I told some of my friends where I was going next weekend, and I got a mix of bewilderment (“Ugh! Enjoy?”), concern (“Don’t go. Nothing good can come of it.”) and amusement (“You might become a pet Negro celebrity, of sorts. At least on Facebook.”). All comments were entirely valid and understandable responses to what seemed to be an insane notion: To go witness the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States of America.
If I’m honest with myself—really honest—I didn’t think I had any single compelling reason to go. I don’t support him or anything he stands for (except maybe Taco Bell, but he’s ruined even that for me at this point), and I’ve seen his particular strain of malignant nonsense up close and personal. So, aside from the vicariousness of the whole thing, the questions remain: Why am I going? What do I expect to see? What do I expect to happen?
When Trump got elected, I made it a point to recalibrate my expectations of America and our duties to one another. Specifically, I abandoned the notion that, with Obama’s election, we had made irreversible progress on race and had become a decidedly more tolerant, accepting country. Once I disabused myself of that fantasy, I realized that what many Trump supporters so desperately wish for, is that we “others” just go away. Where we may spirit off to is not relevant: jail, Africa, Mexico, Pluto, RIP, wherever. They want a country back that doesn’t exist anymore, and to that mindset comes my protest, to not go away, but be present and proud—utterly and effortful. What better way to be a living vessel of protest than to walk straight into the dark netherworld of alt-right and show up at the inauguration?
So, I am going as active, living protest to everything that man stands for. I’m not going to try to “blend in,” but I’m not going to set myself ablaze in the middle of the mall either (unless it’s cold…then, maybe). If I’m honest, the whole “blending in” effort is moot, given that I’m Black and not Stacy Dash or Ben Carson. Then again, it’s not likely anyone there is socially adept enough to tell Black people apart from one another, so maybe the blending in thing will work after all. Maybe we can all go see “Hidden Fences” and wonder about where Trump’s hairline begins when it’s all over!
As far as what I expect to see and what I expect to happen, though, all bets are off. I’m truly ready for anything. As I’m not going to be about the business of blending in, making nice or being non-confrontational, I certainly expect to get into a few discussions of a decidedly pointed nature. I won’t be looking for trouble, but I’m not running from it either. I have completely accepted that this trip might end poorly for me in some real way, given I will be in the minority (in two ways at least) at the proceedings. I don’t expect to learn anything. My mind isn’t open. There’s not going to be this very special moment when I come to this grand realization that we’re all just stuck on this big ol’ rock and we all need to get along. There will be none of that. I am going to protest. I am going to bear witness and to whatever extent I am able, be seen. I will be present, and I will not go away.
Dr. Ivan Graham is reader, dentist and musician from Orlando, Fla. Twitter @djezi, if you must.