On Privilege, Action, and Trump

On Tuesday night, I lay in bed refreshing the New York Times app and checking Twitter franticly. I voted for Hillary Clinton, and supported her from the first day of the primaries to the last day of the general; in fact I’d hoped that she would be running long before she announced it. When the push notification came into my phone naming Trump as president-elect, I cried.

The results of the election were gutting, for a number of reasons. After a campaign fueled by hatred and fear, Donald Trump’s presidency validated every anxiety I had felt during the general election—that there were more people willing to put the rights of others on the line to salvage their own privilege than there were people willing to work to correct the injustices in this country. We now know that Hillary won the popular vote, and while that is in and of itself reassuring, it does nothing to assuage my concerns about what a Trump presidency will mean for the safety of people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community, disabled people, Muslims, or immigrants. Almost half the country voted for someone who admitted to sexually assaulting women, who called Mexicans rapists, who promised to ban Muslims, and who mocked a disabled person, and that is a stain on our history that will never come out.

I was crushed at the thought of coming this close to finally seeing a female president, and being told, in no uncertain terms by this country: not now, not yet. For months I relished what it would mean to have a woman in the White House, especially one like Hillary Clinton, who is more qualified than anyone we’ve seen run for president in recent history. As a reproductive justice advocate there was a profound importance to have a woman championing issues like choice and family leave. In the months leading up to the election, anytime I was down, I would think about Hillary, and how many times she’s been down, before thinking “and soon, she’ll be our president.”

I am also sickened, but not surprised, at the role privilege played in this outcome. While people of color overwhelmingly voted for Hillary, Trump carried both white men and women. Some commentators smartly argued that this was a form of “whitelash”—backlash after having eight years of a black president, and that white people once again retreated into the privilege and insularity of whiteness, insisting on a white male leader at the expense of the rights and safety of people of color. Others rightly criticized white women for using proximity to a white male leader, Trump, to gain privilege only for themselves, while selfishly disregarding what a Trump presidency would mean for others, particularly for women of color and lower income women.

In the days following the election there were calls to action, and I saw these calls answered on Twitter and Facebook largely by the people who will be hurt most by a Trump presidency. That is incredible, and I am in awe of the strength of marginalized and oppressed people who continually stand up in the face of dehumanization and do the work that so desperately needs to be done. But it is not the fault of society’s most marginalized that Trump is in office, and to expect them to do all the work is not only unfair, it is unproductive.

There were also calls for unity, and for cohesion across party lines. People argued that by surrounding yourself only with people who think like you, and casting out those who don’t, we are allowing people to live in an echo chamber. But at a time when so many people’s votes were predicated on the notion that a person’s identity made them lesser, how can we expect people to feel safe in that unity? How can we expect them to trust that coming together with the people who feel so deeply that they are inferior will result in a protection of their livelihood? For many people, this isn’t a matter of living in an echo chamber—this is a matter of self-preservation.

As a woman, I’m terrified of what a Trump presidency will mean for me if I ever need to terminate a pregnancy, or cannot afford birth control, or if I’m sexually assaulted. And I am a white woman with access to a top education and with limited financial concerns, relatively speaking, so I cannot begin to comprehend the profound fear more marginalized people must be feeling.  This week I’ve thought about the women who came forward to say Trump sexually assaulted them, and every woman who has been sexually assaulted, and thought how triggering the next four years will be for them. I thought about every story I read about a Muslim child, or an immigrant child who cried and had nightmares, fearing a Trump presidency would mean the end of their lives here as they know it. I thought about the black families who already cannot trust law enforcement and who are grossly, disproportionately the victims of police brutality. I thought about people living with disabilities, and how they must feel knowing that their health insurance is at risk because a president who mocks them doesn’t care about their well-being. I thought about members of the LGBTQ community: gay couples who fear their marriages will be delegitimized by the courts, trans people who fear they won’t have access to the care they need to transition.

So what can we do? That, I believe, goes back to the issue of privilege. It should be—it must be—on those of us with privilege, be it educational, economic,  gender, or race, to make change, and take concrete steps to right the wrongs that brought us here and those to come.

Attending law school is a great and unique privilege. That goes without saying. We are lucky to be at Boston College, where a commitment to service and a respect for diverse perspectives and backgrounds is seen as an asset not only to our education, but also to what we will do with it and what we will contribute to society after leaving this school. Some of us share privileges that others don’t, either because of our race or our gender identity or our sexual orientation or our faith or our economic background. But being at law school means we all share the great privilege of being trained specifically to uphold the law and to fight for justice. And this is not a privilege we can afford to waste, especially not at a time like this.

No matter who you voted for, there are certain constitutional protections we must ensure are upheld. Beyond that, there must be a sense of humanity in everything we do, because the law is, after all, the governance of human beings. This must involve not only acknowledging, but actively standing up for the humanity of all people.

On Wednesday, my phone was flooded with texts and Facebook messages from friends to talk about the election results. I reached out to friends who I knew were struggling, especially friends whose safety, well-being, and identities would be at stake under a Trump presidency. Some incredible groups on campus offered safe spaces for students feeling scared and angry after the election, and sent emails offering words of comfort and support. Knowing that we were all in this together was an immense comfort.

Being an ally does not only mean liking your friends’ Facebook posts about Black Lives Matter, or posting an article about how Mike Pence supports conversion therapy. Those actions show solidarity, but in a time when so much is at stake, allyship must also involve clear, concrete action. We must openly denounce hate and bigotry where we see it, and that means giving whatever we can—time, money, support—to organizations that work to protect people’s rights, and dismantle the systems of oppression that remain constant in our society.

One thought on “On Privilege, Action, and Trump

  1. Pingback: Lessons From My Leave | BC Law: Impact

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