Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I never have the news on in our house. In fact, I’m not entirely sure how to stream MSNBC even if I wanted to. And when my oldest turned three, even the daily NPR news briefs were no longer appropriate. I’m not psychologically or emotionally prepared to have complicated conversations with my seven and four year old kids on someone else’s schedule, especially when that someone else is the breathless news cycle. Instead, I read the news on my phone privately.
This is not to say that we don’t talk about global or local news with our kids. We do. It’s just on our own terms for the most part. Sure, this is going to change as our kids get older and hear things from friends or learn in the classroom. And I welcome those conversations when they arrive at our dinner table or on a walk.
In 2016, when my daughter was just four, she applied postage to letters to swing voters and made signs for Hillary Clinton, the mom and grandma running for president who worked for all families, women, and children. That was about the extent of our political conversation about the Presidential candidate that I had hoped would have won. Donald Trump’s election forced other conversations — one that has been appalling difficult to explain. Mostly I say that Donald Trump is focused on his own power and wealth, and helping the rich get richer at the expense of working families and our earth in order to get what he wants. But this is only partly true. Deep-seated racism and white people’s fear of a loss of their privilege is also responsible for his election. I didn’t know how to explain this to a seven or a four year old, so… I didn’t.
Until, of course, he said yet another disgusting thing. Earlier this summer, Trump targeted four freshman congresswomen for the color of their skin.
This gross and amoral display of power became a major teaching opportunity. We started our conversation with a brief explanation of what exactly a President does and can do. A President is not a King. A President is elected. There are other people who are also elected and together they check-up on the President. There were many people who ran for this office last year because they were upset that Trump was out for his own power and wallet, and not families. And guess what?! Some of them were elected, including these four women. So now these women are working to pass laws and speaking out against some of the decisions Trump has made that are hurting families, children, and our earth.
The kids loved this! I showed them pictures of the four congresswomen, and they were excited that these women had won!
Then I told them the bad news. Trump told them to go back to their country, which doesn’t make sense since these women are Americans. Our country is their country. (To be clear I also explained that it’s never ok to say this to people who aren’t from America. Sometimes, people who come here before getting official permission are often leaving horrible situations where they can’t feed their families, or fear violence against them. And other times, people just move here from their home country for various reasons that include a dream for adventure, work opportunities, etc.)
Then we talked a bit about how our own ancestors are from Italy, England, Ireland, and Romania just like the ancestors (and parents) of these congresswomen are from different places, too. Trump is not telling people like us to go back to our countries — because our skin is lighter and we are considered white. These women have darker skin and are Black, Hispanic, and Muslim. Can you imagine what it would be like if someone in power told you to leave this country because of how your hair looks or the shape of your body or the color of your skin? This is what it means to be racist, I say. Our president is racist and knows that there are other white people out there who are racist too who like the way he is talking to these women and will want to vote for him because of it.
Not once do I show my children any videos of Trump but instead I show them this video. I show them that these women are working for us and they are devoting their lives to improving the lives of all people right now and for generations to come. I tell them that these four women are brave, and they are fighting for black girls and boys, muslim girls and boys, people of color, gay people, everyone. Even us.
These women have power. And they are standing up — even when they might feel uncomfortable. They are using their voices to fight for people whose voices aren’t heard.
And now it’s their turn.
Do you ever have that opportunity? I ask.
What if you get that opportunity one day?
What if you see someone and hear something that isn’t right?
What will you say?
What will you do?