Tuesday night, I watched a blue and mostly red map of my country in horror. Sitting with fellow Democrats in a Hillary Clinton campaign office, to-be celebratory bottles of wine turned into coping mechanisms. Florida flashed red on the TV map, and I walked out into the cold to smoke the third cigarette of my entire life on the office steps. The tears rolled slowly at first, then the levy broke into sobs. I stared across the street to my college town’s most notorious bar as laughing groups entered for a night of 90s music and trashcans. Miami University students joke about Brick Street’s sticky floors, messy makeouts, and regrettable morning memories. In more private conversations, Brick Street serves as the setting to personal accounts of intimate partner violence, racially-charged attacks, gay-bashing, and sexual predators preying on the vulnerable. The small-town-famous establishment is the kingdom of white frat guys and a breeding ground for intolerance-driven violence. I do not feel safe in Brick Street. Now, with a bigoted rapist who encourages violence surging towards the presidency, I sobbed as I feared my world was becoming a Brick Street.
“I am a working class, female, bisexual survivor,” I told a friend. “How will I survive a Trump presidency?”
At nearly 22 years old, I have experienced suffering that I would wish upon no one. I have been verbally, mentally, and physically abused by my father. I have gone without food, without heat, and without shelter. I have been kidnapped by my abuser and ripped from my mother’s arms by the police. I have had my sanity questioned by a judge during a court testimony. I have survived an attempted murder. I have been raped. I have been gaslighted. My life has been extraordinary in many ways, and yet I am very lucky.
The pains of poverty and womanhood inflict traumas on me, but still I possess certain attributes that protect me – my whiteness, my citizenship, my physical ability. I could always acknowledge, at least on an intellectual level, that my struggles would be very different and much harder had I not been born with those advantages.
As I watched a Trump presidency become inevitable that night, I felt for the first time that the world systematically sought to eliminate my existence. I feared an escalation in the harassment I already faced by men on campus. I feared violence for expressing my sexuality. I worried that Pulse Nightclub could happen across America. I did not cry at defeat. I cried from devastating fear and despair that my very identity was now endangered.
I carried myself through the next two days. Each person I walked past, I wondered if they, too, were grieving or if they had intentionally or ignorantly caused my grief. I distrusted my classmates. At times, the panic was crushing.
Over those two days, I watched my Facebook feed fill with a picture of the electoral map broken down by various demographics. Each person who posted the graphic remarked on the reality that white women voted Trump into office. At the same time, my white female friends mourned. White woman after white woman feared that unchangeable pieces of their identity would lead to their destruction under a Trump administration. My white friends rattled off their personal attributes that were now selected as targets for hatred.
This election has demonstrated that women are certainly not a monolith. Some women internalize sexism. Some women have been taught the pride of poverty that glorifies sacrifice and meritocracy. Some women have sailed comfortably through life on economic prosperity. These women certainly need pulled into social justice conversations, but the aftermath of this election teaches a more immediate lesson to young white feminists.
As young white women rush to make appointments for IUDs, fear the removal of their rights, and worry about being the target of increased violence, we must also realize the novelty of this experience. Our fear of institutionalized suffering under a Trump presidency is legitimate. Many of us grew up in the 1990s as women who have never feared institutionalized suffering, subjugation, or discrimination at this magnitude. Fellow millennial white women, remember this feeling. Even if Trump proves himself a more human president than anticipated, remember this feeling. Recognize that people of color and visibly queer folks fear state-sanctioned violence daily. Recognize that the very existence of people of color and visibly queer folks is threatened daily. Recognize that their daily struggle for survival in America is as old as their existence in America.
Young white women, remember this feeling, and answer the call to fight. We must begin by recognizing that white women historically have been bad allies to our black, brown, immigrant and trans sisters. Young white women, when you answer the call to fight, amplify the voices of women of color and uplift the testimonies of queer women. White women, remember this feeling and when we answer the call to fight, let’s fight for all women this time.