It's hard not to despair after the shock of Tuesday night.
I teach in the San Francisco Bay Area at a public university in the California State University system with one of the most diverse student populations in the nation. Students of color are in the majority. Most of our students are low income. They are African American, Latino American, Asian American. Many are immigrants (some undocumented) or sons and daughters of immigrants. Many are Muslim. LGBTQ, or people with disabilities. Yesterday there were students sobbing in my classes. One of them, a Filipina American, had been accosted that morning in a Starbucks in San Jose by angry Trump supporters shouting that she'd be deported. "I was with my six year old son," she kept repeating. her voice shaky. "My six year old son." Another student, a Chicana, talked about how terrified the second graders (predominantly Asian American) in her classroom were the day after the election. "What can I say to them?" Story after story followed from other students. They are angry, sorrowful, frightened.
"We as a nation must find a way to move forward without consigning those who Trump has threatened to the shadows," outgoing Senate minority leader Harry Reid says, "Their fear is entirely rational, because Donald Trump has talked openly about doing terrible things to them. Every news piece that breathlessly obsesses over inauguration preparations compounds their fear by normalizing a man who has threatened to tear families apart, who has bragged about sexually assaulting women and who has directed crowds of thousands to intimidate reporters and assault African Americans. Their fear is legitimate and we must refuse to let it fall through the cracks between the fluff pieces.” (See MOTHER JONES for his whole statement.)
What is our role as citizens in a climate like this? As teachers? As writers?
The morning after the election, Dan Piepenbring assembled remarks from writers in his column in THE PARIS REVIEW, and offered this: “If you aspire to write, put aside all the niceties and sureties about what art should be and write something that makes the scales fall from our eyes. Forget the tired axioms about showing and telling, about sense of place—any possible obstruction—and write to destroy complacency, to rattle people, to help people, first and foremost yourself. Lodge your ideas like glass shards in the minds of everyone who would have you believe there’s no hope. And read, as often and as violently as you can. If you have friends, as I do, who tacitly believe that it’s too much of a chore to read a book, just one fucking book, from start to finish, smash every LCD they own. This is an opportunity. There’s too much at stake now to pretend that everything is okay.”
Toni Morrison's recollections in THE NATION of her feelings after the election of George W. Bush seem prophetic: “I am staring out of the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Then a friend, a fellow artist, calls to wish me happy holidays. He asks, ‘How are you?’ And instead of ‘Oh, fine—and you?’, I blurt out the truth: ‘Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything more in the novel I’ve begun. I’ve never felt this way before, but the election….’ I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: ‘No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!’”