Author: Matt Wilhite

I just want to write so that I can drown out everyone else's opinions.

A White Man, Some Black Music, and a Car Ride Home

kendrick

It was quiet in the parking lot as I walked to my car after work. The people I passed outside my job seemed unemotional, and vacant; I felt that way as well. I hadn’t spoken to anyone as I left work, and once I got to my car my hand was slightly shaking; I was running on 90 minutes of sleep a glass of water from the night before. Donald Trump had been elected President of the United States (you have to say it a few times for it to make sense to you) just twenty some odd hours prior.

I sat in my car for a few minutes before leaving, searching for something to listen to. I considered continuing the political podcast I had started on the way to work, but it felt obsolete already. I didn’t really need a validation to my emotions of shock and despair anymore. Discussing voter turnout, polls, policies, and protests seemed so far removed in just twelve short hours. I needed music.

I only played one song on the way home: “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar. It’s a song about black pride, about black plight, and about the ideas of faith and hope in the shadow of evil. It knocks pretty well in the car, with bass lines and live instruments that could make even the calmest person nod their head. It isn’t a happy song, though, but rather something very sad. Furthermore, it’s about something very distant from me; something I can never truly relate to nor experience. Yet, it felt more important to me, in that moment, than almost anything I had read or heard during the entire day. It was both listening to something from a time capsule, or another planet, and also listening to a prophecy.

“Alright” is one of my favorite songs, and yet I can’t relate or truly understand any aspect of the song for the single fact that I am a white male in my twenties. I am a product, in every way, of white privilege, and to pretend as though the words of the song truly resonated with any remote experience I’ve ever had would be disingenuous and a lie. It is a powerful, important, and monumental musical achievement, yet I will always experience it from the outside looking in. I wasn’t born into an environment that Kendrick so expertly captures, yet why was it the song I had chosen to play?

As I played it over and over, I started to think about President Obama, and how fondly I will remember him. Whether or not you agree on his politics or not, the last eight years have opened up a lane for rap music in politics in a way that never truly existed before. Sure, there was political rap, but rather than it now being used a political tool, it had become a political force.

I thought about this song in relation to President Obama, as well. I listened to the pain in Kendrick’s words (a song recorded during the Obama presidency) and thought about much farther he still felt like we, as a society, had to come; three months later Donald Trump would announce his candidacy for President.

I texted one of my closest friends to ask him how he was doing. We had spoken on election night, and our texts were short. It was a mainly a conversation of disbelief and surrealism; this night’s conversation was full of anger and discouragement. He told me, as a black man around my age, that all of this seemed pointless. He had voted, done his part, got his hopes up, and was once again reminded that angry white men, men that look just like me, had votes that apparently mattered more than his. He spoke about the pointlessness of it all, and the shame he felt for the country he lived in, and the friends around him who had voted for Trump. I couldn’t think of anything to say because he was right.

White men, like myself, voted in large numbers to reverse virtually everything the first black president of our country fought to achieve, and what the fuck could I even say? An apology would have been worthless; vowing to change the system, in retrospect, seemed empty. How do you change innate hatred of others? How could I promise him to do everything in my part when ninety percent of my extended family voted for Trump as well?  For as much as Kendrick’s song made me feel both nostalgic of a more promising time and grief stricken of a path we will never follow, how is my experience even remotely similar to the pain I could sense in my friend? The answer is it isn’t.

If you have gone on social media, you have probably seen plenty of people talking about how much they want political statements on Facebook to finally stop, and how they can’t wait for things to go back to the way they were. In their minds, Trump won and arguing about it any longer is pointless; you will find most of these people are white. They want their bubble of information back; a self-regulated feed of topics and facts that they get to decide on in a way of shielding themselves from what hurts. Yet, there are plenty of others who, no matter what, will never get that opportunity now. Minorities don’t get to walk away from the Trump Presidency unscathed. Instead, they now face a possible reality white people, like myself, get the privilege to skip.

What fails to strike white people, many times, is the privilege we have of inserting ourselves and exiting from social issues that may not concern us at our own leisure. Trump hasn’t called for white person ban or a deportation of white people. Trump hasn’t ignorantly addressed white on white crime or ignored the crisis of a pipeline running through a white neighborhood. Trump’s victory on Tuesday proved that not only do white people, white men especially, have the ability to insert themselves into issues of race and gender when they feel threatened, but that they also have validation for those acts now as well.

