I am an American: A Response to White Tears in the Wake of a Trump Presidency

Last Tuesday everything changed. At the same time, nothing changed. How is that possible? A friend of mine said that we as Americans had an idea of what our country could be, and Obama with his message of change and hope fueled that fantasy. Trump winning was a reminder of who we actually are.

In the wake of the election results, I was once again astounded at the ability of whiteness to center itself. Because I had decided to go back to my alma mater, Wellesley, I was immediately confronted with the sight of rich white ladies in pearls and cashmere, devastated by Hillary’s loss, what they viewed as simply a feminist defeat. Me, awkwardly standing in my Bernie shirt, feeling too numb to even be upset.

In the days that followed, many of my friends contacted me, wanting to process, looking to me-the organizer-for answers on how to get involved. I felt at once validated and overwhelmed. Finally, the work that I had been doing was deemed important in this new state of crisis. On other the other hand, I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and barely had time to process my own complex emotions.

Out of that anger, confusion, hope, and resolution, I wrote this poem that I wanted to share. Hopefully it can speak for itself:

You cry
As though this was the first time
This country has broken your heart
What fruit did you think
Our country would bear
When its roots are constantly watered
By the blood from black and brown bodies

If this is what it took to wake you up
It means you were asleep
To the blood you’ve been feeding on

If you are shocked
I wonder if you’ve ever
Thought seriously
About the stolen land
Our bodies have always
Lived on

If you are ashamed
I wonder what pride you took
Living in houses
Driving on roads
Bought with the price
Of human freedom

If you are mourning
I wonder what you would have been celebrating
Had our country
Continued to pretend
White rage is an isolated experience
Rather than the very foundation of this country

Let me ask you this
For whom do your tears fall?
Because though you say
It is for me
Or for those living further
In this new wasteland
Let me remind you
That a living wage
Was not a reality yesterday
Or last week
Or ever
That some of us are so far past the heartbreak
We do not know how to bleed anymore

Your tears it seems
Is more for your sudden realization
Of what many of us
Have always known
That tolerance is a pretty lie
Painted on the faces of those
Who have the luxury
Of so called civil discourse

So if this is the first time
This country has broken your heart
All I can say is
Welcome

We have not been waiting for you
We have been resisting
Long before you realized
Resistance was necessary
That progress is not linear
That the moral arch of the universe
Only bends towards justice
When there are those willing
To have their spines
Be the backs on which
It bends
And breaks
And snaps

Do not expect your grief to be held
Or your sudden concern
To be revered

If you need to cry
Cry to each other
If you need direction
Write the map yourself
You see, the rest of us
Have always been expected
To build our own roads
And yours

So if you really want to help
Give me a break
And learn to smell
The trash under your nose
The hypocrisy in spaces you thought were safe
Because let me reassure you
You do not need to join a new movement
To resist the next four years
Resistance is not a weekend gig
It does not have term limits
It is a way of being
Awake all the time
To your own homes
Your own workplaces
Your own schools
The ones that have been breaking and beating
And building upon
The very people
You now seem worried for

If you are serious about resistance
Infiltrate every institution in this country
Every boardroom, every office, every school
Make sure not a single space
Can escape being shaken awake
By a reality that has always been true
That in its foundations
Lies the bodies of countless, nameless souls
Who bled while our founders
Debated the meaning of freedom
Of our democracy

As a child of immigrants
I have often shied away from owning my citizenship
Never trusting that blue book they fought so hard for
As if my distancing myself
From the construct of a nation state
I could wash my hands clean
Of the blood that fuels this country
I didn’t want to call myself an American
Knowing all that America had done
Knowing that it did not want me
In all my confused cultural complexities

The day after he won
The words of Grace Lee Boggs
Came to mind
She said:

You cannot change any society
Unless you take responsibility for it
Unless you see yourself as belonging to it
And responsible for changing it

So here I am.
I am an American.
I as just as American as anyone else
And I will use my citizenship
With all its power, privilege, and complexity
To fight like hell to weave my voice
Into the fabric of a country that has broken my heart

Because I belong here.
And I, too, am responsible for changing it.

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