My mom wants me to stop being a sad human being and get the hell up: It’s 8 a.m., and 8 a.m. on a weekday is no time to be swaddled under the bedsheets. If I open one eye and manage a strained stare, I can sort of see her. Ah, there she is — an amorphous blob across the room. What do I want for breakfast, she wants to know. I need to be dressed by the time she returns with the food, she informs me. If my glasses were within reach I’d be able to see the details of her face — calm, wearing a touch of foundation, no doubt, and her favorite mascara from Yves Saint Laurent. It’s November 9, 2016, Donald Trump just became the president-elect and this chick — Judy, my mom — wants me to get up.
Disappointment has a texture, a weight. It’s hard and heavy and it sits on your chest just long enough to convince your lungs they may never touch air again. I’ve felt it plenty of times. Disappointment in myself, when I choose not to speak up after being ignored in a store; disappointment in others, when I arrive for an interview and the publicist struggles to conceal surprise upon seeing my brown face.
My mom knows this feeling too, but tenfold. Disappointment hardens you as you climb the corporate ladder when you’re black, a woman, and equipped with the audacity of an M.B.A. Disappointment of this kind courses through your veins when you live as a person of color in this world, no matter your proximity to wealth, education, or accomplishment. Its source is an IV of racism — casual, systemic, and overt — that congeals in your arteries until you become numb to it all, to injustice and to disrespect, and you find yourself heavy with apathy.
This chick — my mom — has lived nearly 60 years under the weight of disappointment. Which is why, on Wednesday morning, instead of allowing her body to retch as the election results unspooled, she requested my breakfast order and instructed me to be ready when she returned. We were in the middle of a mother-daughter trip in Charleston, and she’d be damned if she’d let another disappointment — the outcome of the presidential election — foil her plans.
This week I’ve been thinking a lot about the woman who ran for president of the United States, my mom, and me. I’ve been thinking about how so many of the women I know were shocked and dismayed beyond expression when Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, and, for a brief moment, I was too. But that cumulative legacy of hurt — the inexorable weight of disappointment — along with my mom had pulled me back to reality. My mom didn’t read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, but her actions Wednesday morning brought back a passage from the book. Coates’s son has begun to cry after learning that Michael Brown’s killers would not be indicted, and Coates describes his response, as a father:
I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you. I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.
It would be wrong to say that being a person of color in this world — particularly a woman of color — means you don’t taste the sour loss of this election. It does not. But this race of mine, this gender of mine, has been confronted from birth with the disappointment that this world can deliver. Wednesday morning’s mood was familiar.
And this is why I didn’t cry when Hillary lost. My tears had dried up many disappointments ago. I’m scared for what’s to come, sure, but isn’t it more of the same? Trump inspires the same anxiety in me as a routine traffic stop. I brace myself for the repercussions of what his administration will execute, but I’m not naïve; I know I live close to this realm of fear already.
Enough about that, though. This chick, Judy, she has plans for the both of us today. We’ll tour the high points in Charleston, visit the place where the Civil War started and see where the oldest African-American church in the state stands. Judy lived through MLK and Malcolm X; Nixon and Reagan; Loving v. Virginia; Rodney King and O.J. We’re going to go through some shit, yes, but it’s hardly any worse than what we’ve seen.