Purple Illinois

Purple Illinois

It is November 9th and I’m sitting on my couch, muttering and staring at the television, while the Electoral College tallies turn more and more red. I’m whispering “fuck” every time Wolf Blitzer appears on CNN. “Stop with the ‘election update!’ prattle, Wolf. If you scamper over to that motherfucking map one more time, I’m going to throw my potato chip bag at you. Get it together, man. Just fucking walk across the set, and start telling me something good.”

No dice. I stare at the tv for hours and fruitlessly wait for someone – anyone! – to appear onscreen and tell me that our country is not in the process of electing a bigoted narcissist to serve as President of the United States.

And then it’s all over and the PEOTUS is making his acceptance speech.   As I stare at the television, I wonder what I am going to say to my high school Spanish students, most of whom are African-American, and all of whom are living in very socioeconomically challenging circumstances. I’m exhausted, but I know that today is not the day to call in.

My first period class shuffles in and is more subdued than usual. I tentatively step “onstage” in the front of the room and smile tentatively with a, “Buenos días, Clase.” Some of the kids meet my gaze, but most just drop their heads. I see the phones surreptitiously pulled from their pockets. These respectful, focused students have been in my classroom for less than a minute and, already, they need to talk to someone outside of our little world in room 108.

I look out the window for a moment, collecting my thoughts, and try again, “Cariños, ¿cómo están?”   The eyes stay down.

Finally, my sassy chica, Makayla, shouts out, “Miss, I’m angry! Miss, did you watch the election? Do you know what happened last night? We’re all going to be sent to concentration camps or deported! Miss, what the hell happened? Miss, I’m sorry that I’m swearing in here, but seriously, what the hell happened? This is fucked up!”

Daeja jumps in. And Sierra. And Viviana. And Leah.   Jessie. Jamon. “Miss, why did this happen?   Why did those white people elect the man who hates us?”

I gaze back at them, wide-eyed and waiting for the right words to come.   I almost reply, “You’re in a safe place here. Everyone here still cares about you and you’re among friends.”  But then I see two of my students, Shane and Stan, looking alarmed. Gentle, sweet Shane and Stan, the only Caucasian students in the class, look embarrassed and afraid.

And then I realize that white America did this. Van Jones got it right: this election was a whitelash against us having an Ivy-league educated African-American President whose “hope and change” did not bring the results they wanted.  Shane and Stan’s parents, who are poorer than just about any white people I know in my personal life, perhaps put their hopes on what they perceived to be a better future by voting for Trump.

My stomach clenches and I say to my class, “I can appreciate that many of you are upset about the election. But we have to remember that our election was decided by all of the states, and not everyone in our classroom agrees that it is a bad thing that Trump won.   We need to be respectful of opinions that are different from ours.   I’m so sorry, but I truly cannot let us have a full discussion about this. If anyone would like to go their social worker to talk about how they’re feeling about the election, I would be happy to write you a pass.”

No one asks for a pass. They all stay, but the classroom could have just as well been empty. Our usual liveliness and banter and laughter are gone on November 9th. All of my students, whether their families had voted for or against Trump, are worried and unsure about what is going to happen next.

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Prior to the election, during one of the debates, Trump brags that he will “clean up Chicago within a week,” ostensibly by increasing law enforcement manpower and the use of force to reduce to crime. Chicagoans are angry that our city is called out like this on national television. Yet the fact remains that our city is reeling from multiple lawsuits alleging police brutality, departmental cover-ups, and blatant racial profiling.

As part of this, Chicagoans are inundated by media telling us, “Blue Lives Matter,” “All Lives Matter, and “Black Lives Matter.”   There does not appear to be any middle ground. Ultimately, either people believe that Black Lives Matter or they don’t. The city is divided.

I listen to relatives in law enforcement complain about how the public’s judgment of their job performance is ridiculous; the “Blue Lives Matter” perspective should acknowledge all of the work they do for the community. I watch white acquaintances earnestly tell me that the “All Lives Matter” perspective is relevant because we need to live in a color-blind society and stop harping on old problems like, um, racism.

I argue that the “Black Lives Matter” movement is like a house on fire. If a house on the block is on fire, we’re not going to douse every house on the street with water. We’re going to try to stop the fire in the burning house. In the same way, all of the “houses,” ie nervous white people and police officers, don’t need water thrown on them. We need to be helping to stop the one burning house on the street from being consumed by flames. We need to have some real talk about how and why “Black Lives Matter.”

