A beautiful thing has happened. In the ten days since Donald Trump was elected as president, a new rhetoric has emerged to counter the neofascism that the people who voted him into office have seemingly normalized. On Wednesday of this week, I organized a protest with several members of my community against Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as chief strategist. For those not familiar with Bannon’s background, he is the executive chairman of Breitbart News, a conservative American commentary website. To give you a sense of Breitbart’s politics, previous headlines featured on the site: “Hoist it High and Proud: The Confederatre Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage”; “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy”…You get the point. Bannon refers to himself as a member of the “alt-right,” which critics have rightfully picked up as a euphemism for white nationalism.
In a New Yorker article entitled Trolls for Trump, Andrew Marantz describes those of the alt-right as an “affiliation of white nationalists, neo-monarchists, masculinists, conspiracists…belligerent nihilists.” While there may be no formal ideology central to the alt-right, it is clear that a rejection of multiculturalism and immigration lies at its nucleus. The word may seem harmless but once we bring a microscope up to it (and not a very powerful one at that) we see it is festering with xenophobia. Which brings me to my point: that now more than ever we must simultaneously revere and be particularly wary of language and how we use it.
Earlier this week I attended a meeting hosted by the Central American Resource Center. A young trans person of color mentioned something that I have not been able to stop thinking about. We are living in the age of color blindness, they said, but this has had a counterproductive effect on the way that we think about our differences. As a culture we have become so stifled by our political correctness that we are afraid to state the most obvious: that color exists, that we are a country of “racial castes,” as Michelle Alexander has written, and that the American dream has become a cruel myth. Try telling Trayvon Martin’s mother that this country does not see color. United we stand in our differences but let’s not allow our unity to whitewash our differences. At the protest on Wednesday, I was moved to see so many people different types of people standing together. A popular chant: “the people united, will never be divided.” Yet we are a nation of extreme divisions and refusing to see this, choosing colorblindness over consciousness, is what has led people to say things like, ‘all lives matter,” and what, arguably, has landed us in our current situation.
In 1989, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, an American civil rights activist and scholar, coined the term intersectionality to describe the overlapping of identity politics and how systems of oppression are interrelated. While the term itself has allowed us to move forward in thinking about the “matrix of domination,” as sociologist Patricia Hill Collins once wrote, particularly in regards to dismantling the cultural illiteracy of white feminism, the word has also been co-opted by the very people it was meant to educate, leading us down a dangerous path of white neoliberal martyrdom. In the years since, it seems, the term has been scooped up by white liberals as a way to forge bridges with minorities. So while it is beautiful to see people rallying together despite their differences, I maintain that it is important to remain vigilant of our inequalities, that colorblindness does more to empower the oppressor than the oppressed, and that in refusing to see our differences, we deny minorities the very visibility we are purportedly fighting for. Discrimination still exists. Racism still exists. I think the people showing up to these protests know that. But now is the time to be particularly sensitive to the language we call upon to draw attention to these issues. This is a call to white allies. Our language matters.
Photography by Eamon Hartnett.