Dear White Liberal Friends, Family, and Peers
Image by Tim Pierce via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0
It’s been just over a week since the 2016 United States presidential election results were announced. To say that the Republican Party’s victory stirred up heated nationwide debate is the understatement of the year. Since election night, many people have experienced a myriad of powerful (and sometimes conflicting) emotions. This is especially true for those of us who either voted for a candidate other than Trump and/or are part of any of the marginalized communities whose safety, fundamental rights, and political representation are threatened by the impending Trump administration and all it represents.
Our feelings are confusing and overwhelming to say the least. Many of us may be experiencing uncertainty, fear, anger, despair, frustration (to name a few). Regardless of what each of us feels at this moment in time, we must recall that our emotions are, above all else, valid.
Generally speaking, social media is a platform for individual political sentiments to be voiced. It gives those with access to Wi-Fi and any social networking account the opportunity to post or re-post content that reflects our beliefs. Since Tuesday, my social media timelines have been flooded by a seemingly perpetual stream of fake-woke liberal white feminist proverbs that, frankly, are painfully problematic and extremely frustrating.
Before I expand on this, I want to emphasize the following points: I agree with many white liberals that Trump is under-qualified for any political leadership position in our government. Like them, I am opposed to virtually all that he embodies and the so-called Conservative “values” he stands for. I am utterly disgusted by the offensive rhetoric and ideas that plagued his campaign for a year and a half. I, too, did not cast my ballot for Trump-Pence on November 8. Rather, I spent the greater part of the past 16 months trying to make sense of the ongoing hate speech and ignorance Trump (and his supporters) spewed or acted on. My friends and I learned to prioritize our emotional wellness, reminding each other to remain undiscouraged by Trump’s growing popularity in order to thrive in our day-to-day endeavors.
After reading several dozen articles and engaging in multiple dialogues focused on the 2016 presidential election, I am conflicted about how I feel right now. I will readily admit that it has taken me some time to process the election results. Like many of you, I am also questioning what I can (and should) do in light of the recent GOP victory. To be honest, I am still in the works of truly accepting that Donald Trump and Mike Pence are the United States president and vice president-elects, respectively. However, my feelings are not due to a blissful rejection of facts or a blatant unawareness of the election results. My difficulty in processing this news does not stem from a denial of the legitimacy of the electoral college (albeit an arguably troubling and antiquated institution). Like many of you, I have yet to come to terms fully with what Trump’s victory will mean for the future of our planet and for millions of people (both domestic and abroad) in years to come.
My own privilege has protected me from enduring many of the daily horrors that countless minorities have faced since the election. The daughter of Spanish-speaking immigrants, I proudly identify as a woman of color and “first-generation” American citizen. I am also financially secure, cissexual, heterosexual, able-bodied, and in the process of completing my undergraduate education at a world-renowned institution. And despite the presence of Trump supporters and sympathizers amongst my peers, the UCLA community is overwhelmingly comprised of other students of color. Many of us are aware of the dangerous consequences of the Trump-Pence victory, either due to personal experiences, intercultural exposure, or our privileged access to a plethora of information. And because our university campus (and the city of Los Angeles) are fairly liberal environments, generally speaking our bodies are not under immediate attack. These are privileges that I do not take for granted.
Despite this emotional rollercoaster, I can confidently say I believe that those of us who are anti-Trump (and all that his presidency could entail) would make better use of our time by focusing our collective energies and talents on critiquing and ultimately dismantling the pre-existing systems that enabled Trump’s victory to begin with. Systems that historically and presently enable voter suppression and disenfranchisement, robbing many people of a voice in our government. This is where my problem with many white liberals surfaces.
Many of you likely grew up, or were educated, in liberal and socially progressive bubbles. Having lived in DC for the greater part of my life, I too was conditioned to believe that Americans truly live in a post-racial, just, and inclusive society. This is a lie. And if the outcome of the presidential election is what it took for you to realize this, please consider what this says about your privilege and your place in American society.