This perspective either earns me a verbal pat on the head or scathing scorn. “Gosh, it’s so nice how much you care about black people. Your students must love you.” Gah. Thanks for your clueless condescension. How about they love me because I’m a good, fair teacher, not because I’m some lame-ass white savior.

I much prefer the contemptuously scornful reactions. “Everyone judges our work on seventeen seconds of shaky cell phone video. None of you know anything. If you knew how hard it is to do my job, you would know how much blue lives matter.”

And I think to myself, “If you knew how hard it was to live in a society based on white privilege and subtle bigotry, you would shut the fuck up with this whining about how hard your job is.  If it’s so hard, go get trained in another field. It’s not impossible to change jobs. It is impossible to change your skin color.”

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Just days before the election, racial tensions in Chicago escalate further when a police shooting occurs in a “nice” South Side neighborhood, Mount Greenwood.   On the surface, the neighborhood appears to be peaceful: no drive-by shootings, no gang members hanging out on the corners, a locally famous St. Patrick’s Day parade, a beautiful arts education center.   However, the reality is that the majority of the Caucasian residents send their children to private, Catholic schools and the majority of the minority residents send their students to sub-par Chicago Public Schools. The neighborhood silently segregates itself by how and where it educates its children. And now a white Chicago police office has shot an African-American man on his way home from a funeral.

In spite of a video that depicts part of what led to the shooting, there are still conflicting interpretations of what happened and why it escalated in the death of yet another African-American man.   Protests are held at the site of the shooting and appear to be groups of Caucasian residents and officers from the Chicago Police Department shouting “CPD!” or “Go home!” or “Get the fuck out of here!” at African-American protestors who are chanting that they deserve answers and assurances for their own safety.

The local Catholic high school, Marist, whose student enrollment is mostly Caucasian, learns that local African-American gang members might retaliate for the shooting by targeting the white students. It is not clear to what extent this threat has been substantiated, but social media hysteria quickly takes over and the school administrators decide to close on a Friday in an effort to let a three-day weekend cool things off.

During this period of time, thirty-two students who know each other from a recent Catholic retreat, are having a group chat about the Mount Greenwood shooting. Two of the students, who are Caucasian and attend Marist, allegedly type, “I fucking hate niggers” in the chat.   Screenshots of the chat are passed on to the school administrators and the two students are expelled soon after. Several weeks later, the two students’ fathers sue the school and claim that another student in the chat “somehow edited” the screenshots and removed the context in which the statements were made.   No explanation is provided for why the statements were made and in what type of context the statements would be considered acceptable.

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The Marist text messages initially appear to be an isolated local incident of racism, but it soon becomes apparent that bigotry is becoming more visible in our South Side communities.

Within a month of the election, posters featuring swastikas, a picture of Adolf Hitler, and the slogan, “No Degeneracy, No Tolerance, Hail Victory” are removed from two locations at the University of Chicago on the south side of the city.   President Barack Obama was a professor at the university from 1992 until his election to the Senate in 2004. His presidential library will also be housed in that area, just east of the university. My stomach clenches when I wonder at his reaction to this type of hatred displayed in an institution so important to his past and future.

A week later, the Chicago Tribune reports that a large yellow banner is hung from a business property in Libertyville that reads “Hail Trump – Unscrupulous America – Make America White Again.” Due to First Amendment rights, the police are not permitted to remove the banner, but a local business owner with ties to the property removes it.   In the comments section of the article, a gentleman accuses the Democratic Party of hanging the banner in an attempt to “divide the nation.”   Another gentleman comments that the banner is justifiable backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement. This commenter continues by saying that the Black Lives Matter movement is provoking white Americans who are “tired of seeing these out-of-work troublemakers get a seat at the table...while the law-abiding working men and women of America keep seeing their neighborhoods turned into shooting galleries.”     Both commenters have profile pictures that appear to depict them as Caucasian.

On a more local level, a good friend in my professional circle posts on social media about finding a swastika drawn on a mini-whiteboard in her classroom.  She is sad and angry that this appeared in her classroom and wonders if any of the other students saw it as well.   Her school has a wonderfully diverse student population representing multiple Middle Eastern countries, African-Americans, Latinos, Caucasians, and Eastern Europe. She does, of course, have the option of addressing the whole class about tolerance and teaching them about the history of the swastika. But the fact remains that she will probably never know who drew the symbol and what caused such darkness to be in a child’s heart.

