Like it or not,
your genes have a political past,
your skin a political hue,
your eyes a political color,
What you say resounds.
What you don’t say has a voice.
—Children of the Epoch, by Wislawa Szymborska
Dear Trump Supporter,
We need new words, perhaps a whole new language, to heal from the Trump campaign. That’s what I love about sign language. It’s a visual language, full of action.
In response to the results of the election, one of my Deaf friends wrapped her arms around my shoulders and with tears in her eyes, she said, “I’m so afraid that one day I’ll be walking down the street and someone will just shout out and call me retarded.” This was her vision of a Trump New World.
If you don’t understand her fear, she was referring to the media reports circulating during the campaign that in 2011, while Deaf actress Marlee Matlin participated in The Celebrity Apprentice, Donald Trump allegedly referred to her as ‘retarded.’ On Twitter, the Oscar winner responded, “The term is abhorrent and should never be used.” She went on to write, “I am Deaf. There are millions of Deaf and hard of hearing people like me, in the United States and around the world who face discrimination…. It is unacceptable.”
For my Deaf friend, and for many disabled people, the idea of a Trump presidency instills deeply rooted fears about discrimination. And before you tell me we should not have a spirit of fear, I beg you to have a spirit of compassion.
Understand that for millions of Americans with disabilities, Trump’s degrading language and behavior during the campaign attacked their being, their identity. But apart from that, the proposed policies Trump spoke about during his campaign may threaten Medicaid and their access to health care provided by the Affordable Care Act.
Understand that when candidate Trump mocked a disabled New York Times reporter and used degrading language about a Deaf actress, his words resounded, wounding a community that already feels vulnerable and strives for equality with hearing people.
Understand that the words used during the President-Elect’s campaign, which in addition to degrading disabled Americans, also slung wild threats at Latinos and Muslims, insulted women, and shocked victims who have experienced sexual assault. I want to believe these words of rejection don’t speak for you, but when you went to the polls, your vote had a voice. According to Robert Suro of The New York Times, “the bitterest loss was dealt by the 59.5 million mostly white people who voted for Mr. Trump. That was a rejection by their own countrymen.”
Today, all of these rejected communities need to hear new words if they are ever going to feel safe, respected, valued, and supported in this country.
If Deaf and hard of hearing people are going to recover from the hurtful insults of the campaign, they need your words of love, assurance, and compassion. Your silence is political, and the idea of a silent majority is dangerous. It’s dangerous because it emboldens organizations like the KKK and other extremists to hijack your voice.
During this election, hateful speech polarized the country. Words were used to attack the weak, threaten the vulnerable, and injure millions of already oppressed people. Dear Trump Supporter, for the majority of you, I don’t believe these derogatory words truly speak for you. Is this your voice? Is this what you want to communicate to minorities or to our Deaf and hard of hearing children or to the disabled?
The Polish poet Jan Palkowski’s writes, “The silent word is more palpable than wood, wall, flesh.”
Please, sweet, loving, compassionate Trump Supporter, I know you’re out there. Some of you are in my family, and many of you are my friends and neighbors. I want to affirm that I still have hope in you to stand in solidarity with the communities that feel frightened and attacked. It’s not too late. Rather than defend yourselves, which is only more galvanizing, please use your voice of compassion to defend the civil liberties of vulnerable people in this country. More than words, use your actions of love and solidarity to speak volumes.