Kendrick’s song doesn’t have to resonate with someone like me every time, BECAUSE I am white, and that is now an idea that could affect actual policies in the U.S. under a Trump Presidency. In March of 2015, when Kendrick Lamar released that song, it was a glimpse into the genius and beauty of art that can found even in the darkest of times. On January 20th of 2017, our first black president will hand his presidency off to a man endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.

“Alright” is probably going to be the only song I listen to for a while, not because I want to pretend that I understand black pain, or the pain of any minority group, or because I want to motivate my black friends that every thing is going to be okay. Instead, I want it to hurt me. I never want to forget what that moment feels like, to hear those words, and to know that people like me could cause so much hate that words like Kendrick’s may never come to fruition. I want my friend to know that when I text him, that I’m here to listen and nothing more, for now, and when he needs me that I will always be there. I owe him that much.

We Don’t Get to Quit Yet: The 2016 Presidential Election Aftermath and the Decisions We Have Going Forward

americanpeople22

 

Where does one begin? I thought of a quote Winston Churchill said about failure and how “it is the courage to continue that counts,” but no matter how hard I tried, it did little to lift my spirits. Donald Trump is going to be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, and today is a very shitty day.

I was wrong. You were probably wrong. The polls were wrong. The media was wrong. The democrats AND the republicans were wrong. We laughed at Donald Trump for the last few years, never imagining his sights on the presidency were anything more than a fascist pipe dream. With a campaign built on the foundations of fear, hate, and the notion that what was once “ours” could be in “our” possession again if we put our faith in him as a leader, Trump consistently proved us to be ignorant to a large portion of America that represents the very worst of our society.

We laughed, and then as the tides turned we became angry. We believed there was no way he could gather votes in the Republican Primaries; he did. Then we convinced ourselves he couldn’t actually win primary states; he won them. There’s no way he could actually get the nomination, right? He secured it. He was utterly destroyed in three straight debates, using some of the most vile and divisive rhetoric in the history of American politics, and yet we continued to wait for the other shoe to drop. Then came election day.

Hillary Clinton was, essentially, already being sworn in, as almost every poll or election analysis had her winning handily against Trump. Bravado regarding an expert ground game, inside scoops on the last remaining days of the Trump campaign, and pundit talk about Trump’s post-election career oozed out of every facet of media coverage we could find. The race was over before it began, we thought.

 

I’m probably running on, at most, ninety minutes of sleep as I write this. I stared at the ceiling in my girlfriend’s room most of the night, a sinking, nauseous feeling numbed me as I laid almost catatonic. I kept refreshing my Twitter feed, as soon as my phone regained battery, just so I could take in the full dismantling of the hopes and dreams that many people had in this country of watching Donald Trump finally be defeated. There is no more surreal of an experience than watching the stages of grief begin to set in with people so self-assured of a particular result, including myself, and then watching as a very disorienting, and frightening reality sets in.

I have yet to process what I witnessed last night, but that doesn’t mean the analysis of it can’t begin. This was a universal failure of so many political moving parts, that it almost seems daunting to try to piece together where the blame should fall. Was it the low voter turnout? Was it the massive turnout for Trump amongst white voters? Does the responsibility lie solely in the hands of the Democratic Party’s refusal to find a better candidate than Hillary Clinton, or was this an unstoppable force of racism, sexism, and hatred that occupies the hearts of many Americans that none of us could have thwarted? The answer, sadly, is all of those.

It is easiest to begin with the Democrats, however. It became clear to me, at least, in the wee hours of the night, how utterly fragile and deceiving the Democratic Party actually was during this entire election cycle. The Democrats experienced last night, what can best be described as a twelve-hour version of the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones. It was a complete upheaval of an entire party, and they never even saw it coming.

The signs were there when Bernie Sanders took major delegates from Clinton during the primary, yet we (I say we as a liberal who voted for Bernie in the primaries, but believed Clinton to be the more sustainable candidate) chose to ignore them. The democratic party failed its supporters last night, in a way so devastating, it may honestly never recover. It allowed itself to be entranced in the idea that Hillary Clinton’s flaws could be overcome by smart campaigning and a public persona makeover. What it ultimately showed was a contrived, and shallow attempt to hide the fact that she should have never been the face of the party to begin with. For as dedicated to the job, and as experienced as she was, she could never get out from under her shadow of being an “establishment” politician. The democrats thought they were smarter than everyone else, and that a smart candidate could beat a populist one, but chose to ignore the clear signs that even democratic voters preferred a populist candidate.

