Politics Aside: My brown-skinned, Jewish American son reacts to Donald Trump
by guest blogger Janet Alperstein, Ph.D
Regardless of your political affiliation, I hope you will take a moment to read about how a young Jewish American and Latino boy is experiencing the 2016 presidential, frequently as a result of what other children are reflecting back from parents, older siblings, and the media.
My now eight-and-a-half-year-old son has brought various things up to me, usually on the heels of inflammatory comments in the press which he heard from other children in unstructured parts of his day, including the school bus.
This summer it was: “Momma, Trump doesn’t like people who look like me” (my son has brown skin) after Trump called for a human-proof wall on the U.S. Mexican border.
This fall it was: “Is Trump going to become president? He’s mean. Classmate X says he’s the best” after Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.
I tried to be reassuring: “Trump is not (yet—in that moment the reality was more far-fetched) a nominee for president—there would be more discussions and votes before that could happen. And I believe there are many people in the U.S. who share our view of this country being welcoming to a people from diverse backgrounds. “
Through subsequent conversations, I have further reassured him:
“You—and other people who are naturalized citizens of the U.S.—cannot have that taken away or be asked to leave their adopted home country. And the U.S. is a country made up of immigrants from different parts of the world at different times in history.”
Sometimes the conversations have been tied to our travel or a school project. After joining me on a business trip to Berlin—and likely influenced by a lifetime of Shabbat and holiday meals with a friend who is the daughter of Holocaust survivors—my son selected Anne Frank for a school biography project. After a penultimate run through of his presentation, he asked:
“Why didn’t Anne Frank just come to NY when her family wanted to leave Germany?”
What a painful question to answer. “That’s a great question. Her family did want to come to the United States. Unfortunately, the United States like a lot of countries at that time did not want to accept all of the people who were trying to escape from Germany.”
Had my son connected Trump’s comment about banning Muslims entering the U.S. to the Holocaust? In Berlin, he had walked by a peaceful march in support of welcoming Syrian refugees to Germany…had my son connected today’s refugee crises to the Holocaust?
“How much more should I delve into this?” I asked myself, but before I could think about it, a follow-up question came from my son:
“Who was the president?”
“The president was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But it wasn’t just the president’s decision.”
Maybe the fact that it wasn’t just the president’s decision, can help my son understand that no matter who is president, s/he cannot reverse all of the progress that has been made nor can s/he dictate that people be nicer and more respectful to each other to speed up the progress that is still needed.
The conversations do not get easier, only more complicated and more important.
Janet F. Alperstein is the proud mom of an eight-year-old boy born in Guatemala City and raised in New York City where their gender, racial, ethnic and religious identities are an important part of their everyday lives. Dr. Alperstein has worked in higher education for just over 20 years with a focus on international education and has taught a graduate sociology class on gender and the role of schools for 15 years.