Two weeks ago, I added a new name to my list of theoretical future cat names: Hillary Rodham Kitten (much to the chagrin of my pun-averse roommate). Yesterday morning, I waited an hour in the longest line I’ve ever experienced at my polling place to proudly cast my vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton to be our next President – an act that wouldn’t have been possible less than a century ago.
Hillary was never the lesser of two evils for me. She was the person that I wanted to represent my country in the world. She was the intelligent, compassionate, earnest, polished, qualified, patriotic candidate that had earned my vote – not just through the campaign over the last year-plus, but throughout her entire career in public service.
She’s fought for women and children around the world. She’s fought to bring healthcare to all Americans. She’s fought to provide Americans with the same educational opportunities, regardless of socioeconomic status, disability, gender, or race. She’s been torn down, investigated, vilified, investigated, called shrill, ugly, and lacking in stamina, investigated – you get the idea. And through it all, Hillary has refused to break. She’s refused to simply take her place silently next to her husband. She’s refused to accept that a woman shouldn’t aspire to the highest office in the land. She’s refused to give up on her country. She’s steadfastly refused to give up the fight.
Yes, Hillary has made mistakes, because she is in fact human. But more importantly, she has acknowledged and apologized for her mistakes. And then she’s learned from them. That is the mark of a good leader – not perfection, but PROGRESS.
Yesterday, I was hopeful for our future. Yesterday, I was excited to elect the first woman President of the United States. Yesterday, I was proud of my country.
Today, I’m not okay. This is not okay.
Donald Trump’s platform was centered around racist ideals – from announcing his candidacy by calling Mexicans murderers and rapists, to The Wall (way to ruin a perfectly good Pink Floyd album title), to planning to ban all Muslims, to still questioning if our President was born in America for goodness sake, to talking about predominantly minority neighborhoods as if they’re straight out of an apocalyptic Y.A. novel, to taking his sweet time to halfheartedly disavow the support of the Alt-Right (aka white supremacists), to admitting to committing sexual assault. And that’s only a partial list. Trump took every dog whistle we’ve heard for decades and put them into words no one could reasonably suggest meant anything other than what they obviously meant. Not that Mike Pence and other Republican establishment figures didn’t try.
Trump’s deplorable words and actions are easy to point to and say, “clearly we still have work to do.” But they only paint half the picture. Long before Trump used these sentiments to catapult himself to the presidency, they were all seething under the surface where many Americans were blissfully unaware of just how widespread they were. And beyond those that actively embrace these racist ideas, there are even more people that clearly don’t find them instantly disqualifying in a presidential candidate.
That is partly due to the systemic racism (and sexism, but we’ll get to that in a minute) embedded in our society.
Non-white men were granted the right to vote in 1870 thanks to the 15th Amendment, which prohibits federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote on the basis of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” So, the white men that wanted to maintain their power came up with poll taxes and literacy tests and other voter-suppression tactics to keep (predominantly) black men disenfranchised. And those tactics didn’t completely disappear with the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. They evolved into voter-ID laws and attempts to ban early voting or vote-by-mail, and the Americans most impacted by these new vote-restricting tactics are still non-white voters. That’s happening today, and it will start happening even more because this was only the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. Imagine what novel ways they can come up with to disenfranchise non-white Americans over the next few years.
Lack of equal access for non-white Americans extends beyond voting rights – to quality of education, to employment opportunities, to sentencing in the criminal justice system. Despite desegregation, schools still remain naturally segregated partly because districts are based on neighborhoods, and neighborhoods tend to have a predominant socioeconomic class, and socioeconomic class remains closely tied to race. But as the New York Times pointed out in their 2015 article about segregation in New York City schools, even when neighborhoods are more diverse, schools aren’t necessarily:
“More affluent families cluster in schools with reputations for good academics. Many middle-class families zoned for high-poverty schools send their children to charter schools or gifted and talented programs, rather than to a local school.”
Even when non-white Americans get the same education and entry-level experience as white Americans, they still can face barriers based on unconscious bias. We’ve all seen the studies where two identical resumes are sent out, one with a stereotypically “white” name and one with a stereotypically “black” name. The “white” resumes get more responses every time.