To put it simply, the Democratic Party dropped the motherfucking ball in a way that would make Bill Buckner cringe. There has never been a party that, in just 24 hours, has become so clearly out of touch with the grievances of the American people, and even the most brilliant of debate performances from Hillary (they were) couldn’t change the fact that we, as a people, were never truly sold on her. As utterly evil as some of the rhetoric Donald Trump used was, he never once faltered in relaying his message to exactly who he aimed it at. Now, the democrats have lost the presidency, congress, and the legacy of the entire Obama administration and its policies in a fuck-up for the record books.

Maybe, the biggest effect came from the apathy and turnout for the two candidates, and the comforting natures of the third-party candidates, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. They were easy to vote for, for many, because it meant not having to live with either of the two most unlikable candidates in the history of modern politics. Even as incompetent and misinformed as Gary Johnson and Jill Stein were, they still resonated with people as the “other choice”, no matter how illogical such a vote actually is. They were used as a political punt so that a voter could remain without blame if either Clinton or Trump were elected. Even as such an idea was both damaging, and also fucking depressing for the results of the election, one can’t really blame the disinterest of independent voters on anything but the two major parties.

Even if all of these things had been avoided, however, it may not have even mattered considering the absolute monstrous turnout that Donald Trump received from white voters in every single category. He completely destroyed Clinton in the evangelical vote, outdid Mitt Romney’s numbers in some of the biggest battleground state counties by almost double-digit margins, and never took a significant hit from many of the voters the Clinton campaign assumed would fall to Hillary. Trump’s frustrations with the political system resonated with an angrier than ever white base, looking for someone to voice a frustration with the last eight years that they felt was very real. It was miscalculated from day one by Trump detractors, and it more than likely was the straw that broke the camel’s back to this election.

 

I’m turning the remainder of this article to you, because I needed you to read what is above before we can really move on. What happened yesterday will, more than likely, go down as one of the worst days in American history, and it was rooted in a problem that none of us chose to believe was actually at the root of American culture: hate. The “you” is applied to whomever feels that this applies to them. You do not have to be a democrat or a republican. You do not have to agree with me, and you do not have to even remember my words once you finished. However, Donald Trump is going to be our president, and you and I have work to do.

If you voted for Hillary, then take today to regroup. Take time to reflect on why you voted in this election, the values you hold dear, and where you feel we went wrong. I want you to watch every single piece of coverage of the rest of this election, the days leading up the inauguration, and the Trump presidency. I want you to remember this feeling as you read this, as you slowly begin to accept what has happened, because what happens next is crucial. This pain needs to be as real as you can make it, because goddammit it’s going to make or break you over the next four years depending on what you do with it. It’s time for you to get organized. Find an issue you cared about dearly during this election, and do whatever you can to progress it.

If you are a white liberal who voted for Hillary, think for a second about every minority friend or family member you may have. Think about what is at stake for them, and how the lives of Blacks, Hispanics, LGBTQ members, Muslims, and all other minority groups are going to be affected by a Trump presidency. Donald Trump winning does not seal their fate, but if you choose to sit idly by, he will. He has promised to deport them, to take away their rights, and to push an ideology of “otherness” and divisiveness as far forward as he can. You have white privilege many do not have, and now comes your time to decide what kind of actions you can take realizing that privilege. The election came down to white votes, therefore the responsibility of its aftermath bears a lot of weight on your shoulders, as it does mine.

If you were someone who voted for a third-party candidate, it is time to think about what it is you really want from the electoral process. Clearly, you feel disengaged from the agendas of the two parties placed in front of you, so ask yourself what it is that could more effectively connect you. Is it the parties, or the candidates themselves that discourages you? You cast a vote that actually mattered yesterday, because it proved to the rest of the American public how dissatisfied you really were, but you don’t get to stop there. You have our full attentions, and it’s about time we start some dialogue.

The media and pollsters owe the American people not only an apology by an explanation for these events. What were they missing? Who did they not reach, and why were they so wrong? Never before has there been such a complete miscalculation between poll analyses and voter turnout, and for that the American people deserve some fucking answers. It was misleading, uninformative, and the perfect encapsulation of everything Donald Trump already believed to be true. It was his own self-fulfilling prophecy and the media became complicit in his continued rise. Going forward, this presidency needs to be handled objectively, and logically. Trump says what he knows will get him viewership, and that is undoubtedly going to continue into his presidency. Therefore, it is time cable news decided what it wants to truly accomplish for us, and what kind of relationship it wants to have with the people using it for genuine information.

