For most of Black America the nation just tilted on its axis. There is no need for me to review how various demographics voted yesterday or place the election in historical context. Donald Trump is the President-elect and we will have to determine how to deal with that as a community.
The real question for myself and other Black parents throughout the country is how do we explain this to our kids? This is the same question CNN’s Van Jones posed to his colleagues. Jones’ passionate response to the election results reflect the anxiety that many Americans from ethnic, racial and religious groups feel today.
I know exactly how many of you are feeling, I’m more concerned for my son’s safety than I was just three days ago. After the events in Baltimore, Ferguson, etc. Black people fought against the system to hold people accountable. It felt good talking to my son about #BLM and other proponents for social justice. Today, I feel as vulnerable as a newly born doe surrounded by predators. So, how do I lower my anxiety level while assuring my son everything is okay? Despite the dire circumstances I have a few thoughts on what Black parents can do to talk to their children.
In spite of my grave concerns I don’t plan to write, “The Black Parents Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse.” It will be an uphill battle to protect our civil liberties, this will include fighting calls from individuals to highlight the need for Stop and Frisk and other “law and order” policies that disproportionately impact the Black community. Our children are very aware of the rhetoric that engulfed the nation throughout the campaign. I watched my son try to understand why people would suggest deporting immigrants (my wife is from Jamaica).
The morning after the election, after rising and checking my phone to see if I was trapped in a Purge film I walked slowly into my son’s bedroom to wake him up for school. The short walk from my bedroom to his made me feel like a condemned man on the way to the guillotine. I steadied my back, placed my hand on the cold door knob, and slowly opened the door to break the news. Standing in the middle of his bedroom and watching my teenage son sleep led to several feelings including: sadness, pride in his growth as a person and determination. He slowly turned after realizing someone was standing in the room.
“So Dad, Who Won?”
I had to break the news that the person he repeatedly laughed at during debates or gave me a quizzical look when we watched campaign events and people made crude comments. “Um, Donald Trump won.” At that moment I realized I couldn’t allow him to see my concern but project strength and encourage him to continue his trajectory in life to be great. After dressing he walked into the office and we had a positive exchange that made me feel better because I understand that my son has his mother’s strength and determination. Our discussion included trying to figure out what the world will look like for him and how we should approach the next few years. Below are a few takeaways from our conversation and thoughts on what Black parents should do to ease their children’s concerns.
You Are Not Defeated
There are a lot of sad people in our community this morning. However, it is important to remember our ancestors survived the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, Slavery, Reconstruction, Nadir and Jim Crow. I told my son despite his concerns you cannot adopt a defeatist mentality. You have to stand firm against injustice by organizing with others with similar concerns. Since the first slaves arrived in the 1600s it has been difficult for the Black community. If our forefathers and sisters could overcome those atrocities who are we to simply give up? This is the message I delivered to my son. Last night the nation experienced a paradigm shift and we have to be prepared to navigate new challenges.
If you are reading this and don’t feel like you can get out of bed then I encourage you to think of your children and grandchildren. We can’t expect our children to fight for their rights if we are not prepared to encourage them along their journey. This too shall pass. Highlight the contributions of Civil Rights activists including Ella Baker and Bayard Rustin who faced sexism and homophobia to help establish organizations including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Talk about Fannie Lou Hammer who famously said she “is sick and tired of being sick and tired.” We have been here before.
Discuss the importance of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches
Some of the parents reading this article have talked with their kids about the branches of government and how they work. If not, it’s important to explain in detail how electing a new President will impact the Supreme Court, choosing federal judges, funding for education, etc. If you aren’t really sure how they work you can always turn to School House Rock for a little guidance. It’s vital more than ever that children understand how our government works.
We are Resilient and Powerful
Our ancestors walked a crucible to ensure we had opportunities they could not have dreamed of throughout their lives. They often faced insurmountable odds but reshaped the nation. While last night’s decision complicates the lives of Black parents throughout the country we cannot give up! Remind your children that life is not easy and that racism will not go away. They will encounter people that won’t judge them based on their abilities but their skin color. Shout to the roof tops that great they come from a linage of queens, kings and great thinkers including Mansa Musa, Queen of Sheba, Hannibal and Imhotep.
The election results surprised millions of Americans but frankly we should have seen this coming. Rhetoric aimed at communities of color is not new but how we will respond? Begin by encouraging your children to fight for social justice and build intellectual capital. Teach them not to take anything for granted. The political winds can blow in many directions. I don’t think last night was an outlier. It’s a new political reality. What will you do Black America?
Dr. Larry J. Walker is an HBCU mental health advocate and former Capitol Hill staffer. He is the co-editor of a forthcoming two volume set titled, “How the Obama Presidency Changed the Political Landscape.” Follow him on Twitter @LarryJWalker2.