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1373

An Open Letter to the Brokenhearted

By Bayo Akomolafe on Friday January 20th, 2017

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Moving From Despair to Hope

Let us acknowledge these difficult feelings of loss, these terrifying thoughts that are suddenly very alive in the air today. It is as if Pandora’s Box has not only been emptied out into the world, but that it has been mass-produced and spread out to the corners of all lands. Hope now seems in short supply. We are undone.

I write you because things have indeed fallen apart. While this unspeakable insurgency of despair might goad us into rushing into the next ‘organizational moment’ – the itch to hit them back or do something – I want to invite us to slow down and pay attention to the stark grief that haunts us now. She stares us in the face, this repulsive visitor. If we must survive, we must return her gaze and let her do her important work with us.

How did everyone get it so wrong?

I am a Nigerian living in India. But like most people on the planet that tuned in to the surrealism of the 2016 American presidential campaigns, I woke up to the shocking news that Donald Trump was not only beating Hillary Clinton on election day, but that there was a frightening possibility he could win. And then that distant possibility, once laughably out of the question, became a gut-wrenching reality-to-come. Hillary’s ‘blue wall’ fell to the man who promised to build more; the media people stuttered as their once pristine cast of glossy pundits groped for words; the Mexican peso fell. And in one fell swoop, it felt like America, the so-called home of the brave was exactly that: a place dyed in fear, where braveness would now be required to keep on living.

Alt text hereThe reality of Trump’s win hit hard.

Ever since Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States, the internet has been flooded with articles attempting to make sense of this story-bursting, crystal-ball-shattering moment. Politico published a piece with a title that must have resonated with many people around the world: “How did everyone get it so wrong?” The London-based Independent insisted that “Donald Trump would have lost US election if Bernie Sanders had been the candidate”, while Thomas Frank opined on the pages of The Guardian that “Donald Trump is moving to the White House, and liberals put him there”. Across the fractured landscape of YouTubia, self-professed Trumpists – also surprised by their fortune – laughed at liberals, mocking the ‘feminazis’ that thought Hillary Clinton – an admittedly troubled candidate who didn’t seem to have a message beyond insisting on her entitlement – would simply waltz into the White House.

Our Orange Predicament

I will not attempt to pry open the cadaver of this moment – it is probably the case that no post-mortem analysis is good enough to assuage our feelings of shock. What happened is not reducible to a single causative factor or a decidable ‘active ingredient’. The world isn’t that simple. I will however state, in the spirit of full disclosure – the kind of radical honesty we probably need at this time – that I secretly wanted this to happen: I was so invested in the idea of a Sanders presidency (and so mortified by what was obvious to me as an establishmentarian attempt to stifle his voice) that I became possessed by a schadenfreude I couldn’t easily exorcise. I understood the dangers of a potential Trump presidency, but decided even that was better off to the inertia of the neoliberal status quo as embodied by a Hillary Clinton regime. That argument is not easily maintained in the face of the orange predicament we now find ourselves in.

Alt text hereWhat a predicament!

In an all-too-real case of “be careful what you wish for”, I find not relief but a painful sympathy with many who had hoped that the morning of 9th would somehow usher in a more tolerant America. A more beautiful country. A country that cares about its many colours and contours. Now because of Trump and the energies he has activated, minorities are probably less safe. At a time of unprecedented racial tensions and phallic exhibitions of gunmanship, some folks are already dreading their next brief visit to the shopping mall, knowing that the streets are now being painted red with hate, white with racial acrimony and blind nativism, and blue with the authoritarian aloofness of a candidate who promised ‘law and order’. The new America.

It is to these vulnerable ones I write. Those of you that care about diversity, about the environment, about the beauty of queer sexual orientations, about indigenous lands and their right to thrive, and about policing practices that have led to the deaths of many black men and women.

1A message to those of you who care.

What Can We Do Now?

Without pre-empting Donald Trump or falling into the trap of disillusioned punditry – and yet with a keen awareness of the likely consequences of his presidency – I ask: how do we respond to this? What do we do? How do we recover? What opportunities are presenting themselves to us to work for (with) a caring world? At the time of writing this letter, there is news of revolt on the streets of Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and other American cities. People are protesting the rise of Trump. People are angry. Around this same time, famed documentarian Michael Moore has suggested concerned Americans should ‘fire the punditry’ and ‘take over the Democratic party’. It is impossible to answer the question of what a ‘right’ response is, or to speak as if one is situated outside the swirl and flow of things. I do however want to invite you to try doing something less spectacular…something small, for it is my opinion that with Trump, the seeds of a ‘new’ politics may yet be planted.

