By Madison T. Clark, MA in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice
This article is part of our series ‘Reflections on the US Election’
I was born and raised in a state where being ‘nice’ is upheld as the golden standard. All too often, however, this ‘nice’ approach boils down to public smiles coupled with behind-the-scenes racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia. Microaggressions rule the day in my home state. Attempts to have important, difficult conversations tend to result in silence from oppressors and/or wild gesticulations at their personal church attendance records and what that surely signifies about their character. All of this was true when I was born, and all of this continues to be true today.
None of the structural issues in the United States begin or end with Donald Trump’s single term in office. Did he behave in ways that explicitly and implicitly empowered racists, white nationalists, misogynists, Islamophobes, and other such groups? Yes. Did he appoint morally reprehensible and/or wholly unqualified people, resulting in increased violence against millions of already-marginalized communities? Yes. Concurrently, the truth of the matter is that the United States has never worked through any reconciliation process. Agreeing to a shared history is an early step in nearly all conflict resolution and transformation efforts. Across the board, Americans can’t even agree on basic historical facts about the oppression and violence that our entire country is built upon and continues to perpetuate.
For better or worse, I’m a product of the U.S. public education system. Rather than learn about the Indigenous genocides that led to the presence of our original colonizers, we learned cutesy rhymes revolving around the names of Columbus’ ships. Rather than learn the true devastations of slavery or the ways in which it and white supremacy continue to impact our everyday lives, we learned how terrible the South was, how wonderful the North was, and how the conditions of slavery weren’t particularly ideal. In the American public education system, we learn the ‘nice’ version of our country’s history, rather than the truth of it.
To this day, such ‘niceness’ is predominantly perpetuated and upheld by white people across the country; these are the same people who elect to apply their colonizer mindsets to all people. This, paired with white fragility, is what created the ‘angry and loud Black woman’ trope, which continues to be used in order to invalidate and ignore what Black women have to say; it is why ‘speak English’ is an incredibly common refrain from U.S. nationalists, even as they simultaneously pride themselves on tired ‘melting pot’ imagery; it is why ‘sexy Indian costumes’ are popular each Halloween, yet the subject of missing and murdered Indigenous women is rarely brought up in public discourse.
The ‘niceness’ that a childhood in Missouri tried to teach me is the same ‘niceness’ that so much of our country revolves around. So it’s no wonder the pollsters have struggled to produce any sort of accurate numbers in the last two elections. It was not necessarily ‘nice’ to admit to a stranger that you’d be voting for Trump, but it was simultaneously seen as ‘the American thing to do.’ The irony of this dichotomy is not lost on me.
When the results from Pennsylvania came through, officially pushing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris past that 270 mark (don’t get me started on the racist and classist disaster that is the Electoral College), I let out a sigh that I didn’t know I’d been holding for the past four years. While I absolutely wish Biden and Harris were the progressives that far-right media has painted them to be, I know that is not the case. But I believe in our organizers, in our local politicians, in our everyday community builders, in our conflict mediators, in every person who prides themselves not on being seen as ‘nice’ but on building a more just and equitable future for all people. I believe that we can and must hold Biden, Harris, and their entire administration accountable, demand meaningful systemic change, and shift our nation closer to one that actually provides liberty and justice for all for the first time in its history.