Yesterday, I woke up, excited at the prospect of a female President of the United States of America. How far in the dust had she left Trump?!
All too quickly my giddy emotions drained and were quickly replaced with dread and a sadness that rendered me immobile. I started crying and he had not even hit 270 yet. I hauled myself out of bed to get live coverage on my phone. Fellow PCVs were already engaged in conversation over Whats App. I nervously busied myself by making breakfast as the live news went on in the background. Every now and then I would pause and start crying again. Then Wisconsin’s votes came in and that was it.
I was in a daze the rest of the morning. I did not want to leave the house but I had responsibilities. I could not let Trump affect me this much. I recalled NPR’s Invisibilia podcast on Thoughts. It was their first ever. They discussed the theory that thoughts do not really matter. That they only have the power over us that we give them. This is in line with the practice of meditation: acknowledge the thought and let it go. So I tried, because I had to function that day. At least that afternoon, anyway. Ironically, I had a girls club meeting on the topic of ‘What do you aspire to and what are the barriers to achieving it?’
But I failed. I failed in not letting Trump negatively impact my day. I came home feeling defeated and tried to understand why.
Half (a little under, I will say emphasize) of the Americans who voted, voted for a man that has put himself out there as racist, sexist, bigoted, selfish and rude. For some, it is a reflection of many Americans’ complex dissatisfaction in Obama’s administration but for some it was as simple as ‘I will never vote for a woman’ or ‘Yea, get that damn wall built’ or ‘Gays cannot have the same rights as me because the lifestyle they choose is wrong’ or ‘keep those extremists away from me – Muslims are dangerous.’ And that is where the real tragedy lies – that there are many Americans with these narrow perceptions that agree with the things Trump says and want the things Trump promises. The way I interpret it, is that there are millions of Americans who do not respect and accept me as a mixed race, brown woman. How about all my LGBTQIA friends? Black friends? Muslim friends? Disabled friends? The American ones will not be treated equally and the foreign ones will not be welcome. That is not an America I can be proud of. I felt like an outsider.
In Ghana I stick out even more and live in a place where there are not many foreigners. So, I am still a novelty. Most days I will get silimiŋa yelled at me and I have gotten pretty good at ignoring that. But yesterday, it came on thick. And not just the calling out of my obvious foreign-ness. After the girls meeting (which did not go well), I headed to the market and kids tugged my hair and rubbed my skin. In one of the situations, I snapped. On any other day (ok, give me a couple more weeks post election), I like to think I would have been kinder in explaining to the kids that it is not nice to touch strangers like that. After all, they were only curious kids. No harm was meant. Instead, I let my self pity rise to the top. My feelings of being unwanted as an American by Americans was exacerbated by the anomalously high number of experiences of the afternoon that only emphasized my ‘outside-ness’. I was in a foul mood and it showed. So, yesterday, I failed as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Without meaning to dramatize or downplay its importance, it happens. Core Expectations #5 of a PCV is
“Recognize that you are responsible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for your personal conduct and professional performance.”
Already, I have been in discussions with other PCVs about how difficult it has been and will continue to be to have the conversation with Ghanaians about Trump winning. The predominant Ghanaian reaction has been ‘What happened?’ All PCVs have said they felt embarrassed and ashamed. Me too. But I am also of the mind that, let Trump do Trump. Let him have the chance to prove us wrong. Otherwise, he will be the cause of his own downfall. And I sincerely hope, would prefer, he proves us wrong. This is also the chance to explain that more individual Americans did in fact vote for Hillary but that we have a voting system in place that is completely obsolete for this day and age.
Lastly, today I realized something else. Core expectation #9 says,
“Recognize that you will be perceived, in your host country and community as a representative of the people, cultures, values and traditions of the United States of America.”
While I also failed at this yesterday, it became apparent how much more important it is for us Americans to be out in the world. It is our duty, more than ever, to show our HCNs that America and Americans are open, welcoming and accepting. That respect is an American value. That equality is a status we strive for. That diversity is one of our greatest riches.
So, we must work harder. Love better. Stand together. Fight the good fight. Be the Americans we want the world to know.