An SNL skit from earlier this week (titled “Election Night”) uses comedy and satire to drive this same point home for its viewers. The skit, starring Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock, draws attention to the threats that said white liberals pose to intersectional politics and consequently to social justice liberation efforts (especially those that implicate people of color). Because the skit seems less overtly critical of this problematic behavior than other mediums, it is possible to overlook the powerful underlying truths that SNL writers sought to convey loudly and clearly to viewers everywhere.
Additionally, university campuses in liberal cities (or even in liberal pockets of red states) are the perfect breeding grounds of said pseudo-feminist and liberal politics. If I were handed a wad of consolatory Benjamins for every time I witnessed white liberals express how “shocked” they are by the election results or say that they “can’t believe this happened,” I would have enough money to cover the full cost of my next quarter at UCLA.
News flash, it happened. Donald J. Trump is the president-elect of the United States, a fact which should not come as a surprise to those who are aware of our country’s past and present socio-political circumstances. The proponents of these faux intersectional ideologies often perpetuate misinformed rhetoric about what they believe went down on November 8th. More importantly, many of them do so while recognizing neither their privileges and complicity in the election of Trump, nor the benefits that they (as white Americans) will potentially reap as a result of his administration.
Dear white liberal friends, family, and peers: by merely expressing discontent at the electoral results because you “really thought America would elect its first female president,” you are doing nothing more than squashing whatever sense of (white) guilt you are experiencing. For the white women still donning the “I’m With Her” slogan, please inform yourself of the ways in which your demographic chose Trump (a misogynist candidate) over Clinton-Kane, whose political platforms embraced progression of women’s rights in America. In actuality, this adamant focus on what the GOP victory means for “women everywhere” often exclusively refers to the circumstances of white women and is thus the embodiment of white feminism. This white feminist stance is a reflection of white privilege, a privilege that many white liberal women seem reluctant to admit exists and prevails in spite of the oppressions they may face due to their gender and other marginalizing factors. This argument ignores intersectional politics because it does not acknowledge the double or triple jeopardy of women of color, queer women, or any of the overlapping identities that are subjected to oppression.
Contrary to the overarching messages we may have been fed by moderate, liberal, and conservative media alike, Trump-like figures are the product of our White Supremacist capitalist patriarchy, 230 years in the making. His victory did not solely (or even principally) result from the actions of third party voters, uneducated Southern white male voters, or even ethnic minorities who did not go to the polls. Rather, in looking for answers, we should examine not only the flaws of the Democratic party but also the institutionalized forms of oppression that have shaped the course of American history for several centuries. Namely, de jure and de facto forms of racism, misogyny, islamophobia, xenophobia, and homophobia are among the key underlying factors that allowed for Trump, and the countless leaders who mirror his views, to get where he is today, unchecked.
To many people of color, women, queer people, immigrants, and other marginalized groups, especially those whose identities lie at the intersection of two or more of these groups, the facts all point to a dark, troubling and (plot twist) age-old reality: the systems I am talking about have formed a part of America’s societal and political framework since our country’s inception. With this in mind, do not dismiss the greater causes, effects, and implications of the Trump-Pence victory. Recognize the legacies of oppressive American power structures for what they are. When I speak of complicity, I do not mean that each white American is single-handedly responsible for committing verbal and physical violence against marginalized groups. Rather, I am hinting at the fact that the “white” identity– and the place of many white people in our great American tale– is rooted in the oppression of less dominant groups.
So excuse me if part of me wants to scream every time I see a white liberal use the #StillWithHer or #LoveTrumpsHate hashtags without addressing systems of oppression. This is not because these messages are problematic or harmful in themselves; instead it is because those who use them often fail to address the “bigger picture” when analyzing the election’s results. If you, as a white individual, have yet to recognize this, please take some time to consider the following points about the likely implications of your whiteness in the course of this election season.
Dear white liberal friends, family, and peers: please check your privilege. You know who you are. I am content (and even relieved) that many of you are so staunchly opposed to Tuesday’s election results and all that 4-8 years of a Trump presidency could entail. But do not forget for a single moment that you, as a white American, are inherently complicit in the complex web of issues that led to the victory of the Trump-Pence.