Alt text hereCould there still be hope?

When I was growing up in Christian Nigeria, I was taught to think of my life only in terms of its ‘greatness quotient’. I was conditioned early to yearn for prominence. Fame. Fortune. Legacy. Success. ‘Awakening the Giant Within’. Getting to the top. Lasting forever. Those were resonant memes in my developmental years. The figures of Mandela, Bill Gates, Jack Welch, and Jesus were placed before me as aspirational objects. If I did not do all I can to increase my ‘greatness quotient’, my life did not really matter.

I suspect this story is not uniquely mine to tell. We live in a world that places priority in the ‘top’ and discountenances the ‘bottom’. The condition for living a life of meaning and purpose was moral probity: the stunning city of bigness only admitted those who walked the straight and narrow way, I was told.

cityofbigIs it time to question the “straight and narrow way”?

Well, if all that held true once, November 8 was a spectacular repudiation. Donald Trump, ill-prepared, a self-decorated humble person, and one who had said awful things about women, attained the highest office in America – his face beamed on to the Empire State Building in New York amidst the pomp and pageantry that defined his life. The Joker won…and nothing adds up anymore. Punditry is broken. Polls are broken. The sure-banker firepower of celebrity is broken. Virtue is broken.

Trump strolled to the grand stage up in the front and wrecked it, but in so doing he inadvertently ‘gave’ us permission to inhabit the aisles – to rearrange the entire room. By becoming president, Trump disturbs the idea that the top is worth reaching – not because he is so vile that his new position as president denigrates the office, but because his unprecedented campaign and quest for power shakes us loose to recognize that where we stand is a thick place, sewn through and through with voices and potential and power.

Alt text hereCould this be our opportunity to unite?

The stunning revelation of these times of upheaval is that ‘winning’ is defunct, and new relational modes are desperately needed: the red tape, the raised chair, the grand stage, the green room, and the white house are not the interesting, glorified objects they once were. The emperor has lost his clothes. This whole idea that greatness is some end goal to be achieved by the morally pure, the experienced, and the hardworking, has itself been reworked. And we are left with an awkward coming to terms with the fact that life isn’t a highway but an ecology of small things and ordinary becomings.

Shifting Our Attention

The way forward is thus awkward – or rather, there is no clear algorithm on what to do now except perhaps, among other things, to pay close attention to these twists and turns, these rabbit holes and tricky terrains. To take a critical look at the material details of our lives outside of the lenses of identity politics. An immaculate straight line was never ‘there’ to begin with. We are left with these small lives the media pretends doesn’t really matter until you achieve celebrity status; we are left with the first stuttering words of a politics that invites us to the incommensurability of our small hours, and – in place of our fascination with distant power and oh-so-shiny things – urges an attention to our bodies, our relationships, our communities, our hidden miracles, our own stories, and our own knowings.

Alt text hereWe must break free to come together.

7 Suggestions for Moving Forward

Let me spell it out…what I suggest we can do. Please understand that I do not offer these points with any confidence in their stability or with any sort of finality. I offer them sensing that this moment could very well be that bright spot in the middle of a shadow, affording us an opportunity to co-create a politics that does not terminate with concession speeches – a politics that is not tied so stubbornly to single candidates and anorexic voting lines. I sing the songs of other places of power:

Embrace the fact that the world is larger than our plots:

The plot of a story is both its gentle guiding hand and its suffocating grip, helping it move along but also blinding it from realizing that life is bigger, sterner, and more promiscuous than its logic. I could have sworn that with Bernie Sanders’ candidacy, the world was finally stepping into an age of deeper justice and beauty – that evolutionary moment we all await. His ‘failure’ to clinch the nomination was a chastising moment for many keen followers of the American primaries. I slowly came to terms with the fact that the world is not beholden to my liberal fantasies. Simply put, the map is not the terrain. The world stretches far and wide beyond our blind spots, our analyses, and our convictions about what justice looks like.

Alt text hereThe map is not the terrain

Let grief do her work:

Globalizing society hardly has any place left for grief. When we get uncomfortable, we are urged to pull ourselves together and get back on the wheel. I reckon that today’s grief has something to teach us; there is a genius to its workings that allow a shift in how we relate with the world. I do not mean that we should all sit down and hold hands. I do however feel we can acknowledge that we are in a mess, and adjourn the quest for a palliative solution for the time being. Perhaps instead of counting down to 2020, or calling on Michelle Obama to run for office, we can use these days to investigate the edges of our politics. I believe grief disciplines us for this slow kind of work. What is at stake here is more than a liberal agenda, it is how we see the world and therefore how we maintain power structures that no longer serve our fondest hopes.

