Nov. 14 2016 04:36 PM

When the electorate casts a vote against your humanity

Image via Shutterstock

Election night, I couldn't take it, watching the states come in red. I went to bed at 10 p.m. When I woke up to a phone full of text messages, I knew something had gone terribly wrong in the night. Hillary had lost. And for so many times since Trayvon Martin, I didn't know what to say.

By 2013, we'd already secured a second-term for Obama. So, when George Zimmerman was acquitted, I learned the limitations of Hope. We hadn't built a wall out of Hope that could protect us from the racists and hate-mongers on the other side. Instead, we'd hung up a curtain of Hope. One that they could pull back to remind us they were still there; seething, waiting, plotting. They still had power. And their voices were still the ones that mattered.

I tried to hold that curtain in place. Drape myself in Hope that things were getting better. I moved back to liberal California for grad school. I un-friended anyone on Facebook that wasn't forward-thinking. I reveled in the perfection that is the First Family. But over and over again they drew back that curtain and reminded me they'd gone nowhere.

When we couldn't get universal healthcare and what we did get was constantly under attack even though it was making a real difference in the lives of so many Americans. They reminded us.

When we couldn't get gun legislation passed after 20 six-year-olds lost their lives in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. They reminded us.

When a federal jury acquitted the Bundys and their pals of charges from their most recent standoff in Oregon, while we watch as protestors are arrested at Standing Rock for trying to protect sacred land. They reminded us.

When we couldn't get police reform after Michael Brown and Ferguson. They reminded us. And they reminded us again after Eric Garner. After Sandra Bland. After Philando Castile. After little, sleeping Aiyana Jones. They reminded us until there were too many names to keep straight. Until that curtain had become threadbare.

I thought we could patch up that curtain of Hope with pantsuits and a Hillary win. I was wrong, but I didn't know it until the next morning. That night, I went to dinner with my sister and her husband. I stalled long enough for my not yet three-month-old niece to wake up and then insisted on holding her. I like feeling the weight of her in my arms, the possibility and the promise of her and what lies ahead for her in life. But I have to think of the heaviness of her too, of all that she will be burdened by in this life for simply being a woman of color.

The night Obama was elected to his first-term, I was in a bar in Huntington Beach with a girl I'm not even cool with anymore. Our eyes were on the TV and everyone else around us couldn't care less, they were just trying to bro down in their Affliction tees. It's not the over-the-top experience my friends in cities like New York and Chicago had. But still, I tucked it away like a photo in a heart-shaped locket. I called my granny and asked her, "Did you ever think?" I wanted to know if she ever thought she'd see a Black President in her lifetime.

I didn't call her this year. I already knew what her answer would be, if I called and asked her, "Did you ever think your country could break your heart?"

She lived through segregation. The Civil Rights Movement. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Red-lining. Putting her children through busing in the South. And in 2016, she still gets up and goes to work everyday.

She knows what its like to wonder if the same white cashier who smiles in your face every week while they're bagging your groceries cast a vote against your humanity. How hoods ain't the only way to hide the hate in someone's heart. She knows what its like to look at our world, then look at our children and know they deserve better. She knows what that smug expression looks like that creeps across a person's face when they feel like they've put you and yours back in your place.

And thinking about all she knows was the only thing that made me believe you can move forward even when you can't see a way forward. You have no choice but to. So, that's what I did. I got up the next morning, I snatched down the last shreds of that fictional Hope curtain, and I went to work. Because I've been forced to see my country for what it is. And there aren't going to be any days off for any of us that want Hope to become Change. Not for the next four years, not for whatever the outcome will be of the next wave of Supreme Court judges. Not for a lifetime. And we may not always see the progress we want, but it doesn't matter. We have to keep getting up and keep going to work everyday just as we have been for generations.


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