Dear White People, Let’s Check In

Dear White People, Let’s Check In November 14, 2016


Dear White America,

Hi guys! I’m sorry it took me so long to get to you, but I spent most of last week checking in on my Muslim, Latinx, Jewish, Sikh, Black, Asian, Undocumented, and LGBTQ friends. I know it’s already been about 2 hours since the last segment was aired on white America’s role in the election of Donald Trump, so I wanted to check in on you guys and see how you’re holding up.

I know, I know. “White America” is not a monolith. How do I know this? Because I’m a Midwest-born-and-raised, Muslim daughter of East African immigrants (fun fact: according to the U.S. Census, I’m legally counted as White because I speak Arabic. Hilarious, right?). I know that just because one white person (or 58 percent of you, but who’s counting?) voted for the guy endorsed by the official newspaper of the KKK, that doesn’t mean all white people voted for him, or support his xenophobia. I know you’re all individuals with diverse feelings and political views. I know this about white people because I grew up watching TV shows like The Facts of Life and Family Ties.

So here we are, friends. Some of you are exultant that your candidate won; others are heartbroken that your candidate lost. I know some of you are thinking, “Why are you talking to me about this stuff? I didn’t vote for Trump!” or, “Hey, I voted for Trump, because my community needs jobs. I don’t agree with his views on Mexicans and Muslims,” and “I’m an individual – don’t judge me based on what other people in my race say or do.”

You’re not used to being asked to ponder how others who look like you behaved. It makes you uncomfortable and frustrated. I hear you. No, I really do know how you feel (also, I know that white people have diverse political motivations because I watched Parks & Recreation).

Now, some of you – I know — belong to groups that have legitimate concerns about their long-term viability in the next administration: the underinsured, religious minorities, LGBTQ individuals, the disabled and women. I stand with you in solidarity, love, and partnership.

Still, most of you will not have spent this past week comforting distraught family and friends or soothing terrified, shaking children scared that the new president will arrest or kill them. Your children probably did not ask you to teach them a Christian prayer, “just in case” they need to recite it to authorities one day in the near future. Your house of worship probably did not have to coordinate active shooter security measures with local law enforcement. Your children have probably not been targeted in school by bullies chanting “build a wall” or placed on a group lynching list.

Most of you will survive, more or less intact, the next four years.

So here’s the thing white friends. Minorities have been getting lectured about how we must reach out and empathize with Trump voters. That we should make the first step in acknowledging our neglect of white working class inhabitants of the Rust Belt (not sure why there aren’t pieces asking us to empathize with all those college-educated, suburban, well-off white Trump voters, but there you go).

We are expected to do this even though his xenophobic, bigoted, misogynistic, Islamophobic platform and rhetoric did not disqualify him in your eyes. You, your families, and loved ones were not the targets of his campaign. So, white folks made a calculation: knowing that life will not drastically alter for you and yours, you voted to shake up the system, to cast a ballot for the guy saying what you want to hear on the economic disenfranchisement of the middle class.

Voting for him was a safe bet you could make. But, as a person whose daily life has already been disrupted in post-Election America, it is beyond unbearable to be lectured to by the media and others, told to excuse or try and understand the choice 58 percent of White American made last week. Especially since we now know that one of the most influential positions in the White House will held by an anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, White Nationalist.

Still, I don’t believe there’s an unhealable chasm between us. There are plenty of action steps you can take to help form a more perfect union for all of us:

White Allies: Thank you for your solidarity. Please speak out. Call your kids’ schools and prompt them to provide mental support for students of color and to revisit their safety measures. Visit us in our mosques, gurdwaras, synagogues (incidentally, Jewish White Americans – thanks for your overwhelming votes for the candidate whose platform was not officially endorsed by the KKK. I salute and stand in solidarity with you) and our parochial schools – we are heartened by your physical presence of support and love.

White friends, believe news reports about middle schoolers building a wall to keep out Latinx students, the lynch threats of Black college students, the attacks on visibly Muslim women and Sikh men. Amplify them.

Don’t let your families, friends and neighbors hop on the Gaslight Express. This election was about economic stagnation and a working class that felt ignored and mocked by the elites, yes. But it was also about racial, ethnic and geographical power dynamics (I know, because I watch Game of Thrones. Don’t tell my imam).

Take advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday to dialogue with the Trump supporters you may be related to about what their vote has meant to millions of Americans. Don’t unfriend Trump voters on Facebook; dialogue with them. Wear a safety pin or not, but act, be our steadfast allies.

White Feminists: Now is the time to get intersectional. Take a look at who comprises your meetings, Facebook groups, book clubs. If everyone looks like you, lives in a neighborhood like yours, is at the same educational level and works at the same types of jobs – diversify your networks.

White media pundits, just stop with the “how did this happen?!” Well, in part, YOU made it happen. You never took his candidacy seriously and did not scrutinize his platform, statements, promises and history with the same amount of vigor as you did Clinton. Also, take a look at your news room, your writers, your opinion editors, the pundits and guests you book. Notice something? Do these people all look, pray, and think like you? Invest in hiring and amplifying diverse voices. And the next time a Black man tells you to watch out for populist extremism, take him seriously; don’t laugh in his face.

We know that the most vulnerable among us will be the first to be hurt. So, join us in building coalitions to provide sanctuary to undocumented families, in offering culturally competent mental health support to suicidal queer teens, to cultivating strong interfaith bonds based on action and not just words.

In short, White America — don’t tell us everything will be OK. Work with us to make it OK.

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