The Democratic and Republican parties owe us answers as well, and the fight for them definitely does not stop today. For Republicans, this needs to become more than an anti-Obama establishment. For eight years, Republicans have relied on exactly what brought someone like Donald Trump to the forefront: burning the house down and the complaining about the smoke. They now bear a responsibility not seen since 1928, and it was a party one election night away from the same implosion currently facing the democratic party. Just because they managed to escape destruction through sheer luck, does not mean they are anymore connected to the Republican voters that turned out on Tuesday, and that is something they don’t get to remain complacent about.

Then we come to you, the Trump supporter. I truly hope you are prepared for this. I had written before that when it came time to vote, you better know full and well what it is you wanted from Donald Trump as a president, and that remains true today. For now, the rest of us still view what you stand for as hate and bigotry. A campaign base built upon the idea that everyone around you that is different from you will ultimately lead to your demise, and you were proven victorious last night. You are about to be given the political opportunity to pass legislation that rarely any of us experience, and currently none of even know what the fuck you want. There is clearly a large amount of you, and you more than anyone do not get the luxury any longer to sit this out. It’s your court, and it’s time for you to own it, success or failure.

 

Yesterday was not a complete failure. We elected our first openly LGBTQ Governor in Oregon. We elected our first Somali-American state senator in Minnesota. Weed was legalized in multiple states, and despite the travesty of last night the American people seem resilient. This is America’s fight or flight moment for the first time in many years. Donald Trump is our president now, and the fight doesn’t get put on hold for four years just because we lost one time. There are still beautiful things to be found in this country, despite the hatred and division, and there are beautiful people to find them. It is as crucial now as ever that we decide who we truly want to be going forward, as citizens and as human beings to each other. These will undoubtedly be the hardest four years you may ever face. You may experience pain like never before, and the fight may seem harder than ever, but failure and quitting have never been in our DNA. We have overcome literally everything else, and I’ll be damned if one bigoted person is going to keep me from what I deserve. You and I don’t get to quit. We don’t get to whine and complain and sit by while other suffer. We get the privilege, as Americans, to become as unified as ever in the face of times like these. Really, what is more beautiful than that?

 

Wearing the Scarlet Letter: Learning How to Accept That the Warriors Blew a 3-1 Lead in the Finals

 

NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at Golden State Warriors

I have spent over four months trying to forget that night. Standing in front of the TV, I watched as the Cleveland Cavaliers ran onto the court in Oakland, as they had just won game 7 of the NBA Finals. I could feel my girlfriend staring at me from behind, waiting for me to explode with rage like your typical sports fan might do. Instead, I watched as the celebration on TV began, I nodded as if I was trying to convince myself that what I had just seen was real, and then I uttered two words: “That’s it.”

I couldn’t even enjoy the Game of Thrones episode that aired that night. I had been waiting almost three years to watch Jon Snow kill Ramsay Bolton (spoiler alert: Jon Snow kills Ramsay Bolton. Unless you’re someone who doesn’t watch Game of Thrones and has no idea who Jon Snow or Ramsay Bolton is, and in that case please carry on) and I couldn’t even enjoy it. I could only stare through the screen, my body numb and my mind wandering. The Golden State Warriors had just blown a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.

There isn’t any way to prepare for a loss in sports, especially one with the magnitude of last year’s NBA Finals. I am sure there are plenty of sports fans out there who can attest to the absolutely crippling dread you feel the moment you realize the outcome will not end in your favor. It is like a withdrawal from the greatest high you could ever know; that feeling of invincibility when your team is winning that feels like anything but temporary. Yet, even the great teams have even greater falls.

Take the 2007 New England Patriots, for instance. An almost perfect team defeated at the hands of Eli Manning, a man with, objectively, the worst face of all-time. Yes, he was a perfectly decent quarterback who turned it on when it mattered most, but he was also known for his sporadic play and quite mediocre regular seasons. Now, imagine for a second that the Patriots were defeated by entire team of Eli Manning’s and you now have yourself the result of the 2016 NBA Finals.

The Warriors weren’t just a good team, they were a great team. One could even argue they were the greatest team of all-time. Golden State had mastered the pace and space offense, if the pace was a full sprint and the spacing, more specifically, was a team of jump shooting monsters. Match that with quite possibly the league’s scariest defense and, oh, maybe the first ever unanimous MVP in Steph Curry, and you have the first NBA Voltron.

You never see the fall coming, though. Sure, you may see signs of weakness along the way; Steph Curry’s mobility and quickness were clearly limited due to his knee injury, and Steve Kerr couldn’t seem to inspire more than five consecutive minutes of basketball out of Festus Ezeli. Yet, the Warriors, time and time again, had overcome those obstacles and pulled out victory from the jaws of defeat simply because they were just better than everyone else, and we as loyal fans never dared to question the madness. We had survived Oklahoma City with one of the most spectacular playoff games of all time in game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. We had utterly dismantled the Cavaliers during the first four games of the finals. The euphoria of not only winning, but watching as the greatest season of all-time unfolded in front your eyes was beyond anything I could attempt to describe. We really did feel invincible.

