By Amber Healy
In the early afternoon of Election Day 2016, I traded messages with a good friend, heart swelling with hope.
“To think … maybe, just maybe, the kiddos we love who are little right now …they’ll never know a world where a person of color or a woman couldn’t be president.”
Within hours, I watched the country turn a deeper red, crimson spreading from coast to coast, revealing the true colors of the United States.
Despite winning two million fewer votes from the American people than his opponent, Donald Trump secured more than the required 270 Electoral College votes to secure the presidency, effective January 2017.
It was not supposed to be this way.
This was supposed to be the election where love won. Where the tide turned. Where women broke one of the final, remaining glass ceilings. Where a man who had the support and endorsement of one of the most unabashed, bigoted and hate-filled groups in the world had no real, viable chance of occupying the White House, let alone following in the footsteps of a biracial man.
The Republican pundits grinned like Cheshire cats, smugly.
The Democrats are speechless, anxious, angry. There’s blame to go around, from their side: the FBI director who brought up a tired scandal just days before the election; the press paying too much attention to a man-child with an overly sensitive ego; a lack of understanding of the middle of the country; the list goes on.
In the week that followed, there were protests and acts of vandalism. There were calls to eliminate the Electoral College. But there were also pledges of support to those who might lose their standing, their dignity, their ability to stay in the country and live the kind of life you and I could almost take for granted. People began wearing safety pins as a sign of support for the marginalized, a symbol of being a “safe space” for someone who felt threatened or under attack.
Girls, I want you to know all is not lost. I want you to know there were tremendous strides made. But I want you to know you cannot take anything for granted.
I want you to grow up in a world where it doesn’t matter where your friends come from, what color their skin is, who they — or you — love, that is no reason for anyone to treat anyone else as lesser, as different, as inferior.
Do not be afraid to be who you are. Do not be afraid to speak your mind. Do not be afraid to call out inequality.
You’re so little, so young, you’ll have no memory of this night. Maybe, by the time you’re my age, this barrier will be so far in the rearview mirror it’ll be seen as a quaint concern.
It’s not okay to hate. It’s not okay to hold someone back, or kick them and hold them down, just because they’re different. And some day, when “he tells it like it is” is no longer code for “I like that he says the racist, hate-filled, bigoted, old-fashioned things I’m too ashamed to say in plain language because I know in my heart it’s wrong,” you’ll ask me what it was like in 2016.
On Election Day 2016, people waited in line for two hours in a cemetery to put stickers on the headstone of a woman who fought to ensure woman — granted, only white women — could vote. Women and men, young and old, paid tribute.
Girls, I’m sorry if you grow up feeling second class, or lesser, or inferior. Don’t let the boys convince you that’s true. You are not lesser. And the best way to prove that? Learn from our mistakes, our failings, our weakness, and do all you can to make them right.
Amber Healy has written for news outlets as well as NASA and the federal government and is an occasional contributor to Scholars & Rogues.