“I can’t play with you.”
I quickly glanced up from the lopsided sand castle I had meticulously dedicated my recess time to building, solo. I didn’t mind playing by myself. I was new to Lincoln Elementary school, a returned transplant to where I was born in Utah, fresh from a short stint on the East Coast.
I hadn’t asked this small, brown haired, doe-eye child if she wanted to spend time with me during recess, which was a place of sanctuary for children to unleash pent up, squirmy energy and try their hand at making friends for the first time. I had opted to do my own thing and bask in the massive jungle gym and sand box the school offered. I was baffled as to why she felt the need to come over to me and let me know that I was considered a threat to her.
My response was, “Oh really? I never asked you to play with me in the first place.”
“I can’t play with you because you’re black. My mom told me I can’t play with black people.”
I felt a surge of emotion whip through my little brown body. I was confused, hurt, and finally, incredibly angry. It felt like an injustice for this girl to go out of her way to make me feel worthless because her parents had told her so, when I had done nothing to warrant her behavior.
It was a first of many instances of my town, community, country, and really the world, communicating to me that I was lesser than, that my humanity wasn’t equal to other’s humanity. Media, magazines, classmates, work colleagues, neighbors, schools, institutions, all participated. In various subtle and overt ways, they tried to convince or remind me that I was dumber, less attractive, angrier, more violent, less innocent, less deserving than others, because of what I look like on the outside. Even the character I had within was constantly questioned and assumed threatening based on the color of my skin, until proven otherwise.
This battle reached a peak on November 8th, 2016. My friends and I huddled around my makeshift TV set up in my Brooklyn apartment, streaming the election results. The night began with glasses of wine and measured hope. A hope that even though our country had a long, complex history of building self-esteem and worth off of putting others down, both literally and figuratively, most people must not believe or ascribe to continuing our past given recent wins in progress.
Our country seemingly began to turn a tide with marriage equality, by celebrating and giving an Emmy to Laverne Cox, the first transgender women to win the coveted award, by using social media to highlight police brutality and birth the Black Lives Matter movement. By twice electing a black man and his family to be in the White House, a symbolic building whose title rings true for who had occupied that office up to those moments in history. We believed the public was slowly boarding the progress train leading to the land where people receive the basic human rights of love, dignity, and liberty, and see and treat each other as equals.
As the electoral map began to seep red, finishing in a Trump win, our worst thoughts about ourselves and the people we love were confirmed. Maybe we hadn’t socially progressed as far as we thought. Maybe we were in an echo chamber of urban diversity that was not a reflection for most of the U.S. Maybe our neighbors do hate us because of what we look like or our lifestyles. Maybe the friends and family we thought better of, who voted for Trump, even against their own best interest, are truly sexist, racist, xenophobic, even if they are unconscious of it.
The visceral pain and cognitive dissonance affected us all in different ways, through tears and retreat, like a boat whose sails lost wind and then were shot full of bullet holes with a machine gun. How can we get back to shore with such low concepts of ourselves and the world?
How Did We Get Here?
Danielle Laporte has an incredible theory that every action we take is deeply rooted in an emotion of how we want to feel. Fear is one of the most motivating emotions in the entire world -- an evolutionary gift and curse that is an extension of the security and peace every human being craves in a chaotic and ever changing world. We also all want to feel valuable, and value is built from two main sources 1) how others view and treat us and 2) how we see and treat ourselves.
Trump built his platform using these two sources of emotion (fear and value). People are afraid of change and are afraid of the livelihoods of their future. That is a fact for all of us. Where he differed was how he proposed we solve those fears -- by seeking value and solace by putting others down -- women, immigrants, muslims, gays, blacks the list goes on. In the process, this platform unearthed a large swath of people, who are deeply hurting in different ways.
We’re all in desperate need of value and self-love, and some of us seek it through active (hate crimes for instance) and passive (being neutral in the face of injustice) oppression of others.
Hear me out. Yes, the implications of November 8th, 2016 have real world effects. Hate crimes are rising. Families are being torn apart due to diverging views. Very real fears of the future are being confirmed for every marginalized group completely battered and shit upon by this election. Your pain is valid, and self-love may seem like a far cry to solving it. Yet, we need to go to the source of the psychological and emotional failings that got us here, and figure out ways to both soothe ourselves while seeking the mental and physical power necessary to continue building a better future.
To marginalized/LGBTQ/People of color:
I love you. So many people love you. It’s hard to remember this right now because 60 million people casted a vote for someone who has plainly stated your life is lesser than others. When our country and communities are constantly devaluing your rights and ability to thrive, it’s hard to see your own value. But remember that hurt people hurt people. Any system of oppression (white supremacy, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia) is a means for the oppressors to build self-esteem and worth by making others feel lesser than themselves. Like a bully with low emotional intelligence, it’s a form of filling a source of lack and building identity through other’s pains. Although it has real effects on you, and we must continue fighting it, it’s NOT because you are deficient.
