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The On Being Project

Seven Thoughts on Waking Up in Our America

It has taken me a while to sit with the trauma of the election, and find words of hope and inspiration. The truth of the matter is that those words are slow in coming, and may not be coming for a while. The concern for my own babies and other people’s babies is great, great, and tinged with real pain and trauma. But as Brother Martin told us a long time ago,

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

What does it mean to speak of hope, infinite hope, when we have a president-elect who was endorsed by the KKK?

What does it mean to speak of hope for a better America when we have gone from the real prospect of electing the first female president in American history to electing a man who brags about being able to “grab’em by the pussy. You can do anything,” and has more than a dozen women suing him for sexual harassment?

If we love each other, we tell each other the truth. And the truth of the matter is that many of us are in incredible pain right now. Pain tinged with dreams, and legitimate fear. That fear is not equally distributed across America. That fear is concentrated among Muslims, Hispanics, African Americans, poor folks, women, gay/lesbian/trans folks, Jews, disabled folks, undocumented people…

To have heart, to literally have courage (remember that the root of the word “courage” comes from the old Latin word for heart, cor), does not mean that we are somehow immune to fear and trepidation. No, it means that we hug our babies even when our limbs are frozen in this trauma, our very souls are trembling with fear, and our hearts heavy. And that is where many of us are today.

Don’t tell me “it’s going to be OK” if you have not had to look into my frightened children’s eyes. Make it OK, work with us in making it OK, and then tell me that it is OK.

This is not the time for bravado and pretending to be unafraid. Yes, the truth of the matter is that we are afraid, and many of us are afraid for those who are more vulnerable in our midst, and for our babies. What marks us as human is not so much whether we are or are not afraid, but rather whether we allow fear to have the last word. Can we rise up, stand up, and act out of love even when fear is real and present? Can we seek hope and love, and bring them to public spaces until we call it justice?

With that, here are seven #woke thoughts about where we find ourselves today.

1) Yes, this is about our babies. We have spent a lifetime telling our babies to not be bullies, to stand up to bullies, and to above all else, to be kind. So what do we do, how do we look them in the eye when our political system elected a bully, someone who has bullied not just Muslims and Hispanics and African Americans and gay/lesbian/trans folks, disabled folks, poor people, women, and so many others, but even his own counterpart, an incredibly powerful and more experienced female presidential candidate?

How do I look my children in the eye and tell them that sometimes the bully wins? At least in the short run? How do I admit to them that there are millions of people in the country who are drawn to that bullying trait, or at least willing to live with it?

2) As a Muslim, I don’t think it is my job to tell people of other faiths how to understand their own faith. But I know a thing or two about Jesus. I have sat at his feet, and seen his love animate the hearts of people who for centuries have been brutalized, traumatized, and beaten down. I know something about the Jesus who says that you can’t be right with God until you are right with the least of God’s children. So would someone tell me how in God’s name could 81 percent of white evangelicals walk into a voting booth and vote for this man who time and again belittled and mocked and frightened and threatened the most vulnerable of God’s children?

When you had to choose between your white privilege and your Jesus, how did you live with yourself putting Jesus on the bottom?

3) I know that 25.5 percent of the voters in the country voted for Trump, and that not all of the people who voted for Trump support his bigotry. But you are complicit. We are all responsible. Those of us who did not vote, those of us who marginalized other candidates, and those who justified and rationalized Trump by saying, “Well, he says all these things, but…” We are all responsible.

I know that many of those who voted for Trump did so out of a deep sense of frustration, knowing that the system is corrupt and rigged. I know that many who voted for him did so as a “nuclear” option of needing to blow the whole system up. But I still want us to hold each other responsible, because the nuclear option has now resulted in an unstable person being in line to have access to literal nuclear codes for nuclear weapons that he says he can’t wait to get his hands on.

4) Yes, it is still time for love. I refuse to believe that hatred and bigotry have trumped love. I still have hope that love shall have the victory in the end, that light will vanquish darkness. To all of us Muslims, Hispanics, African Americans, women, gay/lesbian/trans folk, poor people, Native people, undocumented people, disabled folks, Jews… For all who have been traumatized and brutalized through this savage campaign season by a candidate unlike any in our history, let’s look each other in the eye and tell each other: “I’ve got your back.” Let us stand up and affirm our love for each other. Let us be bold in this love, even when our heart shakes.

5) I don’t want to hear about the “calls for unity” until there has been a real conversation about why those of us who are Hispanic, African American, Muslim, gay/lesbian, poor and working-class, Jewish, and/or women are experiencing a sense of trauma.

To speak of “unity” when a president has spoken of deporting millions of Mexicans, registering Muslims, and arresting Black Lives Matter activists is not real unity, but inflicting further damage on people who are already traumatized.

6) I do believe, fundamentally, in the power of person to person, human to human, heart to heart transformation. It is what I commit myself to every day. But for the sake of God and all the wounded people, stop asking African Americans and Muslims and Hispanics to also heal the wounds of a traumatized nation by reaching out to a majority culture that saw 63 percent of white men vote for Trump (compared to 31 percent for Clinton). Fifty-two percent of white women voted for the candidate who bragged about his misogynistic propagation of rape culture. Lots of folks in this country have some grappling with their own conscience to do, and those of us who are most brutalized can’t do that work for you.

We have access to an infinite God, but we are finite creatures. And right now, our finite energy and love is going into hugging our children and wiping their frightened tears away while holding ourselves together. We are having to answer our children’s whispered questions about if we have to leave the only country they have every known to be home. And we can’t take it on ourselves to heal the very majority culture that supported a candidate supported — enthusiastically — by the KKK. We can and will be partners in that healing, but the majority culture has to take ownership in cleansing their own heart, and keeping up their end of the bargain. The people of color, the marginalized and brutalized, don’t have the bandwidth.

7) Let us stop saying “How could this happen in America?” “Who are these voters?” This, my friends, is America. This is the racism and bigotry that has been with us in America, wrapped right around all that is good and beautiful about this country. Yes, there is so much that is lovely about America, promise of equal rights, a dream… but there is also violence, racism, empire, and a nightmare. They go together. They always have. I pray they don’t always, but they have so far.

But all we have to do is ask Native Americans, African Americans, and all who have seen the terrible side of America and know that this, too, is America. I know that it is not all that we are, but it is who we have been, and it most certainly is who we are.

If we want to see an America that we are proud of, we have to build that America. It is not in our present, and was not part of our past. It can only be in our shared future.

Yes, so many of us feel fear and dread. But we refuse to give up on hope. Let us be what scripture calls us to be: prisoners of hope. That hope has to come by reaching out and embracing all those who are fearful and vulnerable right now, and tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow.

Let me end with the beautiful prayer offered by the Sufi master, Pir Zia Inayat Khan:

The election is over, and life goes on.
We will keep bearing witness to the One Being.
We will keep honoring the legacies of the prophets and prophetesses of all lands.
We will keep revering the sacredness of the Earth.
We will keep following the way of remembrance which all religions share.
We will keep pursuing justice for all people.
We will keep recognizing people of all races and persuasions as our sisters and brothers.
We will keep extending our hearts’ goodwill toward everyone, excluding no one.
We will keep witnessing the beauty that is all around us and within us.
We will keep learning the truth of our being.
We will keep working to draw back the curtains of egoism from our eyes.
Life goes on, and we will keep going.

Yes, this is hell. And when you find yourself in hell, keep on going.

We are not bound to live this way. There is hope for a better, and more just, world, oh, we prisoners of hope.

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