Look to Each Other

By Leo Hochberg (College student, OH)

How am I supposed to not feel betrayed? I know that my feelings of pain and anger won’t stop the derision and polarization that’s rocking the country as we speak, but today I look to the White House and I see a vice president that’s funded conversion therapy, or as I like to call it, torture, to control and demean people just like me. What else am I supposed to think when I am literally looking at the loss of some very fundamental rights?

Of course, amongst the millions that will be disenfranchised in the coming years, this is hardly as bad as it can get. Today I watched hundreds of students protest the racial profiling and assault of a black student at my college. They stood out there for twelve hours demanding justice for a black man who is now being held without bail in the local police station even though he was the one who was assaulted. In times like this I remember that I can pass for straight any time I’d like, and in that, I gain a remarkable privilege. That student couldn’t turn off his blackness. He couldn’t walk away like I can every day. Indeed, as a gay man I will be targeted by Donald Trump’s administration, but not in the same way that a black man or a Latina woman or a non-binary person will.

This brings me to the most important words I can pass to any ally in these difficult first days.

Not everybody is like you.

Not everybody has the same background as you.

Not everybody talks like you, feels like you, or thinks like you.

So for the love of God, if you’re white, straight, male, cisgender, born citizen, or you come from any other position of privilege, do us all a favor and stop telling people who identify with targeted minorities that it’s all going to be okay. Don’t let your defense be that the American system will save them, that justice prevails, that it’ll all work out in the end. Because some people can’t walk away and continue their lives like you can, and to an extent as I can. Just as I can’t know how it feels to be a black man targeted by the racial profiling aggravated by the Trump effect, you can’t know how it feels to watch as your rights are stripped away every God damn day until you have nothing left but your own f*cking body.

I think of my lowest moment over the past several days. It was the night the election results were released. I was tired, depressed, and feeling thoroughly beaten as I watched Trump take every important state, including my own home state of Pennsylvania, which, by all predictions, should have voted for Hillary. As I watched in terror, riding on some vain surge of hope that it would all turn around at the last moment, a white male student walked into the room and announced, “He’s already won. It’s not something to cry over.”

I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to punch him. How dare you tell me, or anyone else, how to react to this? We may agree in our dislike or Trump, but it still reeks of privilege to claim that the election of a xenophobic monster and his just-as-xenophobic vice-buffoon is not something to cry about. I wanted to scream that, in all likelihood, you will be fine in four years. But how can you know that someone in this very room isn’t a Syrian refugee, undocumented, or closeted about their gender identity and feeling too scared to come out? Those people may not be okay because they don’t have your privilege. They could lose their homes or be otherwise victimized by the racism, sexism, other forms of xenophobia that have grown such strong roots in the darkness of Donald Trump’s shadow.

I reiterate: if you have privilege, check it. If you have friends who are mourning, don’t try to support them by telling them it will all be okay. Tell them instead that, no matter what happens, you’ll be there for them to fight prejudice on their behalf. Say that you know these years will be hard, and their reactions are perfectly valid. Mention that there are institutions across the country dedicated to helping minorities, such as the NAACP, the American Association of People with Disabilities, and GLAAD. Let them know that they will have a friend in you. Let them you that they are loved always.

So I end with this:

If we look to America and we see no hope, then we will look to each other instead. No matter how horrible this gets, we will survive, and we will have each other.