I watched the election results in Emory University’s Black Student Union with Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book and gospel playing in the background. There was a table full of cupcakes, salsa and chips, and pizza; I sat with my French workbook in my lap. Every time a red state was taken a prayer was said, and the mood became more somber. I jumped out of my chair when Virginia, my home state, pulled through as blue for the third year in a row.
I have never been naïve about elections. I grew up in a battleground state. My parents taught me that, as an African American woman, my vote is my voice. And on the day of the election my French and English professors repeated the message we’d all been told: that Hillary could win. They chose to believe the liberal atmosphere of our Atlanta, Georgia school could be replicated across America.
Instead, on election night—my first election I could vote in—I slid further and further down in my chair in agony. At midnight, the building closed and we were asked to leave. A sick feeling settled over me as I migrated to the viewing party in my dorm. I should’ve known then what would happen next. For the most part, Emory is a liberal school. We do have our Young Republicans, and not everyone calls themselves a feminist, and some might believe we live in a post-racial society. But those groups were once in the quiet minority, and election night redefined my campus just as it did the country.
As it became obvious that Trump would take the White House, his supporters made themselves known, going to their rooms and coming back with signs and “Make America Great Again” hats. Sadness settled over me as I retreated to my own room. I had made the choice to go to college in the Deep South. But the lines between my school’s liberalism and Georgia’s widespread conservatism became much blurrier November 9. And it changed the way I—as a black woman, a liberal, a visitor to the South—interact with the world around me.
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I woke up on November 9 to multiple texts from my friends, telling me to be safe. They had came to the same realization I had: I am a black college student in a part of the country where a a lot of people had just made it very clear that they do not respect my skin color. Safety was on their minds. That day the city skyline was covered by fog and the sky was gray. Most students wore black in mourning, and to show solidarity with minority students (myself included) who felt that Trump’s election represented the suppression of our freedoms. But I wore one of my empowering outfits: a tan, long sweater over a blue jean dress with new ankle boots. I was determined to be strong.
On Wednesday a silent protest march cut through the circle of usual activity and snaked across campus. I watched the march in silent appreciation. The sea of black went right by a table of Young Republicans celebrating Trump’s victory. Maybe they did not pay any attention to the protesters because America was “great again” for them and that was all that mattered. Suddenly I was hit with the realization that I was living in a different world.
In the weeks since Doomsday my life has become framed in an entirely different way. I’m both a majority and a minority now. My liberal views, shared by my college, make me a part of the majority there. But I am part of a minority because I am a black student at a predominantly white school. And since the election, I’m more aware that I’m part of another minority: a member of a liberal campus in a southern state in Trump’s America. I do not like to be put into boxes, but this is my reality now.
My first election made me question whether I actually have a voice in this country. To be in a red state as a minority student means my dignity felt stripped away. The fact that American voters supported Trump’s hate speech made feel threatened; some of his rhetoric was directed against my black skin. My identity feels more expendable to America now, as if my ancestors had not helped build this country. So I’ve been finding ways to make my identity an integral part of my academic journey, whether that’s by writing an English essay on race or picking up an African American Studies course for the spring semester.
To be a black student on a liberal campus in a red state means I am living a life of cognitive dissonance. My campus, where I feel loved and wanted, is situated in a state where many people have been taught to hate those who look like me. And even some kinds of conservatism, previously rare in my Emory bubble, have seeped onto campus. While I acknowledge the conservative and racist factions in my country, I do not accept them. I am so grateful for the opportunity to study at my school but I cannot turn a blind eye to to world at large. I must defend my beliefs and my rights even more now because the election results ultimately made me more of a minority.
As an African American woman, I have always experienced a certain type of alienation, but after the election, that feeling has expanded. To function on a daily basis, I feel my mentality slipping into one that would be appropriate for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. It is a confusing difference to navigate and one that is more and more apparent every day since November 9. Ultimately, to be a black woman at Emory in the middle of a red state means I am becoming a new type of Freedom Fighter.
Imani Brooks is a first-year student at Emory University who believes in the power of the pen, the magic of traveling, and the soul-healing words of Kendrick Lamar and Nina Simone.