Diary of a Professional Teen is a weekly column of #deep thoughts by twentysomething teenager and youth expert Taylor Trudon, where she’ll talk about her feelings in relation to what it’s like to be a Young Person in 2017.
Can you imagine?
They’re three words I’ve said so often this past year that they now mean nothing, a weak, pitiful placeholder for “I’m shocked and I don’t know what to say.” It’s a phrase my roommate and I will ask each other while discussing the latest viral news story after a day of work, one that I’ve texted to my best friend and have said on the phone to my mother in disbelief.
Can you imagine being the most qualified person in history to run for president and losing to someone like Trump? Can you imagine winning the popular vote — by nearly 3 million — and it not making any difference? Can you imagine having to shake Trump’s hand and sit next to him, knowing he built his campaign by trying to delegitimize you?
No, I cannot.
Last week, I said it again as the nation watched President Trump issue an executive order banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries. Can you imagine being detained and separated from your mother as a 5-year-old? Can you imagine being trapped at the airport, unable to speak English and unable to reach your family members who are waiting for you? To be a student abroad and not allowed to return to your school?
Again, I could not.
I could not imagine it because I’m lucky enough to not have experienced it, and probably never will. It’s because of the privilege I was born with, which makes me immune to this type of discrimination.
So we rallied against this terrifying and disgusting display. Lawyers rushed to airports to offer their services for free. Thousands came together across the country to protest. We deleted the Uber app from our phones — a task that may have felt trivial in the grand scheme of things but resulted in Uber’s CEO stepping down from Trump’s economic advisory council. Not only does this prove that money can move the needle, but that now more than ever it’s imperative that we use this to fuel our anger into every action imaginable, no matter how small.
Anger comes in waves. Something happens, we become outraged, and then it starts to simmer. We’re still angry, but it becomes subdued — until, of course, the next time Trump decides to move forward with another nonsensical, heartless decision, be it claiming that children are terrorism threats or that we should turn away helpless people fleeing war-torn countries. Then we remember to turn the heat back up to a boil. For many of us, myself included, it’s easy to forget to be angry when you are not being directly impacted. As upset as I may be, it’s still easy to categorize something terrible like the travel ban as An Unimaginable Thing That Is Happening To Someone Else in the back of my brain. But the thing is, it’s not unimaginable — it’s someone’s reality. And we have to force ourselves to remember that every day.
Around Christmastime, I watched a powerful short documentary made by New York magazine and the nonprofit Narrative 4. In an exercise of practicing empathy, gun victims and gun advocates were partnered together in a room to listen to the other person’s story and then retell it from their perspective. The part that resonated with me most was a participant who lost her 6-year-old son in the Sandy Hook school shooting. Her assigned partner, a gun owner, spoke the mother’s words to the group, saying, “I hate when people say to me, ‘I can’t imagine.’ I want you to imagine it.”
I have to imagine that it was my little brother who was detained at the airport, that it was I who went to JFK to pick up my mother only to discover that she wasn’t there, that it was my friend who was traveling abroad and couldn’t return home. I have to imagine how devastating that would feel, how I would want to do every possible thing — no matter how small — to fight back.
After we deleted our Uber apps, my friend and I wondered how something so seemingly small could be impactful. Yes, it was indisputably the right thing to do, but would it really make a difference? Truthfully, a few people deleting an app probably won’t. But when we’re up against opponents this merciless, it’s our responsibility to do everything we can to chip away at their power. It’s up to us to take advantage of every opportunity to fight back against the individuals, policies, brands, and rhetoric that are causing the most harm. And maybe, if we do this hard enough and for long enough, we won’t have to pretend it’s happening to us because it will automatically feel that way. We won’t have to remember to put on our Empathy Hats, because they’ll already be on our heads.
So go to the marches, make the phone calls, and use your privilege to help lift the voices of others. And when the next atrocity happens, as we know it will, remember that what might seem like a small action doesn’t go wasted if we choose to make it personal — and then do it all together.