This morning, as we wait for votes to be counted, many of us are feeling something about the number of voters that voted for Trump. We know that Biden won a majority of all votes, and we know that some voters get more power because of a system designed to protect white supremacy, and so this sizeable minority of the US that voted for Trump is on our minds as we wait. Some of us might be shocked, some angry, some grieving, or maybe numb, outraged, anxious, frustrated, or something else. Whatever emotion you are feeling, it is valid.
Our emotions are the way in for us. I coach white people about white supremacy, and emotions are the way in for us to understand how our white supremacy is showing up. When we are triggered, these emotions take over, hijack our whole system and drive us. And when that happens, we align with white supremacy and perpetuate its patterns. For example, when I am stressed to meet an urgent goal, I lose any sense of being centered, drink too much coffee, and project an urgency that demands results without regard to the process – and in this state, I compromise on my commitments and I leave people behind.
We need to learn these reactions that we have. They often come with an emotion, a physical sensation, and a narrative that plays in our heads. To continue my previous example, my emotion is feeling stressed. I feel it in my chin and neck, leaning forward, and being on edge. And the narrative is that I have to get it done at all costs (and why).
I work with white people to find these parts of themselves that align with white supremacy. They are learned reactions that we can find as we grow our awareness of our emotions and our bodies.
Most of the time, the parts of ourselves that align with white supremacy have been learned to protect us from an experience of trauma in our lives, often in other channels where we are oppressed. To continue my same example, this part of me that stresses and performs in urgent situations is one that learned its job to prove myself worthy as a woman. As a small girl, unaware of the dynamics at play, I was socialized through many incidents where my intelligence or sense of possibilities was lessened compared to my male peers. I learned how to align myself with the urgency of white supremacy culture as a way to be seen as smart, good at things, and worth promoting. I bought into the idea that if I worked hard I would succeed, and that meant delivering results under stress.
So, in a minute, I’ll get back to these Trump voters, but first I want you to check it out for yourself, fellow white people. That emotion you are feeling right now, is it distancing you from the Trump voting white people? You aren’t like them, can’t understand them, don’t know what to do with them, etc. So locate that emotion and isolate it if you can. Take some deep breaths. When you think you have it, breathe again some more. Really feel your weight being held by gravity and feel the expansiveness of the air above you, and breathe again.
Now, locate that isolated emotion in your body. Where is it and what does it feel like? This is important so you can recognize it when it comes back sometime later. Breathe again, and notice how it feels in some detail if you can. Then notice what narrative it plays.
Now, that part of you that is saying this is bullshit, ask it to just step aside and let you try this out. See if it will give you the space to see if this checks out before you decide about it.
Now breathe in a few more times. Whatever grounded energy you feel, see if you can add to it another 10%.
Now, ask this part of you, the one that holds that isolated emotion, to just loosen up. Ask it to hold on a little less tightly. Breathe a few more times. Make sure it can sense you are separate from it. You are not this emotion, it is just a part of you.
Now, thank this part of you for protecting you. Give it gratitude – it has been working hard for a long time. Let it receive that, and it will likely loosen up a little more. Then, ask it what its job is. What does it do for you? And what is it protecting you from? What is it scared of? Feel free to spend as much time here as you like, asking any other questions. And then, thank this part of you again, take 3 long slow deep breaths, and come back.
So how was that for you? Did it work for you? It’s ok if it didn’t – this might be hard to do on your own this morning, and you might just need more support to check it out. If it worked… What did you learn? Does my theory check out for you? Is this part distancing you from Trump voters and protecting you from trauma of other oppression you have experienced? (I’d actually love to hear your responses on this, so please do share!)
When I do this with my coaching clients, we find ways that we align ourselves with white supremacy to protect ourselves from ways other oppressions have harmed us.
So, as we look at the Trump voters, they are white folks without college degrees, white folks in rural places, white folks in the “flyover states,” white folks who are working class or poor, white women in suburban and rural places, and an increasing amount of non-white and Latinx men. (Yes, there are also some rich white men, 1%ers, who are more clearly aligned and to benefit from Trump’s reign of terror. I’m not thinking about them in the same ways.)
These Trump voters are often someone’s parents, sibling, friend, neighbor, family. They are, or are like, our family members we need to set strong boundaries with in order to stay in relationship together. We set the boundaries because we know we cannot change them. We know they are suffering and hurting, but that to change, they have to want to engage and do the work. We cannot force them to do it. So we set the boundary. We’ve set boundaries so we can maintain our own health, do our own healing, and engage in our own transformation. (Or we haven’t and we are suffering).
I’m sitting here this morning wondering about how they can engage and heal. There’s 66 million of them (and counting) in the US. What are the ways that we, as anti-racist white people - who often have some class privilege over them, are often more educated, often have moved or have been born in a place more highly regarded (often for reasons we see as good) than they live in (such as the Coastal cities), have more job security, are more supported in our sexual orientations, more supported in our gender non-conformity, and are more likely to have some practices in place (like therapy or yoga or running or coaching) to support our transformation – what are the ways that we can support their healing so that they can disentangle themselves from white supremacy?
I don’t know the answer but I have a few hypotheses to try on:
What is most important to me as we think about these voters is that we recognize that they are minority of this country with an unfair amount of political power. The strategies we choose to engage in should not be micro-focused on them, but should be in alignment with ending white supremacy everywhere, not just seeking to court their votes in the next election. These three hypotheses do that.
This is incomplete and imperfect. But it is the morning after the election and these are the thoughts I have, and I want to share them in their imperfection. I hope that you have new clearer insights and thoughts, and I hope you might be in touch to share some of how this lands and what you are thinking.