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Shortly after the election, I go on a camping trip and talk to a Trump supporter there about his decision to support Trump and Pence. He says that his vote was partially based on Pence’s fiscal management of Indiana’s budget. I agree that Pence has certainly done a better job than the crooks of Illinois. However, when I question Pence’s position on LGBTQ rights as well as his anti-abortion, misogynistic views, my acquaintance replies that if the people of Indiana don’t like those positions, that they are welcome to move to another state with legislation that aligns with their views. I try to protest that we are a nation of “united” states and that one should not have to move to a different state to secure basic civil rights and medical procedures.   This is why we have a Supreme Court; their verdicts must be applied to all of the states, not just those whose constituents agree with them.

I am horrified and shaking at the idea of how things could escalate if each state were allowed to adopt and enforce their own (bigoted or inclusive) laws. My legs won’t stop shaking. I stomp my feet to make it seem as if I am attempting to stay warm, but the reality is that I can’t breathe deeply and I am afraid my legs simply won’t hold me up any further. Such casual dismissal of bigotry is literally making me weak in the knees.

A friend listening to our discussion comments that this approach would inevitably cause the states to become segregated. I agree and add that it would become a matter of, “Here are the five states that grant full civil rights to LGBTQ residents. This is the state that permits abortion. These are the few states that enforce equal wages for women and men. Here is the state that mandates health insurance providers to cover birth control.”

A couple of weeks after this conversation, in the lovely Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, a racially charged incident occurs in a Michael’s craft store. A white customer rants angrily at the African-American store manager, shouting, “I voted for Trump! So there! And look who won! And look who won! And look who won!” Her 30-minute tirade is caused by her perception that the African-American employee is trying to “force” her to buy a reusable shopping bag.   Another customer films her hate-filled rant and the video is posted on social media and picked up by the news outlets.

A small part of me is glad that her hateful rhetoric is on video, if only so that there is no way that she can deny that it occurred. But I also know that the public shaming will not change her hatred of African-Americans. Instead, her hate will be more subtly and, probably, more evilly expressed. Shaming does not change behavior. It only changes the manner in which the behavior occurs.

As I think about the bigot in Michaels, ranting and spewing hate, I wonder what she would think about my acquaintance’s view of state-based legislation.   Would her world seem better if all of the African-Americans were pushed to live in a cluster of states? Would she prefer if only Caucasians were employed in the areas where she shopped?   Would she prefer that only Caucasians live in her nice, “gentrified” neighborhood in Chicago? Would she want her state to abolish hate speech as a crime?

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While watching the election results on November 9th, I take some small comfort that the state of Illinois has stayed “Blue.” In my sleep-deprived state, I reassure myself that our state is still “good” and that it still has “good” people who are going to hold the line against the bigots in the Red States.   I am so sure that I will go about my business in “Blue Chicago” and easily find like-minded people who are equally horrified by our country’s election of a bigoted, misogynist, narcissistic, man-child bully.

I am not seeking an echo chamber, but I do want some reassurance that it is not okay for our country to be led by a man who brags about grabbing women by the pussy.   Instead, I keep finding myself unpleasantly surprised by the perspectives of Trump supporters. When I point out that Trump is a racist for saying that “all Mexicans are rapists,” I am told that this perspective is simply a stereotype and that stereotypes are not racist.   When I say that it is inappropriate for Trump to post statement videos on YouTube and, thus, avoid questions from the press, I am told that he shouldn’t have to talk to the liberal media.   I am also later told by the same Trump supporter that my “language” and “aggressiveness” about politics make me a poor role model for youths.   Because: personal attacks equal logic. Or something.

Chicago’s Second City comedy group hit the nail on the head this season with the title of their show, “The Winner...of Our Discontent.”  Illinois may have came out Blue on the Electoral College map, but we are truly more of a Purple state. Those of us who care about not reversing the hard-earned civil rights of minorities and women are ridiculed as crybabies by those who voted for Trump. And die-hard Trump supporters are exasperated by our unwillingness to “just get over it” or to “just give him a chance.”  There is no compromise. We have all dug in our heels and we’re pretty much going to try not to kill each other over the next 1,460 days.

We are all angry. We are all divided. Illinois is truly neither Blue or Red. We are Purple and isolated in our own sad silos.

Filed under: Commentary, Politics, Trump

Tags: Politics, Trump

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