In the wake of the election, during protests and in discussions about the new political landscape, you often hear the notion that “we don’t have the luxury of despair”. This means that only those who aren’t affected by the new immigration laws, or lessened legal protection of diverse groups, can afford to despair. Despair becomes a sign of privilege. Those truly affected, on the other hand, know they will have to fight. No time to rest, no time to despair.

I experience despair.

You can argue that it’s because I am privileged. I am white, heterosexual, employed. I have a roof over my head, a car to drive, two passports. I can use gender neutral or gender designated bathrooms, no problem.

Or, I can tell you this:

I have two passports because I am a dual citizen. I am Swedish by birth, and American by choice. I became a US citizen in 2010. I received a certificate, a little flag, and a form letter signed by Barack Obama. For the past 6 and a half years I have felt increasingly American. I have become more and more comfortable thinking about myself as an American. I use “we” when I teach. I eat Peeps for Easter and I kind of like baseball.

I worked at a polling place on election day last year. The precinct where I worked voted around 70% democratic. The precinct where I live voted 80% democratic. But, we all know how it ended. Donald Trump was elected president.

And I find myself in a new situation. I don’t know where to turn. I see white friends in pictures from protests, defending “their” America. But I don’t identify with their America. Their America existed while I was still living in Sweden. Their high school memories live in a place I never knew. If we travel far enough back into their America we end up in a place where all I knew of America was negative: The Vietnam war, Nixon, and Harrisburg.

My America had a black president, and a black first lady. As a white immigrant I could fit into their definition of America, because their definition of America was an expanding, evolving, one. If I am to be defined by my skin color only I cannot be an American. I am lost.

4 thoughts on “despair”

  1. I get a lump in my throat reading your last sentences. I feel the same. Since November, I have sometimes found it difficult to discuss today’s politics, i.e. trump. I get such a strong physical reaction that it’s difficult to speak. I have lived here since 1974, have not become a US citizen. For many years you couldn’t have dual citizenship, and since Sweden changed its laws, it hasn’t felt important. I have also for many years, long before trump, felt increasingly negative about US politics. Clinton and Obama felt to me mostly like temporary diversions, with an over time increasingly reactionary Congress. Living in Ohio, I experience it in a totally different way than when I lived in Los Angeles. It is just so ugly. Gerrymandering brought to heretofore unseen levels, stronger and stronger voter suppression efforts. Truth and honesty are left behind. Yes, there have been some positive movements in health care, gay rights and other areas, but none of those changes feel safe. On a personal note, a positive side of the latest developments (read trump), is that both my sons have become increasingly politicized and vocal. Unfortunately, I feel that will be very difficult to turn this around. With trump selecting at least one Supreme Court judge, and very likely two to three, the reactionary thinking of today’s GOP will be solidified for at least a generation. I am actually not lost. I just don’t know how to get where I want to be, which could be Sweden, Portugal, Spain… Many countries, just not here.

    1. Thanks, Lennart. It makes me feel slightly better that you understand. I’ve felt isolated and strange. I am glad your boys have the strength to engage themselves. For me it’s going to be a struggle to redefine whiteness, and redefine what it means to be American, in a way that would make it possible to feel deep a connection. I find some white activist Americans to be so smug, and that’s alienating too.

  2. Your post got me thinking. I very much understand how you’re feeling. I haven’t been here as long as you, but later this year it will be 11 years (moved November 2006) and to me it feel like I’ve been here a long time and this country has become my home. It wasn’t until a few years ago though whe I felt a shift happen. I guess it was a process that had happened over the years, without me seeing it but after a visit back to Sweden, I realized I had become much more American and I realized how at home I feel here, on so many different levels. I’m right now in the process of becoming a citizen (waiting for the interview date) and it feels very important to me all of the sudden because the election made me realize how invested I am in this country, how much I care and want this country to be the best country it can be. How I want to, somehow, be able to make my voice heard and be able to vote, be active etc. If there’s any silver lining in Trump being our president it’s that I personally feel much more passionate about engaging in politics, just smaller things I wouldn’t have gotten involved in before but now don’t hesitate to do, like calling my representative and just making myself heard. I’ve always felt there’s not one type of American, the definition of what being an American means is wide and under the American umbrella we embrace all sorts of people, views, backgrounds, color etc. Having a thick accent as I do makes sure I can’t hide but always let people know I’m not from here, but that has never made me feel that I don’t belong. People have always embraced me. Around me I have people from different backgrounds, colors and even nationalities but we have all felt part of this country. Being an American can mean different things and I’ve felt included. And every “real” and “true” American (whatever that means) have never made me feel that I don’t belong here. Sure, I’m white, from Scandinavia and that makes it easier, but still… there’s been a very few exceptions when someone has expressed we’ve come here to “steal american jobs”, while I’ve explained it’s the contrary. We contribute with our skills, education to help create more jobs.
    Recently, during the election and now, I feel things have changed a lot. I’m no longer confident my way of interpreting and defining what it means to be an American is okay. I had just figured it out but now I’m not so sure anymore this is true. With risk of sounding naive, of course I’ve always known this country is huge and with a lot of different values, opinions etc. I guess I live in a bubble, in a community and part of the country where I don’t see and feel much of “the other America”. I’m probably one of those elite coastal people who doesn’t get it… many other parts of the country doesn’t share my view of what it means of being an American and that is hard for me and confusing. Again, I’m privileged and an immigrant with “right” color, background, religion but still, I’m an immigrant with a very obvious accent and not a perfect English and in this new climate I now wonder if people think and feel I don’t belong here. Will people have issues with me raising my child bilingual and hear us speak Swedish when out and about? Not here, not where I live because here it’s different but outside our bubble, in other parts of the country. I want to be hopeful and optimistic but it feels like there’s a bigger shift happening in many parts of this country, where there’s a new norm being established and accepted and maybe that will start creeping in everywhere, even where it didn’t use to be? An ugly, scary and dangerous mentality and thinking. I don’t know if my rambling makes any sense….

  3. Your ramblings make a lot of sense to me, Anne 🙂 I understand completely. Redefining, and articulating, what it means for us to be American is going to be a process. It makes me feel a lot better that you and Lennart understand. Hopefully I’ll be better at blogging so we can keep talking… 🙂

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