I have quite a few friends, family members, and family-members-of-friends who have always been dear to me and who made different voting choices than I did during this election season. You voted for Trump, maybe because you were enthusiastic about him, or maybe because you just thought he was okay-ish—or maybe you really disliked him but really disliked Clinton more. There were lots of reasons, ranging from the economy to fears about terrorism to the Supreme Court nomination, that you voted as you did.
I’m coming to you with this letter (and feel free to call or message me later if you have questions or thoughts) not because we disagreed in our voting, but because there is an urgent matter that we agree on that I need to ask for your help about.
How do I know we agree about it? Because I know you. You are my friends and my family. I’m not writing this to an anonymous internet, but to you.
The issue that we agree about is this: cruelty and violence are wrong.
There’s been a lot of arguing over whether Trump, personally, is a racist or misogynist. The answers to this range from “He’s definitely a racist” to “He was using a racist platform just to get elected but doesn’t feel that way personally” to “He’s not racist at all and has been unfairly blamed.”
Many unsavory groups like the KKK supported him, and there has been a lot of arguing over whether Trump wanted that, or whether people are just blaming him for the actions of jerks whom he can’t control, such as David Duke.
I’m not here to answer these questions, because there’s something a little more urgent that we need to deal with right now. Whether Trump intended this, didn’t intend this, or is completely oblivious to it, the reality of today is that very bad people are feeling bolder about harassing, assaulting, and bullying members of minority groups, because Trump was elected. Many of them are directly mentioning Trump’s election in their attacks.
This link is a good place to start reading some of the many, many stories in the past few days of attackers who use Trump’s name to justify attacks on innocent citizens—non-white Americans, immigrants, women, and LGBT members, to name a few. You can find much more if you start reading and looking for other stories. The KKK recently announced a big party to celebrate Trump. Even in instances where attacks have not occurred yet, people are becoming so afraid that they are considering leaving the country, or are changing their daily behaviors to avoid trouble (one example of this is Muslim women who stop wearing their head scarves even though it’s part of their religious beliefs, because they fear being singled out).
Again, does Trump personally condone all this? I don’t know him, so I can’t say for sure. But whether he personally does or does not agree with these attacks and this fear, many attackers think he does, and they seem to believe that his election means they can threaten and attack others and get away with it.
And this is where you come in, my friends, because I already know you don’t believe in cruelty and assault. I know you wouldn’t want anyone to be treated the way the people in these stories are treated. I know because some of you have LGBT loved ones, and some of you reached out with sadness when I shared a Facebook status from a black man who was musing on the KKK’s support of Trump, and because some of you are people I grew up around who have demonstrated how you treat women and minorities.
So hear me: the increased hostilities against minorities are something that you and I have the power to deal with, and I’m hoping you’ll get on board with me about that.
There’s a lot of social peer pressure right now for Trump voters to ignore these attacks as outliers, to call them blown-out-of-proportion, or to believe they’ve been made up. I think people fear that if they admit people are assaulting minorities in Trump’s name, it will be like losing an argument against the Hillary supporters and political liberals. Or, they fear, we’ll be letting a biased media use scare tactics to pull the wool over our eyes.
I’m asking you not to give in to that peer pressure. Don’t believe that you will risk looking wrong or being a “bleeding heart” if you take these attacks seriously and recognize how frequently they are happening. Don’t believe that they are all inflated by a biased media, because frankly, it’s not the media reporting most of this—it’s everyday citizens. (That KKK story is the only media piece I’ve seen on the attacks; everything else I have seen since Wednesday morning has been real people reporting from Facebook and Twitter).
These attacks are happening on the street, in everyday situations, to people who are minding their own business. You and I are also on the street in everyday situations. We may run into an instance of harassment and have a chance to stop it. Or, we may have friends and loved ones who say mean or violent things against minorities, and we might have the chance to speak up and start changing their mind. Who knows—maybe your disagreement will make that person more hesitant to share their thoughts out loud, and then they won’t be fueling the anger and rage of their violent friends.
And here’s the important part: because you voted Trump, the people launching these attacks may listen to you more than they listen to me.
It would be easier for people to write me off when I stand up to this because they can just blame my angst about Clinton losing. But if someone who voted as they did were to speak up for the oppressed—at the dinner table, on Facebook, by intervening in harassment on the street—it will be harder for them to believe that Trump’s election means they can oppress people.
So what does this look like for you?
Maybe it looks like a really awkward comment at the Thanksgiving dinner table when a relative has made a blanket statement about needing to keep Muslims out: “Hey Aunt Joan, you know that I take terrorism seriously too. I hope our country will protect us from that. But if we start blaming that on all Muslims, we’re going to be blaming a lot of innocent people, too. I don’t want to hurt innocent people. Let’s talk about the vetting process, and talk about counter-terrorism, but not talk about ‘Muslims’ as one category, okay?”
Maybe it looks like saying, “You know, I have a friend who is transgender. She’s a really nice person, but right now she’s nervous about going out alone, even just to run errands. It makes me sad to imagine that a stranger might yell at her or get in her face; that would be awful.”
