The Privilege of Shock / by Taylor Bryant

November 9, 2016

I remember listening to white friends, colleagues, and people being interviewed on NPR as they stood in awe of an America that could be so racist, so xenophobic, so bigoted.

And I thought, quite angrily, if I’m being honest, “All of that shock and awe is a privilege.”

While progressive white Americans were stunned, I spoke with the ones I loved about the country we already knew.

There are certain conversations that only minorities have.

Conversations like the one I had with my mother as a tiny child after I realized that not every part of the country, or the world, was safe for black people. Could we still travel? I can hear my mom’s voice reassuring me that she had a good idea of what places were safe and unsafe, that she’d make sure we stayed in the safe places.

Conversations like the one I had with my parents in high school. I was head over heels for Vanderbilt as a university but paralyzed at the thought of living in the South for four years.

Conversations like the one I had with a drunk Vanderbilt student who felt compelled to share his opinions on the racial makeup of our football team while sitting behind me at the game. “It’s okay if there are a lot of black people on Vandy’s football team, as long as the quarterback is white.”

Sometimes the conversations are internal. It’s the feeling I got as I was researching a picturesque wedding venue in Wisconsin. Something told me to search the name of the town along with the term racist, just to be safe. I discovered that the town was home to a Hitler memorial.

Those conversations, those experiences started before Trump, and they’ll continue even after his time in office. But something about his election still shook me.

On November 9, I found myself pouring out my heart to my father, as I often do. All of the hateful people I’d feared ever since I could conceive of their existence now thought that there opinions were validated. And while I don’t think I’ve ever felt truly felt safe in America, I know that I’ve never felt more unsafe.

My dad tried to quell my fears of the now validated white supremacist movement with an anecdote of his own.

“I don’t want you to live your life afraid,”  he told me tenderly. “I’ve seen the KKK. I’ve seen black men hanging from trees, and I still love my life.”

My dad doesn’t normally talk about what he’s seen. Occasionally, he’ll tell a chilling story with a surprisingly casual tone. Sometimes, he’ll be completely silent on the way home from a Civil Rights era movie, and I just know that it stirred something up from his past. But for the most part, he keeps his experiences to himself.

You see, my dad knew this “shocking” America years ago. And so did I.

While some cried about not seeing the first woman president, my fiancé and I strategized about our future.

“I’m not bringing a kid into this,” he told me bluntly. He’d just seen a meme about police officers being America’s most discriminated against population. It was posted by a supporter of our President Elect.

We’d already had this discussion many times, after personal experiences and national events. The election results were yet another reason for us to reconsider the responsibility of raising a tiny black child.

I reminded him that we planned to wait five years. “We’ll see if it’s safe,” he replied. And on my worst days, I don’t believe it ever will be.

That’s my reality. I’ve known the best and worst of this country ever since I could grasp concepts like racism.

I remember a six year old me having conversation with my mother about Martin Luther King’s assassination. This year, I had a conversation with my ten year old niece about lynching after we saw a play about the history of the United States.  She’ll probably have a similar conversation with her own daughters and nieces.

There’s a certain mundanity to white supremacy winning in America, nothing for me to be shocked or awed about. I never had the luxury of imagining I lived in a post-racial America.

Instead of shock, I felt fear-tinged relief. America finally showed its true colors, the ones I thought were visible to people who understood the minority experience. Its gaping wounds are exposed for all to see. Maybe now we can bind them up together.