I may never see my friend Latifa(name changed) again. And that’s a reality I am not — yet — willing to accept. Last week, she made the gut-wrenching decision to go back to Indonesia, leaving behind a very successful career as a gynaecologist and her stillborn American Dream. She hasn’t been told she’s not welcome here, but she fears she will be. She fears her young Asian Muslim family that includes a three-year-old may never reconcile with Donald Trump’s America. She fears she will one day accidentally brush up against a Trump supporter in New Jersey’s notoriously crowded trains and look up and see hatred in a stranger’s eyes. How would the stranger know who she really was? And she isn’t even a hijab wearing, mosque-going Muslim.
When I am asked what I think about being brown in Trumpland, I say I don’t think. Thinking is an evil luxury. Reality is that rabbit hole down which there are no sagely caterpillars, only an Evil Joker cackling a gotcha. Reality is reading those sly goading messages on Facebook posted by that long-known American friend who helped you set up your house. He knows fully well that though the post has drawn blood, you will be too shocked to respond.
His crossing over has numbed you. Reality is that long bus ride into New York City the morning after election day, when your fellow passengers avoided each others’ eyes. Or it is the silence of the grave that hangs over the city streets, as the truth sinks in.
I did not have any illusions when I emigrated eight years back that I would be part of the mythical American mainstream. I knew my brown skin would be my talisman. I knew I could never fully integrate, that I only had half a foot in the door.
Yet, never once in those eight years have I felt unwanted, unsafe. Sitting in a New York train, surrounded by a multitude of dialects from all over the world, I felt a belonging. There was solace and solidarity and a coming-togetherness in that anonymity.
But that November 9 bus ride was different. I sensed exhaustion, wariness and a what-have-we-done despair. Maybe it was just me, maybe I was just mirroring my own anguish, maybe I should never have sought out Yeats’ Second Coming lines that morning. Maybe I should just have calmed the f*** down. Maybe things would be alright, after all. But then, that evening, I heard from Latifa. And I knew it was not just me.
In the days hence, I devised my own safety mechanisms. I now carefully disengage from political conversations, either online or off. I am not sure how I might respond, how I will keep the anger down. I do not for a single moment believe the trope that the Trump supporters voted out of ignorance, that they could not sift rhetoric from reality. No one can be that daft. How do you honestly believe that a man who brags about not paying his taxes is actually going to make your country great again? That a man whose many businesses have gone belly-up is going to bring your jobs back? I have a sense of suspended reality even while writing these lines, how should I respond to someone who actually believes this stuff ? So, no, no more political talking points for me. I could live to regret this standoffishness, but it serves my sanity.
Eventually, once the anger recedes, I want to reach out to those Trump supporters among my friends and try to understand. I know not all of them are racists or misogynists, that many of them are actually decent human beings who care.
Then, why? How could you? But for now, that’s not a conversation I can handle.
Vani Doraisamy is a freelance journalist and media analyst transplanted to New Jersey, US, from Chennai