Maybe it looks like standing up to a sexist joke from your friend, for the first time ever, and saying, “Hey dude, seriously. Jokes about women aren’t funny to me. A lot of my friends/sisters are worried about being assaulted, and that is making me really sad for them; how is that funny?”
Maybe it looks like all of these people gently laughing at you, raising their eyebrows, and worrying that you’re going to “the other side,” the too-PC side—and maybe it looks like insisting to them, “No, we all know this is wrong, and we are being peer pressured into pretending it’s okay by some of our political friends, and I won’t pretend anymore.”
Maybe it looks like lurking on social media for a few days, taking in the stories of people who are different from you, and then telling those stories to other friends and family who don’t believe how serious things have gotten. Maybe it looks like actively taking to your blog or Facebook to write about what’s happening and say, “I recognize that this is happening and I am telling you that this is not what the next presidency should be about, and this is not how any of us should ever behave, toward anyone, for any reason.”
Maybe it means you stop an assault. Maybe it means you openly cry, in front of friends or family, when you see that someone has spray-painted, “Black lives don’t matter, and neither does their vote” in public.
Whatever you do, don’t say “I and my friends who voted Trump aren’t racist, so his candidacy isn’t about that. Why are people so afraid of him?” Like it or not, intentionally or not, Trump getting elected has resulted in some dangerous people feeling entitled to attack others. Even if the mathematical majority of Trump voters don’t want to attack minorities, even a fraction of Trump voters being violent has huge implications for the safety of our society, and we need to recognize that.
Yes, you and I both know that you don’t go around hating anyone—and that is exactly why you need to speak up when you see hate. That is exactly why you, as a Trump voter, need to say, “I see stories of fear and assault. This is not okay. This should never happen. I will hold others accountable to stop.”
So here’s the next part of the equation. This is the more difficult part to write, especially to people that I love. But if I don’t “go there” I don’t think I can keep my intellectual integrity.
Right now, there are a lot of minorities asking very hard questions of Trump supporters. They are pointing out that you had enough information to know that his candidacy was encouraging awful, violent people. They are saying that we all had enough information to know that a Trump victory would make violent, dangerous people bolder.
I have personally heard people from disadvantaged groups asking hard questions. They say, “Yes, there were reasons to vote for Trump other than racism, like the economy and such. But how were any of those reasons more important than my immediate safety?”
Understand that I am reporting what I have personally heard others asking.
These accusations probably hurt you, because you don’t want anyone to get hurt. You don’t like being blamed for actions you yourself would never do. Neither do I; neither does anyone! However, those questions and accusations are poignant and worth pondering. It hurts to examine things like that, but those things are serious enough that they sort of demand reflection—right?
Let me tell you a story about myself.
You probably know that I’m big into feminism (you don’t have to agree with feminism to understand this metaphor, I promise). I read about it, write about it, and examine how it intersects with my faith. Several years ago, I became aware of the fact that minority women are often ignored—or outright dismissed and victimized—by mainstream feminism. Mainstream feminism often focuses on white, middle-class women, and those women can be pretty elitist when we want to be.
For a long time I ignored all this. It was too painful. Feminism—the system that I believed in and loved—could be oppressive and harmful? But feminism was about throwing off oppression! How could I be expected to take something that gave me so much joy and enthusiasm and recognize that it could be used for exclusion and harm, too?
I still haven’t resolved this tension, but I keep looking at it. I look at it painfully, and realize that the comfortable white feminism that I am so content with will have to be traded in for a feminism that’s more inclusive. That is a frustrating process, because it puts me into circles where I am not an expert, and it forces me to ask why I have been lazily complicit in oppression sometimes.
Maybe comparing feminism to who we vote for is a clumsy metaphor, but I think there’s a common message. Sometimes people will accuse you of being part of something that hurt them. You will think that’s unfair, especially if it’s something you really believed in. But it is your responsibility to look at that accusation anyway, determine how much it might be true, and then own it. I’ve done that. It sucks.
It is completely necessary to being human, though.
I don’t pretend to know what each of you will end up thinking about your vote for Donald Trump in five, ten, fifteen years. But I am asking you, with as much humility and love I can muster as your friend, to consider the words of the people who feel like they’ve been hurt by it—even though I know, and you know, that you did not mean harm when you cast that vote. Saying you had good intentions is not the end of your answer to someone’s pain; it is only the beginning of an answer that will hopefully take more time and reflection.
I don’t know how else to say any of this, so I will end with a plea for you to hear me, if you’re my friend. I need—no, people far more disadvantaged than me need—for you to join me in unequivocally calling out and condemning attacks again minority groups. I need you to openly say that these acts of fear against our fellow man are wrong and must stop. I need you to help change other people’s minds, even when it’s awkward, and I need you to step in right away if you see something scary happening in public.
These are beliefs and actions that should not be controversial to any of you. I know you. I know your heart and what you believe. But my greatest fear is that you won’t join me.
Your friend, your family, the redhead you watched grow up, the daughter and granddaughter of people you respect and the wife of someone you love,