Latest posts by N. Young (see all)
- Normalization is Letting the Anger Fade - 2017/01/18
- What to Do When You Fail as an Ally - 2016/06/28
- Actual Progress is Complicated…And We Need to Be Ok With That - 2016/04/21
When speaking with my friends of color since the election on November 8th, 2016, I have said repeatedly that one of the few bright moments on November 9th was the reaction of my white friends.
Their disillusionment was real, it was visceral, and it was the moment when I was most hopeful that these white progressive people and I were finally seeing this country through a similar lens. The election results were disappointing and dispiriting, but most of all they were infuriating.
My favorite James Baldwin quote is this ever-prescient sentence, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” For most comfortable, middle-class, straight, and progressive white people this quote is baffling. Sure, you can be socially conscious, you can be a person who fights for justice, you can even be a person who is deeply troubled by the nation’s inequities, but to be mad all the time? How strange. How extreme. How sad for you that you are always that upset. But what James Baldwin is talking about in this quote is some of the feelings my white friends felt the moments, days, and weeks after the election. A feeling which their Black and brown, LGBTQ, muslim, people with disabilities, and relatively conscious friends often feel every single day of their lives: the ground-shaking roar of injustice.
The election pulled back the curtain and revealed to these progressive people that America is, in fact, not living up to its most long-held lofty ideals or even its more recent ones (hope and change, anyone?). The dissonance in American values and American practice were illuminated. It was destabilizing. And as I watched their reactions, I was reassured. “This Trump election is crazy” I thought, “but at least now, that deep discomfort, that disillusionment, will be the fire under their asses for the next four years.”
But I have seen in the past few weeks and months what the large and somewhat impenetrable term “normalization” looks like in practice. Because what Baldwin’s astute sentence sometimes fails to convey is that the rage is not a dangerous fire that we should avoid, lest we be consumed. It is the fire necessary for survival and resistance. To let go of that every day rage is to slip into a state of unconscious and to embrace inequality as normal. I have watched my white friends, people unaccustomed to stoking the fires of this righteous indignation, people used to engaging it in theory and not in emotional, real terms, slip back into a place where they tell me “we need to listen to the other side” or “He loves America, even though he has chosen to work for a demagogue” or most pernicious “we can’t let this get us down.” His love of America is irrelevant when he is working for a president-elect who says that half of the country’s citizenry does not legitimately belong here. I will not listen to a side that tells me in order for its future to be secure, mine must be eradicated.
I refuse to let a Trump presidency make me sad, but I also refuse to let it make me conciliatory. I have no desire to compromise with people who hate people like me and refuse to honor my humanity or that of the people I love. I will hold onto my anger for these next four years, and I am sure for much longer, because in a country where facts and truth are now negotiable, that relatively conscious rage is the only beacon I have to make sure my ship is not running aground in a crazy, hopeless land.