It is a little difficult to comprehend, even for a parent, but children are hearing and watching everything that they encounter in their lives. I know that my wife and I constantly remind each other that our little girl is present and paying attention to our every move. This was never more evident than one night when my wife and I decided to watch the movie “The Hate You Give,” because my wife had read the book of which the movie was based. While there was very little violence, there was some adult language, and very challenging themes and ideas mainly focusing on the issue of race.
At 9:30pm my wife declared that it was bath time and both my wife and daughter headed upstairs for night time routine. This happened at about the time there was fifteen minutes left in the film. I asked if she wanted to stick around to see the conclusion and she replied, “I’ve read the book so I know what happens.” At the same moment my daughter Alivia, whom we assumed was playing and involved with her own program on her iPad, said, “I know what happened, too.” My wife and I just kind of rolled our eyes and giggled saying, “Alrighty then, tell us what happened.” Our jaws hit the floor when she gave us an exact summary of what occurred in order of how the film transpired in real time for all of us. My wife and I did not realize that our three-year-old daughter was paying attention, seeing what we see.
While the election of Donald Trump as president has been very challenging for me for a number of reasons, I have never wanted him to not succeed and moreover was truly hoping he would turn into the leader that many of his supporters voted for, leading our nation to a more prosperous future. Alas, to my ultimate dismay, this week has proven that not only is he failing at being a leader for our country, he is failing at being a good and decent human being and most of all being an example for our children that are constantly listening and watching.
I do not approach this opinion as a voter nor as someone that has more liberal leanings, socially speaking, but rather through the one lens that I feel is most important when evaluating anything in my life in its current context: The Parental Lens. It is this lens that provides a litmus test for practically every issue for me, political or otherwise, and it is because of this lens that I simply have to ask Trump supporters. Would you approve of your child saying things that Trumps says or acting like Trump acts on a daily basis? Would such words and actions warrant a parental response or consequence? I would argue that most parents would at the very least say something to their children about such abhorrent behavior probably going so far as to take away a cell phone as punishment to keep the child from engaging on social media. But, really what would you do if your child was speaking so crudely and acting in a constant bullying fashion towards any person?
For days, I have listened to ideological arguments from both sides of the political spectrum about the issue of race and the articulation of what being a racist is. For the most part journalists and publications of all political fashions called out Trump’s quotes directly as racist speech. The famous, Pulitzer Prize winning historian John Meacham said, “Trump has joined Andrew Johnson as the most racist president in history.” Many other national leaders, scholars, and authors agreed. However, I have seen a large effort to actually justify the idea and reasoning behind such speech as speech used to comment on one’s particular political ideology or beliefs going as far as to suggest these ideas are treasonous, traitorous, un-American crimes warranting death. Ironically, this idea is un-American and while we can argue in civil discourse about what direction the country should or shouldn’t go, we cannot disguise certain words and phrases as merely political statements for the opposition, but rather should expose them for what they are, words and phrases that are used in racist speech by White Nationalists.
What is truly horrible about this, is that while I expect this kind of rhetoric and behavior from Trump as he has participated and condoned such speech before, never in my wildest dreams did I think that one half of our elected officials would actually justify and support such horrible speech by the leader of the free world. Four people in this party voted with all Democrats and one Independent to condemn the language of the president, one of them being the sole black Republican Congressman from Texas. Many people may not believe that this was an important vote of resolve, however it is the first time a vote like this has taken place since 1912. It puts Trump in the congressional history books forever as a president that racially attacked four elected members of Congress. And yet, 187 Republicans will have to explain to their black colleague why they voted to not condemn such a racial attack. This is at the very least enabling this kind of messaging and at worst identifying with it.
