A guide for “shocked” white friends who want to help people of color after the election

Make America protest again.
Make America protest again.
Image: Reuters/Jim Urquhart
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The night of the election, my black friend posted on Facebook that he needed to “Call in Black” the next day; I “liked” his status and was immediately irritated when I saw a white woman reply, “Wish I could do the same.”

Another white female friend of mine posted a long apology to black, Latinx, LGBT, and Muslim Americans, and ended the lengthy post with: “I don’t know what else to say to you. I’m so so so sorry.”

In the days leading up to the election, it was almost exclusively middle and upper-middle class white women posting about how they just need everyone in this election season to “let live, let love, let vote” and “not judge each other” because “I’m over, like, the stereotypes!” Yet none of the irritated white women acknowledged anywhere in their exhaustion the rage and frustration that people of color and LGBT folk might be feeling because we’ve wanted all those things — the life, the love, the vote — for hundreds of years, and have been routinely denied them. Because of, like, the stereotypes, because of systemic, institutional oppression and a culture of white supremacy and entitlement, and because of the microaggressions of the overwhelmingly privileged, who had the nerve to express irritation this election cycle when many Americans have been terrified for their safety.

It’s all been a lot to swallow, particularly when those who have had the least at stake this year have posted condescending memes about how we shouldn’t even unfriend people on Facebook when they undermine our humanity because that’s the biggest threat to democracy, as opposed to redlining, gerrymandering, voter suppression laws, and the electoral college. But the real trigger has been that more white people than I can count, people who are quick to profess themselves as oh-so-woke, have expressed some real shock and dismay not only at the election results, but at the racism, sexism, xenophobia, and bigotry that paved the way to those results. And this is not just me surmising what has them all up in their feelings; this is me reading their words: “I cannot believe how racist America is.” “I really never thought that bigotry would win out.” “What do I say to the people of color in my life, the LGBT people, the Muslim people…I never thought hatred would make it this far.”

Dear liberal white people whom I often love: Advertising your shock and surprise that racism, sexism, xenophobia, and bigotry are pervasive enough to hand that man the presidency is a microaggression. Please stop.

I’m all about you processing your feelings. There are a lot of us up in our feelings right now. But spare me the advertisement of just how shocking it all is. Don’t tell me you “just can’t imagine,” because some of us — my little black and Indigenous ass — have a real big imagination when it comes to the racism and bigotry that has ruled our country for hundreds of years. We are not aghast that presidential candidates who say bogus shit dance their way into office. We are not paralyzed by the injustice of it all, proclaiming “Oh the humanity!” and all that mess. We have seen this before.

And it’s not just the overt bigotry; it’s the soft systemic racism, too. It can be tricky, I get it. Had Clinton shimmied her way into the oval office, I may have been under the spell for a minute. But don’t get it twisted: Black and brown and queer folk (especially the queer black and brown folk) have a big imagination for the terrifying policy that follows terrifying rhetoric, whether that rhetoric is being spouted by an orange-faced man promising a wall or a white woman in a pantsuit warning us of superpredators. I am devastated, but no, I am not shocked.

For a lot of people of color, this election was really about trying to find the lesser of two evils. America asked us: “How do you prefer your racism — blatant or systemic?” And when we couldn’t answer immediately, white liberals patronizingly walked us through our own history and experiences to guide us to the candidate that best suited their needs. When we still needed time, white liberals got impatient and aggressive. When we begrudgingly muttered #IGuessImWithHer, white liberals celebrated and skipped away to campaign. Some took a third-party stance, and while I’m of the opinion that it was a privileged stance to take, let’s not pretend that third-party votes alone decided this election.

Instead, let’s be clear: Poor, angry, uneducated white men — and women — helped decide this election. Educated middle class white men and women helped decide this election. Those who exercised that protest vote helped decide this election. And if any of that’s shocking for you, then you weren’t paying attention to the first lesson of Institutionalized Racism 101: Divide shared economic interests and offer the poor white man first pick of the bus, the toilet, or the water fountain so he knows he’s not a Negro, and he will hand you the presidency. Dr. King already laid that out for us in ’65:

If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. He gave him Jim Crow. And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. And he ate Jim Crow. And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, their last outpost of psychological oblivion.

So what’s next?

I get it. It’s awful. It’s terrifying. It’s devastating. But find yourself a white person and complain to them, then get past your feelings because if you really want to be an ally, we don’t need your posts or your shock or even your tearful apologies, but rather your organizing manpower. People of color have always resisted and you can follow us. You can’t be with her anymore, so be with us.

And to my black and brown brothers and sisters reading this, I won’t tell you to not be discouraged, for I am discouraged. I will not tell you that we shall overcome, for I am tired of overcoming. I will not tell you to keep on keepin’ on like there’s any other option for us. I will only say that I will resist alongside you in love and justice because we come from a tradition of resistance. In the words of Jay Smooth:

What I know is that we will resist. We come from a tradition of resistance…They wanna talk about ‘Make America Great Again.’ What I know is the only glimpse of greatness this country has ever had, the only glimpse of the ideals this country was founded on that we’ve ever had is because of our resistance. Because we dragged America to it kicking and screaming — that is our part in this story. And the kickers and screamers won last night…I don’t know what comes next. But I know that we are going to wake up tomorrow and do what we have always done: We will be there for each other, we will support each other, we will defend each other, we will love each other. And we will spend the next four years giving them something to kick and scream about.

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