November 22, 2016

To My Friend Who Voted Trump (With Love From Your Brown Immigrant Female Friend)

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What is the issue?
Ben White
Ben White

My friend,

You might be wondering what in the world has possessed me to go from our usual Snapchat, text messages, or even Facebook conversations to writing an a letter as a form of communication, much less such a long one. I knew I was going to have a lot to say on the topic of the election, and honestly, sometimes shortcuts just don’t cut it, and so much gets lost in translation with something like a text.

I hope you will take this as an objective fact, with no further analysis intended, that everyone that voted for Trump in my own social circle is white. In fact, you are one of the handful of people I know who voted for Trump rather than Clinton. Tongue in cheek, from my perspective in regards to this matter, you are a minority.

So, I wanted to share my thoughts with you because you are very important to me, and I greatly respect your intelligence and judgement. I know you will not invalidate my thoughts and feelings like they don’t matter, but will try your best to understand where I am coming from. I know that even if you think I’m being too dramatic or too bitter, for instance, you will take the effort to understand why or what I truly mean. Otherwise we wouldn’t be friends, would we?

When I was talking to you soon after we heard about Trump’s victory, about feeling unsure of my future as a brown immigrant woman in my own country and about being terrified for my own family and friends as immigrants, you tried to reassure me that this new presidency would only be focusing on the illegal immigrants, and that I or my family would not be touched as naturalized citizens. You suggested to me that perhaps I was getting to emotional about the topic.
I wanted to express all of this to you then. But in my shock and disbelief at America making this choice, I was unable to articulate the exact fears I had. Please let me do so now.

I will have to concede that you are right to suggest that I am emotional about the topic. I suppose I can’t help but get emotional about it, because after all, fear, hurt, rejection, betrayal and uncertainty are all emotions.

So, why exactly am I so afraid of this presidency and what it means for the citizenship I have in this country? Is it an irrational fear?

Most Trump voters that I know are not who I see as his core supporters. Most Trump voters that I know are upper middle or middle class Americans (mainly white Americans had his vote, I believe), who have been voting the Republican party line for quite some time. They have been voting this way because they may agree with certain fiscal policies, foreign policies or with having a smaller government.

For me, a core Trump supporter is one who has bought into the Birther movement, believed Tea Party rhetoric, thinks that there are “real” and “fake” Americans, that a blacked out drunk woman is easy prey rather than someone to be protected and is one who actively chooses Trump’s form of hate. Demographically speaking, that has been a blue collar, working class Caucasian male in a rural or sub-rural area, but of course I don’t think that all of the people who fit into the above are bigots.

These are two distinct groups. But we are all one society.

We we elected Trump, we signaled the world that even if the electoral majority of his country didn’t believe his version of hate, they still could allow it.

We didn’t tell this man, who dared to say that people of certain colors weren’t real Americans, that there was no place for that kind of talk in our country. We didn’t tell this man, who belittled unconventionally beautiful women and assaulted conventionally beautiful ones that in this country women aren’t just respected, they are revered. We didn’t tell this man who mocked a disabled reporter on television that in this country, we don’t laugh at real medical issues and that we don’t make anyone feel small because they may have them.

Not every American is white. Not every American is male. Not every American is healthy. But that’s what we told the world that we only wanted to be seen as. We are all accountable, you, me, and everyone around us for the message we have just sent. By allowing Trump’s hate to win, even though most of his voters may not feel that hate, our country told the haters and the bigots that their hate was okay; that they had a right to hate someone based on their ethnicity, color, nationality, gender, sexuality, or disability.

I love this country so much. Coming to America when I was six years old will forever be one of the best decisions that my parents made for me. I remember as a four or five year old watching television in Mumbai, watching what might have been a re-run perhaps, of a blond woman in a pink suit say in front of the UN assembly that “women’s rights are human rights.” I remember my mother telling me that this was the wife of the president of the United States, and my father telling me that there was no country that matched what the US was in the world. To the both of them, this was the greatest country in the world. To me, who learnt Bill Clinton’s name before she learnt the name of the Indian prime minister, it still is the greatest country in the world today. It will always be so.

