Lightning Flashes Over Downtown Houston
I fell asleep Tuesday night with election coverage on the TV. I couldn’t believe my eyes as the east coast results were almost a dead heat between the two major candidates. Could half of America really support a candidate who ran a campaign based on fear and hate?
I woke up to my husband hanging his head and quietly telling me Trump had indeed won. I’ve been trying to process this in the days since. Apparently it’s not uncommon for people on a mass scale to experience the five stages of grief post-election. It’s not the same for everyone. People experience the stages in different orders and may skip certain stages all together. I realized I was indeed experiencing these things. The past day has been anger. Anger fueled by white men sharing articles written by white men saying racism wasn’t what won the election for Trump. To simply dismiss the severity of the President-elect fostering and promoting racist ideals is disheartening. White males are able to dismiss these valid concerns because it’s not something they have to live with or deal with on a daily basis. The rest of us can’t ignore the celebrations from white nationalists, Klu Klux Klan members, and the alt-right.
Story after story, starting with post-election day 1, came pouring in of violence and hate incited by white Trump supporters. In particular women of color seem to be the target of this hateful rhetoric and actions. A favorite spot for harassing venerable women is the gas station. It’s happened to me. I’ve been harassed pumping gas, walking to the convenience store, or even sitting in my car. It’s scary because you feel trapped. And the males know you’re held captive for however long it takes the car to refuel. Sadly, school aged children and college students have been the recipients of this hate as well. Swastikas substituted for the T in Trump are scrawled on the walls. Latino children are handed fake letters of deportation by whites cheerily saying they have won, now get out. Muslim women are having their hijabs snatched off their heads. So why are we being told to move on and quit our whining, after all we lost? But we didn’t lose. Only 25% of Americans want Trump to represent them. How can we just go silent when our interests and lives are in jeopardy because of the President-elect?
Because it was causing personal distress, I tried and failed to distance myself from the news and media. Frustrated, I realized that’s not the answer. Change will never come if we bury our heads in the sand. It’s my responsibility to stay informed and defend my values. I want to stand up for my community. My community includes Mexicans, Latinos, Muslims, women, and LGTBQ people.
Looking at the voting maps, it became clear it wasn’t a state to state issue. But rather rural versus urban opposition. The weekend before the election I left my urban home to travel to rural Georgia to support my family (in-laws) in a time of grief. My urban bubble was popped. I was surrounded by white Trump supporters. I tried my best not to start political conversations because I knew we would not change each others mind. It was neither the time nor place. However with the election so close, it proved impossible. I listened to why they voted for Trump. I was quoted Fox News headlines. I sat there and fact-checked many claims and successfully disputed them. At that point though, it didn’t matter.
Returning home and shortly after getting the election results, I tried desperately to look for the good. Would the political system actually be shaken up? Would it be for the sake of change or would it be successful in championing middle class Americans? I don’t know. But in light of the violence, I realized I felt relatively safe because of where I live. It’s a southern state. Yes, there are many conservatives. But those people live next to and work with a diverse group of people. People in rural areas aren’t in the same position. The concerns of minorities are so far removed they aren’t even considered.
I grew up in a small city in Alabama. The kind of place where racism is mostly quiet. Neighboring towns had the more open, vocal, mean-spirited kind of racism. The problem with quiet racism is the people honestly don’t consider themselves racist. That’s dangerous. Men would tell me they would never date a black woman. Upon seeing the look of horror on my face, they’d say ‘oh, you’re different’. As if that would placate me. It’s okay that my skin is light brown and not dark brown. Gotcha.
Even my closest friends, who I know loved me, would say things like ‘Oh, I forget you’re not white.’ It may be difficult to understand why that’s wrong and hurtful. It says to me, your personality and interests are like mine so I look at you like a white person. But I’m not white. My ethnicity is part of who I am but it was dismissed. They were able to get over my otherness because of how I acted and dressed.
With these thoughts heavy on my mind, memories of my experiences with racism came flooding back. The time a police officer pulled my friend over and pulled me out of the car because I looked suspicious. I was separated from my white friends and told to stand at the front of the car. I was asked if I had methamphetamine in my bra. I was told when the drug dog arrived he would bite me. There I stood in my kangaroo PJ bottoms (we were driving home from college) feeling scared, feeling my otherness. Or the time my husband and I couldn’t get service in a restaurant in Savannah, Georgia. With quiet racism they non-verbally told us they didn’t approve of our interracial relationship. Our money didn’t warrant the same service as the white couples around us. With these memories, however, came a wave of gratitude and thankfulness.
Thankfulness for my home of the past two and a half years–Houston, Texas. Yes, Texas. Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the nation. This shocked me too when I moved here. Having moved here from Atlanta I hadn’t thought much of it. According to the 2010 census, the population of Atlanta was over half African-American. So to me, I had already been living in a diverse city.
People move to Houston from a huge variety of countries. Whether oil or the economy brings them here, there is opportunity for a successful life. As a food photographer, I get to see the plethora of immigrants owning and running family restaurants. The pride they have in serving quality food to their customers is admirable. Their children, often first-generation Americans, work alongside them. A true example of the American dream. I could eat my way through the world’s cuisines without leaving this city.
It’s not just that a diverse group of people live here. It’s that they are wholly embraced. There isn’t the mentality of you do white things so you’re an honorary white person. Differences are truly embraced and celebrated. It may sound cheesy and trite, but it’s all true. In this, I have found thankfulness.