Dear white liberal friends, family, and peers: I cannot stress enough how important your allyship is in achieving radical socio-political change. But know that professing on your social media platforms how “shocked” you are by Trump’s victory is a form of subtly ignoring the circumstances of the many people whose security, rights, and bodies are most at stake, both historically and in present times. Additionally, attempting to tone-police or quell the surge of emotions that marginalized individuals feel in regards to the Trump-Pence victory and any other instances of white supremacist power is counter-productive.
Dear white liberal friends, family, and peers: I, too, am all for participating in demonstrations and protests. After all, public manifestations against social injustices are a constitutionally protected right that, in theory, is at the reach of all American citizens. Like many of you, I have participated in a multitude of peaceful demonstrations, mostly while in high school in Washington, DC and even while at college in Los Angeles. I am angered by those who have fiercely criticized or disapproved of people’s decision to protest Trump, but did not voice their opposition to the anti-Obama demonstrations that took place in the past 8 years. In no way do I subscribe to or condone the double standards that these critics apply in condemning one form of protesting, and not the other. But it seems that the narratives that dictate many of said anti-Trump (or pro-Hillary?) protests (or the mentalities that motivated you to come out in the first place) too often are narrow in scope.
Don’t get me wrong– I totally understand why chanting “Fuck Trump” (among other slogans) on Pennsylvania Ave is important or self-empowering for many people (I, too, have uttered these words with contempt because yes, FDT). But do mindfully consider that as a white person, vocalizing how upset you are by the Trump-Pence victory while simultaneously proclaiming your longing for “happier” and “better” days (or flashing “love trumps hate” posters and thinking this idea is somehow revolutionary) is essentially of no help to anyone but yourself. In fact, it exacerbates the underlying issues that subjugate certain groups in America on the political stage, while elevating the voices of other more dominant groups. This narrative is an insidious form of erasure because it simplifies the complexities of the issues that marginalized communities face and overlooks the present day circumstances of the millions of people whose existences and identities the political duo have shown minimal respect for.
Dear white liberal friends, family, and peers: yes, I realize that Thanksgiving this year will be especially tough for you given the recently exacerbated ideological divides within our nation’s political climate. I know that the palpable tension between your pro and anti-Trump family members could metaphorically replace the knife used to cut slices in the fat turkey you will all share. But instead of dismissing your extended relatives’ usual “harmless” or “misinformed” comments that perpetuate bigotry in any form, get over yourself and say something. You’ve heard it before, but I will say it again: white silence is violence. Marginalized groups have been drawing attention to and resisting the oppressive forces faced by their communities throughout the entirety of U.S. history. Yet it should not be the sole responsibility of the oppressed to address and subsequently resolve the issues created by (and that exist to the benefit of) their oppressors. This year, rather than slipping into your kitchen for a third glass of (spiked) eggnog, try to engage your loved ones in educated, politically charged conversations. Instead of remaining complacent in the face of verbal violence, learn to use your white privilege to address the critical social issues with your family, friends, and peers.
Lastly, dear white liberal friends, family, and peers: please spare me the “not all white people” argument. It is both insulting and pointless to pride yourself in being the “exception” to the rule of white supremacy in order to rid yourself of whatever guilt you may feel over the position you occupy in our society. If you, a white liberal, have read this article and genuinely found that none of the points I have addressed apply to you, then great– keep doing what you’re doing.
But if any of the behaviors I have pointed to do in fact resonate personally with your own actions or choices, I hope that you take the time to reflect more deeply on the issues I have spoken about and challenge your notions about the history of so-called American democracy. There is room for growth in each of us, and by reexamining ourselves and recognizing our positionality, we can take steps towards adjusting our patterns in constructive ways.
Dear white liberal friends, family, and peers: that being said, I urge each of you to please think twice before posting your indignant Facebook statuses, Tweets, and Instagram captions in regards to election night. A hard look at history will confirm that good intentions alone never produced radical changes that impacted the fate of humanity. For many of you, the intentions behind these posts are good, but they are also misinformed. Stop for a moment to consider the role that you must play in dismantling systems of white supremacy, misogyny, xenophobia, and other forms of oppression that together make up our country’s problematic socio-political fabric. Regardless of where each white American stands on the political spectrum, it is of utmost importance that they individually check their privilege, and then revisit the Trump-Pence victory through a more holistic and informed lens.