I am, to be perfectly honest, still reeling from the act of violence that was the election of Donald Trump. My thoughts are not particularly coherent. I have retweeted many more coherent, more articulate people over the last few days – take a look if that’s what you’re after. But as I try to piece my life back together, what strikes me is how quickly normalisation has set in. From US domestic as well as foreign commentators urging us to “give Trump a chance”, to world leaders dutifully congratulating him on his election, to the host of (mainly) white men who have told me and others terrified for our futures, for our friends’ lives that “it won’t be that bad”, we’re already moving into “business as usual” mode. Angela Merkel’s language was the strongest possible within the constraints of diplomacy, but in the face of what awaits us it doesn’t feel like anywhere near enough.
Here’s the thing. It absolutely will be that bad, and probably worse. But you (white, straight you) won’t notice. Not at first. Much like what we’re seeing with Brexit, the changes will be small, gradual, seemingly unconnected, and you will find other things to blame for them. Mass exodus of international banks from London? Well good riddance to those bankers, nevermind that the banking sector directly employs 4% of the UK population, with many others’ livelihoods tied to it. Sterling collapses? Damn those markets! Food and consumer goods prices rise by 10-20%? How dare Unilever not give us our daily Marmite for free?! And those are just the things Middle England sees and pays attention to. The sharp rise of violence against anyone who looks or sounds like they might be vaguely foreign, against LGBT people and other vulnerable groups; the complete collapse of any opposition, making the UK a one-party state for the foreseeable future; the steady, unstoppable progress through Parliament of a bill extending and legitimising mass electronic surveillance – those day to day horrors visited upon the already marginalised and the deep structural changes cementing this as the status quo don’t even register on the radar of white, straight Middle England. And this is precisely what awaits America too. (And frankly, America is too big to not have an impact on the rest of us.)
Here’s what the flipside feels like: the not cis, not straight, not really white enough side of this. A lot of us saw at least some of this coming. For us, this is just an escalation of the kind of violence that we’ve been living with for years. When I lost my shit back in 2010 over Gordon Brown grovelling to Bigoted Woman, it wasn’t because she’d called me a “flocking Eastern European”. It was because those words were being normalised and legitimised by the Prime Minister, and no one else seemed to think that there was anything wrong with that. When as a digital rights campaigner I’d been warning people of state surveillance for years, they always looked at me like they thought I should be wearing a tinfoil hat. Then the Snowden revelations broke and, honestly, nothing changed. When I spent the entire summer after the Brexit referendum waking up halfway to a panic attack every single morning, my partner’s father wrote me an email telling me it wasn’t going to be that bad. (Then Amber Rudd said employers should be named and shamed for employing filthy foreigners like me and I got a vaguely apologetic email, which still made light of things.) Resistance is othered. Questioning the status quo, warning of the pitfalls of fascism is ridiculed. Naming our oppression and the violence committed against us on a daily basis is dismissed. “Oh, don’t be hysterical, it won’t be that bad.”
There comes a point where this all adds up. Where it becomes a crushing weight. Where the thing you’re fighting begins to feel too enormous for you to tackle, because nobody else seems to even think that there’s a thing to fight. I am… closer to that point than I like to admit this publicly.
So here’s the thing. White people. Cis people. Straight people. Non-disabled people. Stop normalising fascism. Stop normalising Trump. Stop normalising Brexit. Stop normalising Marine Le Pen, and Norbert Hofer, and Farage, and the AfD. When those of us with a day-to-day lived experience of violent oppression tell you that that is what is happening, believe us. Listen to us. Don’t tell us it’s not so bad. Don’t question the language we use and dismiss it as hysteria and hyperbole. Work out what it is that you can do to normalise resistance, to protect those less fortunate, more marginalised than you.
Stand in the line of fire.
Nothing else is good enough.