I wake up in the shadow of a large wooded hill the locals call a mountain despite its lacking of the requisite elevation. Autumn colors like a city fire burn beautifully on the side facing me. Hidden is the large landfill spanning the other side, leaves and trunks ripped away to make room for our trash. Light rain falls on this warm November day. The cows stay inside. The heifers are soaked, accusing me for the wet weather. Water seeps through the cracks in my muck boots, reminding me I must buy another pair before it snows. Sopping socks, usually a source of much annoyance, are the least of my worries. Donald J. Trump was elected to be the next president of the United States yesterday.
Driving the scenic routes of my county has been a gauntlet of Trump signs for the past month. I tried to keep my eyes on the road, but it was impossible not to see home after home, manicured lawns and late-model cars telling an inverse narrative to the one spun by the media: A Trump-Pence banner hanging from a rented tow trucks. A long lane with a trio of Trump signs planted in the soil by the solar panel operating the gate. Refurbished historic homes with lawn signs interspersed among trimmed boxwoods. Children’s swings in the backyard, pickup trucks in driveways, sound siding and solid roofs. I formed a profile of these homes, solidly middle-class, tending towards upper class. Doing well, but hoping to do better.
My impressions were confirmed as the demographic breakdown of the electorate was reported the morning of 9 November 2016 by The New York Times. Trump’s strongest support was from those with annual income of between $50,000 and $200,000 a year. He won those earning over $200,000 by a smaller margin and lost voters who earned less than $50,000 a year. The story of a white population driven to Trump by economic anxiety, struggling to succeed with jobs fleeing to foreign nations, pushed towards a candidate who promised to protect their income from illegal immigrants, was a lie.
I have no doubt my neighbors in our northern state have anxieties. I see it in the Confederate belt buckles of bearded white men, in the Don’t-Tread-On-Me flags hanging from wooden balconies, in the NRA decals on bumpers in the parking lot of my local grocery store. I hear it in their voices when they discuss President Obama’s Muslim agenda, call Indian-Americans Jihad, or complain about black students attending the local high school.
Whiteness is the culture of my county. This is a relatively new phenomenon. Once, the population was composed of Pennsylvania Germans, English, Irish, Scots, Polish, Russian, Italian. Whiteness grows through the shedding of identity. It is a problematic culture, defined not by tradition or history, but by exclusion.
Whiteness is scared of the Other, an apparition wearing many faces: a black president with a Kenyan name, a Mexican-American speaking Spanish, a woman who dares to call herself a feminist in public, a quiet gay couple living across from a soybean field. Whiteness does not demand that the Other ceases to exist, but desires that it know its place. Whiteness’s greatest fear is social progress placing the Other along side them in the social order.
Mexican-Americans can pick their mushrooms, but not be their managers. Blacks can stay within city limits, but are suspect when appearing in the country. Women are welcome in offices so long as they’re serving coffee. Homosexuals should stay on the West Coast.
When I was growing up, Whiteness always had exceptions. One black guy at work wasn’t too bad. Everyone knew a lesbian they liked. Compliments abounded for the diligence of Mexican Americans, hard workers so long as they stayed in jobs no one else wanted. Fifteen years ago, Whiteness was self-aware of its moral shortcomings, eager to appear open.
Appearances have been pushed aside over the past eight years. The Whiteness that surrounds me embraces its bigotry, no longer ashamed to be homophobic, misogynistic and racist. Hate is pride. Denying the Other basic rights has become a legislative agenda. This is the new normal for my home.
Three weeks ago, I had so much hope. I’d run into a regular customer with a fresh Confederate flag tattoo and smile. He’s old. Let him have his hate. Smile, knowing he is losing an uphill battle. The future is coming. The future is multitudes. His grandchildren will not share his opinions. I fought ignorance with kindness, a tactic encouraged by my father who once convinced my teenage-self to bake a pie for a sexist bigot. The bigot cried and I felt like a better person for showing love.
I don’t feel that way any longer.
I love my home. There’s no other reason why an educated women would want to stay in this small county, surrounded by winding roads, cornfields, and cattle. For nine generations, my family has lived in this county (and, I should note, only began speaking English in the 1920s). But, the hope I had for my neighbors is slowly draining away. Beautiful old homes hide hate. Smiles are friendly to me because of my skin color and relative silence.
I write this, looking up at a mountain so much like my home. Brilliant, beautiful autumn colors facing me, a clear cut garbage dump on the other side.