Meghan DeMaria is an associate editor of digital innovation at Refinery29. The views expressed here are her own. All of my coworkers know I’m from North Carolina. I have a postcard from a local barbecue restaurant at my desk here at Refinery29, and I wear a necklace featuring the Tar Heel state almost every day. I showed up in a Carolina T-shirt on the day of the NCAA finals. But as I watched the election results roll in, I was ashamed of my home state. North Carolina is a swing state. In 2012, it was the only swing state Mitt Romney won; in 2008, it went to Obama. True, my home state has been in the headlines for some terrible reasons in the past year — the state passed HB2, a law limiting LGTBQ people's rights, including the right to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. But it's not — deep down — a hateful state. At least, I didn't think it was.
As I watched the election results roll in, I was ashamed of my home state.
Growing up in North Carolina, I saw plenty of arguments on both sides of the aisle. I went to an extreme Catholic homeschool group during my high school years, where we were taught to be single-issue voters about abortion. (This was a place that forced all students to attend the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., and anyone who didn't go had to write a 10-page paper.) In that circle, the "issue of life" was the trump card in all presidential elections — and in my experience, that only refers to the "life" of the fetus, not the lives of, say, the homeless, or the sick, or of U.S. soldiers. I still know people in North Carolina who are of this mindset. To New York liberals, that might be alarming — and before this week, I still believed that those people, too, could be won over by the Democrats this year. Tim Kaine is personally opposed to abortion, and Donald Trump has a conflicting history on the issue. But despite Trump's uneven statements about abortion over the years, the issue was a factor for plenty of voters I know this election. Trump said on the campaign trail that he'd end funding to Planned Parenthood if it kept providing abortion services. And in March, Mike Pence, his pick for vice president, signed an Indiana bill that would prohibit abortions based on fetal abnormalities, including disabilities like Down syndrome. Even with the campaign's focus on abortion, I had hope these single-issue voters could be swayed. If the idea were to vote Republican because of what they feel are Christian values about abortion, surely, in this election, the Christian call to love all people would surpass that? I understood why some Republicans I knew back home are fiscal conservatives, why some of them voted for Mitt Romney. I respect that decision (and the fact that it's more nuanced than being a single-issue anti-abortion voter). But to me, a vote for Donald Trump is different from a vote for Republican candidates of years past. (Romney didn't propose excluding entire groups of people from the United States, for example.) Not everyone I know back home was pro-Trump, of course. For every conservative voter I knew in high school, I met a political polar opposite in college, at the predominantly liberal University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This is a campus that recently renamed a campus building that originally bore the name of a man connected to the Ku Klux Klan. The first time I was old enough to vote in a presidential election was for Obama's second term, and I voted on campus. Obama didn't win the state, but my peers and I were thrilled about his overall victory.
Before the results were called this time around, I thought the Trump voters I knew would just be people I rolled my eyes at and moved on from, people I avoided having political conversations with. I assumed the rest of the state would be even-minded enough to outweigh the hate. But the election results have proven that the United States is more divided, and more bigoted, than anyone thought. In North Carolina, it's not just those who voted for Trump, either — voter suppression was a major issue for the state during this election. I don't know if the people I know who voted for Donald Trump actually want to build a wall at our country's southern border. I don't think they actually want me, or other women, to be grabbed by the pussy. But to me, their vote says they do. Some of them didn't even stay up to see the results — a decision that bothered me almost as much as their votes. It's a twisted kind of privilege to be able to vote for a candidate who makes people feel unsafe, and go to sleep without having to think about the consequences. I could stick with being a proud Carolinian through the backlash to the discriminatory HB2, because there were so many people in the state who opposed the hate. But the harsh reality of the election is that most people who cast ballots in my state voted for a candidate who makes Americans of color feel unwelcome in their own country. North Carolina is the only U.S. state with its own state toast. It boasts Carolina as a place "where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great." Now is the time for those strong voices to rise up in North Carolina, to make sure everyone's voice is heard in our democracy. There's a long way to go, but we can't give up.