This is hard…
Maybe I should preface this by saying that this is not meant as an attack. My only goal here is to share how I feel, and ask that you thoughtfully, even prayerfully try to consider my point of view.
OK, here goes.
I know some many of you voted for Trump to become the next President of the United States of America.
As disheartening as that is to me, it’s not that much of a surprise, just as I’m sure it’s no surprise to you that I did not vote for him.
What has been surprising is your reaction — or lack thereof — to an outcome that stunned the majority of our nation. An outcome that has left me saddened, angry, and fearful for my future and the fates of some I love.
In the interest of self-respect and out of the belief that my feelings matter — because I was raised by you to believe they do — I’m going to try to explain why I feel this way. Because I’m surprised and hurt that some of you still don’t get it. Or that maybe you’re not trying to.
I grew up on stories of how our family came to the United States: my great-great-grandparents sought refuge here after fleeing the pogroms in Russia. You know, because we’re Jewish.
And it was a good thing they left when they did, because then something called the Holocaust happened.
(Sorry, I don’t mean to be patronizing, but I mean honestly…)
Fast forward a few generations and there I am, the first black baby to be born into our white middle-class Jewish family. Destined to always be aware of my status as “the other,” not only because of the color of my skin but because of the constant juxtaposition of my mother’s marital status against your traditional conservative values.
But I was loved. You all loved me. Fiercely. And I love you for it.
You were my village. You taught me to honor and practice our family values, which would eventually even be penned into our “Braunstein Family Code of Conduct” featuring our “Responsibilities and Agreements,” including how:
- We recognize other people’s feelings are as important as our own.
- We will listen to others without interrupting.
- We will not communicate words that devalue or disrespect others.
- We will make an effort to encourage and build up others.
- We will consider the feelings of all who will be affected by our words and actions.
- When a conflict of ideas occurs, we understand that respecting the other individual is more important than proving our point.
Wow. How great is that?! But before you start patting yourselves on the back, I’d like to draw your attention to those last two points: the ideas of considering your impact, and respecting others when they disagree with you.
In the two weeks since our election, I have felt betrayed and dishonored by some family members, not because of who you voted for, but because of how you’ve reacted to what’s been happening since he won.
I’m not interested in hypotheticals, because they won’t change anything. So let’s look at some facts:
- “In the days since the presidential election, states across the country have seen increased incidents of racist or anti-Semitic vandalism and violence, many of which have drawn directly on the rhetoric and proposals of President-elect Donald Trump.”
“Racist Incidents Are Up Since Donald Trump’s Election. These Are Just a Few of Them,” Time, Nov. 13, 2016
- More than 300 incidents of harassment or intimidation were reported in the first week following Donald Trump’s election.
“Hundreds of Hate Crimes Reported Since Election: SPLC,” NBC News, Nov. 14, 2016
- “The incidents, some that bring up memories of the Jim Crow era…were added to the list of incidents that included black children being told to get to the back of the bus and Latino children being taunted about the wall that Trump promised to build between Mexico and the United States.”
“Post-election spate of hate crimes worse than post-9/11, experts say,” USA Today, Nov. 14, 2016
It took me less than a minute to find those articles, and that’s not even the tip of the iceberg.
Here’s the thing: I’m not going to shame you for voting for Trump. I’m not going to call you a racist, or a misogynist or a xenophobe just because you felt forced to “choose the lesser of two evils,” and you chose him over Hillary. Because I don’t believe you are any of those things.
Still, you aren’t stupid. You paid attention to the election. You did your research. You heard the rhetoric. And in the end, you either ignored the latter or decided that it wasn’t a factor in your decision. Either way, your vote speaks to your privilege… your privilege to elect a candidate whose most disgraceful policies will never affect you based on how you look, where you’re from, or who you love.
So now, you bear a responsibility.
(I am not equating responsibility to blame; I’m using it in the same way it’s used in our family Code of Conduct.)
Yes, you voted for a man whose presence — whose very words and calls to action — encouraged a shift from tolerable-but-still-pretty-sucky microaggressions to outright violence and intimidation against people who are different than you.
But I don’t blame you. No, on the contrary, I am now looking to you, more than to anyone else, to help make it right. To stand for what’s right and good.
Our world is irrevocably altered. The very least you can do is acknowledge that, and take a stand. For decency, for morality, for your own family values.
Donald Trump will be our President. OK. Fine. I can live with that. What I can’t live with, what I can hardly even fathom, is that some of our family members and I will now live each day with a very real degree of fear in the backs of our minds, and that other family members refuse to see what’s happening or to consider the impact on us.
This is not an exaggeration. Today, my uncle — your brother, your son, the father of your nieces and granddaughters — was attacked at his place of work.
It didn’t matter that he was just honored for two decades of dedicated service to his company, or that he is known to carry himself with a quiet, respectable reserve, or that he’s the epitome of a team player. No, what mattered today was the color of his skin.
The person who attacked my uncle is an ignorant coward. That is hardly your fault.
The problem is that a significant number of ignorant cowards now feel empowered to threaten whomever they want. And it all ties back to Trump’s rhetoric. (If you try to debate me on that, I’m afraid I’ll have to violate our family’s code.)
So, from where I sit (at my computer, with tears streaming down my face from a broken heart), this is as much my problem as it is yours.
You voted for a man who embodies the opposite of literally every single value in the covenant that you expect your children to respect.
Does he recognize other people’s feelings as important? (No. He is a bully.)
Does he listen without interrupting? (No. Did you see the debates?)
Does he value and respect others? (No. Unless you look and think like him.)
Does he make an effort to build others up? (No. His entire campaign was aimed at taking people down, professionally, politically, and personally.)
Does he consider how others will be affected by his actions? (No. Especially not if you believe his surprise at what’s been happening since his election.)
Does he understand that respecting others is more important than proving his point? (No. And I think I’ve made my point.)
So this my reality now. I’m living in a world where a vocal minority insists I am less than worthy, and a silent majority refuses to prove otherwise.
Well, I need you to break your silence. I need you to prove them wrong.
They are using more than just their words. So for you to sit back and act like I’m exaggerating or that things will calm down on their own, that’s incredibly disrespectful to me. I need you — our family and our country needs you — to do better.
So the next time a friend shares an insensitive joke about minorities, picture me as the butt of that joke. The next time you read about someone who was attacked, picture me as the victim. If you drive by a building vandalized with swastikas, picture your own home.
Stop pretending this doesn’t affect you. You helped create this reality. It’s time to face it.
The Black Braunstein
PS. Putting your faith in G-d is all well and good if that’s who you believe is ultimately in charge, but that doesn’t absolve you from taking responsibility for your actions on this earth and for giving a damn while you’re here.