Feelings know no borders. My black American tears fell on Parisian soil. You didn't have to be in America to feel disappointment when the votes were in. Even if you believe that you'll be saved by a one-way ticket out, I should warn you that Trumpism is not a nightmare you can simply run from.
I heard the results in French.
“Donald Trump has been elected the President of the United States.” That’s how they translated.
My journalism masters program in Paris had a 6am call time for our live reporting of the results of the 2016 Presidential Election. When I walked into the newsroom, it was already being reported that Hillary Clinton’s triumph would be virtually inconceivable. I was greeted with shoulder pats and “ça va Americaine?” I hadn’t felt such genuine pity directed at me probably ever.
As one of a handful of Americans in the program, the program directors asked if they could briefly interview me about the election.
In hesitation, I agreed. Largely because most of the night I had shined up my armor of cynicism, falsely convincing myself that I would be okay no matter what. That Trump had gotten this far was offensive enough. Having him for a president would be relatively bearable and nowhere near as disheartening as knowing that my neighbors and classmates aligned with a bigot.
But this was hypothetical jargon I employed to deflect the reality that would become of the USA and its constituency with a Trump win. Many of us had been living in fear and rage since Trump began his campaign on the grounds that he believed Mexicans were rapists. I didn't want to accept that we could have a president that believed women could not make choices about their body (not even concerning who gropes them); that black people had nothing to lose; that it was okay to mock the disabled; and that Muslims should be banned.
Sometime between 8:30am and 9am, we got the news.
I heard the results in French.
Donald Trump has been elected the President of the United States. That’s how they translated.
I was mid-interview when the student-journalist announced the results. I couldn’t see the reaction in the room because I had to remove my glasses after they’d filled with tears. I could feel everyone’s eyes shift toward me after (I imagine) the whispers made it around the room that the American being interviewed was crying. I put the brim of my “Yeezy for President” as low as I could. The interviewer turned to ask me how I felt to know Donald Trump would be my president. I couldn’t stop crying. In the interest of time the student-reporter answered for me. “A lot of emotions,” he said.
The directors ushered me from the hotseat, rubbing my shoulders as they removed my microphone. Someone brought me a chocolate croissant and a bottle of water to console me. I was too nauseous to eat, but swallowed the croissant anyway--nothing made sense, my appetite followed suit.
I felt isolated and embarrassed: I had just cried in front of a room full of people who knew me as the “Americaine." People who could only offer me sad eyes and a cold croissant. I felt particularly guilty to be away from home, away from my fellow Americans who were also afraid for their well-being.
The morning after, wishing I had a pill to make everything go away, I finally faced my phone. In my inbox, I found that a growing number of friends and family expressed their envy and a desire to retreat from the political hellscape, as they assumed I could do from Paris.
“Wish i was you today....far far away from this place,” a text read.
“I wanna go home,” I texted a classmate from Spelman. “Not necessarily because home is better.”
“Come back here?!” she replied.
“So you staying over there, or na?” another asked.
“No,” I replied. “Not really sure how being abroad makes it any better.”
I tried not to be offended. They were coming from a good place. Well really, they were in a very a bad place, a place they were backed into by a fear mongering president-elect. But they wanted someone they knew and loved (me) to escape and make it out unscathed.
"I just want you to enjoy your peace of mind as long as you can. Lol,” a final text on the matter read, summating exactly how all my other friends felt about my being "away" from it all.
My friends weren’t the only ones who wanted an escape. Social media became a flurry of black people saying they’d return to Africa. The City of Toronto Councillor Norm Kelly, tweeted a screenshot of his inbox filled with people also looking for advice on moving to Toronto (bottom right image).
Canada’s immigration website crashed. Whether they were serious or not, people were entertaining the thought of running away.
As I majored in African American history, I always like to borrow lessons from the past. “Back to Africa” movements occurred at different points in our nation’s history from the 1800s onward. In the beginning, Paul Cuffee, a mixed race shipowner, transported American blacks to Sierra Leone. He died before more voyages could transpire, but having gathered Congressional support, he made the foundation for the American Colonization Society that believed deporting free blacks was best because their freedom was distracting but also offered an excuse to colonize Africa.
Back to Africa movements surged again after the end of Reconstruction in 1877, and again with Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line that transported African Americans to Africa and also offered trade opportunities from 1919 to 1921. While some blacks “went back” to Africa, and subsequently faced hardships of their own adapting to life in West Africa, others stayed. America had become African Americans’ homeland and they would fight to make it inescapable for Americans to address their wrongs rather than escaping themselves.
