I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege in the aftermath of an election nightmare that resulted in president-elect Trump. I’ve been thinking about empathy as well, but let’s start this discussion with privilege.
Privilege is defined as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.” Given the tensions surrounding Black deaths at the hands of law enforcement, the focus has mainly been ‘white privilege’. In the wake of Trump’s victory, it’s clear that there are other types of privilege also at work.
I won’t pretend to know all of the reasons that Clinton lost (and Trump won). The intersections of race, class, economics, gender & geography that came to fruition in this election were vast, and will need to be parsed for years to come by those who are much smarter than me.
But what I can say is that millions of people voted for a campaign based on disparaging Mexicans, scapegoating Muslims, denigrating Blacks, rolling back LGBTQ rights, and defending attacks on women. And apart from voters actively voting against their own interests, voting for the negativity of the Trump campaign was made a helluva lot easier knowing that you could do so with no pain; as long as you weren’t a member of any targeted group.
Even though the vast majority of these voters are White, I’d never accuse them of being racist — or sexist, or bigoted without incontrovertible evidence.1 But as the gloating continues over their ugly victory, it’s hard to stomach the self-righteous justifications many have given for a vote that completely ignored explicit bigotry.
[1 A majority of Trump voters described Blacks as less evolved, Ashley Jardina, Sean McElwee, and Spencer Piston, Slate.com]
Some of these supporters are deniers (He didn’t really mean ban all Muslims), some are apologists (I don’t like some of what he says, but those emails…), and some are merely sympathizers (I’m not racist, but we do need some kind of wall). The worst, of course, are the openly racist ones who have no problem saying “Make America White again”.
Honestly though, all are equally culpable for this sad nightmare of fear and persecution that we’re witnessing.
I got into a sharp disagreement with a white male Twitter follower (denier) who raised objections when I alluded to Michelle Obama’s “Go high” catchphrase. He said that I rarely go high, to which I replied, “There was absolutely no need to go high in a campaign that started with Mexico sending us rapists.”
More to the point, I wasn’t going to apologize for harshness towards a man who not only promised to take away my healthcare, but also to strip me of my civil rights as a gay man.
He dismissed my healthcare concerns with “there is no way they can repeal and replace and let people lose insurance. It will kill the whole idea.” As for the rollback of LGBTQ protections, the dismissiveness continued with, “I don’t believe any of that will happen. I think people have evolved and Trump has never said that his goals are to do either.”
The statements displayed an arrogance from someone who has no idea what it’s like to be a minority in America, and who has the privilege of never being a government target. It’s easy to dismiss healthcare concerns when you have good healthcare. It’s also easy to dismiss LGBTQ persecution when you’ve never lost your civil rights, like I did with the passage of CA Prop 8.
In another notable example of what I’d call privilege, an SF friend called out this NYU student who moved out of her dorm room (after discovering that her roommate voted for Trump), saying she acted like a toddler. He added that she should have used this opportunity to learn how to find common ground and work through their differences. Though I like and respect this friend, that’s as ridiculous an argument as criticizing me for moving after learning a roommate voted for David Duke.
It’s easy to criticize when you’ve never confronted a threat, literally or figuratively, to your existence. This move wasn’t about her roommate’s different political views. This was the realization that someone she lived with could, simultaneously, smile in her face while also supporting a candidate who wanted to strip her civil rights.
This is precisely the type of untenable situation many of us felt after this election. The enemies (neighbors, roommates, social buddies) were all around us, yet seemingly happy and unconcerned about the promised negative outcomes we would face. All the while, criticizing us for having these fears they would never have to face.
I worry about my healthcare, my protections from discrimination/harassment, and even the potential loss of my life if I’m stopped by police. I don’t have the luxury, or the privilege, to not worry. Neither do the undocumented citizens who’ve been promised deportation. Nor our Muslim citizens who are on the cusp of having to register with the government, like the Japanese in the US — and the Jews in Nazi Germany.
Trump got roughly 47% of the popular vote. So the question is this: how do we get this group to see the bigotry, and inherent immorality, behind their privileged vote? How do we get them to have empathy for the minority targets of the incoming administration?
It starts with honesty. If someone can honestly tell me that they voted for Trump because we needed a change in government — even though his campaign promises might hurt some — I can respect that. It may not be what I want to hear, but it acknowledges the pain that others are going to feel.
Anything less is bullshit, reeking of privilege with zero empathy toward those who are justly afraid of the presidency-to-come. And personally, I think we’ve all had enough of that.