At least for the moment, nurture a suspicion for shiny objects:

We have become a photogenic people – attracted to the spectacular, repulsed by the unseemly. We live in cosmetic pixels. With selfies, Instagram posts, televised news that seems more committed to graphics and bloated soundtracks, and the ongoing digitization of relationships, our lives have been reduced to images – and we are forgetting the art of living in the spaces between those images. We are thus habituated to a regime of visuality that defines what is real to us – and silences/excludes other voices from mattering. Perhaps the reason why most people were shocked by the news of Trump’s win was because they were contained by narratives and material conditions that forced a certain view about America. But then the terrain met the map. We need a new set of eyes.

Alt text hereFinding our own voice amongst the loudness of the media’s is challenging.

Find the others:

When things break, we are afforded an opportunity to make reconfigurations. This perhaps is a good time to investigate the contours of our relationships with others, with those we love, with our neighbourhoods, with the strangers who breeze past us in a blur of inconsequentiality. American politics is premised on fixed identity categories – that Democrats and Republicans are essentially two aspects of an adversarial binary. To a large extent, each side sees the other as a noxious blight on the face of the country. The first moments of ‘healing this divide’ is the recognition that even evil has a story, that those persons who hate black people, or curse at ‘the gays’, didn’t just spring out from the earth, fully realized and fleshed out. In a sense that often escapes us, we are unfolding, hyphenated aspects of each other. None of us is on the side of ‘good’. Donald Trump and the people that support him are just as much a product of the same media-infused, economically imperilled, people-denying politics that have created us. In a game of sides, the greatest loss we suffer is the other side. Let us leave room for the outlier, for the strange, and for the unexpected. We are not as ‘sorted out’ as we think we are.

Alt text hereIn a game of sides, the greatest loss we suffer is the other side.

Notice the ground upon which you stand:

I like to say that falling could very well be flying, without the tyranny of coordinates. Technically speaking, falling objects are actually the gravitational pull of attraction between objects. I won’t succumb to, or insist that, we are being ushered into a more glorious paradigm of politics…I cannot make that claim. There are however sympathies between place and feet, between our stories and our contexts, that call on us to participate in the sacredness of where we are. What attracts you now? What questions matter to you? What performances of place are pressing themselves upon you? What do you do every day? Where do you come from? Does that question make sense? A friend, Eric Chisler, put this sentiment this way: “Remember the earth. Remember your ancestors. Remember your four-legged, winged, crawling relatives. Remember life. Your life, your way of living, that is the only activism you’ve ever had. Use it. Make your existence a ritual that honors everything your body and words touch. The times are troubled and you are needed. Wake up—notice the consequence of every action and non-action. You are needed. You are needed. You are needed.”

Alt text hereWe still have the power to make change

The confusion about what to do next is redemptive:

If you are still confused about what this all means, how anyone could vote for Trump, what the future holds and how to respond to this proto-crisis of sorts, count yourself among the lucky ones. Confusion and uncertainty are how multiple agencies negotiate directionality – and this ongoing process is important. Even inertia isn’t determinately still. We must slowdown in these times of urgency, and allow other agentic forces to reshape us.

It might be the case that within the specificity of your own context, you know what to do. That’s great. March on the streets. Print BLM tee-shirts. Learn how to plant your own food. Investigate your ancestry. Or open a gift shop and invite passers-by to get free hugs. Out of the logic of our emergence, new moments are distilled and new activisms become possible. We must be humble enough to recognize that the ‘right thing’ to do is almost always known in retrospect, and that justice is always justice-in-the-making.

Alt text hereSuccess each day should be judged by the seeds sown, not the harvest reaped.

Small lives matter:

Finally, don’t beat yourself up for not saving the day. Even if some archaic policy were conjured by the White House, annulling president-elect Trump’s win, it still wouldn’t do much to address the politics that made him happen. The fight is not so much with Trump as it is for a new way of meeting our own selves – a way of speaking with those we consider ‘other than us’. In short, we must turn to each other, for it is in the smallness of our embrace that new worlds burst into life.

