The atmosphere around work today was positively funereal. Every meeting I attended began with uncharacteristically glum faces and awkward silences. Everywhere I went, there were little clusters of people standing in hallways discussing the election. People who didn't know me sometimes dropped their voices to hushed whispers as I passed.
I almost didn't go to the Toastmasters meeting today. Of the current batch of regular attendees in my club, I'm the only white person and the only native-born American. I wasn't sure if I could face doing our usual round of cheerful speeches about hobbies and self-improvement and things like that while we ignored the elephant in the room, the fact that a bunch of people who look like me had just voted for a man who campaigned on hatred of people who looked like them.
But I did go, and somewhat to my surprise, we tackled that elephant head-on. When it came time for our impromptu speeches, the table topics master invited people to either speak about "Who I voted for for president, and why," or "What I think of the American electoral system."
And it was an interesting dose of perspective. I'm sure there was a certain degree of self-editing going on, because we were all speaking to a room of people whose political opinions we really don't know. But my colleagues put a much braver face on things than I felt like doing. "We don't have elections like this in China," one of them said, "so watching this one was very interesting." Hey, at least we get to vote for our authoritarian warmongering leaders. A charismatic politician has risen to power by fomenting religious and ethnic tensions? My Indian colleagues have Narendra Modi back home.
I started my speech my saying, "I want to talk about something that isn't exactly the American electoral system, but is one of my least favorite things about American politics right now." And I talked about anti-immigrant sentiment. I talked about various members of my family and my husband's family who immigrated to the United States, how it was a country that offered each of them (admittedly sometimes grudgingly) a chance to make a new life. And I promised that I would work to keep this country a place that offers people that chance.
It was preaching to the choir, in a way, but it also felt important to say that.
Now I just have to figure out ways to keep that promise. Figure out how to walk the talk.