 

The NBA season starts in just a few short weeks, and I haven’t watched a single second of Warriors basketball outside of a couple of summer league games; I’m not sure my mind is fully capable yet. Sure, Golden State now has Kevin Durant and has already assembled a team far superior to the 73-9, record-breaking team from last year. The Warriors have gone full Monstars and have put together a real life basketball wet dream. With three of the greatest shooters of all time in the starting lineup, the league’s most unique two-way player in Draymond Green, an upgraded bench, and a promising rookie in Pat McCaw, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that the Warriors could even beat their previous regular season record from the year before. So, why is there this ominous weight that takes over whenever I hear them mentioned?

Becoming an internet meme is a lot harder on the psyche than one might imagine. The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals, and it appears everyone on this planet is here to remind one of that fact. As a “Crying-Jordan” meme aficionado, and as someone fascinated by the trends in social media, especially pertaining to our culture’s relationship to memes, I did find the aftermath of what happened to the Warriors to be quite amusing. Although it took several months, the creativity to which people on various social media platforms had implemented that particular headline has evolved in a way no other sports moment has before. However, there is still a pain that is triggered every time that phrase is uttered.

Those of us who are Warriors fans attempt to laugh with the jokes, most of the time. We do our best to spin our own narratives of the Finals, such as Steph Curry’s health or Draymond Green’s suspension, as some sort of defense mechanism to facing what really happened; we choked away a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals for the first time in the history of organized basketball. It is the Scarlet Letter that we must bear every single day, regardless of the free agents we acquire or the regular season games we win this upcoming season. To accept what happened to Golden State during those last three Finals games is to accept that the euphoria of that season was, ultimately, for nothing. This does not mean we won’t win four straight titles with the team we have now, but we will never have that 2016 Title.

As a Warriors fan, all one can do is accept and learn from our mistakes. I don’t just mean the mistakes the players made, either. We, as a fan base, achieved a level of arrogance only Dallas Cowboys or New York Yankees fans might be familiar with. We were uncomfortable playing the villains, though, even as we prepare to enter that role once again next season. For years, we had been the laughing-stock of the league, only to become its revered, up-and-coming franchise that managed to bring itself out of the darkness with smart front office moves and draft picks that fit the system in mind. Yet, when it came time for breaking records, “#ArrogantSzn” seemed almost forced and unnecessary. We were the last picked kid in sports who had hit an enormous growth spurt over the summer, and we just couldn’t wait to brag about it in front of everyone else. The hubris was intoxicating because it was engrained in the team’s style as well. Yet, when that style no longer works, that hubris no longer seems welcome or logical.

That isn’t to say what the Warriors organization and its fans should learn from last season is that confidence and swagger should be removed from this upcoming season, but rather it means that we must channel that confidence into something more sustainable. The squandered 3-1 lead in the Finals is made worse by the fact that, for as confident as a team the Warriors seemed, they buckled when it mattered the most. That is the only real lesson the team and its fans can learn from. In order to truly be as great as they can potentially be, the Warriors need to learn the difference between greatness and the appearance of greatness. That is a lesson even we as fans should also learn; arrogance and confidence are not the same as arrogance is ultimately rooted in insecurity, and if there is anything to be said about the Warriors, it is that insecurity with winning has always been to their fault. Even when we had won the championship in 2015, both we as fans and the team felt as though they needed to prove to everyone that this was a winning culture and not a fluke. That chip on our shoulders eventually became so engulfing that running other teams off the court was not only uncomfortably satisfying, but also allowed us to mask our ever-present insecurities in braggadocio. It, ultimately, was a recipe for disaster that we thought we were smart enough to avoid.

It is quite possible that the Warriors crash and burn again this season, and we as fans will continue to bear the burden of last year’s embarrassment. Clearly, the Warriors organization is fully committed to being even better, yet it still remains unclear whether the dismantling of last year has been fully realized in an attempt to learn from it. For me, that scarlet letter, the never-ending meme that haunts me every day, is something, as a sports fan, that I want to be rid of more than anything. As a fan, all I can do is accept the past for what it was, do my best to grieve for what was lost, and look ahead, modestly, towards another chance for redemption. Then, just maybe, I can make a meme out of someone else’s team.