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But what about us?

guest column

I woke up on Election Day with an overactive imagination.

I had just found out that Darren Aronofsky, director of Black Swan, The Wrestler, and Requiem for a Dream, was coming to Duke to "get out the vote." I had fantasies of running around with him and Sean Gunnette, winning North Carolina for Hillary, getting a job on Darren's next project, and being penciled in as a love interest on Jennifer Lawrence's 2017 calendar. As it turned out, I wasn’t too far off. We ran around campus, crashed lectures and even escorted our Uber driver to the polls. Alas, after an afternoon out of a dream, I found myself sitting, limp, on a couch in the Sanford lobby, wishing the day had turned out differently.

I set out intending to write about how much my “Day with Darren” re-energized the politically conscious and passionate person I was in high school. It was a reminder of how important these issues are to so many people. It made me reflect on how amazing it was that these two rich, white filmmakers were fighting not for themselves, but for people of less advantaged backgrounds that they love and respect. It gave me hope that Hillary Clinton would succeed, demographic gulf be damned. But now I’m sitting here, wondering what the next step is for those of us who don’t quite know what to think in the aftermath of this historic upset.

In two weeks I’ll be heading to Kansas City to spend Thanksgiving with high school friends. Many of their families voted for Donald Trump. Part of me doesn’t want to go back to a place where, even after 15 years of friendship, many still view my brownness as some other-izing, un-American feature. It’s difficult to come to grips the idea that they voted for someone who characterizes my cultural identity as a mark of unworthiness. Someone who is vague in plans but specific in bigotry. Many at home have always loved me like one of their own, in spite of our differences. Still, I fear for the next generation of kids like me, who grow up colorful in lily-white areas.

All Indians have experienced the classic “You’re not even from here!” style remarks. For those who make these “jokes,” the words are harmless. They are treated the same as when their friends call each other “gay” or “retarded” or objectify women—it’s all just “locker room talk.” The people who actually believe these sorts of things rarely use this kind of harmful language in public out fear of repercussion and social ostracization.

But this election blew the door wide open. We elected a man who has called for a ban of Muslims, mistreated women and produced rhetoric that offended any and all non-white, non-straight, non-male segment of the population. The electorate decided that it was time we normalized these kinds of classifications in a world where our language about people has increasingly high stakes. That this type of viewpoint was forgivable enough, that the rhetoric was harmless. This statement was made by over 48 percent of the country, and that’s what terrifies me most. “Jokes” will lead to beliefs, and those beliefs will only perpetuate the existing bigotry and hate in our society. That’s what people voted for by voting for Trump, even if not explicitly. They failed to look at their scared, marginalized neighbors and think, “What about them?”

This is especially troubling when it comes to my friends’ parents. Voting for Trump makes it clear that they don’t think people like me and, more importantly, people who are far worse off than I am, are the priority. Even more frustratingly, they manage to compartmentalize their distaste by giving us exception. “You’re not like them,” has always been the dominant excuse for being prejudiced about groups within which you have friends. Except I am like “them.” “They” are my friends at Duke who have taught me the power of resilience. Who I saw crying last night because of what a Trump presidency means for their well being.

It’s not about me, I will, realistically, be fine. My masculinity, my straightness and my wealth help protect me. It’s everyone else that I’m worried about. How do we teach those who reside outside our loving and diverse community the value of making sure everyone feels accepted? How do I explain to my friends’ parents the reality for people that, to them, don’t exist outside of the news on our country club TVs? It’s tough to convince someone that refugees and immigrants aren’t the caricatures drawn by those like Tomi Lahren, but are actually people like me. That financial aid is a real consideration that makes possible the dreams of important people in our lives, like my girlfriend. That reproductive rights and rights to self mean something. I’m going to have to figure out how to ask someone who thinks they know what the world looks like, “What about us?”

Everyone knew that regardless of outcome this election was going to present a turning point for our nation. If Hillary won, it would beget a full restructure of the GOP and signal a rejection of the mentality Trump represented. If Trump won, it would turn the entire political system on its head and halt social progress. The former seemed all but assured, but now it’s easy to despair at the idea that voter apathy and xenophobia have all overtaken our nation. I've seen dozens cry as if the world was ending. I’m not going to pretend like the next few years aren’t going to be hard, but the world isn't ending, and neither is our ability to make an impact.

"We don't get to f*****g choose, you know," I heard a Russian graduate student shout last night, "You do!" She's right. That’s the take-away. Making social progress is painstaking work that must be done to ensure status as equal citizens. Work that must be done even when an implicit acceptance of bigotry leaves us staggering. Work that must be done even as we attempt to provide stability for a nation we may no longer believe in. Work that can only be done if we continue to ask, “What about us?”

Aditya Joshi is a Trinity senior.

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