All considered, would it have been great to have a woman president? Yes. That would have assured many of their place in the world and told them that they are valued and needed and worthy of love. And yet, that message finds a more interesting home now that we have lost our way…now that hope seems faraway.

The politics that knocks on our doors right now doesn’t have to wait for the next four years. Let your campaigns of sacred enlivenment continue.

How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.

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Words By Bayo Akomolafe

Originally posted on BayoAkomolafe.net

 

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comments

  • Jane

    This is SO well-written. Inspiring! I too have been seeing the seeds of hope within the awakening of peoplewithin in the web that connects us all. but couldnt articulate my vision with clarity. As I read I find myself drawn to the concepts of outliers as important and to your pragmatic and optimistic view of the benefit of us as unique individuals who matter in building pathays to a more peaceful, connected and sustainable world for those who will come after us. thank you for oiling the wheelsof my personal chariot!

  • LF

    That was the most arrogant, self-absorbed load of left-wing clap-trap that I have read since Trump won the Presidency!! It failed to provide a balanced or considered view of the election outcome. It was a cheap, low-budget, left-wing, one-eyed, chest-beating, vacuous, pathetic attempt to make the author look enlightened. What a joke – the author could not have been more blind or self-serving if they had tried!! Americans did not vote for Trump because they were far-right, sexist, racist, hate-filled war-mongers – they voted for Trump because they could see and feel the horror that progressive, collectivist politicians have done to them and their nation. They could see that Hillary – and Bernie Sanders – essentially promote communist policies and that they represented a massive threat to stability and freedom in America and the world. The carefully organised and orchestrated riots in America are not evidence of a massive backlash by the American people against a Trump election, they are nothing more than the angry and violent thrashings of left-wing leaders who have no respect for democracy and the rights and well-being of the people, but only for their own lust for power and wealth. The author has patted her massive ego by selling the insidious “Emperor’s new clothes” myth that moral folk will align themselves with progressive policies and that anyone who aligns themselves with more conservative policies must (of course) be dangerous, misogynistic, xenophobic, hate-filled threats to enlightenment. The American people voted fro Trump because they finally had a candidate that was not a career politician and that gave them a realistic basis for hope for the future. The author’s letter will only foster more dishonesty and hatred. Please rename the letter, “A close-minded, self-serving letter to the dishonest, the hate-filled and the deluded.”

  • Will R

    Wow! Shocking! I certainly never expected a political diatribe from this site. This self-absorbed, sanctimonious, silly article has easily convinced me to unsubscribe. Amazing how many holier-than-thou underachievers think they are smarter than the American electorate.

  • Lu L

    For anyone interested in a good free education on what is going on around the world…sign up to Princeton Economics….google Martin Armstrong and get his daily blog writings. This is an education that will ‘educate’ you.
    Always ask the hard questions, don’t be lead and go blindly with what the media says.
    Why have the American people chosen a baboon over a career politician?
    That is the question and what should be on everyone’s mind. Search, read, look for alternative points of view.
    This man has some smarts….which he offers for free.
    Good luck with learning about what has really gone on and is going on.

  • Maya Jones

    For me, this is one of the most uplifting, well-reasoned articles I have read in this post-election time. Fits with what I have been sensing in myself. I believe this is an opportunity for us to wake up and meet our neighbors, talk to each other and learn to listen. Through that we will find unity and power. I agree that Trump’s election may be the very wake-up call we need. I for one am ready to stop fighting and learn to love everyone, including Trump and his allies.

    • Lu L

      Ditto Maya

    • Aldis Ozols

      I’m glad to hear that you’re open to Trump allies. Many of us just want to be heard and understood – and if liberals won’t listen, we’ll find those who will.

      • Maya Jones

        Hello, Aldis,
        Would you like to share here some of what you would like people to hear?

        • Aldis Ozols

          Just one small part of what could take volumes to explain:

          I have always believed in equality of the sexes, even from the age of five when I noticed discrimination between boys and girls in school.

          When I entered University I soon gravitated to the feminist groups. I was supportive of their message, that the sexes should be equal. My strong sense of injustice led me to take an active role, mainly in support of abortion rights.

          However, over the years it became apparent that while feminists ardently supported women’s rights, they were at best lukewarm when it came to problems faced by men. In fact, some of them openly hated men!

          I had signed on in the name of promoting equal rights, but it turned out to be a bait-and-switch game as in practice only women were supported. In recent years, mainstream feminism has become openly hostile to men, and opposes any attempt to support men in areas where they are falling behind such as education.

