the other side of soon-to-be-walled borders.
these are not random, detached click-and-share stories. these are all people that i know and deeply care for. and they aren’t alone. if you and your loved ones are not encountering this kind of hate and have nothing to fear, please acknowledge your position with gratitude. but also acknowledge that folks around you are hurt, terrorized, heartbroken by a nation’s embrace of things like public kkk endorsements and a flagrant cultural nonchalance toward ‘locker room talk.’
it isn’t about sore losing. it is about dashed hope and genuine fears. you see?
we want to move past this as much as you do. it just might take a minute.
there is anger. there is intense pain, despondency. there is fear. there is a desperate need for kindness and change. please do not continue to invalidate these experiences. please just pause for a moment and listen.
and actively love.
this is how we move forward in unity. this is how america becomes great. this is the first step in finding out what liberty and justice for all actually looks like.
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