“Ohio. North Carolina. Florida. My God. This is really happening.”
As last night’s results rolled in, I was hunkered down in a war room with colleagues. Together we watched our greatest fear, and that of millions of others around the country, be actualized in real time.
My body stiffened as state by state, vote by vote, our nation transitioned into the hands of a man who galvanized millions by activating the hateful, racist, misogynistic, sexist and xenophobic feelings residing in the hearts of so many Americans. Upon realizing it was over, I sat almost paralyzed in my chair, and surprisingly, the first thing that popped into my mind was, “We have to get the hell out of here.”
Now, to those who understand the gravity and tremendous danger that comes with a Donald Trump presidency and a Republican-dominated House and Senate, that sentiment would make perfect sense, especially for black and brown people. But in that moment of legitimately contemplating whether I could get my family and loved ones out of the country, I entered into immediate internal conflict with myself.
Shortly after that, I posted a comment on social media about getting a passport with the hashtag #WeOutOrNah? While it was admittedly clever, I wrestled with it later. In that moment, I was serious about leaving because how could I stay in a place that would elect someone like Donald Trump? But on the other hand, how could I consider leaving when I’ve dedicated my life to fighting for black and brown people and those living at the margins in this country? “What the hell kind of movement-minded, community-focused person would leave their people behind to suffer?” I asked.
Taking a step back, I realized that this was one of those pivotal, existential moments that come with walking in my full, unapologetic blackness. I was forcing myself to acknowledge and reckon with the complexity of my identity, and within that I came face-to-face with fears I’ve refused to deal with. Not because anyone invalidated them, but because I had convinced myself that there was no room for them if I was going to really support my people, some of whom are suffering from institutional oppression in ways I can’t begin to relate to personally.
But it was those repressed, suppressed fears that led to thoughts of leaving the U.S. The reality of living in a nation run by someone as deplorable and unfit as our president-elect ignited all kinds of thoughts and ideas that connected to and conflicted with my blackness and role in my community.
The black woman in me who wants to raise children in a safe environment within the next few years chirped up and said, “No way that’s happening with Trump in office. Roll out.” But my passion for and commitment to creating safe environments for all black and brown children, not just my own, reside with that identity, too. I’ve committed to fighting in the battle to end state-sanctioned criminalization of young people of color, and to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. But I’m afraid to stay and have kids who would live in communities filled with stop-and-frisk- and law-and-order-happy police officers who would have even less incentive to see our children as anything other than criminals and threats.
Does being terrified of these and other things really put me at odds with who I’ve committed myself to being and, more importantly, who my community needs me to be? Can I be “super woke,” someone who believes that liberation must be achieved by any means necessary, and still in this moment have thoughts about a Trump-free life in Ghana?
I can. And anyone else who finds him- or herself conflicted in the aftermath of the election can, too. That’s the beautiful and complicated thing about black consciousness and identity. Our experiences as people of African descent in this country are so laden with struggles, triumphs, fears, hopes, nightmares and dreams deferred that there’s room for any and all feelings about our existence. They may not all be right or ideal for your circumstance, and they may not be in alignment with commitments you’ve made, but they’re OK, and they’re yours to process how you see fit.
For me and others conspiring in this fight for racial justice and equality, leaving at this moment is not the right thing to do. In essence, this is what we’ve been working for; this is the moment our ancestors have prepared us for. But for others, leaving now to explore other opportunities or experiences outside the U.S. might be what’s best for their well-being and that of their family. And that’s fine.
But I firmly believe that the organizing and building we’ve been doing the past few years, connected with the legacy of our ancestors, will come together now as never before. The love and the shared passion and vision we’ve seen manifest is transformative, and I’m supposed to stick around and help where I’m needed. So in the end, I answered my own question: Nah, I’m not going anywhere.
Chelsea Fuller is a strategic communicator working in Washington, D.C. She writes about race, systemic oppression, the Movement for Black Lives, media and culture.