Like any relationship, when someone can’t see your value, it’s their own insecurities creating this dissonance and not because you lack value. In fact, you are seen as a threat. By 2020 minorities will be the majority for U.S. children. This change can be scary to some, and triggers the fear switch for so many people in the most toxic of ways. Competition and scarcity lead people to think there’s only so much for all of us, and competing for who is deserving of the spoils (and so far our society has said white-hetero-cis-christians are the most deserving). We can’t continue to seek validation from the wrong sources. The validation is within yourself and with the communities, allies, and people who love you. We can continue to bridge gaps with those who use this system of power to gain their identity and security, in the hopes of contributing to the undoing of the mental blockages and harmful ways they are masking their hurt and deficiencies, but we must not seek validation and affirmation from a system that will never give it to us.
Self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself that “grows from actions that support our physical, psychological, and spiritual growth”. It’s a state of mind that builds the foundation of your concept about yourself and the world. It shapes your actions, for better or for worse, and dictates how you deal with adversity and challenges in your life.
It is an opportunity to be the source of affirmation you’ve always been looking for. Below are three starter tips on building your base of self-love and ultimately your physical power to create change and live an intentional, fulfilled life, regardless of who believes you have the right to do so:
- Continue to invest in your self-actualization. Feed your mind sources of inspiration from thought leaders, authors, and creators who are possibility models and beacons of hope (which the blog you're reading, The New Quo, is all about!) Define the personal ways you will ascribe meaning to your life, based on your own personal set of internal values. If those values includes being a participant in dismantling systemic oppression, educate yourself on the social, historical, and economic policies of oppression. Get involved at the local level in your community to combat these systems (town halls, jury duty, volunteering is a good start) and encourage your peers to join you. Have the tough conversations about fear, change, and “others” with family and loved ones who are active as well as passive participants in oppression. Also remember what various levels of privilege you may carry that others don’t -- intersectionality is real and it’s an important, complex part of all of our identities (class, gender, race, religion, sexuality etc all have various benefits in our culture). We cannot dismantle this thing with only the marginalized participating. Every small action does move the needle forward more than inaction.
- Practice self-care (eating well, sleeping, exercising, therapy) because not taking care of yourself doesn’t help stop systemic problems or make your life better. Invest in your mental wellness. PTSD and other various traumas are very real for so many people who deal with various levels of oppression. Seeking treatment isn't a sign of weakness but a note of courage. Build and connect to a likeminded community, seek online groups, community organizations, and volunteer opportunities that connect you to adults who have your best interests at heart and believe in you and your value in the world. Build friendships and circles of thought with people who are allies, people who may not be marginalized but believe in the basic human rights for all and are also actively fighting beside and supporting the changes necessary to make this a reality.
- Continue mindfulness and intention. Although things seem bleak right now, overall humankind has made incremental progress. We die at later ages, wars are consistently down compared to decades ago. Incomes for all groups have increased over time. You have every right to feel sad. Own and sit with your feelings, process and move through them but don’t let them throttle you to a place of numbness and inaction. Some of the most innovative and meaningful cultural contributions are made by the oppressed -- people who are still using their right of creativity to combat injustice while also leaving behind a legacy in the world even within their oppression (past and present). Don’t forget your magic. You have the choice to do the same, or become defined by other's limitations and fears by living small.
To Trump Supporters
I am angry at you and sad for you. I know some of you personally, and know that there was a complex cognitive disconnect for many of you who voted in favor for someone so viscerally threatening to basic human rights for so many. I know some of you are seriously afraid and unconscious of your own biases, and believe the solution is to keep “others” out figuratively and literally. I know some of you just actively dislike various groups, and that’s your loss. There’s pain there, but it cannot be solved in that way.
I know others of you voted based on one singular point (economics for instance) ignoring the rest of the platform ushered in and the tragic impacts it will have on people who do not have the privilege of avoiding targeting and discrimination.
You must also invest in your self-actualization. None of us can thrive in a world where self-worth and security is gained by other people’s pains. Elevating only people who look and think like you will not guarantee a fruitful future. None of us can control the future, and the fact is fear and isolation can really only guarantee another type of pain -- a limited life, devoid of the fullness and benefits a wider range of experiences and cultures can bring.
Energy is never destroyed, it is only transferred from one object to the next. You can suppress energy as much as you want, and think that the impacts of someone else’s life doesn’t have an effect on yours, but over time it does. Extreme individualization cannot work in a connected world. With technology and the global economy, we can never turn back to a time of every man for himself (and honestly, that didn’t work so well for early societies either did it?). If society crumbles because a significant portion of it can’t meet their basic needs and rights, all of us will suffer chaos.
We all need to constantly remind ourselves to choose healthy self-love over devaluing others and devaluing ourselves. The future and our lives depend on it.