Saturday, January 21, 2017

Two Americas (Unites States of)

I know that there are two Americas (or rather, two United States of Americas – because “America” refers to far more than the U.S.). The one that white people live in, and the one that people of color live in. And while I am always learning more about the latter, my default view (and only experience) is the former. Trying to understand the reality sometimes makes me see double.

I know that electing Obama 8 years ago was a proud, historic moment for this country. We crossed a racial barrier. The symbolism of a Black man (a biracial man) reaching the highest position in the land was something that could inspire every child in the country, and provide a role model particularly for non-white children. That is real. That is significant.

I also know, because of statistics and because of what my friends share, that the lived daily experiences of people of color has not improved in the past 8 years. Racism is very much alive in the U.S.A. It lives in the hearts of Americans, and it lives and breathes within the very fiber of the government and the systems of economics, education, and justice.

So was the election of our first Black president a racial victory, or not? I suppose yes and no. It was a victory, but it did not change everything; it most certainly did not end racism. Sadly, it did nothing to even diminish personal, systemic and institutional racism.

Fast forward to today. Within white U.S.A. there are two vastly different perspectives. The white Americans who voted in President Cheetoh and want the rest of us to “get over it and come together in unity,” and those of us who despaired to discover that for our neighbors and coworkers, Mr. Thinskin’s vicious racism, xenophobia, and misogyny was not a deal-breaker.

Comparing the two elections feels like a parallel universe. How can this be the same country that elected a Black (biracial) president eight years ago, to now vote in a fascist? What happened? When and how did we become such a racist, hateful nation?

And then I hear from my friends of color, who tell me that nothing has changed. This is still the same country that it has been for them all along. There is something about McRacistPants that makes white people, specifically, alarmed. Perhaps because it is not just people of color that he has attacked: he has insulted a white reporter and white women. He talks about rolling back protections and benefits that will impact white people.

I certainly noticed that vocalized outrage (from the media, the GOP and celebrities) dramatically escalated when it became white people who were targeted.

Still and all, I think of this horrendous man who represents the worst of the U.S. (ego, greed, bigotry, lack of self-restraint or self-reflection, inability to take responsibility, to name a few) taking the helm, and I feel sick to my stomach, and sick at heart. What rot lies in our hearts that we allowed this to happen, chose this?

And then I’m brought back to the other reality. Many Black people are saying that The Orange Menace does not represent anything new to them. They are still fighting for equal rights. They are still fighting for their lives. They have struggled and fought under oppression for hundreds of years and have survived; they will survive Agent Orange. And they notice that white people who are only getting upset now have clearly not prioritized the ongoing oppression of and violence against people of color.

I can only exist in one reality; white people live in white America, whether they want to or not. We benefit from the privileges of a society build by and for us, whether we work to dismantle white supremacy and racism or not.

But still, I feel like my vision keeps going in and out, from a perspective based on my white existence, to one trying to integrate the reality of the other America (and honestly, the “other America” is the real America – because it shows the entire picture).

Was yesterday’s inauguration the beginning of the end (white America)?

Or was it simply another chapter in the long history of white supremacy (real America)?

Can both be true? Because I feel both things.

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