Written by 廖家祺 Kevin Jiah-Chih Liao ‘18
For students with any sort of privilege in areas of class, race, gender, sexuality, or more, what can we do to stand up?
Remember that first debate watching party in Sharpless Auditorium?
Remember how every time Hillary smacked down Donald Trump, we roared and cheered with the certainty that we would come out on top?
Then remember in the post-election discussion, we looked around and realized that there wasn’t a single Trump supporter in the room? Whether or not there were any Trump supporters in the room doesn’t matter. Just that we created a room in which no Trump supporter would ever engage in a dialogue with us.
We live in a blue bubble. There’s no denying it. Scrolling up and down my newsfeed this morning, there was little reason to doubt that Hillary Clinton would’ve been the next president of the United States. Everyone proudly shared photos of themselves decked out in suffragette white to the trumpeting hashtag of #imwithher. Coming back from class today, I fully believed that we would comfortably elect the first woman-president of the United States.
Well, you don’t need me to tell you how last night turned out.
Make no mistake today, people are scared. As a person of colour, I am scared. As an international student in this country, I am scared. All over this campus tonight, voters left some deep, deep scars. Immigrants, foreigners, our LGBTQIA+ community, women, people of colour are so goddamned scared right now. In this moment of vulnerability, there are two things we need to be doing.
The first thing we need to be doing is offering space and support to those of us who are hurt. We need to love each other. We need to come together as a community and support our men and womxn of colour. We need to support our LGBTQIA+ community. We need to support women on campus. We need to support survivors of sexual assault. The call of the honour code to look out for one another takes on a new sense of urgency in times like this.
The next thing we need to do is start having difficult conversations.
I have a question to those of us who won’t be stopped and frisked. I have a question to those of us who won’t be deported because of documentation. I have a question to those of us who are White, rich, straight, cis, or any combination of the above. I have a question to those of us who went home tonight and slept easy, knowing that although we didn’t get the result we wanted, we will be safe from the policy in a Trump presidency.
Did we really do everything we can?
I know for a fact from conversations I’ve had with so many Haverford students that we all know Trump supporters. Trump supporters aren’t some sort of monolithic block of people outside of Haverford. Trump supporters are your parents. Trump supporters are your uncles and aunts. They are our friends. Haverford is not a vacuum. We are, each and everyone of us, connected to a huge network of people from all across this country. I guarantee you, chances are, you know a Trump supporter. Did you reach out to them? Did you try to have a conversation with them? Or did they become mockery for the subject of light conversation at the DC? Did you phone bank? What about the people who voted Johnson or Stein? Did you properly explain to them why you believed that they were throwing away their vote?
When I made a post on my Facebook feed welcoming Trump supporters to my apartment for a drink, people thought that was a joke. The fact that it was taken as a joke can be seen as a further indictment of how I act, but also an indictment of our community. Ultimately, people did take me up on this offer, and I changed some minds. It was exhausting, but an ultimately fulfilling process.
Because, Haverford, if I could characterize our community’s collective attitude towards this election, it would be apathetic. We, the privileged, rested on poll numbers with the reassurance that we wouldn’t have to engage in any sort of dialogue that the honour code demands us have. We pushed out Trump supporters— turned them into a monolith. While the Latinx students were scared of the wall, we were scared with them. While our Black community was fearful of Trump’s plan to reintroduce stop and frisk nationwide, we were scared with them. While our low-income friends were scared as Trump bragged about his plans to dismantle unions and welfare systems, we were scared with them.
Make no mistake, our ‘fear’ as privileged groups is codeword for inaction. I left Founders last night knowing for a fact that so many people came in with the understanding that because they voted, they had done everything they could, so what happened next would be truly out of their hands. I disagree. Each one of us could have done so much more. Voting is the bare minimum. Even if you can’t vote, there is so much room to volunteer your efforts for a progressive cause.
If you are White, your grief of the damage that Trump will cause to people of colour is useless without action.
If you are rich, your grief of the damage that Trump will cause to low-income people is useless without action.
If you are straight, your grief of the damage that Trump will cause to members of our queer community is useless without action.
So on, and so forth.
We have the responsibility as privileged members of different identity classes to start having difficult conversations. Oppressed groups have no obligation to engage with oppressors, so it’s on bystanders with privilege to stand together as allies.
If anything, this election has been an indictment of us. Democracy doesn’t start and end at the ballot. If you are in a position of privilege, you have a responsibility to open your mouth. This means true dialogue, in person, with the goal of mutual understanding. You CAN treat this election as a wake-up call— that voting isn’t enough. If progressive politics is to survive, it demands that we get out there and start having the conversations with people we disagree with without shouting them down. When Shaun King visited Haverford, I asked him how he talks to people he disagrees with. He says “As long as someone is respectful, I will never stop talking with them about what I believe in, because if I really believe in something, I should be ready to defend it.” Indeed, if progressive politics is something we stand for, we need to be ready to defend it to our peers. We need to be ready to talk to people we disagree with.
This is the difficult work. It’s work I’m definitely guilty of avoiding. See freshman year, when I shouted down a spec for having opinions that I disagreed with on affirmative action. See sophomore year, when I avoided one of my first-years who said something that I found highly classist. There’s so much room to have dialogue with people on issues that you are privileged in.
You can call Trump supporters racist, bigoted, nationalist, sexist, misogynist, and whatever names you want. At the end of the day, on November 8th, they were still racists and bigots with a majority vote. Last night was an indictment of our attitudes towards people we disagree with. When we shout down and shame people for discriminatory beliefs, we close the door to education. Sending Trump supporters into the woodworks doesn’t do anything for any of us. I’d rather have ideas I disagree with out in the open for frank conversation, rather than have them hiding in the dark to fester out on election day. When we close the door to restoration, we slash deep partisan wounds in this country that don’t need to exist.
I’m signing this letter with my Chinese name. Chinese names begin with the surname as one character and then move onto two characters as the given name. My given name is Jiah-Chih. The first character, 家 (Jiah), means home. The second, 祺 (Chih), means at peace, and with blessing. I was given my name because my parents wanted me to bring blessings and joy into their home. Just the same, Haverford is my home, and my Chinese name reminds me that I have a responsibility to do my best to make this home peaceful, blessed, and a space of belonging.
Last night and last election, mistakes were made. Some of us didn’t vote. Some of us didn’t phone bank. Some of us didn’t burst our bubble and talk to people on the other side.
Turn the page. If we want this community, and this country to be blessed and at peace, last night wasn’t a resignation. Last night was a wake-up call. This country is so painfully divided and it’s up to us to start patching it together. A majority of voters in this country took the time to show up for a horrific agenda, but the great thing about presidential elections is that they happen every four years. The hurt will be real for the next four years, but we can start working now to make the next election one we can be proud of.
Find someone you disagree with. Invite them over to your common room for beer. Let’s start these conversations. If you voted Trump on November 8th, 2016, my invitation to come over to my place for a drink still stands.
With trust, concern and respect,
Kevin Jiah-Chih Liao ‘18