Is there anything else I could have written about this week? Walking to class on Wednesday morning, the regular crowd of flip-flop-wearing students carrying binders and water bottles is dotted with black. Many people on campus are treating this day as a day of mourning. The dining hall, usually abuzz and a-clatter with hungry voices and tinkling silverware is muted as if someone had smothered everything and everyone in cotton (today it’s angry orange cotton).
The professor of my seminar class asks us how we are doing and a wave of subdued sniffles goes around the room. A girl puts her hand up and barely manages to string her words together: “My nine-year-old sister is scared. Our parents are undocumented and there are people out there who think they are horrible criminals.” For UCSC students, today feels like we have all lost something.
“Our country is more deeply divided than we thought” says Hillary Clinton in her concession speech. Everyone on campus, from students to the university chancellor in his official e-mail entitled “Moving forward” express surprise that the election could have gone this way. But the devil is in the detail: it is the students on college campuses, even those who have overcome intense racialized and financial obstacles to come here, who are surprised by this outcome. It is the residents of both coasts, of urban areas generally more affluent than what Americans often dismiss as empty space, the flyover states, who had no real vested interest in changing the status quo.
Not to make apologies for racism or misogyny and Europe is, of course, not guiltless in overlooking and attacking those worst off. But this election has taught us something (or it has taught those of my generation something that others may have already known): not only is the American Dream fiction, but it is a fiction that is strategically in place to subdue the working class. It is intricately interwoven with consoling the white working class for their lot in life by ensuring that Americans of color will remain a step worse off at every stage. As long as people of color are being shot in the streets, the white working class can sustain a sense of superiority that has real-life emotional and lethal consequences.
There is a reason that those of us on the coasts (who are white) generally do not see this. While poverty and racism exist here, nobody on this campus has experienced the same abject hopelessness, and the racism it fuels, that rules Middle America.