I’m writing this from my hotel room in New York City, where I’ve been since Tuesday evening and will be until Friday. I’m in town to attend The Root 100 gala Thursday night, but I’m here early to meet with my agent (and possibly my editor), hang out with some friends and visit the GMG office.
I flew here from San Francisco after speaking at Stanford University on Monday evening. Their African and African American Studies program invited Panama and me out there, and we spent 90 minutes talking about everything from Beyoncé and bacon to sugar on grits and the surreality of getting paid for basically being a professional black person.
This time last week I was in Kentucky sharing an audience with bell hooks. And in the coming weeks I’ll be speaking at Morgan State (my first HBCU) and reading a piece I wrote for “20/20”—a collaboration between the Carnegie Museum of Art and the the Studio Museum in Harlem. (Also, I learned last week that I was named to Ebony magazine’s 2017 Power 100—an honor I greatly appreciate but have some ambivalence about, for obvious reasons.)
And this is just November. Each month in the past year has mirrored what’s happening this month. This has been, without a doubt, the best year of my professional life. And it happened—and is happening—during the Trump presidency, and this makes it all feel ... fake.
In my lifetime, there has never been an American president and an administration and an America more openly antagonistic toward people who happen to look like me. Of course, racism didn’t end with Barack Obama and didn’t start again with Donald Trump. What exists now has existed as long as America has. But at least they attempted to spray some Febreze on it.
Now there’s not even a courtesy flush. No effort to disguise what’s happening, and no intention of pandering to anyone except those who believe we’re undeserving of full citizenship. And the juxtaposition between what’s happening in America and what’s happening in my American life is so stark that it feels counterfeit.
Imposter syndrome describes the feeling of believing that your accomplishments are invalid and that you’ll eventually be revealed to be a fraud. But what about when you believe that your accomplishments are valid as a motherfucker, but you can’t feel great about them because they’re happening at the exact-same fucking time the president has declared war on niggas who look like you? Surreal doesn’t even capture that feeling because surreal still feels real. This feels like I’m watching my own episode of Punk’d—while it’s happening to me.
This mélange of unsettledness and anxiety may be the reason that this has also been the least healthy year I’ve ever had. I’ve seen more doctors this year than I have in the last 10 years combined. My acid reflux has gone from manageable to perpetually annoying. I sleep maybe five hours a day. Five-and-a-half if I’m really tired. I had a random sciatic nerve issue in January that made sitting (sitting!) an act of masochism, a sinus-pressure-causing earache that made me feel like a lit M-80 was sitting in my skull and perpetual congestion. Oh, and I kinda sorta thought I almost died.
Of course, I’m nearing 40. And the older you get, the more weird and random shit starts happening to your body. Also, although my soon-to-be-2-year-old daughter is awesome and amazing and everything that is great about life, she’s basically a bag of salmonella. But it can’t be a coincidence that this is happening during this year of Trump-related existential dread—of feeling even more isolated and unwelcome and surrounded by them. Donald Trump is literally making me sick.
In turn, this stress has made my work a bit meaner and less forgiving—particularly in regard to race and white people. For instance, a glance through the race-related pieces I wrote in 2015 and early 2016 shows work that was either (half) jokingly admonishing whiteness (i.e., “Dear White People: Donald Trump Is Happening Because You’re Scared of Black People, so Don’t Be!” and “Dear White People: Here’s 10 Ways to Tell if a Black Person Actually Likes You”) or hard on a particular white person (i.e., “Why ‘Well-Meaning’ White People Like WTAE-TV’s Wendy Bell, the White-Privilege Turducken, Are the Worst”) or a particular type of white person (“Why Conservatives Are So Upset About President Obama’s Photo in Front of a Che Guevara Mural, Explained”).
Now? It’s “I’m Tired of Good White People.” And “I Don’t Give a Damn About Unity.” And “We Need a Reset Button or Something for White People.” And “I Want Trump Supporters to Lose Badly and Go and Fucking Die.”
Perhaps this shift in language and sentiment would have happened organically. The feelings I’m articulating now aren’t exactly wrong. But Trump has exacerbated this change. He’s been a caveat and qualifier remover. Which, I believe, has been good for my writing. But sometimes it makes me feel fucking yucky. Because, well, I can’t discount the possibility that Trump’s infamously abrasive way of communicating has subconsciously influenced mine.
I’m a different person than I was a year ago. And some of these changes—metaphysical and literal—are directly related to what happened a year ago today. How about you?