But I don’t agree with the choices that my country made.

I understand that Hillary represented hesitations and distrust to some Americans, but to me, at least she didn’t represent hate against people of a certain color, women, immigrants, disabled people etc. When a large majority of the country chose a man that did, today, I feel as if I, and those like me, have been rejected by our own country.

Do you not want me, America?

Do you not want me, America, because my parents’ jobs- which they have excelled at on their own merit and which add to the US GDP anyways – may take away the jobs of those who were born here? Do you not want me, America, because after seventeen years of living here, you think whatever job I get should still go to a “real American”? Or do you not want me America, because you think the color of my skin isn’t as light as you still, over sixty years after MLK, like American skin to be?

Will you think, America, in the future, that because my skin is brown, and because I have no issues standing up with my friends who choose to say Mashallah rather than Amen, that I am suddenly a threat? Do you think America that I’m not patriotic or a “real American” because I don’t think that only one religious group should be singled out and vetted when coming into my country? Or that my heart doesn’t surge with pride at the sight of my flag simply because I think building a wall between at our national border is impractical, unfeasible, unnecessary, stupid, and not to mention a racist implication against people from our neighboring country?

How would you have me empower the sexual assault survivors that I work with, America, when their president has been accused of the same crime and has sued his accusing victims in retaliation? How do I tell the seventy three year old survivor that her voice will be heard? How do I tell the two year old survivor that it is not her fault?

What do I tell them, America? Do I tell them that they are respected, but only if they agree that they don’t have any rights to their own bodies and don’t make “a fuss” about it? What about when funding for rape kits, preventive AIDS medication, and Plan B for survivors goes way, America? What do I tell them then?
Are you disowning me, America, because I think that as a woman, I have the right to decide for my own body, both in regards to what I choose to push out of it, and what I choose to let near or into it? Will you disown me one day for making a personal choice that you gave me the right to make?

Am I not American? And if I am, if I truly genuinely am, how could all the people I know that decided to allow and enable hate, forget me? How could they not care that the message that they were sending to the real nutcases, to the real racists, to the real sexists, to the real white supremacists, was that they had won? Why didn’t my friends stand up for me and those like me? Will they do so if hate truly does win, and something does happen to me, those like me, or those who are a minority in another way? Can I trust them to have my back if tomorrow, I’m sent to an internment camp like the Japanese were once? Can I trust them to have the backs of their LGBTQ friends if tomorrow, religious persecution against what’s perceived as an “abomination” starts?

How can I trust them to do something about injustice if it does occur, when it didn’t occur to them that we have just told the unjust that the field is open? No body, no party, no candidate in this election was morally pure. I agree. But how can this man who has openly shown hate and threats to so many Americans simply because they are minorities, be the lesser evil? How can we say that it is okay to divide our country when our children are supposed to recite every morning “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”?

The way I see the two groups are that of “Trump supporter” and “Trump enabler.” By the latter, I mean someone who felt that he or she truly had reason to vote for the man because of who the other choice was or because of his or her fiscal policy opinions. What I don’t mean by the latter is someone consumed with rage or hate for minorities of every type. But what I do mean is someone who actually wouldn’t be affected by this type of hate or rage. What I mean is someone who isn’t and doesn’t have to be afraid today. What I mean is someone who voted for a form of oppression that they knew they wouldn’t be oppressed by.

Today, there are horrific posts on social media, and awful instances I’ve heard on campuses- one of them heard by a Muslim friend of mine on my alma mater’s campus- where the message being spread is clear: “We won, so I don’t need to be politically correct anymore. Who needs immigrants anyways? Leave, terrorist. Fag. What’s wrong with groping and grabbing pussy when I feel like it if my president can do it?”

I’m not making these up, I promise. These are things that have been either posted on twitter or Facebook or actually, really said out loud. For me, the hate is prevalent and the fear is real. I’m less scared about his ridiculous policies and more scared for the reactions and beliefs of his true supporters. I know I seem like I’m pointing fingers, but I’m really not, I promise.