I completely understand why people want to run--The Donald is scary and so are his politics. But, it’s shortsighted to think that only people within the confines of America’s borders are subject to devastation and that a one-way ticket would automatically present relief.
People have a perceived notion that Americans who are currently abroad, whether they’re studying, exploring, or relocating, are fortunate. Not necessarily because of this opportunity to travel, but because they think we’re immune to the reverberations of what is happening in our home country.
As a token American, the constant demand for an explanation of my sentiments, those of my friends and family, and rationale on how any of this could’ve happened in the first place, only exhausts one further. As much as I want to educate people, it’s impossible to debunk Trumpism in an Uber ride from one side of Paris to another, because that entails delving into America’s longstanding legacy of phobias yielded by white supremacy. I couldn’t afford that Uber fare.
I was among many inconsolable Americans whose sadness was compounded by their distance from loved ones who could’ve at least offered a genuine hug. We were in the land of pitying shoulder rubs. We were physically and mentally tired after having stayed up for the entirety of Election Day because of the time difference. Though America may become a nation no one recognizes, France will never be my home.
That’s not to say everyone at home is surrounded by people who are saddened by the results. My family lives in Mississippi. Our town was teeming with Trump support signs. Those people are not going away, and likely they would not mind if you ran away. As far as they’re concerned, they’re reclaiming their country, and you can literally get with it or get out.
Even if leaving the country feels right to you, the election will follow you. That might lead to a brewing since of remorse for not being able to protest or look into the eyes of the people who prayed for a recount. It has for me.
And maybe you’d even feel worse without loved ones to embrace you or a friend asking how you’re doing and really meaning it. It has been lonely to watch from here. If you leave, you will watch the destruction of your nation and have to explain it over and over again to people who can turn the other way at the end of the discussion. That'll leave you not only embarrassed for your country, but isolated, too.
Worst of all, watching will be your only option--there wouldn't be much you could enact as an ex-pat save for an absentee ballot request. Sure, Paris has the allure of cheap coffee and amazing bread, but there's no place in the world from which I could ignore my family and friends living their tangible, increasingly actualized fears as a result of “whitelash” to a black presidency, to borrow from Van Jones. As I mentioned to my friend via text, I would rather be at home in solidarity.
Whatever happens in America is felt the world over. That is not to sound egotistical, but that is to paint America for the superpower that it is. There is not a single bar I’ve been to from Europe to Africa to South America that doesn’t play some type of American music. I’ve witnessed people who can barely conjugate an English verb spit all the lyrics to any Atlanta trap music song while doing the accompanying dances. To think that the world isn’t watching as the model of democracy tap dances for the man who entertained us for years on reality TV is a gross underestimation.
The Donald is not a uniquely American problem escapable with the purchase of a flight and a passport application. Even if you escape Trump’s rule, other parts of the world are not just watching America’s regressive politics, they’re implementing their own version. We all saw Brexit. And, Marine Le Pen, National Front candidate in France with a track record of xenophobia, to say the least, congratulated Trump for his win. She will continue her similarly rooted campaign, probably with more fuel now that America has succumbed to a campaign of hatefulness.
This is new political territory for America. If the Donald has his way, this country will become scarily different in the next four years, maybe even in just the next 100 days. And for those Americans who are watching from foreign territory ourselves, this unfamiliarity is heightened by our distance from everything that we know.
Retreating to a foreign country won’t stop him, it won’t silence his supporters, it won’t stop your feelings, it won’t stop the shoulder pats, it won’t stop the pity. Let’s be clear, white nationalists said they’d leave too when President Barack Obama was elected, and they’re the ones who showed up and elected Trump.
Instead, America needs its levelheaded citizens more than ever to stand by it and restore it. If all of Trump's victims leave, and there are many of us, he wins...again. As much as we all want to escape to our beds, to four years ago, to a foreign land, we have to face our worst orange-faced nightmare instead. It will take time to rationalize what is happening, but once we do, I hope we face monster head-on, on its very own soil, and defeat him with self-love, self-expression, and progress.
Trump won’t stop talking about the inner-city, he won’t stop calling us “The African Americans,” he won’t see stop-and-frisk as problematic and racist, he won’t see Mexicans, Jews, or Muslims as proper citizens, he won’t treat women respectfully, he won’t be a champion for the LGBTQIA community, and he won't have to face these communities if people who oppose him leave. He may never see these groups as whole Americans, but, if we make him, and all of his equal-minded supporters, face all of his victims and their allies, our very existence, persistence, and resistance will be the act of protest America needs.
America does not belong to The Donald nor his supporters--they didn't think this country was great in the first place. Rather, It belongs to the people who want to bring it forward again. Don’t escape that chance to face your fears.