On Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, I was devastated. I was afraid of what a Trump presidency would mean for many of my friends and fellow students. I remember calling my friend Anna, who was a freshman at KU at the time, and crying together. I stayed at my parents’ house that night instead of returning to my dorm. My heart was broken. This was the first time I learned that America was not what I had thought it was.
Over two years later, on March 10, 2019, I wrote a personal essay for my literary nonfiction class entitled “Opposites Attract: My Relationship and Polarized America.” In this piece I examined why I was willing to date a guy who voted for Trump but would become angered when my great aunt posted divisive memes on Facebook. In the end, I decided that I should provide the same grace to my great aunt that I did to my boyfriend. I never endorsed Trump, but I allowed room for Trump supporters and their feelings to be legitimate in my life.
I was wrong. I had it the wrong way around.
A few weeks ago, I remembered that I had written a piece that took such a pussyfooting, middle of the road position. I told my mom that I disagreed with it vehemently. And I do. I am ashamed that I ever wrote a piece excusing support for such a pitiful excuse for a president. I’m ashamed that I turned that piece in for a class, and that I ever promoted that opinion as belonging to me in any way.
But this piece that I’m writing now is not an excuse for my behavior. It’s an acknowledgement of the white privilege that allowed me to think that such a stance was permissible.
I am glad that I never tried to get this piece published in any medium other than a workshop.
There was a writer in that class who was strongly opposed to the position I posed in my piece. I didn’t really understand why. To me, the middle ground had seemed like the only option to get through to Trump supporters at all. I was supposed to care about these people, so why not try to see things from their perspectives?
Now, I admire this classmate for vocalizing his disdain for my take, similar to the way I respect a classmate from senior year of highschool who challenged a poem I wrote for focusing on white guilt
Not only do I agree with these former classmates, but I’m also trying to be like them, calling others out when they aren’t doing enough to fight for the freedoms that all Americans are supposedly entitled to.
I was blinded by my white privilege. I was going to be okay, even if Trump did any of the things he has done to hurt BIPOC communities. Where had the fire gone that melted my heart at the loss of Hillary Clinton, a candidate who honestly wouldn’t have done enough for BIPOC citizens herself? What had happened to the fear I felt for certain people I knew and went to class with?
My white privilege, tindered by the white supremacy that runs to the core of the United States of America, had blinded me to things that I was so concerned about when Trump took office. Those things didn’t affect me, and it felt easier to forgive my Trump-supporting family members than to stay scared and angry.
Honestly, the insurrection that happened at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6 doesn’t affect me directly, either. If I chose to hide behind my whiteness, I would be okay, even if the coup had been successful.
The last piece I wrote for UNews was published on Nov. 9, 2020, six days after Election Day and two days after the results came in confirming Democrat and former Vice President Joe Biden as the next president of the United States of America. I called it “Dear white women, our kindness is worthless,” and I talked about how offering forgiveness to the white supremacists and their sympathizers who voted for Donald Trump was neither helpful nor productive.
In the wake of an attempted coup, this remains true. Unity is not and should not be a priority at this moment in time, especially not for white, left-leaning people. Unity is easy to call for when we’re white. When people rationalizing the coup doesn’t terrorize us on a deep, foundational level. If we are feeling the urge to call for unity, for forgiveness, for anything other than jail time to anyone who thinks a coup in favor of Donald Trump, a violent tantrum in response to the loss of an election in which more citizens voted than have in years, is just, then we are the proud owners of white privilege.
They call ignorance bliss for a reason. Of course it would feel nicer to ignore the white supremacy which is core to our country and move on with our lives. Of course it would be great to forget the coup ever happened. To do that, though, to speak “unity” but to mean unity with white rioters, makes us abbetters to terrorism.
President-elect Joe Biden tweeted out on Jan. 6 that “America is so much better than what we’re seeing today.” He was wrong. America, in so many ways, has proven to us that it is the exact kind of place where white privilege and white supremacy allow an innocent woman to be shot while sleeping in her own bed and at the same time allow a white mob to illegally flood the Capitol building.
This is evident in the murder of every Black citizen by a cop. This is evident in every 911 call by a white lady on a lemonade stand or a man bird watching in the park. None of these stories are new. They are what America has always been.
So you just learned that your privilege tints the world for you. Santa Clause isn’t real, and now the lie you’ve been told your whole life has left you in despair. Well, don’t worry. You can fill that pit with knowledge, garnered from Black activists and writers like Blair Imani, Ijeoma Oluo, and Ibram X Kendi, among many other talented and giving individuals. Please use content provided by these gracious creators and do not ask BIPOC people to do work to fix your privilege which they have not freely offered to do themselves. You will get better, but only if you put your mind to it and try.