I’m not disowning this country, and as long as I still believe I’m an American, this is my responsibility too. I am accountable for this too. We made this choice as a country, and I’m just trying to explain why I’m terrified by our choice.

So now I come to the part where I must ask something of you. If I know you, I think you’ll do this anyway, but I must ask. Please, please, please, if you see anyone speaking or acting in a racist way, whether you know them or not, stop them. If you see any man groping any girl without her consent, including when she’s too drunk to consent, whether you know him or not, stop that man. If you see any person with a hijab being called a terrorist, please stand up for that person. If you see a LBTQ individual being called an abomination or fag, or being harmed, please do something about it. If you see any African American being told that he or she is genetically less likely to be successful or that he or she lives in poverty because that is what is deserved, please speak up and disagree. You have privilege. You will be heard.

Before you shut me out for using that word, please know that I’m serious- you really truly do.

You are not scared for your family today the same way I am scared for mine.

What I’ve never realized is how many different types of privilege there are. I have been lucky in my childhood because my parents made enough money for me to never care about either money or that kind of privilege in the past. My job allows me to not worry about that kind of privilege in the present. And when I don’t have to worry about a particular privilege, it means that I have that privilege.

But I realize is that there is a type of privilege I don’t have. This election, and our validation of the idea of “real” and “fake” Americans due to skin color reflects the privilege that I don’t have. For the first time, I sense that perhaps there are those who would prefer a white immigrant who has moved to this country yesterday, rather than me who has lived here for seventeen years. I sense that there are those who will always see the former as originally American and me as foreign. That is the privilege I don’t have.

So who has every form of privilege?

Even white women don’t have the most amount of privilege that one can have. The demographic that does, objectively is a financially well off straight white male (conveniently enough, this is the demographic that our esteemed president elect falls into).

Why? Well, as a man, he doesn’t have to worry (at least as much) about being touched or violated without his consent. It can happen, but he doesn’t spend his life being looked as a sexual object of prey. He also will never be thought of as foreign in the United States of America. He will always be thought of as American. As a financially well off man, he is able to use his resources to his advantage. And as a straight man, he is automatically seen as more masculine because he can perpetuate gender oppression by joining the pack in hunting females. I would like to make a note here that money only goes so far, and while money can add to the privilege of a white man to put him above other white men, it cannot place a white woman, or a person of color above a white man. No, this is not me being discriminatory against white men. This is me simply saying that when it comes to safety and a sense of belonging, they have the advantage.

I’m sure that all sounds very critical. It should. I am being critical. I am specifically criticizing the oppression in our society- the oppression that we are now are celebrating with this election.

White males who identify as straight do have the most privilege in our society and there are those who would abuse that privilege. What is at stake with this election is for those men who ignorantly say that to do so has now been proven their right. It can be stopped by someone with intelligence and decency who has even one of the privileges I just mentioned. Someone like you. It takes someone like you to stand up against it for them to be proven wrong.

I am fortunate when it comes to most in regards to the current political climate. I am afraid, but I have less fear than many around me. I am not Muslim, not LGBTQ, not Latino, and not disabled. But I understand where all of them are coming from because I am the child of immigrants. My life has been spent in trying to fit in. I’m sure you have even seen is with me wanting to learn about golf from you for instance.

I am fortunate that the friends I made have never made me feel like I didn’t belong; they accepted me, my culture and my identity wholeheartedly. Consequently they, including you, are incredibly important parts of my life. I’ve never felt like I didn’t belong here, or couldn’t be a real American until now, when I’m hearing all this hate around me.

Compared to most, I too have a lot of privilege. What I am asking of you, is for us to use our privilege for the better. I’m asking for us to squash the pretensions of those who think that hate has won in America, that this beautiful country is going to bear the burden of their bigotry, or that they can insult or harm anyone they choose. Please, please, please speak up if you ever come across anyone like that.

Today, my fear really needs you, and it needs you on my side.

With much love,
Your brown, immigrant, female friend, whose life you’ve enriched and beautified in single every possible way over the entire course of our friendship. TC mark

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