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I have been struggling all day in an attempt to identify my feelings and reactions to what has just happened in this country. My initial reaction was one of overwhelming sadness. I went to sleep last night weeping at the realization that what had seemed so unimaginable and beyond all legitimate possibility, was now a reality.
That sadness continued throughout my morning routine. I awoke and sat in the silence of my bedroom, counting the number of pens on my desk in an effort to defer the panic boiling within me. I brushed my teeth with the same morning apathy I normally carry, except for noticing in the mirror that I was still crying (I guess after so long, the body knows when to go numb). Forgetting both my cup of coffee and my medication, I hurried out the door to the train. I called my mother, hoping that she might be able to offer even a few words of encouragement on this awful morning.
She then said the few words that I’d been fuming with anger about as I scrolled through my Twitter and Facebook feeds: “Just calm down, it won’t affect your daily life all that much.”
It is essential that we take the time to deconstruct that comment and analyze from a critical lens, just how inaccurate that statement is. To start, that seems like an absurd thing to mention for intimate personal reasons. When I realized I was gay at my private Lutheran High School on Long Island, I spent the majority of my nights lying to the people who loved me most about who I was hanging out with and with what intentions. I was coerced into going to confession on a regular basis to make amends with my religion, a religion that is supposed to accept its followers with the grace of God.
I spent years hiding my authentic self to preserve the comfort of making zeppoles with my Grandpa and playing cards with my aunts and uncles. I pretended on fishing trips with my dad that I wasn’t going through an immense crisis with my identity, and baited hooks in silence. See, my own experience with oppression has made me uncomfortably aware of the ways in which inequality and oppression silence the voices of the oppressed.
I’ve seen firsthand how heteronormativity and homophobia chip away at your confidence with every hurtful comment, judgment and dirty look on the T as you kiss your partner on the cheek.
We, as women, are also directly affected by this election on a daily basis due to our gender identity. My past few years of college have recently made me more aware of the intensity of gender inequality. As a recently bar-hopping young-adult, I have witnessed how some men feel entitled to women’s bodies. I have seen random strangers grope and intimidate my female friends and call them “baby” with no right or position to do so other than their own male privilege and hyper-masculinity.
I’ve had to remind people at bars that their $6 purchase of a Harpoon IPA does not grant them the right to sleep with me. As a survivor of sexual assault, I’ve apologized for any “mixed signals” I may have given (too manipulated by sexism and the objectification of female bodies to realize that yelling NO is the only signal I needed to give). I watched as the man who assaulted me went up to his buddies and fist-pounded the two of them for getting laid at the expense of my trust in intimacy and weeks of sleepless nights.
The election of Donald Trump is a triggering and traumatic event in my own personal life, and yet I’m still on the luckier side of this equation.
While I’ve had my fair share of oppression, I must also recognize my privilege within my own life experience. Now- this is the most important part, the part that people like my mother are missing in assuming that daily life is not affected by this significant political decision. The ability to feel less affected by this decision than others is the direct consequence of privilege. Even for folks who’ve been oppressed, even for people who’ve marched and protested for their own rights, it is fundamental to the development of humanity and the hope for change that we exist in a state of total awareness of the ways in which our identities privilege us over others.
It is crucial that we are more empathetic to those living amidst the oppression and institutions that we cannot understand. We need to shift our attention to the narratives that are at risk by the election of Donald Trump; we must stand in solidarity with those communities which lack the media attention and resources to spark an immediate revolution.
Lastly, we must reach out to those we love and those who are strangers, for the absence of dignity in this election has taught me that the ultimate way to combat the bigotry and hatred presented by Donald Trump is to practice the ways of loving kindness to all who are around us. It is hard not to feel sad on this dreary day in November.
Making my afternoon tea is no less apathetic than brushing my teeth, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t taste the saltiness in my tea from my tears. My only hope in overcoming this unbelievable sense of loss and sorrow is that we can join together to act upon this recently ignited, burning fire for justice. As I spent today at my internship, working alongside some very concerned refugees and immigrants, I discovered the power of bleeding hearts joining together in the fight for social change. This political tragedy has to be a lesson in the roles that each of us take in molding ourselves a better place to live and breathe; we must reconsider our privilege and the honest truth that for many Americans, activism is not a choice but a fundamental method of survival.
It’s a long road ahead. I’ve already had a tough fight for my rights as an out and proud, gay female, and fortunately I’ve got a whole lot of fight (and love) still in me. Maybe, just maybe, we can learn from this election and collaborate together against inequality, in a truly multiracial, intersectional and compassionate way.
Ashly Uss ’17