Stephanie Mullings: My friend, Raleigh

Sunday, September 17, 2017 - 12:46pm

When I was younger, I had an imaginary friend named Raleigh. Together, we played on an imaginary soccer team called the Wild-Winds. We went to school together and had playdates after class. Just as I awaited Santa’s arrival by placing cookies and milk on the fireplace mantel on Christmas Eve or delicately put my freshly pulled teeth under my pillow at night expecting the tooth fairy, Raleigh sprung from the depths of my imagination — a false reality which others around me validated. My mother had a soccer jersey for the Wild-Winds team made for me. She intricately gift-wrapped and placed “Santa’s” presents around our Christmas tree. She slid dollar bills under my pillow in exchange for my teeth.

Having grown out of our childhood fantasies, as a society it is safe to say that we don’t think like this anymore. There is no make-believe or magic. Parents won’t contextualize or qualify the abstractions of our imagination. Instead of creating an imaginary soccer team to play on, we now say things like “I can’t imagine that Cristiano Ronaldo won’t be considered one of the best soccer players ever.” It’s fair to say there’s a societal normalcy in this concreteness — the improbable remains intangible. At least this was what I thought until recently.

My reflections regarding Raleigh are not meant to bombard you with memories of my childhood. Instead, I use him to draw a parallel to my “imagination” today. I would never have imagined my identity as a Black American woman would become as threatened as it has within the past few months. I would never have imagined that others like myself who belong to minority communities would have to fear losing their homes or families. I would never have imagined that the process of “making America great again” included the blatant resurgence of racism and racially charged violence.

Most significantly, I would never have imagined that fear, hate and violence touching the very core of our lives — once figments of my imagination — would become validated by the government and society, just like how Raleigh was legitimized by my mother. Maybe my thoughts were incorrect. Has the improbable or outrageous or absurd — the unimaginable — become tangible? 

Last week, the seventh season of “American Horror Story” premiered. Spoiler alert: This season’s storyline centers on an American woman named Ally who experiences extreme emotional turmoil and excessive paranoia following President Donald Trump’s election. Her phobias actualize, and she seemingly hallucinates terrifying interactions with clowns, which others view as a figment of her imagination or as her “going crazy.”

In other words, Trump’s election reached the depth of her imagination. Her story mirrors my reflections of Raleigh and the political and social climate of today’s society (minus the clowns). The 2016 presidential election and subsequent policies and events under the Trump administration serve as the tipping point for Ally at the same time the unimaginable (killer clowns) becomes tangible, haunting each aspect of her everyday life.

I do want to make sure everyone understands that this is a dramatization. We hopefully aren’t hallucinating killer clowns or being consumed by our phobias because of President Trump’s election.

However, I aim to draw your attention to the connection. What we thought was impossible or outlandish or discriminatory has become very real, very quickly. I use the word “we” here to describe we as human beings, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or political affiliation.

We must recognize some faults or tensions in the decisions of our executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, which, in turn, trickle down into our society through violence and use of hateful rhetoric. We as human beings must see and feel these divisions emerging, whether they're in our own lives or in what we view through media outlets. We as human beings must observe the Trump administration’s progressive action to marginalize certain communities or those who embody certain identities. For it would be rather impossible not to witness this unfolding before our eyes.

Now, whether you find these developments “unimaginable” or “imaginable” may be the source of our agreement or disagreement. However, I hope we can all recognize a shift in our political and social climate as of late in light of events like the Trump administration’s rescinding of DACA,  banning of transgender individuals in the military and “travel ban,” the violence in Charlottesville, Va., and Betsy Devos’s recent criticism of Title IX.

I no longer play make-believe soccer games with Raleigh or wait for visits from Santa and the tooth fairy. Instead, I imagine what will come of this country in the next four years.

How about you?

Stephanie Mullings can be reached at srmulli@umich.edu.