I’ll never forget how I went to bed the night of November 8, 2016. My wife and I had allowed our five-year-old daughter to stay up with us to watch the first woman to ever be elected President of the United States.
I knew my daughter wouldn’t understand how significant the accomplishment was, but I knew it would be important for her to see it nonetheless. I wanted her to watch it with my wife and for them to hold each other as history was made.
I still remember how that feeling felt as black male eight years earlier when Barack Obama was elected. In 2008 when the state of Ohio came in, I looked at my soon-to-be wife and said, “it’s over — he won.” She didn’t understand how I knew that since half the country was still voting. But hours later she held me as tears streamed down my eyes while we watched Obama walk on stage with his family to give his address.
Fast forward to that Tuesday night in November 2016. We watched with horror as state-by-state the country enabled one of the most vile, corrupt, and entitled persons to ever breathe air win the White House.
We couldn’t even watch the election of 45. We went to bed sick to our stomachs. I wanted my daughter to sleep with us. I wanted to hold my family tight because as a black male, for the first real time in my life, I felt utter fear for my family, my people, and my country.
The stress of the election was too much for me to bear. I relapsed with drinking and I knew that I needed to get back into a group setting to help stabilize myself. At the advice of my therapist, I joined one of his men’s groups.
I was excited to get into a group again because I had a lot weighing on me. The group met about a week after the election, but in a rare change of format, the group leader thought it would be good to discuss the election since they didn’t discuss it at the previous meeting. Perhaps in a different setting, this subject would’ve been welcomed. But the thing was, I was the only black male in a room full of middle-aged white men.
As the sharing started, my stomach immediately began to tighten, fearful of what I was about to hear. I knew I could have a short temper and an emotional subject might really push me over the edge. In group settings there’s no crosstalk, so when somebody is speaking, everyone else remains quiet.
But for the exception of maybe three men, one-by-one I listened to these group members vent white grievance, rationalization, victimization, and spitefulness; all of it to justify their votes in the election of 45. I listened to men complain about immigrants. I listened to men share conversations they had with their daughters justifying why voting for a sexual abuser was acceptable. I listened to men complain about feeling attacked by minorities because of their support for 45. I listened to men compare 45 with Ronald Regan and I listened to them complain that Obama was the worst president ever.
I was the last person to speak and I had one of two options: I could ask to be skipped or I could speak and stand for decency and truth. I choose the latter. My blood was boiling as I began but I remained calm and asserted that the cognitive dissonance in the room was astounding. I reminded them that this country was stolen from natives and was built by immigrants. I informed them that as a former athlete, I’ve never grabbed a woman by the pussy nor did I know any men who had. I reminded them that as a black male, I’m not allowed to play the victim–I’m told toughen up. I reminded them that Regan started his presidential campaign in Philadelphia Mississippi, home of “Mississippi Burning.” And as I was talking, I was rudely interrupted by a man who thought I was looking at him “wrongly”; I reminded them that I didn’t cut any of them off and reminded them what white privilege was.
As I finished, I thanked them for their time, wished them continued sobriety and walked out. I had articulated every feeling and thought I had in that moment and delivered them with precision. However, I knew that I too had my limits. The anger I’d kept inside as I spoke was raw and powerful and if I didn’t leave at that moment, it was subject to become real.