The only other time my neighbor woke me up with his yelling, it was around 5 A.M., at a guy, and at himself: gay slurs, self-hating slurs, not only yelling for cheating but for being gay and cheating, hating himself for having anything to do with any of it in the first place. My initial irritation with being up that early turned to an upset that a couple fighting about cheating didn’t get to just be a couple fighting about cheating but had to account too for the whole world’s anxieties and fears around their love, that a heated emotional state releases all the festering internalized hatred into the air like pollen, and hate gets to have its spring, making all the sex acts suddenly vile, and all the betrayals even more grotesque. What it must have been like to have an intimate relationship with the politicizing of your own intimate relationships. For all the bigotry and fear in the world to Frankenstein for you an extra guardian, a narcissistic parent, who hides all the mirrors in the house, makes sure you never get to see yourself, and promises you you’re ugly. I don’t know if I can totally speak to gay self-hating myself, just an adolescence of shameful crushes and the disgust that followed too long a look at another girl who captivated me. But how terrifying, how sad, that we are so close at all times, under the right circumstances or plagued with the right kind of fear, to work against ourselves as representatives of bigotry’s cannibalism.
And so, one of the most freeing slow burns of a realization I’ve ever had was that all these internalized messages create inside each of us a tiny little white, wealthy, straight, cis, able-bodied male—picture Michael Scott, if that helps—who fears his pending irrelevance, and will sell out the less advantaged to protect it. (Sometimes our little Michael Scotts are female, and Female Michael Scott has all the same instincts as before, only now, hopes to be some kind of exception. Fifty-three percent of white female voters voted for Trump: voted to be one of the guys—one of the white guys—and to affiliate with power. As if he’s looking out for our struggles as women, as if our whiteness is at all endangered.) These are not original thoughts about white fragility or white superiority. As one Rookie editor said during our meeting on November 10, “This is why black women don’t want to just go along with white women’s ideas of solidarity. White women have a long history of affiliating with power.” In addition to learning more about the class divide that might’ve made Trump so appealing to lower-class voters, I can see more of myself—can relate to, and so hopefully understand and begin to dismantle the influence of—the upper-class, educated, white female voters, who ultimately chose, by voting Trump, to perpetuate racism even if it meant endorsing sexism. Who hate people of color more than they like themselves. Who favor the promises of building a wall along the Mexican border and keeping Muslim Americans under surveillance and deporting millions of undocumented Americans, over having reproductive rights or a president who values women beyond their sex appeal.
This little Michael Scott is sneaky as fuck, and mobilizes in the heat of intense insecurity and paranoia. Toni Morrison wrote beautifully—devastatingly—of this white fear in The New Yorker: “So scary are the consequences of a collapse of white privilege that many Americans have flocked to a political platform that supports and translates violence against the defenseless as strength. These people are not so much angry as terrified, with the kind of terror that makes knees tremble.” This terror motivated some people to vote for Trump, and it will keep others from being motivated to fight against him and all he represents. The day after the election, Rembert Browne wrote in New York magazine about the great American pastime of white insecurity that breeds white superiority that breeds white supremacy:
“Growing up, I always found an odd pride in how white slave masters would stop at nothing to prevent slaves from learning to read. There was always this clear (but unspoken) undercurrent that, should enslaved black people get smart enough, they’d figure out a way to rid themselves of this inhumane experience we subject them to, and then we’re done for. Slaves helped build America while white people sat and watched—but beneath that hate lay white paranoia and insecurity over their ability to compete on an equal playing field.”
I see a microcosm of this delusion among other liberal-identifying, feminist-minded artists, male and female alike, always white: “It’s so hard to get work; casting only wants women of color.” “It doesn’t matter how good my music is, no one will ever care because I’m a white guy.” “Maybe I’ll get some rappers on my next album since no one cares about white men anymore.” These thoughts cross my mind, too: I work in media and entertainment, I have a heightened sensitivity to my impending irrelevance because I’ve been doing this since I was a kid, and even if I do not consciously subscribe to a Trumpian vision of success with gold towers and a pass on assaulting women, I am always just a therapy session away from basically being Bojack Horseman, Valerie Cherish, Norma Desmond; any flailing fading cartoon celebrity who clutches to their youth and power like an oxygen mask. Being even mildly famous means watching yourself die every time your audience has lost interest, and so feelings around mortality bob close to the surface. Old institutions of power are ingrained in us as advantages to take comfort in: “At least I’m not that, at least I have X specialness.” We mistake the recent cultural revolution—to be extremely reductive, “no one cares about white men anymore”—for a political one, and scramble to protect our whiteness, even while a white supremacist is appointed chief strategist under Trump. The faux-underdog narrative of victimhood that white people have created for ourselves is based on greed, not a tipping of the scales that is supported by any institution.
It will be easier to reach across media bubbles or talk at the extended family holiday dinners if we Good people admit to ourselves that we have our Michael Scotts, too. Embrace and swallow the fear of sometimes fucking up or being wrong or looking like a “bad” person. Talk to the Facebook friends who voted for Trump instead of bragging about how much you don’t relate to them. I didn’t know what I was writing when I started this, so I guess it’s just a call for complexity, nuance, humility, and surrendering the desire to have a Good personal brand.
