I’ve started writing this countless times now. And to tell the truth, I am not quite sure what to say or how I even feel about the election. It is an odd space to be in as someone whose job was at different points covering news, or commenting on current events. Its an odd space still for someone with my varied research interests, who writes for a living, because right now the words just won’t come, or they continue to feel laden with the curse of Hecuba’s daughter. And so I join the ranks of unwilling Cassandras, screaming into various voids, unable to be heard by those unwilling to listen, to believe what their own eyes would show them if they would only look.
I guess, first, is that I can’t quite seem to stop holding my breath; its not over until there is a concession, until we see the change and the damages undone in a way that they may never be done again. I am scared for the people who I care for who are more marginalized than I am, because they are watching a lot of allies who no longer themselves feel threatened take the results of this election as a win, instead of a harbinger of how much there is left to fight for. I’m tired of analyses from the outside with no context of the greater complexities or histories behind the current state of things, of the questions, the disbelief of where we actually are, of being forced to give time, energy, and credence to the privilege of other people’s shock, and feeling obligated to listen and respond nonetheless. And yet, there remains an overwhelming weight of resignation: what is the point of writing, of speaking, if it is always going to have to be fettered and constrained by other people’s understanding, especially those who don’t know or recognize the depths of work they have to do to not make these moments feel inherently violent, to not make these conversations add to the threat I have felt for years, or recognize that what they put me through, so too have at least 50 other people as their token whatever box they have stuck me in at any given time.
And under the resignation, the smallest rise of audacious hope as I heard the newly elected leaders speak; the conflict and emotion of seeing two people whose policies I fundamentally find too weak, too flawed, and too conservative to meet the needs of the current moment speak and yet bring hope simply through the appearance of competence. And realizing that as much as I need to punch back at the centrist middle ground rhetoric for the danger it poses, 10 year old me needed so badly to see that woman on that stage, to hear Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris say:
“So Congressman John Lewis, Congressman John Lewis, before his passing, wrote: “Democracy is not a state. It is an act.” And what he meant was that America’s democracy is not guaranteed. It is only as strong as our willingness to fight for it, to guard it and never take it for granted. And protecting our democracy takes struggle. It takes sacrifice. But there is joy in it, and there is progress. Because we the people have the power to build a better future…Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourselves in a way that others may not, simply because they’ve never seen it before, but know that we will applaud you every step of the way.”from “Transcript: kamala Harris’s victory speech“
I still, several days later, cannot read that without crying. I cannot deny how gratifying it was to in a single person see the definition of what it means to be from my country expanded so much. I cannot forget the lightbulb moment, seeing her in white, of understanding why I eschew color so much, why I wear so much black to blend in and efface my difference, elide my comparative darkness which is so stark in lighter colors, why I have remained so hesitant and afraid to stand out. I cannot deny the empowerment of being given permission this far into my life to be myself, unapologetically, through a new reflection of what I might have one day strived to become if I could have ever seen that image of success as possible.
And yet I still know it is not enough; Harris might embody a new story, but as N. K. Jemisin has recently pointed out in an incredible Twitter thread, we do not know how to tell better stories than what we are up against, and too many people are too willing to buy into their own feel-good stories and simple narratives about what went wrong instead of looking at all the hard fixes, the should-dos, and the ways in which they themselves might be culpable in the ills of the nation. The Overton window keeps shifting right and the people who are not under direct threat keep accepting it all as normal without even noticing that the rights affirmed in the 1960s have been systematically chipped away in every way since then – and those dragging the country back to a time when many nations were banned from immigration and only certain people had the right to vote or even live in certain areas are aiming to take away even more. Instead, they fixate on phrasing that scares them and fight it and dismiss it even though they have no idea what it refers to nor do they have the presence of mind to learn about it before reacting. And they pull the conversation to their fears, and away from the people those conversations are meant to protect and liberate. The moderates and centrists we’re meant to appeal to, who dominate every damn analysis on the air right now, do not know that they do not know how to dream, and see any potential difference as a nightmare. And the rest of us look to the impeding nightmare, and wonder how far down this road we will need to go for them to wake up, if they ever will.
I’ve spent six years now actively, if not longer in truth, watching people turn away, turn to conspiracies, bury their heads in whatever comforting lies they need to in order to keep their days ‘normal’ their connections with others ‘civil’, and feeling the sense of doom rising. When faced with the unfathomable they turn to the stories that shore them up individually instead of grasping the pen and creating new ones that might give safe harbor to everyone. And so I guess I remain among the ranks of unwilling Cassandras; we are many, often women, often marginalized in some way, often othered one way or another, still fighting to be heard, to encourage people to step forward into truth so that a new reality might be built once the one we are actually in is faced. But I cannot force anyone to look any more than I can for them to see, nor can force anyone to hear us any more than I can beseech them to listen. I can only hope, in the most audacious ways, that there will be a lesson learned from the history we know before we become ourselves even more of a cautionary tale.