It was a fairly warm evening for late October. I was at an author’s reading and just finished hearing an essay about the approaching elections, a topic heavy on many minds. Most agreed that voting for the lesser of two evils was the safest choice, both literally and politically. Then again, I recently read an email that many doctors would not even bother casting a vote because neither choice would be a healthy one for the American people. 

The concept of electing our first female president may have been thrilling to many, conjuring up visions of “I can do anything you can do better.” Yet is it enough that it be any woman regardless of her history of fickle decision-making? But then again, a poorly tanned narcissist isn’t much of an alternative either.

The guest author enthusiastically expressed his opinion of our crooked-wigged candidate and highlighted his many toxic plans for our country. The author went on to dissect the candidate’s strong objection to those who create the mosaic that is America.

Maybe bizarrely, I believe there is great value in highlighting the potency of racism that exists in our country, often masked but very much alive. But with the way it’s being done, tactlessly and risking the safety of millions of Americans, people are emboldened to be more openly hateful again. This is America. Great. Again.

Even still, there is something uglier, something more insidious than exposing the realities of hate in one full swoop, and that is perpetually ignoring the severity of mounting injustice. Yet this is where some people’s minds have lain dormant for some time now, bolstered by the election of President Obama. “We have a black president. How can we possibly be a racist society?” In some people’s minds, this made everything right in their privilege-padded worlds. I suppose their assumption is that Mr. Obama’s election instantly changed the views of millions of callous people just like that because it’s that easy.

There was a reception and book signing after the author’s talk. Because he is a connoisseur of birds, there was a spread of various nuts, crackers with small seeds, owl shaped cookies and wine, much needed wine. As another attendee and I were reaching for a spoonful of sunflowers, she stopped and turned to me.

“What did you think of tonight’s talk?” she asked.

“Pretty sobering,” I said.

“Well, I didn’t like it. It just wasn’t entertaining. It was way too political for me.”

Sad, I thought, that something that is a necessity for me happens to be an inconvenience for someone else. The advancement and protection of my rights as a woman of color mean absolutely nothing but a missed night of amusement to someone who is otherwise unscathed by the slurs and threats that were to become far more overt, post-election. 

Is the harassment and violence still too political for her, I wonder? And if undeniable recognition of hate has been the one mildly positive thing that has come out of this election, how then may her understanding of advocacy change from “too political” to too detrimental to ignore? 

What might she have to say now? Hopefully not, “We should wait and see what happens.” It’s already happened. Hate is being actively promoted. Accounts of simple-minded, sometimes life-threatening behavior are streaming onto news circuits at a disturbing rate. While this oblivious but otherwise seemingly decent person can afford to tell herself she’s going to wait to see what happens, the safety of my children, my community, my country depends on my being far more political than many might ever appreciate. 

Patty Johnson is a resident of Oak Park.

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