November 10, 2016

Hold your head high and represent YOURSELF well (a pseudo-expat's reaction to the 2016 election)

To my friends and family in the US and, especially, those living abroad:

Perhaps like many of you, I spent yesterday in disbelief about the results of the presidential election. At my desk, staring in to my computer screen searching for an alternative outcome, I watched the votes pass the 270 mark, and I watched a new President-Elect take the stage. I feared for the future of my country. I felt defeated. I felt ashamed.

But today I realize that now, more than ever, is the time for me (and you!) to represent America with dignity and pride--to live as examples of educated, free people who are neither so fragile as to be broken by disappointment, nor so stubborn to put our heads in the sand until we get our way--but instead as people who make choices out of hope and not fear (shout out to Nelson Mandela).

Living abroad, in many ways, puts the spotlight on my Americanness. People know I’m an American. Everywhere I go, I represent my home country, and I choose to represent what I see as the best of America. If people don’t like the president, maybe they will at least like me and see that Americans are not defined by our president. Just because the President of my country says something, doesn’t mean it’s my view. People from around the world can relate to that sentiment.

When I studied abroad during the Bush administration, I was often asked about why I supported him. I didn’t, and I hadn’t been old enough to vote in that election. I was frustrated by that prejudice and assumption that because of my citizenship, I could be summarized in terms of George Bush’s policies. Looking back, I understand that coming from a powerful country with the privileges of democracy has a few down-sides. That I did support Obama on other experiences abroad brought me greater comfort, as he was generally well-liked by people I met in other countries. Now, facing a Trump presidency, I am preparing myself to handle those conversations gracefully; but more important, to show by example that Americans are good people who have hope for the future.

Don’t misunderstand me. The President-Elect ran on a platform of things I do not support, and the comments he has made about virtually every group outside of white males have been abhorrent and reprehensible. He has chosen to present himself this way, I believe, in order to strike a nerve with the American people--to get attention. Now he’s got it, and I hope he won’t feel the need to lash out anymore. His administration will probably want to change a lot of things from the way they are now. I can’t necessarily stop that, but I can be involved in my own community to create the world I want to live in.

I will not support laws or measures that deny US citizens equal rights or anyone’s right to make choices about their own body and how they present it to the world, nor will I support laws or measures that degrade human rights of people from other countries. The United States stand as a symbol of hope in the world, and as a symbol of democracy, reason, and progress. While the future under a new leader seems uncertain, we, the people, remain in control of our approach to the world. We can be stubborn, bitter, and disengaged, or we can be optimistic, resourceful, and participatory. Every day, we each have the chance (and responsibility) to represent our country as a place where diversity of people and ideas can be respected.

All is not lost. We, as Americans, are not summed up in one person. We are a nation of people who must continue to live together and work for our common goals.

Some are saying this is the end of America. And, if you believe that, and you disengage from our society, it IS the end of the most valuable parts of America: our freedom to voice differing opinions. Until you've lived in places where that freedom does NOT exist, where issues like sexism, racism, and homophobia are not even part of the discussion, you may not realize what a remarkable system we are part of.

If we don't give up, this is not the end. Hold your head high and represent YOURSELF well. That's your duty to your country.

Note: To be frank, I'm a straight, white person, so while I am utterly disgusted by his remarks about race, religion, disability, etc., I admit that I have so much less to lose from this election than many of my peers who are non-white, non-Christian, non-straight, non-traditionally gendered, or any other factor that may make ignorant people in our society see you as less than. You are not less than. I support and respect you as a whole human worthy of every right I have. I want to help you gain and maintain those rights. To my fellow women (and men! and others!), we have a battle on our hands. We might not be able to change our leader for four years, but we can demand women be seen as equal counterparts.