Dear Decaturish – Mothering brown children in a time of crisis
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My daughter worries. In our house, we have a saying: “worst case scenario.” I developed this as an approach to calm her whenever she would need reassurance that there were no sharks in the pool, the plane wasn’t going to crash, and her teacher didn’t think she was stupid because she got answers wrong. Yet, with Donald Trump as the new President-elect, with the constant shootings of Brown and Black bodies, with racist rhetoric circulating in everyday discourse, “worst case scenario” does not calm her. Because she instinctively knows better.
Cultural pain, horror, as well as joy circulate in her DNA. She knows that it was just fifty years ago that Black people were forced to deal with substandard conditions and separate (though NEVER equal) accommodations, water fountains, restrooms, the list goes on. She knows that it was just 150 years ago that her ancestors were enslaved – that if we traced her father’s family, it might be her great-great grandmother who woke up every day as property. She knows other things too – more current things. She knows that Black and Brown men and women (and little boys and girls) are killed at the hands of police more than any other race. She knows that when a Black or Brown person commits a crime, we are likely to get more jail time or harsher punishments compared to white people. She knows it is Black and Brown people unfairly scrutinized in stores – suspected as being criminals when we are really just shopping or trying to shop.
My daughter does not have to look far to see racism because it is embedded in every institution in our country. I didn’t have to be the one to point this out to her. Ask any Black or Brown child and they know too. In fact, what astounds me is the fact that they wake up every day, full of hope, joy, and promise despite the continual onslaught on racism from every angle. It doesn’t have to be as in your face as Trump’s form of racism (i.e. banning Muslims or building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico). There are more subtle forms that Black and Brown people deal with every day – racism that thrives off assumptions, stereotypes, and narratives about what Black and Brown means in the white imagination.
My daughter fears Trump because he is outrageously and unapologetically racist, xenophobic, and sexist. I want to tell her that I am scared too. But, I don’t think that will help her. I want to say, “Worst case scenario” but seeing as how he won the electoral college vote based on a platform of discrimination and misogyny, I can’t really say that either.
So, what do I say to an anxious 12-year-old who wonders if Trump can make slavery legal again and who is afraid that he will force her grandparents out of this country? I think back to a Mr. Rogers quote I read years ago.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
So, I remind her of the many supporters of Black Lives Matter. I remind her that we have built a network of people from all races and ethnicities who love and care for us. I remind her how our government works – that the President can’t do much without the support of Congress. I keep the television turned off so she can’t hear anymore of Trump’s vile words. And, I think about getting her a prescription of Xanax only because I can’t imagine how she gets through each day worrying about this.
This should not be how it is. How is it even possible that a candidate like Trump could be president? Oh yeah, racism. You can’t separate a candidate’s fiscal plan or international goals from his beliefs about groups of people. Trump has shown us who he is. It is not okay to support a man who believes in banning groups of people because of their religious affiliation or who makes fun of differently abled people.
Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” I refuse to be neutral. I refuse to be quiet. I refuse to let my daughter’s worst fears be realized. Trump is a festering wound to this country. Since the election, there are an increasing number of hate crimes being perpetrated against Brown children and Muslims of all ages. What can you do? Educate yourself about racism in this country. Be vigilant and speak out to protect your neighbors in the case of hate crimes. Organize in your own communities to increase local power. Do not support policies that disenfranchise groups of people. Most importantly, look closely at our children – help them process what this means. Teach them to protect each other and to do all things with love. Love should always win. Let’s make it happen for our children’s sake. Paz y amor.
– Jennifer Esposito