That unconscious (and often straight-up conscious) bias extends to the criminal justice system where African-Americans get harsher sentences for the same crimes as their white counterparts. Studies have shown that people unconsciously view black men as greater threats.
For a long time, we’ve focused on the treatment of black Americans, because they have been the largest non-white group in our country, thanks of course to our history of slavery. Now other groups, including Hispanic Americans and Middle Eastern Americans and Muslim Americans, are facing similar barriers, bigotry, and bias. All of which means that we can pass every law in the books to combat obvious bias, but we still need to look within ourselves to see the systemic and unconscious bias that perpetuates racial division within our country.
And what about the ladies? This is a feminist blog, after all.
We face another set of obstacles – and women of color have to contend with both race-based and sex-based barriers. Like non-white men, we women had to be granted the right to vote by an amendment, the 19th to be exact in 1920. And some of the same vote-restricting tactics that affected black men, like literacy tests and poll taxes, also impeded women from voting in the first elections after they gained the franchise. Not to mention the general belief that it was inappropriate for women to vote. By the 1950s, however, the women’s vote became an important bloc that was actively courted by politicians. Today, women vote at higher rates than men. Hell yeah, ladies! But it still didn’t tip this election.
Throughout the campaign, I’ve been reminded of the phrase “you have to be twice as good to get half as much.” Women still face a pay gap. Women still have to send out more resumes to get responses when compared to men with equal experience. Women are still less likely to get promoted. And for women of color, all of this unequal treatment is worse than for white women.
As I sat watching the results come in late last night, watching with waning hope as battleground states waffled between blue and red before most of them eventually ended up red, I felt numb. I had flashbacks to when I was running for a position at my college radio station, initially unopposed, but on the day of the election a guy threw his hat in the ring without taking the time to learn about the position or write a candidate statement. It took nearly an hour for the Guild to deliberate before electing me. I’d wager just about every woman has experienced something similar. For Hillary it played out on the national stage last night. I desperately hoped that, like my college radio station, America would end up picking the qualified candidate who understood the responsibilities of the position and was prepared to take them on. America didn’t.
America picked the man that has called women bimbos because they disagreed with him, has suggested Megyn Kelly wasn’t a fair moderator because she has a period, has advocated that his opponent be locked up, has claimed the media was biased against him because they were quoting him directly, has the audacity to say Hillary should be criticized for her husband’s affairs, and has admitted to sexually assaulting women. Oh, and Trump and his top advisors have all cheated on their wives because they don’t view women as people or marriages as partnerships, and I’ll bet every one of them blames the women for driving them to cheat. None of that disqualified him.
We all know how Donald Trump happened. Anyone who claims they don’t understand how this happened is lying to themselves. Donald Trump was elected because white Americans wanted to blame someone for their struggles, and Trump gave them an easy scapegoat in brown and black people. Donald Trump was elected because after eight years of a Black man as president, there was apparently no way they’d let a woman have the job. Donald Trump was elected because the only thing worse than a woman with power is a woman unabashedly seeking power. Donald Trump was elected because he appealed to the worst instincts in humanity – the desire to blame people, the need to “other” people, the unwillingness to accept that progress might mean not having as big a slice of the pie. Donald Trump was elected by racist and sexist white people. And now the world has to live with that.
Despite all the muck this election, I’m refusing to give up on our country. There are elections every single year. State Houses. Congressional Districts. Judges. Ballot Measures. We are facing four years of what could be a disastrous, disrespectful, disillusioning presidency. But we can come together and start working to fix what is broken. We can refuse to get stuck in the partisan shouting and 24-hour what-crazy-thing-did-Trump-do-now news coverage that has pushed other big issues so far beyond the back-burner that many people don’t even remember that they are issues. Issues like the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline, climate change, outdated infrastructure, and Flint & other cities like it. We can stand up and refuse to let them take our country from us. We can refuse to give up the fight. I know damn well that’s what Hillary Rodham Clinton will do.