A little over a week ago, I and so many others woke up with a heavy heart and numbed mind. The election was over, a winner was called; and yet, the air we breathe feels dull. The future looks hazy and bleak.
Last week, the America that I know—an America of Progress, inclusion, kindness and decency—this America was irreparably shattered. We have come face-to-face with a dark reality that many of us were not prepared to accept — that our country is as divided now as it was one and a half centuries ago. From today onwards, the nation we live in is uncharted territory.
No longer can we claim to know what the United States of America stand for, because what we thought it stood for lost at the ballot box. The inalienable right for every citizen to have a say in their country has shown us that xenophobia, racism, and sexism are undercurrents of society that we can no longer look away from. Our future Commander in Chief is a man who has not only cast a blind eye to these issues but, in many cases, has propagated them himself.
[Read More: An Important Message Ahead of Election Day: We Are Americans, Too]
Being an Indian-American, I feel different today than I did last week. Last week, I was a Penn graduate, a music lover, a tech enthusiast. Today, I am a brown Hindu son of immigrant parents. I have been fortunate enough to have never been discriminated against because of my race over the past 23 years, and perhaps I may not face this scrutiny in the future. But my eyes have been opened wide by yesterday’s polls.
I now know that I am not seen by only friends, family, students, and coworkers. An entire half of this country likely identifies me by my color, sees my beard and likens me to a terrorist they have seen on their television. I am here in this great country because the America of past saw my parents as humans, not threats. My heart is heavy when I think that future generations will not have the luxury that my mother and father had when they sought a better life for themselves and their children.
How darkly apt it is that one of the last states to swing favor was my very own: Pennsylvania. In an oddly self-reflective way, it truly goes to show how misguided we all were in understanding the people and ideologies around us. I studied at schools in Pennsylvania where I was constantly surrounded by smarter and more eloquent minds than mine. I grew up in a liberal and progressive county. I too was under the assumption that a strong showing by educated professionals, college students, minorities, and women would clearly tip the scale towards the candidate of experience and acceptance.
An entire half of this country likely identifies me by my color, sees my beard and likens me to a terrorist they have seen on their television.
Instead, I grossly underestimated the electorate that harbors such strong anti-establishment feelings and likely pushed the state red. As the exit polls came in and the end result slowly became clearer, the final blow that Pennsylvania dealt was agonizing. Emotion had overcome reason, and its source wasn’t from hundreds of miles away — it came from our backyard.
Election night was a surreal experience. It was truly astonishing to see the New York Times ticker teeter from left to right as the evening progressed. I, like so many others, looked to my friends and family in exasperation as the state and national results poured in. In an election season that has engaged so many on social media, it seemed strangely ironic that we all sat helplessly in front of the television, intermittently checking our computers for differing polls and sourcing crowd reactions from Facebook and Twitter.
But then again, perhaps this election was a lesson in irony. Our omniscient online presence that has been used to denounce a candidate’s inexperience has been a large reason for his victory. The hope that we all shared upon electing our first African American President in 2008 has steadily dwindled in this election cycle, as it battered both candidates and viewers weary. The checks and balances that conservatives wielded heavily in stymieing legislation over the past eight years will now be thrown out in favor of a red Presidency, House, and Senate. The long national nightmare that we had hoped to be over yesterday has now turned into at least a four-year ordeal.
The America I know was waiting to finally let out an exhale that was over one year in the making. Unfortunately, we will have to keep that breath held in. But even though our country has exposed its inner demons, this does not mean that we do not have a voice. I am optimistic in our collective values and sense of decency, and know that we will continue to combat our dark underpinnings in hope for a realization of American ideals. We will continue to work towards gender equality, healing our racial and class divisions, combatting climate change, and continuing to be a leader on the global stage. Today may seem like the end, but we have the power to make this the start of an arduous battle to re-establish the America that we hope for.
“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.”
*Writer’s Note: Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and opinions on last week’s historic election. I do not claim to be a political pundit, nor do I believe I have covered even 10 percent of my feelings in this essay. I do recognize the inundation of content that will be a consequence of this news, and I promise that I do not intend to be a persistent contributor. Today, I simply found it a beneficial experience to collect my thoughts in a coherent way. — Anil
Anil Chitrapu is a Philadelphia native and a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. He has been involved in the South Asian community for a number of years, serving on the board of the Penn South Asia Society, and most prominently as a member and musical director of the Hindi a cappella group, Penn Masala.