We Thought We Were Ready

We thought we were ready for a woman. Well, some of us did. A lot of America didn’t think so, and that hurts. It hurts because our country has chosen a brutish man who bragged about grabbing women’s pussies over a brilliant and supremely qualified woman who, I can assure you, has had her pussy grabbed. Because we all have, somehow. A lot of men, including those we count among our friends and allies, are blind to it. We have to scream louder. We have to look our friends in the eye and remind them that there is still sexism in America, and it hurts.

To the fellow student at Princeton who grabbed my ass and ran away as I trudged home with my heavy backpack after a long night of studying. To the student outside Dillon Gym who shouted out a cruel number. To the man who relentlessly harassed my friend at the grocery store where she worked as a high-school student, and the stranger who whispered disgusting words on a street corner, and the grown men who made my mom’s life hell when she was the first woman elected to our town council. And to women, too, because sometimes even we can forget: to my colleague who asked me where the rest of my dress was, and to all the women who chose to vote for Donald Trump. This is for you. 

I feel numb and weak. Unable to sleep all night, I have spent these dark hours behind my computer screen. I have been reaching out to friends in despair, and friends around the world have been reaching out to me in consolation. The people I know are wonderful. But in this moment it feels like we are so small. Yes, we are that liberal elite that Trump’s angry base has maligned, and no, we didn’t realize how much hate had twisted our country. This monster doesn’t represent me, and he doesn’t represent us. I realize now what it feels like to be in the minority. Not a racial, ethnic, or religious minority, of course, or the minority of Americans who are disabled or queer. Because for those people, waking up in Trump’s America is a much more horrifying nightmare.

I am crushed by the symbolism of this defeat. But because I am white, culturally Christian, well-employed, and a resident of that blue-hued Shangri-la of Cambridge, Massachusetts, I don’t fear for my physical safety. Many of my friends are not so lucky. It’s not a drill, and it’s not a joke. Among the messages I received from friends tonight were: “I don’t feel safe,” and “I had no idea so many people think I don’t belong here.” Meanwhile, the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan is publicly celebrating. Why didn’t we realize there was something so ugly within us?

Traveling in the Middle East, I often speak with people who are critical of the United States. Coming from countries ruled by leaders they have not chosen freely, they understand that people and president are not one. I have always felt proud to say that regardless of American’s foreign policy, the best part of America is the diversity of its people. “Anyone can be American,” I have said again and again. Now I feel ashamed. It’s a sham: not everyone is welcome here. 

On Monday night, I was sprawled on the floor of the Hillary for President HQ here in Cambridge with at least 200 other supporters, calling voters in New Hampshire. I felt the same exhilaration I had 8 years ago, canvassing with Amina in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, for Barack Obama until the final hour of polling. I bonded with the two women crouched nearest to me through nods and thumbs up. “We got this,” they were meant to say, “It means so much.” I watched the returns last night with three other women historians, my closest friends in my program at Harvard. We gathered with bottles of champagne, ready to toast the sound of the glass ceiling shattering once and for all. Instead, we cried together in the darkness. As historians we are trained to identify turning points in the sweep of time. At this moment, I want nothing more than to turn and run away. 

For the last few months I have been thinking deeply about purpose. I most admire scholars whose work is morally grounded in the contemporary politics of their societies. But I am a historian who does not write the history of my own place or my own people, so I have struggled to articulate my cause. Suddenly it’s clear. If November 9 marked the triumph of ignorance — the shepherd of hate and fear of those who are not like us — there is no time more crucial for history than now. “Our” history, whoever “we” are, and “their” histories. Good doesn’t always win, as last night has proven. But without history, we can be sure it never will. 


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