I’ve written and re-written this letter. I’m openly liberal. I’m a Black woman and I’m queer. Fighting in my best interest makes sense. But this isn’t about bi-partisanship. Right or left, I would have reached out to you. Through you, I can send a message to the 53 percent of white women who voted for your husband.
Bile kicks up in the back of my throat when I realize all of this is connected to a woman’s wardrobe. As a feminist, I don’t comment on women’s clothing when discussing their work. However, I believe your jacket was used to convey a message. It was an apathetic call to the media and the United States as a whole that you do not wish to be a part of the chaos any longer.
Strange then, that you should share this message as you boarded a plane from your home in Washington DC to fly to the battleground in Texas. “I really don’t care. Do u?” You had to know the reaction would be volatile, right? Given the state of divisiveness and pain circulating the country, that message was not going to sell.
I have so many questions it’s hard to know where to begin. To say I’m disappointed in you would be an understatement. The Office of First Lady of the United States is a position with a long history of courageous women striving to make America safer for children. Though I disagree with how several of them approached this task, I never once doubted that the first lady was doing what she thought was best. Wearing that coat was petty.
Vile legal acts like the war on drugs, and the “three-strikes-you’re-in-jail-forever” policies that Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton helped make popular during their time in office actively hurt children. These actions were also based on white fear. Disproportionately, Black and brown people were locked in cages. The needs of their children and their communities were disregarded. Our lawmakers are still learning that without a community, there’s no one to keep safe.
The supremacy, whose bed you wake up in every morning, is nothing new in America. No generation of my family has escaped the specific cruelty of lawmakers. When the older generations of my family recount their youth, it is riddled with police abuse at the tender age of five, hiding grown men in barrels so they wouldn’t be lynched in the street, and too many other forms of embarrassment and shame just for living in the wrong skin.
You live in a house built by slaves. You are intimate with this country’s practices and atrocities. I do not feel bad for you, though many have asked me to. During your mysterious disappearance, many began to speculate whether you were in an abusive relationship. Before that, folks openly discussed whether or not you even wanted the job. According to many reports, you cried on the night of 45’s inauguration.
A friend, who herself is a survivor of emotional abuse, read this letter several drafts ago. Memories of her abuser’s actions shook her. She imagined Trump had to be much more terrifying, more controlling. She asked that I hold empathy in my heart. “You can’t ask a drowning person why they can’t breathe,” she told me. While I wouldn’t wish abuse on any person, I don’t believe trauma excuses anyone from their actions. That coat was a giant “fuck you” to every person seeking asylum in America.
The women from my rural Illinois town who voted for Trump cited leadership and fear of war or financial collapse to explain how they cast their ballot for the orange terror. When I asked them about their rights as citizens, as women, they insisted that their pro-life standpoint and their straightness afforded them all the protection they needed. Their marriages would not be called into question, no one was taking their right to vote, they just wanted what they felt was best for the country. They hoped I didn’t hate them.
As a Black woman, I was raised in the land of the clap back. But as the daughter of God-fearing folk, I wasn’t allowed to hate. I tried it on, but I didn’t like the fit. I don’t know how to truly hate. Perhaps that’s my shortcoming. You should hate the people who would stand by as you drown.
I don’t hate you, madam first lady. I do find your actions reprehensible. It’s not just the coat. It’s the fact that you, like 53 percent of the white women in this country, can stand silently by as so many of us lose our rights. Our rights to use our preferred bathrooms, our rights to vote, our right to quality health care at an affordable rate. We cannot forget the fight of first nation people to keep their clean drinking water. The Keystone Pipeline burst. Your husband pushed it through. I’ll never forget Nazis marching through our streets. I could never forget the words of a sitting president, “There are good people on both sides.”
Your spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said she hoped the media wouldn’t choose to focus on your jacket. But with such a bold, in-our-face move, how can we not? Yes, I saw that you “hate seeing families separated.” Through Grisham, you stated, “(I) believe we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”
Where is your heart, FLOTUS? Like it or not, you hold the power to do something. I hold accountable every woman like you, the ones who would rather be left alone, who do not wish to enter the fray of this political landscape, to stop asking people to be nice. Now, is a time for honesty and action. Stop supporting the men in your lives who don’t support the greater good. Use your voice and your brain and your heart, because this is a place worth fighting for.
To answer your questions, I do care. I care a great deal. Even though many of my ancestors were brought here in chains and sold like cattle they made America a home. In my home, all are welcome.
Apathy is the coward’s way out. It is selfish and easy. I’ll let you in on a secret, caring won’t get you much. It can’t turn a profit. Caring requires much more giving than it does receiving. But giving back is healing. If you are hurting, I recommend leaving your gilded life and giving back to those suffering. Connect to your citizens. Look to the women who have held this position before.
I come from survivors of America’s greatest bloodshed. There isn’t a period of time in my country where the blood of innocents has not been spilled in the name of a better America. It has never made us great. In my lifetime, the pain we have collectively caused has felt far away. I was younger. I knew less. I didn’t think I could make a difference.
Now, I see that the pain has always been in my backyard. I have always had the power to make the changes I wanted to see in the world. I am older and wiser. We, as citizens, are more connected. Like Permit Patty or BBQ Becky, we see the women who would feign allyship but reap the rewards of their privilege in silence. I see you. History sees you. Be best.