Last November, in collaboration with my best friend and photographer extraordinaire Bre Holt, we shot a piece titled Reclaiming My Country. The concept for the shoot was to highlight an outward femme representation as a form of rebellion towards the hate culture created by the acting president, as well as showcasing a renewed sense of patriotism for the country I believe the US can become. Although I believe the shoot accomplished this, I wanted to delve further into the topic of our country's current political situation and offer a more substantial response that might aid folks who’ve been the target of intolerance.
There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said about the effects of the 45th administration. The political climate seems to be on the forefront of the country’s collective consciousness, but for those of us identifying with marginalized groups, November 2016 was not a removal of the veil that hid America’s scars. It was rather a magnifying glass that only emphasized the reality that so many POC, queer, differently-abled and femme folks already knew far too well. For many of us who identify with these marginalized groups, the consistent mishaps and damage caused by the serving commander in chief has left us feeling pretty hopeless for the next three years of this country. As a black queer femme, it has been difficult to figure out how to move forward in hopes of an ideal inclusive society when faced with a bigot in the White House and an emboldened white cis majority. I am in no way an authority on politics or socioeconomic dynamics. I am still learning how to calibrate to the world we now live in. However, I want to offer up whatever wisdom I have gained this past year to help any fellow minority members in making sense of our country’s current shitstorm. Here are five ways I have learned to navigate Tr*mp’s America.
i. Remember, you are powerful.
Never forget the power you have and the potential for change that you can create. Although our government is flawed (see: the 2016 election), we are fortunate enough to live in a democracy where the individual has a say in the happenings of politics. Even though it may not feel like your voice is heard, there is only one way to guarantee your silence: by not exercising your right to vote. Participate in your local elections, because the ripples of what happens in your backyard has major influence on legislation on the national level. If you missed the 2017 election, you have more opportunities coming up to get it together and participate. For those folks who have had their right to vote stolen from them due to systematic oppression, remember that there is also power in how you present yourself: explore your identity and be an ally to your brothers and sisters. You are mighty and beautiful, and simply living your truth can be a radical act.
ii. Remember, this is temporary.
A presidential term only lasts for four years. I will not sit here and make promises of a Tr*mp-free America after 2020, but I will say I believe in the masses of angry citizens who are fighting for change. I personally have to believe that, after the next presidential election, we will have a candidate who is more presidential and cares for the well-being of all American citizens, not just the white cis male majority. I recognize this could be considered idealistic, but if you are doing your part in moving society closer to the world you want to see (see #1), then it is not wild to believe that one day you will see the utopia you are helping to mold.
iii. Be bold but be safe.
If you know me, you know I believe in the freedom of expression: whatever I accomplish in my career, I hope I encourage people to present yourself however the fuck you want! However, what often isn’t mentioned is the safety one gives up when they decide to express themselves outside of the status quo. It is a radical act to outwardly show your truth, and unfortunately not everyone will be receptive. This is not to discourage you from wearing what you want; however, please take proper measures to protect yourself. Travel in numbers, arm yourself if need be, and ask for help when you feel like you’re in an unsafe situation. Also, know that there is no shame in calibrating your outfit in an effort to pass and stay safe.
iv. Stay informed.
With constant news cycles focusing on the blunders of the serving commander in chief, it is both physically and mentally draining to keep up with the latest headlines. However, not staying informed is choosing to be content with whatever happens in the world around you. It is okay to be frustrated. In this political climate, it is hard not to be in a constant state of rage. What I normally do to remedy this anger is find other queer or POC people to vent with. Having an ear that understands your point of view can be immensely helpful.
v. Be the ally you want to have
As you search for people who understand your POV, be that person for others who could benefit from learning from your experiences. It's not your duty to offer up emotional labor, but I am a firm believer in giving the energy you want to receive. Also, recognize that everyone has some form of privilege, not just white folks: remember to check yours and to remain receptive to criticism. No one is perfect, and there is always room to learn and grow.
I know it has been a rough year, but this presidential term will not last forever. Remember that we are all going through this together, and you are not alone. Your parents and their parents faced similar opposition; thanks to them, we live in a marginally better society. Be that change for future generations, and love radically.