Starting to Give a Damn

We have legitimized hate.

We have glorified intolerance.

We have elected a new President of the United States.

I sat on the floor of an academic building at the university that I attend and I watched as my home, my country ignored any strand of human decency. I just sat there and I watched as we uplifted a man to the highest public office in our country, our home, as if he deserves it.

As if our people deserve it.

I sat and I listened to people brush off this election as something that was “unexpected.”

But maybe we should have expected it.

Maybe I should have expected it when he talked about building the wall, when he crucified a woman’s appearance, when he engaged with white supremacists. The first time.

Maybe I should have expected it when he proposed a database to track Muslims or when he made fun of a reporter’s physical disability. Maybe I should have expected it when he responded to the massive hate crime against the LGBTQIA+ community at Pulse nightclub with “Appreciate the congrats for being right on Islamic terrorism.”

Maybe I should have expected it when he proposed to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, when he called black people “thugs,” when he was accused of sexual assault. The first time.

The first time.

Maybe I should have expected it when people were still supporting him no matter what he said or did, no matter how many times he dehumanized people.

Because he did.

With every hateful word, with every derogatory phrase, he stripped our friends, our peers, and human beings more similar to us than different, of their humanity.

But how are you ever supposed to expect that millions of people will vote for a man to lead our country despite having said these things? How are you ever supposed to understand that millions of people voted for a man to lead our country because he said these things?

How are women, people of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community ever supposed to prepare themselves for such large-scale dehumanization? How is anyone ever supposed to brace themselves for 59 million people casting a vote that says your life means less?

I should have known that if millions of people could just overlook his comments about Muslims, about black and brown people, about women, that we were in danger.

I should have known that if people couldn’t care about their neighbors, their coworkers, their peers, their mothers, daughters, sisters, or friends, there was no way they were going to ever care about strangers.

I should have known that people don’t care.

But I didn’t.

So I sat, crying, on the floor of Sanford, surrounded by Duke students and faculty and watched as political commentators talked about anything but the legitimization of hatred and intolerance that was happening right before our eyes.

I heard no one talk about the people whose lives mean less because of this Trump victory.

I heard people talk about Trump. I heard them talk about the polls. I heard them talk about politics. Yet, I heard no one actively acknowledge that this election isn’t about any of that at all.

It is about every sick, malicious thing that he has said. It is about the way that he has degraded people. It is about the ways that, in every comment, he has made it okay to distrust Muslims, to think of Latinx people as if they don’t belong in the United States, to think of Black people as if they are dangerous, to think of anyone who identifies as LGBTQIA+ as wrong and insignificant, and to think of women as nothing more than housewives and sexual objects.

It isn’t about the economy right now, because it isn’t about what this election means for politics. It is about what this election means for human beings.

Please, someone tell me how to look in the eye those who will be most affected by this tragedy and tell them that there are millions of people who could have chosen to protect their rights and instead chose to vote for a man who barely considers them worthy. Please someone tell me how to look the black eighth grade girl that I tutor in the eye and tell her to fight when she already has an uphill battle to begin with.

Please tell me how to refrain from telling children, refrain from telling all of the people who didn’t have a vote, that they have been wronged. Please tell me how to not lie when I say everything is going to be okay because it isn’t for everyone.

Please, someone tell me how to believe it.

On Tuesday, November 8th, millions of Americans said that hate was okay, said that they would rather elect a President who epitomizes intolerance, prejudice, and discrimination, than a woman, who has made mistakes, but never once during this election publicly discriminated against a marginalized group of people.

So I sit.

I sit and think about the people of color in our country, of Muslims, of the folks in the LGBTQIA+ community, of women.

And I think: why aren't you?

To all of you: I will not feel it like all of you will feel it, here on my privileged hill. I will not bear the brunt of this election, just like many other privileged people, and we must acknowledge that privilege.

We must acknowledge that just because Clinton is on track to win the popular vote doesn’t mean anything to the people that have already experienced hate crimes because of this election. A majority means nothing when graffiti in Durham says, “Black lives don’t matter and neither does you vote.” A popular vote doesn’t change that multiple Muslim woman have been attacked because they were wearing hijabs, because they were dressing according to their religion. It certainly doesn’t help ease the fear that the black students felt at the University of Pennsylvania after being added to a GroupMe named “Mudmen” talking about lynching.

In fact, the popular vote means nothing to me. Not when people fear for their lives. Not when Hillary should have won by a vast margin. Not when Donald Trump, and all his hate, is still the President-elect.

If there is anything to feel because of this election, it is to feel for the innocent people who have been told that their lives do not matter.

So please do not talk to me in classes, or write emails to the entire student body, about “understand[ing] the meaning of this election for America” because believe me, I understand.

I understand that there is nothing more to know here than that there is still an exorbitant amount of hate and intolerance in our world. There is nothing more to understand here than that an injustice has been committed. There is nothing more to understand here than that millions of Americans could care less about human decency.

Do not pretend like the protests are dramatic, like the fear isn’t warranted. Do not sit at an elite university, or anywhere for that matter, and act like the people who are the most affected do not know what they are up against.

It is about their lives. It is about some of our lives. It is about the lives of people not unlike us.

And we should really start giving a damn.


Kristina Smith