Early morning November 8th, 2016, I board a plane headed for India, with a stopover in Abu Dhabi. I miscalculate and almost miss my flight. All I can think about is getting on that flight on time, and whether I’m going to miss my game developer conference and screw things up for a lot of people. I’d forgotten to check in in advance, and it was totally my fault, which made it worse.
I make it with minutes to spare before the check-in counter closes.
I’m sitting on the plane, having made a joke on twitter about how I’m leaving the country because of the election, which of course isn’t true. I voted for Hillary, a democrat, for the first time in my life. I’d always voted green before now, but saw the threat of a Trump presidency as too great, and the appeal of our social gains over the last 8 years as too important, to vote any other way but Democrat, even as a California resident.
I was wondering how I’d deal with not knowing what happened until I landed. Well, it turns out there’s cable TV on the plane. A man in his late 50s with a large black turban was watching it constantly, and since his wife was a seat leaner, there was a gap through which I could see the election in real time, regardless of what I wanted to be doing. I couldn’t look away. My heart sank as I watched the country’s white folks throw us all under a bus. Republicans rule the roost, and our white folks prove that racism and sexism don’t matter so long as they get to feel good about exclusion again.
I hold my head in my hands, I feel like throwing up.
I arrive in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is one of the most religiously tolerant places in the region, but remains predominantly muslim. As I enter the country, a man wearing a jilbab says “big election day for you, eh?” I’m one of two white people getting off the plane. “I don’t want to talk about it,” I say, and he laughs.
As I stand waiting to go through the first leg of immigration, a British woman behind me says, “Pardon, are you American?” “Yes,” I say. After asking me some questions about immigration that I don’t know the answer to, she sighs and says, “shame about Trump,” and I reply again that I’m not ready to talk about it.
As I pass through the checkpoint, I’m stopped by a police officer. “Passport please,” he says, looking at me intensely. He takes me behind a panel and begins to search through my stuff, meticulously, piece by piece. “Fair enough,” I think, “This is what we’d do to anyone who looks like you in America.” He’s very nice, but very intense. He asks where I’m from, and he’s never heard of San Francisco, he thinks I’m from Texas. Once again, I think it’s poetic justice for American TSA’s assumptions about my brown-skinned friends, even if they’ve clearly got a dutch accent.
I’m trying to be friendly and cordial with this guy, because frankly, I’m uncomfortable. I know I’m one of the only white people around. I know I’m in a country forcing others to speak my language (his English is somewhat limited). I know I have a lot of weird electronics and pills (for malaria, etc) in my bag. He looks at all of them and asks about everything.
Eventually, he asks about Trump. I can’t hold it in any longer and say “He’s a piece of shit,” and the guy smiles. “It seems you have good people, but a bad… a bad…” I’m not sure what he’s trying to say. I offer, “we have some good people, but they voted a racist into office. I don’t know what is going to happen.”
“Well,” he looks at me. “I hope he doesn’t do anything bad.” Our eyes meet for too long, and he starts packing my stuff back up. “Have a nice day.”
The fact is, no matter what Trump levies against my friends and lovers, I’m going to continue being a straight white male. The brunt of this war is on our American minorities, women, and LGBTQ friends. The next group of people to check out my bag don’t speak English. But they’re laughing and goofing off with each other, a woman making fun of the guy going through all my electronics by calling him over to see something else I have – a charger for an iPad. She holds it up, raises her eyebrows, and says something to him. He laughs. She laughs. I laugh. But I can’t help but think about what the future is for people who look like them in America. For the people who look like them who already live there. I go through a retinal scan and get my prints taken.
I’m waiting at my gate for a flight to Hyderabad, India, my ultimate destination. I’m fielding texts from shattered friends, and my girlfriend, and my mom, all of whom feel like they’re lost. What do we do?
Again, I’m the only white person in the area. But it turns out I’m not the only American. Three African Americans with religious mission shirts on are feeling the jetlag pretty hard in one section of our round waiting room. I can’t bring myself to look at them. What if they think I voted for Trump? What if they think this is my fault?
But it’s then that I realize, this is my fault. I could have done more. Those conversations with family about the fallacy of protest votes could have lasted longer. The discussion my girlfriend and I had about the one Trump supporter we know, an Asian American, could have happened with him, instead of about him.
Honestly, I don’t really know what more there was to do, but clearly more needed to be done. The democratic establishment wasn’t enough for people. Hillary’s civil and women’s rights record wasn’t enough. Ultimately, it’s liberal white America that failed to deliver reasons compelling enough for people to vote. So many stayed home. So many thought “what’s the difference.” I voted for her, but I don’t love Hillary. She actually does have a lot of good points, is an extremely qualified president, and would massively help women’s rights. But the poison that was out there poisoned me as well, since the 90s when the Clintons were in power, and I was never truly behind her.
There’s a huge difference between a democratic majority and a republican majority though, no matter what one thinks of Hillary. All the social change we’ve made over the years could be undone. And it’s people like me who allowed it to happen, especially those who stayed home, who posted anti-Hillary memes and articles on Facebook and Twitter while claiming a liberal background.
Now, as the republicans begin the process of trying to unravel all the social progress we’ve made over the last 8 years, I am at a loss. I sit here in Hyderabad in a hotel I didn’t pay for, after a flight I didn’t pay for, overlooking a beautiful pool and tropical landscape. 5 minutes from here are no less than three slums, and hundreds of restaurants and businesses that are nothing more than tarps over frames with a single burner inside.
Here I am, a white person who will continue to be safe in America when I return. But my friends, my partners, my business associates, what of them? Who will protect them, and how? We’ve already failed to do so, in the most minor of ways – simply voting against hate. I don’t know what to do now. But I deeply feel that it was me, and people like me who allowed these racists to take power. Racists and sexists were always there. But we left wing white folk proved we’re no better, because we didn’t stop it. I know it’s my fault. And that makes it so much worse. I have to live with that for four years. Hopefully not more.