“Trump is president and he’s gonna send Black people to Mexico”
This morning, the day after Trump got elected, we got to kindergarten early, and the kids got some time to play on the yard before class. I watched them running and laughing, trying to take solace in the irrepressible joy of children, even when everything feels like it’s going to shit.
But then I overheard an interaction that crystallized this moment for me, between two young students I didn’t know:
White kid, sounding concerned: Now Trump is president and he’s gonna send Black people to Mexico.
Black kid: What? (Looks down at his arms.)
White kid: Yeah, kids like you with dark skin.
Black kid: (Silence for a few seconds). Dang. (Pause). I wish my skin were White.
I jumped in, horrified at what I was hearing, and thankful I was standing a few inches away.
Me: Oh, hey that’s not right, that’s not actually going to happen. But a bunch of White people made a big mistake yesterday.
White kid: Yeah, not now. But in January when he’s president he’s going to.
Me: No. Black and brown people are not going to be sent anywhere. And there’s nothing wrong with being Black or brown.
The White kid’s dad walked up right then and I explained what I had overheard. He spoke up immediately, saying, “Don’t worry, (Black kid’s name), nothing’s going to happen to you with us around.”
This felt like an epic fail all around.
I wish I had known how to clarify to that young Black student that what’s wrong does not lie within him, his Black skin, but within the violence of the system. I wish I knew what to say in that moment to confront the idea (and the reality) that Whiteness equals safety. I want to get better at affirming a sense of inherent value, dignity, and racial pride for Black and brown kids. And what could I have said in the moment to more effectively challenge that young White kid and his dad to do better?
White people, White parents: How are we talking to children and adults about racism in ways that don’t centralize White people as agents and people of color as victims? When we talk about why we are mad and sad and scared about a Trump presidency, how are we helping our kids make sense of that in a way that doesn’t encourage them to say things that aren’t helpful to kids whose families are being targeted by Trumpism?
How are we talking to kids and adults about the leadership and power of communities of color, immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and women right now? How are we talking about structural racism in a way that’s age-appropriate but also centralizes the historical and current resistance and victories led by people of color? How are we challenging the notion that White people are needed to “protect” people of color, while also encouraging White kids to see racism and take action against it? How are we encouraging White kids to take responsibility for racism in a way that doesn’t play into the White savior dynamic? How are we talking to kids about the transformative change brought about by People of Color that gave marginalized White people liberatory space—that White people over and over have benefited from freedom struggles of people of color? And how do we talk to all kids about being “allies” in a way that helps them see and engage in joint struggle instead of cementing power dynamics in their minds?
The kids ran off before we could engage them more. I saw the dad take his kid aside and have a conversation. I approached a teacher on yard duty, described what had happened and asked how they were addressing these kind of conversations in class. As I walked home, heart pounding, I thought about the Antonio Gramsci quote I saw on Facebook this morning: “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.”
Let’s keep trying to give our children the tools to resist the monsters of racism and together, help birth a new world.
Molly McClure is a white gendeqrueer living in Oakland with his mixed Black partner Chela and their two mixed Black children, ages 3 and 5. Molly works at Causa Justa :: Just Cause, an organization mobilizing working class communities of color against displacement and for housing and immigrant rights. Molly is also an organizer and trainer with Catalyst Project, building the capacity and commitment of White people to play effective roles in multiracial movements for collective liberation.