After I sent that Still Processing episode to some people in my cast, one other actress, who is white and in her 30s, told me it had made her agitated at first because the hosts talk about the racism that motivated these voters and she had wanted to believe the election was mostly about gender politics. But then: “I realized it is actually patriotic to accept the responsibility to sit in the discomfort those arguments give me, because they are true.”
There’s this one scene in our play that I always worry about. Basically, a wealthy, white aristocratic family has gotten lazy and too bogged down by grief and trauma to maintain their estate or income. Their family friend, Lopakhin, whose dad was a serf on the estate, and who is played, in our cast, by a Black man, keeps warning them that they won’t be able to save their home before it goes up for auction to pay their debts. Masters of deflection and denial, the family keep drinking champagne and turning over memories of glory days that never really existed. Eventually, Lopakhin goes to the auction and buys the estate himself, proud of the money he’s made even though he came from nothing, excited to turn it into a bunch of cottages that slightly less rich families will be able to enjoy. He laughs and dances and just about cries from happiness. The family’s matriarch, my character’s mom, sits in a chair and weeps. I come in and tell her it will be OK, because I’ve been learning that my family’s beloved estate was actually built on the backs of others, and the magic of my childhood is harder to appreciate knowing what it cost for other people. “The house where we live—it hasn’t been ours for a long time.” I tell my mom we’ll leave and plant a new orchard, and it’ll be even better because it will come out of our experience, not our wealth and family history. I walk her offstage, where she hobbles drunk into the doorway light.
From day one of rehearsal, our cast has discussed how weird it would be to do this show the day of and after the election, and I imagined the double-meaning I’d feel saying all this after Trump had lost: It’s going to be OK. America was never that great to begin with. Or it was only great to you because people with less power had to make it so for your benefit.
I feel like it’s important to be genuinely hopeful and convincing in this scene because the audiences who can afford to see a Broadway show are overwhelmingly white and wealthy, and I’ve heard from a few friends’ parents how much they felt for the mom character, how off-putting it was to see Lopakhin celebrate his success if it meant the family’s loss. Of course sympathy for her and the troubled family history she experienced on the estate is valid; that’s why Chekhov, who wrote the play, is so good—he had zero political agenda other than, much like George Saunders, to point out how many advantages and disadvantages co-exist within a life.
But a week after the election, we performed the show for an audience made up entirely of high schoolers. Maybe some of you were there. When Lopakhin did his dance, they cheered. They applauded. “They get it!!” we said backstage. “They want change, too!”
In your fear
Of what we have become
Take to the fire
Now we must burn
All that we are
Through these clouds
As on wings
This month’s theme is Time Travel. These are my cobbled-together thoughts on trying to be an antidote to Trumpian notions of success and power on a very small scale. Now, in the interest of taking action, this list by Mikki Halpin is full of things we all need to know and do, right now and for the years to come. Holy Fuck the Election is a flow-chart of your feelings to your concerns to your organizations that need your time and/or money (and it’s just attention-grabbing enough to share). The Rookie archive has many resources you might find informative or healing, on subjects like: processing the emotions of this election, negotiating political differences with your family, having productive discussions with people whose beliefs differ from yours, being an effective ally, a race theory syllabus, a Black film syllabus, discovering the realities of the American Dream as a Chinese-American immigrant, not making someone else’s oppression about you, talking to your parents about transitioning, answering awkward questions about being trans, the hierarchy of empathy, the basics of volunteer work, a guide to safe and peaceful protesting, a guide to internet protests, calling out prejudiced behavior effectively, finding a therapist, protecting your civil liberties, speaking out without performing your Good-ness, steps to fighting for a cause, and making your own zine. Our How We Live series centered on the lived experience and thought of black teenagers, with so many in-depth essays, poems, photos, illustrations, and reflections. We have many playlists on finding unity and inner-strength for social change. And, to see some people who lead by example, here are interviews with activists and general change-makers whom we’ve talked to over the years: Hillary Clinton, Laverne Cox, Wendy Davis, Rebecca Solnit, Sister Simone Campbell, Janet Mock, Amandla Stenberg, Shelby Knox, the National Women’s Vote Director for Hillary for America, the creator of a documentary series on climate change, Black Youth Project 100’s Sana Bell and Charlene Carruthers, the app developer making the internet safer for activists, a teenage activist on hunger strike during the Arab Spring, gender-nonconforming teens in New York, six NYC-based teenage activists, those same teenage activists a year later, and MORE fucking teenage activists being rad as fuck.
And, two non-Rookie things that I am finding really therapeutic and motivating, in addition to all the pieces I quoted above: the book Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit, and Toni Morrison on the job of artists and writers in time of crisis.
And then, of course, there’s you. Our community is more important now than ever. You will never be shouting into a void if you are speaking to each other. You will never be helpless if you are helping each other. As we at Rookie work to pull together posts on where to put your post-election energy and concrete ways to affect change, we want to hear your ideas of what you need to see, or what you’d like to write/create: [email protected]
In your fear, seek only peace
In your fear, seek only love
In your fear, seek only peace
In your fear, seek only love
In your fear, in your fear
As on wings
This is the trip
And this is the business we take
This is our number
All my trials, Lord
Will be remembered
Everything has changed
Thank you for everything. I love you a whole lot.
Forward, forward, forward,