Dormant Hate in the U.S. Has Reared its Ugly Head and Roared

By Bryn Hafermeister (Educator, photographer, social activist. Can be found on Twitter @brynhafephoto)

In the early days after learning of the election results, I felt a sense of defeat, of desperation, and of fear.  

I have spent my entire professional career working for understanding across ethnicities, classes, linguistic groups, and national borders.  And on the night of November 8th, the dormant hate of the Unites States reared it’s ugly head and elected a racist, misogynistic, xenophobe to be the most powerful man in the world.  For me, the rudest awakening is that, as Charles M. Blow put it, the U.S. very well may have elected Trump not in spite of the fact that he is a bigot, but because he is one. I was most concerned for all of those who are in groups that Trump has offended:  POC, LGBTQ, women, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, refugees.  

But then my world got more perplexing.  

An African-American grandmother, who works with me in public education and who I thought was my friend, was so happy the morning after the election that she went to give me a high-five. I had been unsuccessful in holding back tears all morning, and refused to celebrate with her; she then went to complain about me to the closest group of people.  That evening, I found out that a gay immigrant friend voted for Trump. There was something that he “just couldn’t quite put his finger on” that he didn’t like about Hillary Clinton. “But we should get together soon.”  Neither one of them seemed to understand that I was in the beginning stages of grief, and how disgusted I was at the election of a politically inexperienced bigot to the White House.

I wondered, “Where have I been living, and whom have I been living amongst.”

Then there are my former high school students.  On Facebook, one African American student said that he wanted to “kill whiteness,” and several more reposted the article “Dear White People, Your Safety Pins Are Embarrassing.”  Only a few years before, these same students liked that “White me” taught tolerance by introducing all students to the work of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Howard Zinn. And only a few months before I had walked with some of them in Black Lives Matter marches.

I needed to gain clarity on this complex situation.

I needed clarity for myself, and to explain my country’s behavior to the questioning group of international friends who I met when I was living in other countries.  Before the election I calmed their fears by pointing out that Trump was not winning in a single poll.  After the election I had to figure out what to say…. “What now?” was what one Dutch friend asked.  All I could say was “Nobody knows.”  

But really, what now?  

This is what I know for certain:

  1. If we are going to pick up the pieces of our tattered nation, we need to all work together.  

  2. In our pluralistic society, we can all be the change that we want to see.

  3. Each person’s actions cause a ripple effect that shape the dominant message of our country.

These will be my actions:

  1. Call my government representatives to influence them on issues that I care about.

  2. Vote in local elections to influence government, where it affects me the most.

  3. Volunteer my professional skills for civil rights groups.

  4. Tell the story of the human condition in the U.S. via photojournalism.  

  5. Use non-violent communication when dialoguing with those who oppose me.  

In spite of the bigot who will live in the White House, I will continue to be the educator, the photographer, and the social activist working for an ever more inclusive society.  Hate cannot and will not win.