I grew up in a small South Jersey town, borne into a loving family that didn't care much for politics. I don't recall a single conversation at the dinner table about the left wing, the right wing, or anything in between; we just didn't delve into that realm.
If I was forced to assign Teenage Me a political designation, we'd go with "horrifically uninformed conservative." My town was a fairly affluent Philadelphia suburb, sans diversity but full of neighborly love. I barely knew any people of color or of varying sexual orientations, which you could've guessed by the casual epithets my friends and I would throw around. A stubborn person was "being a faggot," the black chip on a poker table was the "N-stain." It was known hurtful language that no one challenged, one of the side effects of an otherwise challenge-free upbringing.
Fast forward a few years: I'm now a student at Boston University and surrounded by people of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Despite 18 years gestating in a bubble, the idea of a city-based multicultural college held great appeal; I can only guess that my movie-soaked teenage years unlocked a smidge of interest in the world outside New Jersey. That, plus monthly trips to nearby Philadelphia and the dawning realization that not every rowhome was like my grandmother's, warmly lit and full of buttered toast with Cookie Crisp on top (don't ask).
BU wasn't exactly a love-fest, where race and creed were thrown out the door and friendly cross-pollination occurred without a second thought. But it was where I met people, black white and brown, from other parts of the country. Berkeley, California; Denver, Colorado; Springfield, Massachusetts; Cleveland, Ohio. Not always towns or cities bigger than mine, but always humans with different perspectives and exceedingly more liberal viewpoints.
It was there, with nudges both gentle and vicious, from professors and from some dude down the hall, that I started to learn how sheltered I really was. That the words I had tossed around with friends were steeped in deep, disgusting historical meaning. Or that human beings with a slightly darker skin tone, or with XX chromosomes, had fought for years to gain rights that I often took for granted. I was blessed with intellect and a bevy of advantages; the world came fairly easy. This was not the case for the bulk of humanity, then or now.
This is all to say that, when it became clear on Tuesday night that Donald Trump was about to become the 45th President of the United States, it was a direct repudiation of all the realizations, hopes, and desires I've come to understand and embrace over the last decade. The argument has been made that he's not necessarily an evil person, that he's just engaging in politics, that he's the "change candidate," ignoring that he ran on a platform of extreme hate, led by men and women with hateful backgrounds, and has allowed that particular genie to permanently leave behind its bottle. Even if he embarks on a traditional Republican presidency, his victory has emboldened thousands of misogynistic, racist, angry people who have suddenly found themselves an honored champion.
I have been fortunate for all 31 years of my life: well-off, white, healthy, bereft of any real tragedy. I've known suffering in small, short bursts, free of the hardships and tribulations that so many others go through. And, despite coming to believe fully in tolerance, acceptance, and understanding, I've never been a saint or devoted more than a few hours or fifty bucks to a worthy cause. But I've been lucky enough to receive an education, not just from schools but from the world around me. I've read about, talked to, and met those who've been challenged every day of their life, and want so little in return. Just the basic decency of their peers, and enough resources to get through each 24-hour stint with a reasonable amount of normalcy.
This election has abruptly become about change, where the desire to "shake things up" overcame the inching-forward of the last eight years. It is also about the fear of change, speaking directly to many who are still wholly uncomfortable with electing a woman to our highest office. Yet democracy has spoken, and all we can do is hope that what happens next will not diminish the innate goodness in our hearts, will not primarily serve to inspire those fueled by rage, and will do less damage than months and months of furious rhetoric and race-centric provocations would hint at.
At the very least, I hope it inspires more dinner tables like that of my childhood to suddenly become awash with conversations about culture, religion, skin color, police brutality, wealth distribution, climate change, and any number of topics with sudden and immense relevance. They're not easy subjects to broach, but discourse (and education) are needed now more than ever. Not everyone finds the places or the people to help burst their bubble and widen their eyes while they're still capable of hope; if this election cycle is any indicator, our job is to restock that particular brand of hope and try to fill these darker days with a whole bunch of light.