          Any attempt to raise men’s issues is shouted down with shrill accusations of misogyny and even accusations of promoting rape! This is extremely offensive and insulting, but even worse, it makes real communication impossible.

          So, years ago I jumped ship from feminism and its associated ideologies. Where was I to go as a white male? The identity politics of the modern Left had no place for me; ‘white male’ was openly used as a pejorative.

          Eventually I found a place that didn’t hate me for my skin colour and genitals. That was the alternative right, which actually put into practice the principles of equality in a way that feminists had failed to do. I’m not at all fazed by the election of Donald Trump, because it represents a great big ‘stuff you’ to the hypocritical journalists, academics and politicians who have been putting down white males for so long.

          We have rights, and we have feelings too – and we are sick of having them trampled by bigots who spread hatred in the name of equality.

          • Lu L

            bravo ohhhhhhh, wish i cud have said that so eloquently.

          • Aldis Ozols

            Thank you, Lu L!

          • Maya Jones

            Hi Aldis, I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. But here I am —

            Thank you so much for sharing your concerns. Your sharing is so rich, and I resonate with much of what you say. What stands out for me is your need to be seen as a man who cares about equality, not as someone to be hated because of your gender. Also I think I hear you say that you see the feminist movement as having traded one hatred for another, still keeping us divided.

            I agree with you that both men and women deserve equal rights and am definitely not in favor of trashing men. I can only imagine how difficult it is to be in a male body at this time in our human development. It is so tricky to raise awareness of one group without putting down another in this world that is so based on duality. I am seeing the same kind of discussion happening in the Black Lives Matter movement.

            I have heard people say, and I have thought it myself, all life matters, not just black lives. And then I recently read something by someone who says that in saying all life matters, we are turning away from the pain that ensues when you are in a black body. I can see both – we have to be aware of the issues of black people and other people of color, of women who are still not granted the rights of men – and at the same time, I am tired of this separatist conversation that seems to pit people against each other.

            Your sharing of the pain you feel in having been a supporter of women’s rights and then being discriminated against as a white male touches my heart deeply. This is very personal to me, as I have a son who is serving time in prison for a sexual offense. Through his incarceration I have had the opportunity to hear the stories of hundreds of men who are in prison for very minor offenses. I have also learned that when it comes to a sexual offense, if you are a man, you are guilty until proven innocent. This has really raised my awareness of how the feminist movement has caused immense harm to men. I am not saying I think it is okay for a woman to be sexually assaulted or harassed or objectified by a man; however I do see how easy it is to go to extremes when we are trying to promote rights of one group.

            For me this comes out of the mindset that seems to be so prevalent in our culture that there is always one up and one down, someone has to win and someone else has to lose, the strict divide between right and wrong, good and bad. I can see that when a particular group has been very hurt and we react from that hurt place, we end up generating even more hurt and trauma. I am interested in working with people to help heal our collective traumas, which are many, so that we can learn to stop hating and hurting each other.

            Two things you mentioned that I would be interested in hearing more about are:

            “Men are falling behind in education.” How do you see that happening?

            “We are sick of having them [our rights] trampled by bigots who spread hatred in the name of equality.” From what I can see Trump and his cronies are spreading hatred, although not in the name of equality. I wonder how we might address this issue of equality without spreading any more hatred through our divisive language and activity. Any thoughts about that?

            I am very happy to be in conversation with you about this. Thank you for engaging with me.

            Blessings,
            Maya

          • Aldis Ozols

            Thank you for your deep understanding, Maya. I don’t have much to say right now, but I can refer you to this page for more information about men’s issues: https://www.reddit.com/r/MensRights/wiki/faq

            Are you on Facebook? If so, I would like to friend you there.

          • Maya Jones

            yes I am on FB — Maya Jones. will look at this link.

          • Aldis Ozols

            I searched for Maya Jones on Facebook yesterday, and there were dozens of entries. I think it might be easier if you looked for me. I’m wearing a red shirt. 🙂

  • Susan

    Thank you for your beautiful article. So surprising to find hate mongering Trump supporters here, and they are surprised to find us here!? The world has.truly turned upside down.

  • AZmom

    I just joined this sites email list and this is the third article I read. I’m glad I didn’t read it first or I wouldn’t have joined. I’m willing to keep giving it a try but I hope I don’t find any more political opinions on the state of our country from someone who doesn’t even live in our country. This article was far from “uplift”ing for me.

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