There are plenty of people of color who voted for Trump. I have an Asian-American friend who is in full-on celebration mode. We’re talking photos of flags, emojis, Bible verses and fireworks. One of my closest Latina friends is a Trump supporter, and she’s surprised and delighted. This post isn’t about them.
Likewise, if you voted for Trump, take a deep breath before you read on. I am not saying in this article that you are racist. I am not saying that you approve of racism. People who I love dearly voted for Trump, people who I know to be kind, loving and gentle people. So if you’re hearing in this article “You’re racist” please know that you are hearing it because of something other than what is being said here.
Who this article is for: People who are confused about why their friends/acquaintances/co-workers/family who are people of color seem scared that Trump is the President elect.
The day after the election, I spent a decent amount of time fielding phone calls, texts and messages from my ethnic minority friends. Many of them are terrified, or crying, or numb with shock. At least one was still in bed (crying) when lunch time rolled around.
For those few who have expressed something about it on social media, I’ve seen a lot of dismissive responses (many of them well intentioned). I have a decent number of friends who are “taking a break” from social media because they don’t want to see things that are being posted.
In this post, I want to share a few reasons your friends are scared. Then I’ll share things not to say to those friends. Then some suggestions of things that might be helpful. Please note, these are all my opinions. I’m not speaking for your friends, and the best way to find out why they are scared/upset/angry is to ask them.
Why people are scared
1. Because they believe that Trump’s racist comments will inform public life in his presidency.
Listen, Trump is a racist. This is not media spin. This is not liberal politicking. This is objective fact.
You might recall how he refused to disavow the Ku Klux Klan until there was a public outcry against it, saying he would need to some research about white supremacy and David Duke (he later claimed a defective earpiece). He called Gonzalo Curiel (born in Indiana) “a Mexican” and said as a result he was unable to do his job (a comment Republican Paul Ryan called the “textbook definition of a racist comment”). He has a pattern of discrimination against African Americans in his companies and has said things like “laziness is a trait in blacks.” Listen, this could fill an article itself, and without going into his “dog whistle” comments.
People are afraid that his racist beliefs will impact public policy and thus, their lives.
2. Because the KKK and white supremacists are celebrating his election.
You know in the movies, when the KKK comes to an African American’s home, all dressed in their robes and hoods with a burning cross? Donald Trump being elected is like the KKK discovering that the new sheriff is racist and will look the other way. This is the moment when the KKK folks take their hoods off because they have nothing to hide anymore… because they believe it is socially acceptable to be overtly racist.
Don’t believe me? Steel yourself and go check out David Duke’s Twitter account. (Note: if you see a lot of parentheses around certain words, that’s code for “Jews.” Too many white supremacists were getting kicked off Twitter for hate speech so they came up with some codes.)
The fear here is not that Donald Trump is going to stand in the oval office and put a hood on, the fear is that the most powerful man in the free world is now a man who is familiar with and uses white supremacist code words and symbols, and that the white supremacist movement will feel SAFER and MORE FREE to express hatred in their words, deeds and actions.
There are people who aren’t afraid of Donald Trump, they’re afraid of the segment of his supporters who are rabid white supremacists.
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) November 9, 2016
3. There were 59,704,886 votes for Donald Trump
Again, people I love voted for Donald Trump. People who I personally know to be loving, kind, generous and not racist. And also, I know people of color who voted for Donald Trump.
But for some of my friends, they see that number… almost 60 million people… and they are AFRAID that this reflects an America that is either racist OR unconcerned with racism.
What percent of Trump voters are significantly racist? 1 in 10? 1 in 100? 1 in 1,000? More? Less? What percentage of voters either didn’t recognize Trump’s racism, or thought it didn’t matter as much as something else? What percentage of voters *recognized* he was racist, hated that, but still voted for him?
This enormous number, even though it’s not a majority, is enough to make people afraid… there’s fear that a large American population doesn’t mind a racist if that racist can do enough for you.
Here’s a post from my friend (she said I could share this). She’s an American, born in the States. But she has an Arabic name. She has a tattoo in Arabic. She’s afraid that in Trump’s America those things may make her a target, even though she’s an American citizen and a Christian.
People are afraid that the American culture is even more racist than they thought it was.
Three things not to say to those who are afraid or grieving
I’m seeing a lot of social media posts where someone shares that they are scared/upset/angry about President elect Trump and well-meaning people who are honestly trying to be encouraging say one of these three things:
“God is on his throne.”
I get it. I understand what you mean. You’re saying, “Don’t worry, God’s in control, it’s all going to be okay.” There are other variations (i.e. “Trump may be President but Jesus is still king.”) For people who have lived under injustice, this doesn’t sound as comforting as you might like it to.
Who was on the throne during slavery? Who was on the throne during Apartheid? Who was on the throne when Trayvon Martin got shot for being black and wearing a hoodie? Who was on the throne when MLK was shot? Who was on the throne when Hawaii was stolen from the Hawaiians by the American government? Who was on the throne during Wounded Knee? Who was on the throne when Native people were denied the right to vote until 1957? Who was on the throne when Asian-American families were put in interment camps during World War II?
