I’m walking my daughter home from the bus stop and she’s chattering about the elections. I’m glad she’s learning about it at school but I listen closely, ready to pounce on any propaganda. While our town is pretty liberal, I’m not so sure about my children’s teachers.
Suddenly my child asks, “Do you think my teacher is voting for Trump?” I wish I could say no but I honestly don’t know. I tell her this. She frowns.
“I hope not, because Trump hates Mexicans and I’m Mexican. I don’t want my teacher to hate me.”
1. The Face of Hate
During the past presidential election and since, my kids got an up-close view of the ugly underbelly of the United States. Of course the racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia and homophobia have always been there, but for my kids it was the first time it was blatant. We couldn’t escape it, and that meant painful conversations like the one above.
My family represents everything the Trump campaign denounced. So how could we not see every vote for Trump as a vote against us?
As much as it pained me, I refused to let those people off the hook. I didn’t tell my children that you could vote for Trump while decrying his hate. If you stand with someone who hates, then you endorse that hate. Period. I wanted my children to understand that sometimes you have to make the hard stand against hate, even when it’s coming from people who are supposed to care for you, people who should be showing love.
It’s a hard but important lesson. Compromising on standing against hate is not love.
2. The Face of Love
In my older daughter’s school, there has been a concerted effort to ensure all of the students that the administration and teachers do not support a message of hate. While being careful to not endorse any particular candidate, the message has been clear “We love you and we won’t stand by those who don’t love you.” My children have learned that there are those out there who are safe, who love them, and who will stand against the darkness of hate. This lesson has become incredibly important as they are faced everyday with comments from rallies and from the candidate himself concerning people who look like them. This country has given them a reason to fear but it’s also shown them that they don’t need to stand alone.
We’ve chosen to surround ourselves in love. My husband and I have unfriended people who defend a presidential platform that encourages hate and bigotry. It’s not about a difference of opinion; it’s about creating a safe space for our family. We are not going to be friends with those who do not speak or who try to excuse hateful language. More than ever I’ve realized how important it is to teach our children that because they value themselves they must surround themselves with others who value them in the same way.
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3. Misogyny vs. Legitimate Criticism
I supported Sanders. My kids knew it. I explained to them why, and with the teens I talked about the anger I felt at being labeled anti-feminist. I chafed for a long time at being taken to task by my feminist friends who supported Clinton. In fact, I lost a couple of friendships. I understood their frustration as I did see sexism from Sanders supporters (fortunately though none on my friend list). And I confronted it when I saw it because I as I told my daughters, we cannot allow that kind of attitude in our campaign.
When Sanders lost I was heartbroken. He was the first candidate who leaned the closest towards my own leftist leanings, and I hoped the support he garnered would show the Democrat party how hungry we were for real change. It was a shift in politics but it didn’t come with a nomination. While juggling bitter disappointment, I started to let misogyny rear its ugly head not just from the right but from the left. The debates left me sick to my stomach. Watching Trump call Clinton a “nasty woman,” interrupt her, and lurk over like an abuser was a painful reminder of how sexist our society still is in so many ways.
After watching the first debate, my daughter asked, “You don’t like Clinton, right? Why are you angry?” That was a gut punch. I hadn’t realized that I might have been, unintentionally, demonstrating sexist behavior to my daughter. So I told my daughter this: “Clinton is not who I’d have picked to be our first women president. I have a lot of issues with her policies, just like I do with Obama. But I’m not okay with criticism that seems rooted only in her being female. I feel like a lot of the attacks on her come from sexism more than genuine concern about her politics. And I am excited that we’re hopefully going to have our first woman president. It’s long overdue.” It was interesting to watch my daughters go from being a little constrained to being exited. They wanted a woman to be president, and I found a way to be excited even while remaining critical.
I was reminded of when Obama ran for his first term, and how excited my son was. We brought him to a rally where two men lifted him high over their head so he could see his new hero. He thought Obama looked like his father. While my husband is not African-American he is brown and that is likely what my son picked up on. He needed a president who looked like him. While I was again not fully on board with Obama’s politics I saw that need in my son. I now see that need in my daughters, especially my six year old. She needs to see someone like her as president.
4. The Power of Local Politics
My son was excited about Obama when he first ran but he was quite young. This presidential election is the first one that he comes with a more critical mind. He’s put a lot of thought into the candidates from the beginning. He liked Sanders after watching the first debate and started to read up on him. My husband and I were both Sanders supporters but we encouraged our son to look at all the candidates. He became a passionate Sanders supporter even swaying over his grandmother.
When Sanders lost the candidacy, my son didn’t say much but I could see the disillusionment in his eyes, and I remembered that feeling too well. National politics can break your heart. Losing a candidate whose views so closely match your own is painful! But I also knew how easy it was to turn from hurt to bitterness. I didn’t want my son to become cynical and apathetic. So I stirred him toward local politics. Our town is fortunate enough to have a lively community called Athens For Everyone that works for social justice issues across our community, from having the public buses run on Sundays to the formation of a Civil Rights Committee. If we want change nationally, we need to start in our communities. Start small is what I told my son. The good thing about local is that you get a chance to be really hands on from meeting the power makers to working closely with various candidates. I’m hoping he becomes as passionate about what’s happening here as he did about Sanders.
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My daughters have asked a lot of questions about their heritage this election season. They wanted to hear the stories about their father coming to the US from Mexico. And that extended to an interested in how other people in our community came. My daughter wanted to focus on the Dream Act for her social studies fair project. My eleven year old started to ask questions about feminism seeking an alternate explanation from the one she found on the internet. The two girls in public school start to cheerfully assert “I’m Latina” both at home and at school. They identified with the other Latinx students around them.
It was the first time we saw such an assertive push with their identity.
Despite the election atmosphere being what I can only describe as toxic, something did grow in my children. In the face of hate and fear, they didn’t turn from their identity. They embraced it with a fierce pride that challenged the darkness around them.
They began to assert their place in the world, demanding space. While I wish for a better way to grow, a better soil to sink down those roots, I couldn’t be prouder of who they’ve become.[Feature Image: A black and white image of two individuals, one adult and one younger, standing outside. They both have long dark swept back into a bun. The younger individual stares ahead at the camera as the older looks away. Source: Flickr.com/Rachel Gardner ]