Where have we gone so wrong, in not even being able to agree as to what constitutes racist language in civilized society in 2019? Hypothetically, even if we cannot come to a majority consensus as to whether Trump’s tweets were racist there is absolutely no arguing they were and are harmful, hurtful, hateful, and above all discriminatory and harassing in almost any environment. In schools, if a student were to say something like this, he or she could be suspended or expelled for using hateful speech that would in turn disrupt the organic disbursement of knowledge equally to all other students within the school. If an employee of a government institution were to use this insulting and harassing language in the workplace, the employee would be terminated immediately, as such language is grounds for immediate dismissal. If you were to use this particular speech at any public forum especially around people of color, you would most certainly be inferred to as a person that harbors ignorant, racist viewpoints. If you were a supporter yelling, “Send her back,” at the Trump rally last night, you are currently being equated to attending a fascist rally spewing racist, White Nationalist rhetoric. How cannot we not agree that “go back to the country where you came from,” no matter how it is said or used is not racist language? We have historical archives at our disposal exposing our country’s ugly history with race relations, making blatantly clear that Trump’s words are in fact racist, even if he did not intend to use them in this manner. For the record, tiki-torch bearing White Nationalists do.
Which again begs the question. Would you the parent, allow your child to speak and act like this in public? Looking through the parental lens, I can honestly say that I, like many parents, wear a variety of hats trying to do my very best to protect, love, and teach my daughter how to grow in loving kindness and care to empathize and respect all human beings. To me, this is the number one job I have as a parent, and it is more important than ever these days, because most of all, the election of Trump has displayed in such an ugly fashion that we are losing our humanity, or the ability to connect and relate to each other as human beings. We as a country have always been divided on political issues. However, never in our history has such a broad display of racist language and behavior been a political asset for a political leader. Trump has made being racist or speaking and acting in a racist manner popular amongst his base, and our being desensitized from it amongst other things has allowed for this vile and disgusting vacuum of racist language and action to be our new normal. For the record, it is not normal and my sincere hope is that we as parents look through our parental lenses to ensure that children who are listening and watching understand that language like this is wrong, hurtful, and dangerous, and using such language will have consequences.
Because, like my three-year-old daughter Alivia, all kids are paying attention, imitating the adults in the room, and playing back what they are hearing and seeing in real time. As my wife and I watch the news every evening, Alivia has asked about certain topics she sees. For instance she asked, “Why are those kids in cages Ma’ma?, seeing the images displayed on CBS News. This is incredibly difficult to explain to a three-year-old, because it is not normal. None of what is happening currently is normal, and from parent to parent, I sincerely hope that you would not allow your child to speak or act like this. I hope you would talk to your children about the power of words and actions and the affect they have on others. I hope we as parents set a good example for how to speak and act for our children, examples like my mother set over thirty years ago.
As someone that grew up in the south, I was surrounded by racist speech. Whether it was at school, another public forum, or at home sometimes, I was inundated with racist language or viewpoints as a young child. This was especially hard to comprehend because I had many black friends. In fact, my best friend growing up, Brent Edwards was black. During the school year my grandparents on my father’s side came to visit at our house for a week. I loved my grandparents, but my grandfather was a dug-in racist, using the N-word constantly around me and the rest of my family. One night at dinner, my grandfather was using this word in casual speech around our table in front of the entire family. This was just truly normal for him. Seeing that this was making my sister and I uncomfortable and being incensed herself, my mother stood up to my grandfather saying, “We do not use that kind of language in this house. Dustin and Chelsea both have black friends at school, and this kind of language will not be tolerated anymore. Do you understand?” My grandfather was angry, tried to justify his speech further, to which my mother shook her head and said, “No, we will not have this in our house ever!” And that was the end of it.
This did not stop my grandfather from being racist, but it did stop his using racist language and statements in public. My mom demonstrated real courage, because my grandfather could also be a bully like Trump. It could not have been an easy or comfortable moment in conversation, but it was needed more than ever to teach me that enabling negative words and behavior to continue or not speaking up or standing up for what is right in the moment is to condone, justify, and agree with such speech and actions allowing for a new kind of normal to infect and spread without fear of consequence. We all need to act like my mother did thirty years ago. Individuals can have civil discourse about policies and beliefs, but to not stand up to clearly racist speech is to enable it and identify with it.
We need to be better examples for our children and have uncomfortable, difficult conversations with family members, friends, and all manners of folks concerning this issue and what Trump is currently saying and doing. It may be uncomfortable but we need to do it. Thank you Mom, for your example. I will do the best I can to follow in your footsteps by standing up for what is right for Alivia because God knows, she is certainly paying attention.