I am agonizing over what to say.
I could say I’m in mourning, but what I’m mourning has been burdening my heart for far longer than this election season. The tension knotted in my stomach, the nausea thick in my throat is not new. For years I have grieved for the divided state of my country.
This election highlights the failure to actively listen, the failure to empathically recieve another’s story, and this has crippled interracial dialogues on the interpersonal level and prevented our national discourse from taking ownership of the ugliness beneath the red, white, and blue. Each community feels ignored, invalidated, and we all suffer.
I wish I could say that when I clicked off the news last night, the only sensation residing in my heart was hope. I wish I could say that I didn’t spend the night wracked in tears and desperate prayers–but yes, the results of this election was a stab in the gut.
I felt ashamed of my tears. I thought: I should be focused on the redemptive part of all this. I should get back to work and keep fighting. I should feel perfect peace. When I saw that some people weren’t rattled by the election, I thought that maybe I was wrong in feeling what I feel.
But then I asked myself: Why do we rush people to praise when they are suffering? Why do we demand them to feel better so quickly? Do we really think they’ll be better for it, or are we the ones who will feel better when their pain is not all in our face? The fact that I feel this subconscious, overwhelming pressure to suppress the anguish clawing inside me tells me that as a Church we still haven’t learned how to embrace lament, nor how to mourn with those who mourn. Lament involves engaging with pain in the here-and-now, recognizing that the wrongs strewn across our national landscape connect our past, present, and future and necessitate our confrontation with them. Instead, I see Facebook posts chastising people for “sulking,” “being whiny” when they should clearly just “get over it.” It suggests to me that these people don’t want to deal with my pain, so they wrap it in platitudes.
American Triumphalism shoves us past periods of grief to the grand vision of reconciliation and unity and restoration. We are all one! it declares, then furrows its brow when it notices us standing apart from each other. Why are we still divided? it complains, throwing up its hands. We are divided because we never took the time to fully grieve the losses reaped by a consistent history of compromising the dignity and livelihoods of people of color. Racism spikes the soles of our feet, yet the church in America still wonders why we stumble.
Knowing that, I will not apologize for my ugly tears. I will not apologize for the hollowed-out ache in my stomach, the invisible weight dragging my lips down. No one is entitled to my smiles nor the assurance that I’m okay when I am definitively not.
If the Church that I am a part of truly seeks reconciliation, then we must face the ugly. We must tell the truth to each other and see each other as we are–not only the parts that are palatable. So this is me telling my truth, sharing where I stand.
Hurt because for so many years I have defended my white brothers and sisters in Christ. When I observed and experienced racist words and actions, in my head I diminished their impact because I grew up with white people, loved them. I didn’t want to strain my relationships with white friends and neighbors and believe them capable of the ignorant attitudes my black classmates talked about. But when Trump called my people criminals and claimed that black people lived in an inner city hell, when he insinuated that Black Lives Matter were like terrorists threatening the rights of everyday Americans, too many white evangelicals were silent. When I saw that over 81% of white evangelical men voted for Trump, it conveyed the message that I was not worthy of being defended. Trump supporters may not have intended my devaluation, but when the racist and sexist statements of someone aiming to lead your country are met with silence instead of condemnation of any kind, that is the message I internalize: you are taking your America back at my expense.
Conflicted because examining the arguments in support of Trump, the reasons why people voted for him, does not erase the damage. Some of the reasons relate to the depressed economic situation encountered by people in rural areas; some relate to high healthcare costs and the barrage of headlines about homicides by an undocumented immigrant or a illegal drug-runs. Some base themselves on the moral imperative to preserve the unborn and transcend “identity politics” and a defensive PC-culture. I empathize with these concerns and the legitimate anxiety underlying them. I know all too well how infuriating it feels not to be listened to. At the same time, the fear professed by people after Obama’s election is not equivalent to the fear others are experiencing right now. Whether rich or poor, urban or rural, whiteness still maintains a privileged position in America, and when the anxieties of white people dictate the policies of a nation, the people who pay the price, the ones made more vulnerable are black people, Latino people, Asian and and Arab and indigenous people. Acknowledging the valid arguments for a presidential candidate’s rise does not disguise the racism and xenophobia in its foundation. America has a problem with race, and the fact that in election coverage we can’t even say the R-word because we don’t want to see it contributes to the twisting in my gut. I hear that Americans (total) have spoken, but if we’re being honest, which Americans?
Angry because there is no space for my pain. There are so many well-meaning posts laid out to remind me that Jesus is King and the Church is one Body and not to hate on other people. The unintended patronizing tone stings because these words assume that I don’t already know this, that I haven’t already been praying constantly and asking God for the grace to love Donald Trump and reach out to those who voted for him. The words assume that I am consumed in my fervid emotion and unable to see the Gospel in this. Lifting up Jesus as the ultimate leader of my life is not mutually exclusive from being devastated at the idea of Trump having a position of such profound political and social influence. It’s both/and: I cling to hope and believe that God will wash this nation in the revival it needs; I also cry because thousands of people decided that Trump’s vision of America is desirable, and that vision doesn’t appear to include me. You can tell me my worth is in Christ, and yet I can still cry out to my Savior that I feel rejected by the white Christians in my country. If you’ve never felt that kind of betrayal from a community you are supposed to belong to, don’t judge it.
Sad because even though there are better words to capture the depth of what I feel, sad is the easiest to access. I feel sad because I don’t think enough white people understand what the election results mean to the groups Trump has targeted in his agenda this past year. I feel sad because so many people I know are furious and shocked and their reality feels leagues away from the casual “well it’s done now let’s make up” attitudes I see on social media. I feel sad because I am overwhelmed by how big the problems are and how many economic and spiritual and racial dynamics are tangled in them. I am sad because the estrangement between peoples in America cuts more deeply than I can ever express.
Assured that God will redeem what is broken in my country. Even as I cried last night, I felt that alien peace, this sense that the blatant showcasing of disunity we have seen will provoke the radical racial awakening that America needs. I want to be part of that movement to throw off the blindness hampering our movement to intimately relate to each other across color and socioeconomic and gender lines. I want to lift up and cover my brothers and sisters of color and rebuild our communities. I want to learn from and protect the groups I am not a part of–like my Muslim neighbors. I want to refine the voice God has gifted me and speak truth into the spaces where it is most needed. I want to see bridges built.
I was not surprised by the results of this election. I am still heartbroken, and for my white neighbors to reconcile with me, I need you to see that and not look away or tell me I’m not trusting God enough. This is not the time for jokes or calls to be polite. This is not the time for claims of America’s greatness. I love you…and you have hurt me. Both/and.
To my Black and Latina brothers and sisters who may resonate with my pain: Let no one deny you your need to process what you feel. It is not healthy to pretend it doesn’t exist or diminish it so you look okay to the outside world. Let it out. Take time to rest. I am praying for us.
The train pulling away from the Bronx was silent this morning, and I felt a spiritual pall settle over the people seated beside me. America is bleeding, but if we can all finally see it, we can tend to the wounds.
I re-read Psalms 116 on the train, and even as the tears remain a steady, heavy presence, and anger writhes in me like a desperate creature I can’t placate, this passage tells me that my God sees me and will not shame me:
I love the Lord, because he has heard
my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling;
I will walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.
I believed, even when I spoke:
“I am greatly afflicted”;
I said in my alarm,
“All mankind are liars.”
What shall I render to the Lord
for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his saints.
O Lord, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.
You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!