Teaching resistance on the eve of the inauguration
The day after the election, my seven-year-old told his class that we were moving out of the country. Now, on the eve of the inauguration, he continues to have a lot of fear and anxiety about the upcoming presidential administration. As parents of Black boys we try to infuse our children with pride in themselves while also helping them to be aware of the negative perceptions of Blackness that they may encounter.
During this election, the rhetoric about “the Blacks” from the president elect has made our job more difficult. Our seven-year-old does not see himself in the description of Blackness of the incoming president and he is very worried about what the next four years will bring.
Since November 9th we’ve had a number of opportunities to talk and reflect on what this election means for our non-White family. My goal with these conversations has been to create space for sadness and fear, affirm and answer questions, and to move towards actions that can bring about change.
November 9th – Shock and Sorrow
The day following the election was challenging for our family and we knew it was going to be an emotional day for our oldest son, but we thought it was important that he go to school that day. That evening we talked about his class’ discussion in school,
“Your teacher called today. She said you told your class that we were moving.”
“I don’t want to live in America anymore.”
“You know, we are all very upset about the election…why have you decided we should move?”
“I just don’t think we’re going to be safe since we are not White.”
“I understand why you’re scared. I want you to know that Daddy and I will protect you and your brother. And I understand wanting to go to another country, but no matter what other people say or have said, the United Sates of America is your country, too.”
“It doesn’t feel like it is.”
“Sometimes I have that feeling, too, and it makes me angry” I affirmed. “And it makes me sad that you feel that way. It’s okay to feel angry and disappointed…and scared.”
With this conversation I wanted to let my son know it was okay to feel upset and okay to feel angry about what was happening in our country. In this particular moment, when I was also wrestling with my feelings, I wanted him to know that sometimes we all need to allow ourselves to feel sad and lonely.
November 30th – Exploring Why Words Matter
“Why does the president-elect call Black people, ‘The Blacks?’”
“That’s a good question. Why do you think he says that?”
“Well I don’t think he likes people with brown skin.”
“That may be true. I think sometimes when someone talks about a group of people they start to think that all the people in that group are the same. So when I hear him say, ‘the Blacks’ I think that he doesn’t realize that Black people come in all different shapes and sizes.”
“So, it’s like if I someone thought that dolls were only for girls or football was only for boys?”
“Exactly, when he says that he’s making guesses about all Black people. Sometimes those big guesses are called stereotypes.”
“But that’s not true not every Black person is the same.” He shared an examples of people he knows who share one characteristic, but aren’t the same in all ways.
“I agree. Is there any way you can think of that we can stop ourselves and people we know from believing stereotypes?”
“Hmm, we can help each other to notice if we do it. And we can point out when we hear other people making big guesses about people.”
We have returned to this conversation about stereotypes over the past few weeks and feeling like he can counter a stereotype when he sees one has been a very manageable action he can take.
December 18th – Learning about Resistance
“My birthday is going to be awful.”
“Why do you say that?” I was surprised. He loves his birthday and we have been planning his party for months.
“Well, it will be after the inauguration and we will have a new president.”
“That’s true, but why will that make your birthday awful?”
“I think everything will be awful once he is in office.”
I wanted to lessen the feeling of helplessness while respecting his very reasonable worries about how this election will impact him.
“You know that Daddy and I do not agree with many of the things that Trump has said, but the good thing is that as Americans we don’t have to agree—we don’t have to like the people in office. But even more importantly, we can try to stop him from doing some of the things that we think would hurt people.”
“Well, you know there are other people in Washington who work with the president, senators, and congressmen. We can write and call them. Some of them are there specifically to help people who live in our neighborhood…so they will want to hear from us. We can also join some of the protests that are planned.”
“I like that idea. What about talking to my classmates, too?”
January 5th – A Step Toward Action
This week my son’s teacher called me after a class discussion about the inauguration where he had said, “President-elect Trump doesn’t like brown people like me.”
She shared some of the ways she tried to manage the conversation in her classroom where some students (and their parents) are supporters of the incoming president. His teacher shared, “He was respectful and he listened to all of his classmates thoughts, but he also shared his perspective.”
January 19th – Resistance
Today my son called our local representative and he told the congressman’s staffer:
“I’d like to leave a message for Congressman ____. I think that Donald Trump has dangerous ideas and I don’t think the Congressman should go to his inauguration.” He left his name and phone number. It was his first moment participating in government in his own words.
“You should be proud of yourself,” I told him when he hung up, I’m so proud of you! You added your voice to the conversation about what our country needs.”
That short phone call gave me some comfort that he has moved past feeling helpless and hopeless—and gave me a glimmer of hope in this troubling time.
Lori Taliaferro Riddick facilitates interactive workshops/webinars on how to talk about race with young children with Raising Race Conscious Children. Lori also consults with public school districts to develop effective leaders. She formerly served as the Executive Director of Policy and Practice Services at New Leaders. Lori identifies as Black/Bi-racial/Multi-racial and is a mother to her eight-year-old and one-year-old sons.