It is 12:24 a.m. on Wednesday, and I am crying. I’m not talking small tears, silent crying. I mean hot tears, heavy tears, gasping-for-air-kind of crying. I am on the floor of my suite. I don’t know how I ended up here — I am supposed to be in Bass studying for a midterm. I am supposed to be seeing Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 deliver a victory speech tonight. We are supposed have a woman president tonight. Instead, I am crying because America has failed to fulfill its promise to me.
The first time I see Hillary Clinton speak, I am 10 and sitting in front of a television screen. I am vaguely aware that an election is going on and that my parents hate Bush ’68 and that someone is (thankfully) going to replace him. Hillary is speaking on a stage in a state I’ve never been to, and I smile. I hadn’t realized before that a woman could be president, but I am a girl and a dreamer, and I think if she can be in the Oval Office, so can I. I watch, and I think: Hillary Clinton is going to be my president.
Of course, I am wrong, but I watch Barack Obama become president, and I see the beauty of this country. I am 10, and the first real election I followed was between a woman and a black man. I am 10, and I dream about being president because I haven’t yet been given a reason not to.
Watching as states turn red on CNN, I wonder why I am so surprised. I am a woman and of color, and in the past eight years, I’ve been given enough reason to believe the worst of this country. I’ve watched our first black president be accused of being a Kenyan and a Muslim. I’ve watched Congress continuously fail to protect reproductive rights. I’ve watched the Supreme Court strike down voting rights. I’ve watched too many black men and women made into hashtag-martyrs. I’ve watched a man get less than six months in jail for raping an unconscious woman on top of a dumpster. I’ve witnessed ways in which we dehumanize each other, the subtle acts of violence that serve to make us feel smaller. I applied to (and now attend) a college that had to have a March of Resilience because of the pain that existed on this campus. I am not surprised.
But I am still crying in the early hours of Wednesday morning because I am scared, and I hadn’t prepared myself to feel the kind of fear that is coursing through my body. We made the mistake of equating imperfection with evil in this election, and we ended up with someone who doesn’t fit any responsible definition of a leader. I am scared because I don’t know how I am supposed to make space for myself in a country that wants Donald Trump as their next president. I am scared because I don’t know what this election means for my humanity. Trump doesn’t see people like me in his narrative of America. His voters don’t see people like me in their narrative of America, but I don’t know what other narrative to belong to if not this one.
This country has always been a place of possibility for me. I am a mixed girl who knows that I am a product of a unique American dream. The dream that understands that this is a nation built on the backs of immigrants and the marginalized. The dream that acknowledges its dark history but demands change. The dream that embraces multiculturalism and difference and, most importantly, love. This is the narrative of America that I want to be a part of. This is the dream that I still want to believe in. But I watch our country elect a man who is defined by hatred, and I feel the dull knife of betrayal slice through me.
I am angry. I am disappointed. I am sad. I am hurt. I go to bed only hours before the sun rises again, and I am inclined never to leave it. But I wake up on Wednesday and watch Hillary Clinton deliver the concession speech she was never meant to give. I can’t help but think of the Hillary Clinton I first saw eight years ago, who was powerful and poised and taught me that there are things worth dreaming about. I see Hillary Clinton on a stage in New York, and I feel the weight of what we have done as a country. This was the woman who was supposed to be our president, and we failed her as much as we’ve failed ourselves.
Later that day, I tape the front page of the Yale Daily News to my bedroom wall. The headline reads “TRUMP WINS PRESIDENCY.” I want it up there to remind me to keep fighting. Hillary Clinton may not be our next president, but I refuse to let this country deliver me more unfulfilled promises. I refuse to let the dream of this country be shaped by hands that are not mine. This is my home. This is my country. And there is still work left for me to do.
Contact Esul Burton at firstname.lastname@example.org .