swastika
Far-right supporters are not just in Germany. A supporter of the Hungarian radical right-wing party "Jobbik" attends a rally in Budapest, as Hungary commemorates the 53rd anniversary of the 1956 revolution against Soviet rule. Jobbik has three seats in European ParliamentLaszlo Balogh/ Reuters

The night before the US election, I slept in my Obama T-shirt. This T-shirt has followed me around the world for the past eight years, from Chicago to Melbourne and now to Berlin. I wore this same shirt on election night in 2008 in Grant Park where, after a day of door knocking and chewing my nails, I saw him give his nomination acceptance speech and change the course of history as the nation's first black president.

I'll admit it. I was one of those people who genuinely believed that electing him would change everything, even though logically, I knew that was impossible.

I voted for Obama in 2008, despite the fact that I also had the option of Hillary Clinton. In my mind, the choice wasn't even close. This year, I voted for Clinton. I lived through the Bush years, and unlike a lot of other people, I haven't forgotten what that felt like.

In 2003, I studied abroad in Spain where I was routinely refused service, pranked, vandalised and discriminated against. A lot of it was because I'm black. A lot of it was because I'm American. I live in Berlin now. And my stomach is turning over the possibility of the world waking up to a Trump president, and how different life could be.

We talk about progress in terms of process, because humanity is a slow continuum of thought and consciousness that is meant to evolve collectively. But when it comes to stunting progress and devolving into primates who throw our poo at each other, it only takes a moment... or in this case, a day.

I wasn't going to share this story, because I don't want people's comments or pity or self-righteous indignation all over my Facebook wall. I didn't tell my friends in Australia or my parents because it would worry them to bits. But in our current political climate, it's important.

On Saturday, I was riding the S-Bahn. At Ostkreuz station, a large man sat down opposite of me. He was maybe 6'4″ or 6'5″ with light blonde hair and blue eyes. He wore a dark long-sleeved shirt and dark jeans, and his physical presence was very imposing, not just for me, but for the two people sitting next to us. The man shoved next to another smaller, younger gentleman next to him, eyeing him down until he looked away.

SS Bolts
The original SS lightning boltsHandout

Then he stared at me. I didn't really know what to do, so I stared back. It's not really in my nature to do that. I sometimes have trouble looking people in the eye, but it seemed important to maintain eye contact even though my skin was crawling with discomfort. So we kept staring at each other, and then he made the subtlest movement. He slowly rolled up his sleeves part way, revealing lightning bolt tattoos on his hands.

For those of you who don't know, SS Bolts mean "Schutzstaffel", and they're common markers for people of the neo-Nazi faction. Or, as a friend pointed out to me, since I'm in Germany... he was an actual Nazi. Scratch the "neo" part.

The guy sitting next to him shook his head angrily and caught my peripheral eye, giving me the subtlest look of encouragement and an abject warning that read something like: DO NOT MOVE.

So, I didn't. What could I do anyway? Moving seats seemed cowardly. Speaking up would've been idiotic. I grew up around very big men. There was absolutely no way that would've been a fair fight. Not even in my active wear.

He got off at Neukölln, and that was when I allowed myself to ask the question that had been strangling my brain during the whole train ride: All those empty seats on the train, and you sit across from me?

This is something I have tried explaining to my white friends over and over again, but their discomfort over coming face-to-face with the kind of racism they're only used to consuming in a Hollywood blockbuster prevents them from hearing me out almost every single time. He saw me. He singled me out. He made an overt effort to make me feel physically uncomfortable in that space, and assert his dominance. For ten or so minutes, I was staring into the eyes of someone who hated me for no reason other than the colour of my skin. Can you imagine what he really wanted to do to me? Can you imagine what he's probably done to other people who look just like me?

Has that ever happened to you? Do you know what that feels like? Don't tell me "it's over now." Don't tell me "it could've been worse". Don't use language that silences me from speaking up about how terrifying and hurtful that was to me, and how terrifying and hurtful it should be for you too. Maybe you can walk away from this story and feel good about yourself for having listened to it, but I have to live with the reality that any day, it could repeat itself.

When we give any political power to a party that advocates hate and bigotry, it legitimises the hate and bigotry of the people who vote for them.

Later that night, I went to a party hosted by my Black in Berlin friends and told them what happened. I needed to be in a safe place. They expressed equal amounts of shock and...well, not shock. What surprised me was how someone could make such a bold statement, but get off at a stop which lies in the heart of the Kiez, where Berlin's middle-eastern population lives. But then I remembered that the cities in America with the biggest neo-Nazi presence are the cities with the most racial and ethnic diversity – namely, Miami and South LA. They like to go where the action is...because they're a******s.

Someone at the party mentioned that there had been a far-right protest in the city that evening. Either he was on his way there, or on his way from it.

These protests have been happening a lot since the September elections, where the AfD party [Alternativ für Deutschland] brutalised Angela Merkel's party in the regional elections. Like most nationalist movements, they've disguised their rhetoric of hatred and bigotry with the narrative of "reclaiming" their country. And like many Western democracies are seeing right now, it's working.

US election 2016
Supporters of Donald Trump attempt to obscure a protestor from the activist group Code Pink, who is holding an anti-racism and anti-hate banner in Cleveland, Ohio, on 19 July 2016Aaron P. Bernstein/ Reuters

This is the power of elected officials. When we give any political power to a party that advocates hate and bigotry, it legitimises the hate and bigotry of the people who vote for them. They feel emboldened to step out into the world and proclaim their views openly, without fear of repercussion or shame. They brazenly incite fear, violence and aggression, because they feel represented at most senior levels of office – and they are.

So if you're someone who is telling others that federal elections matter less than local ones, you're an idiot. They all matter. With Trump as president, it will all become even worse because, unlike Germany, America has an arsenal of free-range guns and stopped investing in education years ago.

Even if Trump wasn't elected, his supporters weren't going anywhere. They were only getting started.

I voted for Clinton, and not third party, because my abstract principles aren't more important than the lives that stand to suffer with Trump as president. I voted for her because I honestly didn't see a better option. I voted for her, because even though I don't live in America anymore, many people I love do.

But if you didn't, then you have to live with the possibility that you might have helped elect someone, even if only indirectly, who will tap dance on the soul of the country we love.

And if you think we won't feel the impact of your decision in Germany, a country that once voted for the guy with the loud voice, who hated minorities, threatened to imprison opponents, trample on democracy and claimed that he alone can fix everything... you're wrong.

This blog was originally published on Orijenn of Species. It has been edited to reflect the election result on 19/11/16.


Jennifer Neal is a writer and journalist from Chicago and Melbourne, Australia. She writes about social politics, economics and gender and is currently living in Berlin where she's writing her first novel. You can follow her on Twitter @LadyGodiva83