Were You There?

It started at 3 a.m. the morning after the election, with a call from my former foster son, D.

“Ma,” he said. “What are we going to do?”

D is black. He said his friends had been texting back and forth as the election results became clear, trying to decide which of them had light enough skin to “be the house n—-r.” Another friend, D said, texted him the reassurance that they’d survive as long as the plantation had some shade.

Ma, what are we going to do?

In the darkness of the kitchen I could only think to say, “We have to really be there for each other. Love hard.”

In the daylight, other stories began to roll in. The transgender friend whose trans friend was beaten up early that morning in line in a pharmacy. The Latina poet in Texas who burst into to tears in the parking lot of her doctor’s office and had a white man come up and laugh into her face. A Milwaukee Public Schools mom whose Mexican-American child was asked how soon she would be forced to move “back” to Mexico. My little 5-year-old buddy who had been told by a classmate that Clinton was stealing money from people and that Trump was going to fix that.

These are just the people I personally know, on the Day After. I saw other stories online yesterday (of a woman ripping off another woman’s hijab in the Walmart, of an African American woman being threatened with a gun by four white men at a gas station who told her how happy it will be when all the black people are dead, and on and on) that show how this election has already pulled back the scrim of civility and threatens the daily lives of vulnerable communities.

I spent the day literally trembling in fear for myself, my family, my friends and neighbors. This had never happened to me, not in this way. It felt like the moments after an adrenaline crash, when I shook while realizing I had survived some threat. But it wasn’t that phenomenon at all–not the restorative cascade of shivers that comes when you realize you’ve made it through an accident or an assault, but the uncontrollable shuddering of an animal awakening to find a¬†predator at the door of its den.

I know this predator isn’t new, it’s just, as others have written, I had started to feel hopeful that we had in recent years begun to reform its behavior. Whether it was through broader awareness of the needs of transgender kids, or the open discussions of race propelled by Black Lives Matter, or the boldness of the Dreamers standing up for immigrant students’ rights, it seemed like we were making some progress toward the inclusive U.S. we are supposed to be.

I woke at 3 this morning with the refrain of a hymn–“oh, oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble”–the sound of my mind processing my body’s day of shaking. The hymn is “Were You There When a They Crucified My Lord,” a devastating song of grief and culpability that many congregations sing in the days leading up to Easter.

Were you there when they crucified my lord?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Oh, oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my lord?

I think this song of self-inquiry, of questioning what injustices we have been present for, is appropriate today. I got an email last night from Faithful America, a group of activist Christians devoted to “Love thy neighbor, no exceptions,” asking me to sign this pledge, which I did:

“As a follower of Jesus, I will join with my sisters and brothers in resisting any and all attacks by the Trump administration on the most vulnerable among us. Following the examples of the saints and martyrs, and guided by prayer and discernment, I am prepared if necessary to risk my own safety and well-being for the sake of others.”

Those of us from marginalized groups might still be trembling today in fear of what is to come, but we’re going to get up in a minute and chase that predator from the door.

Those from the majority should be trembling, too, at what they have allowed to happen, what they have watched from the edges of the woods, and join us in the chase.

November 10, 2016 Blog Posts