My Skin Feels Neon: I Voted for My Black Neighbors

[Design by my talented husband, Jeremy Grant]

Each morning, I drop my four-year-old at preschool at our local neighborhood school. We happen to live in a diverse neighborhood in Denver, the statistics breaking down to almost thirds – black, white, Hispanic. When our moving truck pulled up last August, one neighbor – the president of the Major Taylor Cycling Club, the first African American to win a major cycling competition – brought over cycling jerseys for the whole family. Others stopped by to say hello.

Most of the time, we feel welcome, even though we sometimes mispronounce names, our front yard looks crisp brown compared to the manicured lawns of many of our neighbors, and we carry the weight of gentrification on our shoulders.

My daughter’s preschool reflects the blend of our neighborhood: my daughter loves her school.

But when I walked into her school a few weeks ago, I noticed a poster taped to a door near the playground: it instructed kids in how to act and speak if they’re stopped by a cop.

Growing up as I did in white, Christian, suburban America, I never developed a strategy for talking to the police – I didn’t need to. In fact, I trusted the police – if you’re in trouble, you call the cops. They’re the good guys.

The same is true for me now. As a white woman, doors magically open for me, people give me free things, and I am usually beckoned to the front of lines. (Okay, I’m exaggerating some, but not much).

I’m referring to white privilege: people of color make way for me, and white people give me extra attention and opportunities because of my light skin.

But these kids, in my child’s elementary school, are learning to keep their hands within sight, to ask a police officer clearly if they’re free to go, to ask for the right to remain silent, to ask to speak to their parents or talk to a lawyer, to tell the cops that no, they do not consent to being searched – because prejudice infects our country.

On the day after the election, when the results had been tallied and President elect Donald Trump had claimed his crown, I slunk into my daughter’s classroom to drop her off. On that day, my skin felt neon. At pick-up the day before, one black father had joked with another black mom that obviously, he had voted for the candidate who throws people he doesn’t like out of the country. In other words: Hillary or bust.

Even though my state of Colorado (and my particular county) had gone blue, I knew the color of my skin made me suspect:

was I a secret Trump supporter walking among them?

After all, I too had friends who had “come out” on Facebook after the election to gloat over Trump’s victory. It could be any of us.

Those parents weren’t crazy to cast a vote against Trump. Throughout election season, news outlets reported the support Trump had received from white supremacist groups such as the American Freedom Party, including Trump’s selection of William Johnson as a delegate in California (a selection he revoked).

Additionally, Trump received endorsements from KKK members and Neo-nazis and never bothered to disavow any of them.

Add to that the violence reported at Trump rallies across the U.S. To me, the most disturbing instances were those perpetrated by white Americans against black Americans, such as in Fayetteville, NC when a black protestor was being escorted out of a rally, middle finger wagging, and a Trump supporter punches him in the face, the crowd cheering him on. And the time in Lousville, KY, when a young black woman at a Trump rally was surrounded by white men, repeatedly shoved, called “a nigger and a cunt” before she was escorted from the rally by police. And the time in Las Vegas, NV, when Trump supporters yelled at a contentious black protestor, “Light the motherfucker on fire!” as Trump fans cheered. (At that same rally, a white activist yelled, “Black lives matter!” as security took her outside, and a Trump supporter shouted back, “White lives matter.”). And the black protestor who was briefly choked at a rally in Birmingham, AL (about whom Trump said, “Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing”).

On top of that, Trump himself made Trump himself made bold, offensive statements: He implied that mexicans immigrating to the U.S. are “rapists.” He accused a “heavy Arab population” in New Jersey for “cheering” as the World Trade Center towers collapsed at 9/11 (a discredited rumor). He called for a complete stop of the immigration of Muslims. He suggested reinstating waterboarding as a way to torture POWs, and threatened creating a “punishment” for women who have abortions. He suggested we instate “profiling” in order to keep crime in check. He suggested implementing “stop-and-frisk” police policies. Trump incited crowds at his rallies to commit violence toward protestors (who were often people of color), saying at a rally in Iowa in February, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of ‘em, would you? Seriously. OK? Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise.”

Scariest of all? When examining the complex division in our nation, he stated over and over again, “I alone can fix it.”

All this added up to my vote for Hillary: I understand what it means to minority populations (at least in my life) to cast a vote for a candidate like him.

I realized that a vote for Trump was a middle finger to people of color.

To all of us white folks for whom this might be foggy: the USA is not postracial and progressive, like maybe in our white ignorance, we’ve hoped to be true. (After all, we rationalize, wasn’t our last president black?). The truth is, we’re rehashing the issues of the civil rights movement all over again – do black lives matter? (Do Latino/LGBT/Muslim/Asian/Native American/Immigrant lives matter?) Is racial and religious profiling an acceptable system to perpetuate? Are diverse communities safe or even possible?

A reality like that, so ugly and bald in this election, makes me want to make my own badge that I can pin onto my clothes this month –

“I voted for Hillary”

– to let everyone know that I’m not on Trump’s team. But just by being white, I’m implicated in the system that exists to buoy me – and I’m implicated in the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, even if I didn’t vote for him. After all, who will benefit from his election if not me and others who look like me?

For me, my one hope at developing friendships with the parents in my daughter’s school and the neighbors on my block is honest conversations, where I let my neighbors know that we’re in this together. None of us – not even the president elect –  can go it alone.

Since I first wrote the above, the number of publicized violent hate crimes (and possibly the number of hate crimes) enacted against US citizens of color spiked – which is horrendous and heartrending, though unsurprising. If you would like to read more about it, Harper’s Weekly Review has an excellent summary from last week.

Stay safe out there, will you?

Disclaimer: I absolutely know and believe that each of us pick our candidates based on many, many  complex factors. Therefore, to be clear: this essay is about explaining exactly why I personally picked Hillary Clinton as my candidate for this most recent presidential election, and perhaps explaining an unfamiliar point of view. If you voted for Donald Trump for president, like many people did, I am not calling you personally a neo-nazi (nor am I calling Donald Trump a neo-nazi). 🙂 I believe you had your own complex reasons for voting for him, and I trust you to make that decision because we’re all adults here, and I think you’re great. But I’d love to hear your reasons – so comment below!

About Liz Grant

Published author. Married to an artist. Two kids. Lives in a brick house in Denver, Colorado. Follower of Jesus. Find me on Instagram @elizcharlottegrant.

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