During my junior year of high school, around the time former President Barack Obama was re-elected, I made a new friend. Among the wooden coasters, leftover mail and an odd golf tee, her family had a chocolate bar wrapped with the president’s face on it on their living room table.
“Look how funny this is,” she emphasized as she handed me the chocolate, smiling; probably trying to relate to me. Looking around the room I noticed things that would never exist in my own living room, like New England Patriot paraphernalia and old Christmas cards of smiling white families with dogs printed on them.
Perceiving my friend’s gesture was perplexing, as I was unsure whether her family had the chocolate bar to literally eat our 44th president or to support him. Having moved just a few years earlier from a red district in Virginia to a blue state, Rhode Island, I wasn’t used to white people supporting Democratic politicians, especially Black ones. To my own ironic chagrin, it turned out that the family was, and continue to be, steadfast democrats. This was a dynamic I wasn't used to or knew how to deal with.
Biden supporters and democrats broadly have so much to celebrate. A few Saturdays ago, as the unseasonably warm November air breezed through my window, I felt a collective exhale. As cars honked and pedestrians cheered, our bodies let go of that tight bracing defense for just a moment as it set in that Biden won this election.
As the rest of the year unfolds with Trump in office, I implore you to show up for Black people and Black women in the same way we have been showing up for this country for centuries. As we approach the anniversaries of the 15th and 19th Amendments, giving Black Women the double-valenced enfranchisement required to gain the constitutional and societal right to vote, we need to recognize how much adversity we have prevailed against in order to improve the lives of all American people.
We have to lift up Stacey Abrams, Kamala Harris and the communities of Black women leaders in Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia and Milwaukee who made this necessary change a reality. We have to do our part to mitigate the proliferation of the coronavirus, knowing that it is disproportionately affecting Black and brown people. We have to show up and take the Senate. A Biden win is a phenomenal thing in the context of the past four years under a Trump regime. However, as individuals we have to uphold the same values we want our national leadership to.
The memes during election week are now the social media artifacts that captured our collective mind-state during the week the votes were ever-so-slowly tallied. I found one in particular hilarious yet condemning. It stated, “Now back to the racism we’re used to,” with Denzel Washington smiling underneath the text. While bursting into sharp laughter, I immediately covered my mouth to stop myself. It’s unnerving to think about just how much prejudice Black people and many other marginalized groups, including undocumented immigrants, indigenous people and women, have endured before the Trump administration. Albeit far from utopian, back then, bigotry wasn’t embroidered into red caps and yard signs.
As exit poll data from this mind-numbingly close election rolled in, my teenage intuition that doubted white support of a democratic government held true. 57% of white people voted to re-elect President Trump, up from 54% in 2016.
Roxane Gay writes of the dangerous yet urbane Trump supporter — someone whom you may never guess as such. They are “the ones who want to be invited to all the good parties. They lie to pollsters. They lie to family and friends. And when they fill out their ballots, they finally tell the truth.” I know these people. Some of them have even called themselves my friend. This is why I was wary of that chocolate bar back in high school.
As a Black person, watching the presidential race unfold felt exhausting, because we know both concealed and flagrant support for President Trump is the present American reality. We were on edge because we could not determine its extent. As Jelani Cobb put it in his New Yorker piece: “To be Black in the first week of November 2020, is to yet again have the feeling of being called off the bench and being told that the whole game is riding on you.”
Imagine feeling like you're about to be called at any moment to strategize, sprint and try to score for the entire country without having the win in the bag.
In 2016, when Trump was first elected, I woke up to look at my phone in utter disbelief. My entire college campus, an incredibly democratic, liberal-arts and school felt literally overcast. Everywhere I looked there were tears and solemnity. I didn’t understand it fully. I wondered what my mostly white, economically enfranchised classmates were so worried about. I remember going to the library to get some assigned reading done, but couldn’t focus through my tears staining the borrowed pages.
That day, I posted my now favorite poem, on my Instagram, my first time discovering Nayyirah Waheed’s words:
people of color
burn the world down
we have experienced.
– how stunningly beautiful that our sacred respect for the earth. for life. is deeper than our rage.
After I posted, my old classmate, a Black man, unquestionably feeling sorrow himself responded, “I love you Kali,” in a comment. I loved him back and didn’t have to say it for him to know. Throughout the remainder of Trump’s tenure, people of color, Black people in particular, have had to move through the world with a character that has illustrated an ever-important fortitude.
For the past four years we’ve wanted to burn down this place where leadership has made us feel unwelcome and wronged — and some of us have justifiably tried.
Instead we fought, we showed up, we campaigned, we won.