Last Wednesday I was awakened by my eight-year-old son, who wanted to know if Hillary Clinton had won the election. I had to tell him no, she had not; Donald Trump won.
Striking the level of incredulity an eight-year-old can generate: “What do you mean Donald Trump won? How could people do that? He says so many mean things. Why would anyone vote for him?”
What am I supposed to say? “Don’t worry, son. Everything’s going to be all right. Our new President won’t really do all the nasty things to people he’s publicly said he’s going to do. How bad could he be?”
How do I explain to him that Donald Trump is the candidate who won the support of enough people to become our President? “Don’t worry, son. Apart from the fact that they’re people capable of ignoring Donald Trump’s racism, xenophobia, misogyny, ableism, and homophobia long enough to make him the most powerful man on the planet—they’re basically nice folks.”
This isn’t theoretical. I don’t know how to tell him that the country I thought we lived in isn’t the country we actually live in.
How do I tell my lesbian daughter not to be afraid, that she’ll have the right to pursue her life the way that seems most natural to her? How do I tell her that whom she loves won’t matter, that we’ve moved beyond the bigotry, and that nothing bad is going to happen?
How do I convince her she’s going to be fine?
My reflexive response is to say, “Don’t worry. It’ll all work out. I promise.” But I’m not sure I believe that, myself. Upon what evidence would I base such an optimistic claim? It’s not like it’s all just a slip of the tongue or a few random tweets. We’re looking at a systematic attempt to marginalize vast segments of the U.S. population. This is a feature, not a bug.
Obviously, I don’t want to scare the hell out of my kids by being completely honest about my fears. On the other hand, I want them to know that, given our situation, we who value a more diverse world will have to be intentional about standing in the way of those who would seek to undo whatever progress we’ve made.
What do I say?
Here’s the best I’ve got:
My dear children,
I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that the world we live in today is the same one we inhabited just a few short days ago. Although, everything probably seems the same—you wake up, go to school, come home and do your homework, and we go get pizza on Fridays and watch a family movie—things are different now. There are people who are making a lot of noise about excluding others who are different from them. Although we don’t like to hear what they say about our friends and family who are African American, Latinx, LGBTQ, refugees, or disabled, we cannot ignore them.
We must stand arm in arm with those who are afraid. We must raise our voices in support of our friends who are threatened. We must guard the helpless and those who would harm them. We must make safe spaces for people who feel like there’s no place left for them.
I can’t say it will be easy. It won’t. Because we insist on showing our support, we are likely to be the object of some people’s hatred. We must not hate them back because hate is the thing that steals our hearts and makes us less than we were intended to be.
When they raise their voices against others in hatred, we will lift our voices in songs of solidarity and love.
When they seek to steal the dignity of those who are most vulnerable, we will do our best to restore that dignity through our friendship and trust.
When they stir terror in the hearts of the powerless, we will calm that fear by our insistence on pursuing the peace and justice that makes us most fully human.
When they exclude, we will include.
When they terrorize, we will live non-violently.
We will turn back wrath with kindness, and suspicion with assurance.
I wish I could spare you the disappointment you will feel toward those from who you expected more, but I cannot. The world is sometimes a disappointing place. But take heart. Your strength comes not as a gift of their acceptance of you, but of your courage in the face of their lack of acceptance.
Be gentle and brave.
I love you,
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