God being on the throne does not mean “everything is going to be okay.” It doesn’t even mean “don’t worry.” It certainly doesn’t mean, “People of color are going to be safe for the next four years.” And, frankly, more often than not what it sounds like is, “Let’s stop having such negative talk because we need to be positive.”
“Don’t worry, it was all bluster.”
You know, you just might be right. In the past, Donald Trump has said he was more Democrat than Republican. He has been pro- and anti- abortion. He threatened to shut down mosques and have an anti-Muslim border, and then backed down when it wasn’t as popular as he thought it would be. Maybe all of the disturbing things he said were carefully calculated to appeal to a mass audience and when he gets in he won’t do any of it. Could be.
But you don’t know that. I don’t know that. The only person who knows that (maybe) is Donald Trump.
And I think an important question would be, “What if it’s not all bluster?” What if he really did mean all those things? Then I think it would be completely reasonable for people of color (and women, and the LGBT population) to be worried.
So maybe it’s all bluster, maybe not. Not knowing is part of what creates the fear.
“But we needed someone who was pro-life/would nominate the right supreme court justices/would be able to fix the economy!”
I’m seeing this with some regularity.
Person A: I’m afraid, as a black person, that life will be worse under President Trump.
Person B: Well, anyone who could vote for a pro-abortion candidate is evil.
This is not an exaggeration. Actual quote from an actual comment on an actual post expressing dismay about the election: “if you voted for a person who is pro abortion, the innocent blood of every aborted baby is on your hands. It’s called vicarious liability.”
So, literally, “I am sad about this” was greeted with “the blood of every aborted baby ever is on your head.”
This is an extreme example, but not an uncommon one. I’ve seen plenty in my feed the last couple days.
Setting aside how weird and self-centered it is to respond to “I am in distress” with “let me explain to you why I voted the way I did,” let me explain why this sounds less loving than you might hope.
When someone says to me, “I am afraid I will suffer in this new political climate” and I say “Yes, but unborn babies are safer now” it SOUNDS like I’m saying, “To me, an unborn baby’s safety is more important to me than your safety.” In other words, dying babies concern me (as they should!) but not dying people of color.
I’m not saying that racism needs to be more important to you than abortion or supreme court justices or whatever reason you may have voted for Trump. I’m saying that you must also understand that for people of color, it’s painful to hear that their (very real, very present) problems are less important to you than to them.
What I hear some people saying is, “If you’re really pro-life, why don’t you care about my life?” In other words, they hear you saying that abortion is important enough that if people of color need to suffer injustice in order to have a chance at limiting abortions, then that’s worth it.
Again, I’m saying this is how it sounds and feels, not saying that’s what is meant.
Three helpful things to say
A friend of mine who is a Trump supporter reached out to me when I expressed some dismay about the election and that I feel that I don’t fit into America before. She said, “I felt the same way in past elections when my candidate lost. Don’t worry. It’s going to be okay.” That was a really kind, compassionate thing for her to say, and I felt both loved and encouraged.
Here are a few things you could try saying when your friends express fears about the coming Trump presidency:
I’m sorry you’re scared.
I’m suggesting only empathy here. You don’t even have to understand why they are afraid, or agree with their fears. But you can still express sorrow for their fear. I learned long ago never to tell my children “there’s no reason to be afraid” because there are many, and I don’t want them to think me untrustworthy or a liar. Instead I would say, “I’m sorry you’re afraid. I’m here with you.” (ETA: A friend who is a person of color commented “I would warn ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ could sound awfully close to ‘I’m sorry you were offended,’ which isn’t really an apology.” That’s a good point… the idea here is to show empathy for your friend’s fear, so find the best way to share that.)
Tell me more about how you’re feeling.
Part of what people need is a place to process. Inviting others to share their feelings and working to understand that (whether you agree or not) is an act of kindness. If we’re going to move forward together, we’ll need to be able to hear each other. Many people of color are feeling that their voices will be minimized even further now. It’s important to invite them to speak up, and let them decide whether that is something they are willing/able/safe to do.
I’m with you.
As I’ve said several times, I honestly believe there are many people who voted for Trump who are simultaneously disgusted by his racism. Your friends who are people of color need to hear you say that. They need to know that voting for him doesn’t mean you’re going to stand idly by when and if he pushes racist or xenophobic legislation. If you’re able to say it honestly, it’s important to say that if Trump or his administration comes after people of color, you’ll be standing in the way. You’ll use your privilege, your votes and your voice to protect and defend them and their rights and their families. In other words, you need to say “My privilege is your privilege.” My voice will speak up on your behalf.
There’s only one thing that gets rid of fear well, and that’s love. Racism is rooted in fear, and the antidote to that is love. There are a lot of people feeling uncertain about their futures and quality of life in the next four years, and the answer to that is love, too: the kind of love that stands up for and protects those who need help, or stands alongside those who need solidarity.
We have come a long way, and we have a long way to go.
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
I believe that, too.
With truth, hope and love,
So, here’s the end disclaimer: I’m speaking for myself here, not my church or family or employer. If you have issue with anything in this post, you have issue with me, not with any of them. Thanks.