The Emotional Aftermath Of Facing America's Racist Reality

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Carla Bruce-Eddings is a New York-based writer. Opinions expressed here are her own.

I underestimated my country's latent hatred from the very beginning.

My parents read me books, showed me videos: Bull Connor and his snarling dogs, fire hoses scattering marching crowds, restaurant counters gripped by tightened brown knuckles, stoic obstinacy in the face of persecution, of spit-flecked screams and limp bodies hung from thick branches. Separate water fountains, waiting areas, restrooms, classrooms. Historically, I was taught, we were seen as less. Inferior. Ugly. Stupid. Worthless. Worth less.

I absorbed these lessons, but they were filtered through a porous layer of antiquity. That was then, my psyche would whisper, this is now. Every day, I awoke to a world that felt irrevocably different from the horrors people like me had endured all those years ago. Childhood has a way of distorting your perception of a decade; adulthood corrects that distortion with a humbling rapidity.

I'm 28 years old now. Faced with the prospect of a Trump presidency, I underestimated my country's latent displeasure with social progress. With "PC culture." With burgeoning inclusivity and acceptance. I resented but partook in the cultural spectacle of this election, the memes and late-night appearances and breathless listicles, the frenzied clamor to air every piece of dirty laundry and pick through every salacious soundbite. It surpassed politics and nosedived into vaudeville; we sopped it up, horrified and amused, that uniquely American capacity to revile and crave psychosis in equal measure. I shared thinkpieces and retweeted jokes and quelled my looming fear: This is theater, not reality. We won't actually find ourselves in the situation we're joking about. It was the only way I could laugh.

Love is my only momentum.

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I watched the tenor of our social media posts morph from smug to incredulous to despondent. To frightened, then grimly sarcastic. My smiles grew more tight-lipped. Refreshing my feeds felt reassuring and dangerous: What had transpired in the past two hours? What fresh hell? My headaches persisted for hours, my stomach twisted itself into knots. Bile pushed its way into my esophagus, eerily reminiscent of the third-trimester torment of my pregnancy.

My daughter — so small, so blissfully ignorant — went to sleep last night with a fever, after a cool sponge bath and a mouthful of Motrin. I fought the impulse to hold her at 12 a.m., as the states flickered red, as friends called and texted me, sobbing, disbelieving, furious. I felt numb. My phone was a touchstone, cementing me to reality, to the multiplicity of grief and outrage that gave me a respite from my own racing thoughts. Every so often, my husband and I would just stare at each other in abject horror. Was this truly our country? Have we been deluding ourselves? Could we in good conscience stay here, continue working here, have another child here? Where could our family be safe? After all, even if not every person who voted for Trump is racist, their choice implies that bigotry is acceptable — even preferred.

My daughter awoke this morning bleary-eyed, her tiny body blazing, a twisted internalization of the chaos our world had been plunged into. We gave her medicine and fixed her breakfast and changed her diaper, struggling for normalcy, attempting smiles that didn't quite reach our eyes. She watched us warily, her usual boundless energy tempered by bleary-eyed lethargy. Trusting us to take care of her. Her silence felt like an indictment. How we've failed her.

I watched my husband leave for work this morning with a dry mouth and clamped down a fresh wave of tears, because the horror of our new reality is not mitigated by our broken-hearted response to it. Tears are a pitifully temporary catharsis.

I have no answers, I have no solutions, I have no platitudes about the Work We Must Do or the hope that persists in spite of our uncertain future. Not yet. Love is my only momentum: I can only move forward, somehow, moment by moment, one foot in front of the other, even as the ground beneath us crumbles irrevocably backward.
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