It happened. The orange Cheeto is president-elect. What do we tell our Black children? How do we explain this to children obsessed with fairness? The mean man won. What does it mean for them? I am mother to a five-year-old girl. I’ve been scouring the internet for guidance about how to help her navigate the current political reality. With the help of Google I think I’ve read all the blogs and articles written thus far. I have yet to find one that speaks to me and the way I am raising my Black, girl-child.
I am struggling with what to tell her. She wanted Hillary to win. She wanted to see a woman be our president. For her entire life we have had a Black president. That is her default, all she knows. She was pulling for Hillary. It was impossible for her to escape the media coverage of the orange Cheeto. Her opinion is that he is “not so nice.” He “doesn’t say nice things about people.” He is “a man who lies. He makes people angry.”
When we woke up on November 9th I had to tell her that Hillary didn’t win. She couldn’t understand. “How could he win the vote Mommy? How could more people like a man who said mean things? How could they want him to be their president? Is he our president too, Mommy? Even though we didn’t want him?” I was in my emotions watching her have her first helping of American disappointment. My knee-jerk reaction was to affirm her safety. I told her that we are okay and that we will be okay. I kept saying this over and over throughout this first conversation. I told her that she will hear a lot of adults she loves talking about this. I told her that they will be angry and some of them will be scared. I told her we are not scared. I told her that we put our faith and trust in God and in the people we know and love. I told her that Daddy and I are not scared.
I lied quite a bit in that initial conversation because I needed her to be okay. I needed her to feel grounded, protected and safe. But with my little, and probably with yours too, there is never just one conversation, is there? I’ve had a chance to add to the things I have said to her. I’ve had a chance to expand the things I have said to her.
1. Life is not fair. Good doesn’t always win. Sometimes people lie, cheat and steal and they still seem to win. It’s an ugly truth and one that will take a long time to teach but I’m starting now. I’m talking about the advantages that money, status, family, skin color and gender give to some people. I’m talking about it without flinching. “Life is not always fair baby girl and it always sucks when you see it firsthand. But we don’t do right for the sake of winning. We do right because we believe that right matters. We do right because it enables us to sleep well at night. We do right because we aren’t fighting for our right to be unfair to others. We are fighting for the right to be the rule of the land. We are fighting for right because it is right.”
2. This is why your Mommy doesn’t put her faith in a country. People make mistakes. Countries make mistakes. I pledge allegiance to my God and my family. I pledge my allegiance to the people who love me and show up for me daily. I don’t put my faith in people who just happened to be born in the same country. You can make your own decisions about this as you grow up but for me? I can’t believe in a country that didn’t even consider my ancestors human when it was born. I have tried, baby girl, and America has disappointed me every single time. I’ve had to learn to accept an America that disappoints me. This is my country. This is the land of my birth but it has yet to affirm or protect my personhood and I’m tired of being disappointed.
3. President-elect Cheeto is one person. He represents some scary people in our country. He represents people who hate us for the color of our skin and our gender. I would be doing a disservice to my child to pretend that they don’t exist. His election will make some of them think it is okay to say and do things to us simply because they hate. They will not win. We will love ourselves. We will love our family and our friends. We will watch out for each other and do the best that we can to keep each other safe. That is what we always do when faced with a threat. We stick together. I expect to see you sticking up for your friends who might get picked on by these kinds of people. I expect to see you watching out for the bullies and standing up to them. I expect you to be brave when you are moving in love. I expect your voice to be louder than theirs when you encounter them. I expect you and your friends to stand together for love. I expect you to be proud of who you are and who they are. I expect you to know that people who hate are wrong. Daddy and I will always have your back.
4. People will tell you that you must respect the President. Mommy doesn’t agree with that. We respect people who respect us. We respect the office of the president but when a man holds that office who courts hate you are under no obligation to respect him. None. I will say that again. Do not let anyone tell you that you must respect the man. The office? Yes. The man? No. People EARN respect. This man has done nothing that I respect. I believe that he is dangerous. You do not have to respect people who do not recognize and affirm your humanity. You do not.
5. You are amazing. This election does not change that. You are strong and beautiful and smart and magical. You are everything. We have a history of surviving worse odds than this. The blood running through your veins is strong. It is undefeatable. I believe that we will win. I want you to believe that too.
Dana Russell was born and raised in the Bronx, the birthplace of hip hop. Rhythm and rhyme were her first foods. Dana lives poetry. When she isn't doing all of the things associated with being Mother to a future boss she can be found performing at Ashford and Simpson's Sugar Bar. Dana wears her invisible tiara everywhere she goes and is known in the poetry world as HRH Dana. Don Quixote is one of her heroes and Dana spends an inordinate amount of time tilting at windmills and attempting to love the ugly, messy, beautiful world that we live in.