Every morning since the election, I wake up and ask my partner the same question.
"Can we leave yet?"
"No," he says. "We're not leaving. My family started this country. I'm not going anywhere. Especially not now. This is when we stay and fight."
Half of my partner's family is old-school New York. Genuine Knickerbockers. One of the 400 who famously fit inside Mrs. Astor's ballroom. His last name is on boulevards in Brooklyn, plastered across subway stations. When we were first dating, knowing I was a history nerd, he wooed me with tales of family glory—a great-uncle who served as a doctor to a Roosevelt; ancestors who were Union generals in the Civil War; a relative who founded the Girl Scouts. He can safely say that his family has been on the side of all the things that make America great. "But we don't talk about the side that supported the Confederacy," he smirks.
My partner's inheritance is that certainty of belonging. Mine is that of figuring out how best to steal away.
My great-grandfather Matthew Trimking belonged to a tribe of Native Americans who welcomed the few Africans who managed to escape the living death of Low Country slavery for maroonage in the North Carolina swamps. The tribe was so mixed up with black, its members weren't considered true Natives for a long time. Matthew Trimking tried to start a school for his people in North Carolina, which his white neighbors promptly burned to the ground. So he fled up North, to New Hampshire, to school at Dartmouth College, where the handful of other black students there refused to socialize with him because he was too little, too dark, too strange.
This last detail I know because of my aforementioned history nerdishness. There is my great-grandfather, in the letters of one of the few black Brahmins, filed and tucked away in an index written by one of the first historians of the black upper classes.
Even before I knew this about my great-grandfather, I was always curious about the past's left-behinds. When I was in high school, I used to spend hours in my bedroom, lying on my bed, lamenting my own shiftlessness. I had been raised on the gospel of denial and sacrifice and bittersweet irony and last-minute tragic reversals: that is, on the gospel of American blackness. I was well aware that my grandparents and great-grandparents had scrubbed floors until their knuckles bled and spent hours minding other women's children so that I could, at fifteen, lie on that futon mattress for hours on end, contemplating my place in space and time and counting up what I owed the past.
I have been to the Smithsonian's new African American history museum twice now. The first time was at the end of October, right before the election, with my sister Kerri. She actually did become a historian — a really great one. She was the one who got me my first job at a black-history site, the Black Heritage Trail in Boston. We were park rangers together. We spent summers sweating in Smokey-the-Bear-style ranger hats, making tourists uneasy by brightly asking, "Are you interested in a walking tour about Boston's black abolitionists?"
She is also aware of the strangeness that black history attracts. The people who gloat on the litany of suffering and the people who want to insist that the suffering probably really wasn't that bad and the people who cling to mythic versions of the past, unwilling to talk about the truly fascinating truth.
When my sister and I walked through the door of the Smithsonian's African American history museum, it was an explosion of blackness, of Us-ness, that made us both giddy. From the avuncular security guard who claimed we weren't on the admission list but shrugged and said "Don't worry about it, pretty girls" to the man in an Obama for President hat who told us about moving from a town near Tupelo, Mississippi, to Gary, Indiana, in the '60s and riding in the back of a bus as a child. His T-shirt read "Triple the Hustle and Double the Heart."