The day that Donald Trump won the 2016 election, I had a hard time waking my children to tell them the news for fear that it would break their hearts and mine, so I let them sleep far past the sun rising and the alarm clock chiming. I quieted the noisy cat and stayed in bed for hours breathing and thinking at a pace somewhere between shock and rage.
We all watched Election Day approach and election night unfold with cautious hope. On Election Day 2016, I sprung out of bed, compelled to vote on behalf of all Black women and men who’d been incarcerated unjustly and stripped of their legal voting rights by past presidents and policies. For many Black people, the sanctity of the right to vote is part of how we’d been raised. Frazzled and determined, and with my ancestors in mind, I found my way to my local polling place. Though I wasn’t a Hillary Clinton fan, I was—and am—vehemently against the racist broad sweeps, rampant misogyny, and uneducated, unapologetic white entitlement that Trump signifies.
Yet the next day, no matter how long I stayed in bed thinking, I couldn’t get around the fact that I had to tell my children the election results.
I decided to wake my teenager first. Lankier than ever with his chocolate skin and shiny afro leaning defiantly towards dreads, he opened his eyes and asked, “Who won?” Speaking slowly, I answered, “Trump.” I’d been preparing myself to say that to him all morning and it took some preparation to figure out how to deliver the news. My son had spent over half of his life in a version of America where an elegant, learned and kind Black man had served as president and I didn’t know how to take him from that to its opposite—and the cultural and political landscape we were entering. How would I tell him the facts without alarming him? How would I say that a man who gropes women, hates immigrants and grew up with a father who participated in the Ku Klux Klan had become the leader of the country we live in? How would I explain that we may have to change because something is changing in America, and who we are—free—and want to be—safe—may become less tolerable as a result of that change?
That morning my teen and I discussed strategy, the prison industrial complex, past presidents and the harm they’ve caused Black and Brown people in the U.S. and abroad. We talked about the merits of moving away from the United States if and when we are too disgusted, threatened or terrified by its leadership to stay, as well as the importance of knowing the context we are operating in while we make future plans. As I sat with him, sharing so much wisdom between us, it reminded me how quickly Black and Brown children in America have to grow up. Instead of allowing them the innocent entitlements of childhood, oftentimes as BIPOC parents, conversations about politics aren’t just about politics, they are about strategizing how to navigate our very survival.
On Nov. 8, 2016, I spent hours thinking about how to stay safe in a country with myriad systems that already devour poor people, Black, Indigenous, people of color and anyone else deemed unworthy. I thought about my family, and my broader community of Indigenous, Latinx, queer and other folks. All of the people who certainly don’t and won’t make America “great again” in Trump’s rendition; because the past for us is a living hell of colonialism, forced migration, separation and bondage. Needless to say, it is no place we want to resurrect.
Now, four years later, the 2020 United States presidential election is different because I have lived through four years of emboldened white supremacist thinking and behavior, inept national leadership and the erosion of eight years of progress under national Black leadership, and while the country may be going backward, I am not going with it.
I want to be out of the country and away from the chaos, watching the results from afar. I’m having ex-pat dreams like so many Americans of all cultural backgrounds who wander off to the Caribbean islands and other countries across the globe in search of a brighter life. I cannot imagine watching the 2020 presidential election results from any U.S. livingroom while anyone sleeps, or my phone rings and dings incessantly with calls and texts from friends and relatives who are shrouded in anxiety. I don’t want to wake up in a country that could disappoint so drastically on Election Day ever again.
So in preparation for this Election Day, my family and I boarded a plane in the middle of a pandemic because I’d rather be in the air than sitting still watching the tide roll in. This is my “Matrix” move, and when we land in a country of Brown people who collectively know the evil burn of American politics, but somehow still smile and willingly take us in, I wonder: haven’t I been doing this all my life—falling into the arms of the most unwanted because I find home there?
I think about Dorothy, having to go somewhere make-believe to find home, and I think about all of the real people who want to cross borders but can’t, because border politics are often so cruelly segregationist. Now here we are in a country of Brown people all pretending we don’t see the election coming, but knowing it’s looming and waiting for it to pass like a storm we cannot avoid and must survive. Here, as a Black person, I feel more welcome than I was feeling at “home” in the U.S.
As summer was ending this year, my aunt asked me, “What’s your plan for November through January?”
“To be the f-ck out of here,” I thought. And so, with my babies in tow, I am.
Sunshine Muse is a health equity consultant who runs a Black women-led non-profit focused on shifting paradigms and experiences to help create a world where public health is more effective, people are more thoughtfully engaged and history is not forgotten. To learn more visit here.