What you need to know
If true equality is what we are searching for, we should not argue who had it worse but instead seek out a way to elevate everyone, argues Wu Po-Yu.
After Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, incidents of racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia wrought free like insects driven out of the moral dirt of America by a rare thunderstorm. As anti-Trump voters stomped the streets of major cities on Nov. 9, chanting furiously: “Not my president, Not my president!” The shared anxiety boiled as if demanding an answer to what seems to be a failure of democracy. I was there, on the streets of New York, amidst the protesting crowd, in the drizzling rain, angry and desperate. Even though as a foreigner I was not eligible to vote, as a fellow human being who feels the debilitation of fear, and a Taiwanese citizen whose “country,” because of Trump’s fickle foreign plans, now faces political uncertainties that may endanger its sovereignty, I felt obligated to be present. Trump is not my president, but I have a personal stake in his presidency.
Yet, realizing my liminal relation with the United States, I can’t help but detect the hypocrisy whenever the protesting crowd roared “NOT MY PRESIDENT!” Unlike other catchphrases that target the political ideology that Trump represented, “Not my president” was not only a rejection of Donald Trump as a president but also a rejection of democracy as a political system. To be fair, democracy is not infallible, but merely a way we created to govern ourselves. But, this was the same system that elected President Barack Obama, and any other presidents anti-Trump protesters had supported. It seems like the people’s faith in democracy is contingent only to whether or not the democracy works in the way they want. The American-brand democracy has not changed much in recent years, but instead a new demographics has been uncovered, and I am afraid by blaming the American democratic process, despite its imperfections, we have created a red herring, unwittingly diverting our attention and political discourse from the real problems at hand.
Richard Dyer once wrote: “White power secures its dominance by seeming not to be anything in particular.” The very demographics in which Trump’s sensational rhetoric found its niche seems to defer, however. “White invisibility” seems to have turned against them. Or else, why do these less-educated, low-income, white males vote predominantly for Trump, whose father lent him a “small” loan of a million dollars? How could someone so wronged by capitalism supports a person who seems to be the epitome of capitalist values? The reactionary answer from the political left is usually a firm and understandably angry accusative - “because they are bigots, homophobes, white supremacists, racists, and sexists!” But simplistic accusations are not constructive. They only wound, and don’t cure.
On that night, I also heard another slogan - “Build bridges, not walls!” bouncing off the facade of that gaudily golden Trump Tower on 5th Avenue. We insist that we do not want a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border, then why are we building walls between people who are on the opposite side of the political spectrum? It turns out white invisibility does not only secure white supremacy. It also falsely warrants us to turn a blind eye on the narratives of the white bodies who also suffer under the malfunctioning societal institution. Definitely, we have to create a friendly, accommodating culture for marginalized groups, but we also have to build bridges to the portion of the political right who are poor and uneducated, to understand their intersectionality, to understand their specific pains and woes.
Now that Trump’s presidency is imminent and the horrendous “alt-right” movement that he somehow condemned but absolutely provoked grows rampant, insecurity and dread of one’s identity circulate among marginalized groups, college campuses, and people that are dear to me. Yet, energized by these defeats, there is also a fresh pump of blood introduced into the veins of the political left.
We are accumulating momentum; however, such momentum can be dangerous if not used wisely. As we have learned from this election, antagonizing and painting certain privileged social categories with a board brush without recognizing the nuances within such categories can be regressive, and detrimental to the advancement of our political ideology. In a more optimistic light, Trump has uncovered our blind spot, unveiled white invisibility, revealing a certain demographics that we need but failed to sympathize with. Even amidst a time of depravity and deep fear, we should have learned not to antagonize further the people whose bigotry is grown out of the lack of education and financial abjection. If we can believe gender and race are social constructs, then we can believe that certain bigotry is not the product of sophisticated malignancy but are socially conditioned. If true equality is what we are searching for, we should not argue who had it worse but instead seek out a way to elevate everyone, without sacrificing anyone, even if parts of his/her identity is privileged. Ultimately, to prevent Trump from happening again, we have to realize that “marginalized, heterosexual, white cis-male” is not always an oxymoron.
Editor: Edward White