As I switched tabs on my computer back and forth between the documentary on Ancient Egypt and the election night results, my phone buzzed. It was my cousin informing me that Trump was leading in Rhode Island. What? I asked, shocked. How? The map I was looking at had all of New England in blue. New England was always blue and Rhode Island especially. Those, she told me, were just projections based on how each state had historically voted. If you look at the state by state breakdown, Trump was actually winning Rhode Island. I clicked on the state info page and to my horror, there it was: 54% Donald J. Trump. Could it be possible that this orange buffoon could have flipped “blue through and through” New England? How could this be possible? Sure Rhode Island is full of racist white people, but that was never an obstacle in them voting Democrat before. What could have changed? As I scrolled through the results by city, the urban rural divide immediately jumped out to me. The three most densely populated urban areas, which are also majority people of color, were the lone specks of blue in a sea of red. Besides the urban areas, only five towns in the entire state went to Biden. This was an unprecedented upset that says more about the divide in this country than any other place. If you can come close to flipping New England, shit must really be bad.
I had grown up in Brooklyn before my mother unceremoniously threw me into the middle of Providence, Rhode Island at the age of 15. For months before the move, I cried at the thought of moving to some no man’s land of weird white people. Upon arriving, I was in awe of the fact that everywhere around me were Black and Brown faces. As I ventured out into my new surroundings, I quickly realized that there were Black and Brown people in my new city that I had never seen before; the diversity of the city was a pleasant surprise, even if I was still angry at my mom for making the move. Sure Providence had all the regulars; Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Black Americans, but if that wasn’t shocking enough there were also Cape Verdeans, which I’m convinced to this day only exist in New England, Cambodians, Haitians, Nigerians, Liberians, and a high number of Central Americans and Bolivians. As I settled in begrudgingly, I was at least grateful that I wasn’t surrounded by weird white people.
Fast forward to a recent trip I made just before the election to visit my mom and once again I was shocked and awed, but this time it was by the number of Trump signs I saw in areas outside the city. Never in the ten years that I lived there had I seen so much unabashed support for a Republican candidate for anything, let alone a Presidential election. While I was initially shocked, the more I think about it the more it makes sense. Rhode Island is an overwhelmingly poor state, and outside of the urban areas the poverty is rural, white and angry; and justifiably so. Those poor white people have been forgotten about by those in power just like Black and Brown people have been, but they support Trump because he gives them a scapegoat and it’s us. He gets them to point the finger at us instead of at the people above us all who are profiting while we fight over scraps. While Trump didn’t manage to actually flip any New England state, he did win roughly 40% of the vote in much of the region and that’s a scary reality. If there’s anything this election taught me it’s that all those years I spent being grateful that I wasn’t surrounded by weird white people I never realized that I was surrounded by poor angry ones, and that is decidedly worse – because to make New England go red, even by 40%, means the shit has really hit the fan.