Friday, November 11, 2016

This Is Where We Are

I don't usually post anything political here (I have another blog for that) because this is my daughters' space, the place where I share about their lives. But the political events of the outside world are having a profound effect on our family and I cannot gloss over this. Silence is not an option that I choose to make.

Like most of the country, we have spent the last year watching the Presidential campaign with its many candidates, sensationalism, and animosity. Steve and I became more and more concerned about the hateful views of one particular candidate, Donald Trump. He was saying incredibly offensive things about all sorts of groups - immigrants, women, Muslims, black people, Jews, the LGTB community, his opponents. He was gaining huge numbers of followers and some of them were carrying out violence against the groups he'd spoken of with such despise. We tried to limit what our kids were seeing, turning off the news when they were in the room and saving our political discussions for after bed time. But media is everywhere and they were listening.

It was early March when Rachel first had The Conversation. It went something like this:
R: Mom, if Donald Trump becomes President will I still be able to go to school with my friends?
J: Yes! You'll stay at your school no matter who is President.
R: If he was President, would I have to go back to China?
J: No! You are an American citizen. No one can send you away. It's against the law.
R: Mama, will he make me live apart from you? Because we don't match?
J: No, honey. No! No one can take you away from me. Ever. And if they tried, Daddy and I would take you and Katherine and we would run and run until we were somewhere safe.

That same conversation has been repeated dozens of times since then. And it never gets any easier. It broke my heart to hear my beloved child feel the need to ask these questions the first time. It makes me angry and sad that she still is asking. Rachel still needs constant reassurance that no one can ever take her away. She was, and is, very much afraid of Donald Trump. She has had nightmares about him. She gets anxious when she hears his voice on TV. She may only be eight, but she very much understands that Trump's rants are directed toward people just like her.

Katherine, at twelve, is old enough to understand many of the issues being debated in politics. She watches and reads and analyzes. She asks questions about candidates and what they stand for. She has asked Steve and I how we vote and is beginning to discern how others vote. She has formed opinions of her own. She has a strong sense of justice and gets angry when people are not treated fairly and she has seen many examples of this during the campaign. She has been vocal about her dislike of Trump and deeply offended by his negative, hurtful comments.

Over the past months, political conversations have become very much a part of our family life. We talk about issues and try to sort out fact from fiction. I've written blog posts and newspaper editorials about issues that affect us. We've campaigned for local political candidates, the girls joining me to march in parades carrying Vote For ____ signs. We've talked about constitutional rights, civil rights, gay rights, the history of women's rights, the legalities of adoption, and dozens of other topics. And through it all has been the long, dark reach of Donald Trump.

For our family, for many families, Donald Trump's language of hate is deeply personal. When he mocked a reporter with physical disabilities, Rachel looked at her own little hand and understood that he was making fun of her. When he called women "pigs" and "ugly", Katherine looked in the mirror and realized he was talking about her. When he spoke of immigrants and shouted "Send them back!" my girls felt that he was talking about them. For us, this election was about far more than just the differences between Democrat and Republican. This was about defending my daughters' rights to be safe and valued.

Wednesday, the day after the election was a difficult day for us. I cried much of the day, overcome with sadness and fear and grief. Not disappointment that the candidate I'd voted for lost, but primal grief over what a Trump presidency could mean for my children.

Rachel has had to deal with the disturbing realization that the person she most fears is going to be her nation's leader. Her nightmares are on their way to coming true. We have had The Conversation multiple times every day. She is very afraid. Steve and I reassure her constantly, but those fears are real. She talks a lot about there needing to be rules about treating people nicely and not making fun of them for their race or their religion or where they were born. She worries about the foster kids in her class at school and about my sadness. She says often, "I just want everybody to be loved." Rachel has an enormous heart and empathy for anyone hurting, even when she is scared. I know from her anxiety and from the repeats of The Conversation that she is scared. And I cannot promise that everything will be okay.

Katherine's reaction to the election results was less emotional, but that was not unexpected. She is still intellectualizing it all and she's not so much scared as angry. She very much understands that half of her country was okay with electing someone who sees her as less valued, less worthy. At dinner the day after the election, she looked at us and said, "People who know me and love me voted for Trump. People who are my friends and may neighbors and even my family. That makes me so MAD!" It's true. And she has every right to be angry.

Katherine goes to school every day and faces fellow middle schoolers doing Trump victory dances in the hall, taunts of "Lock Hillary up!", and comments about building walls to keep "them" out. When I asked Kate if there had been any comments directed toward her specifically, and she said "Nah. Just general Trumpism." Her closest friends have been good support. Together they have tried to "stand up for Hillary Clinton and all the people Trump doesn't like". Brave actions for a 12 year old whose classmates are openly conservative. She lets much of talk just roll off, keeping her cool. Better than I do, I suspect.

Katherine is involved in another group that includes some members close to her age that are constantly spouting racist comments. Nothing is directed specifically toward Kate, but there are all sorts of stereotypes being mentioned. The adults in the group have done a wonderful job of calling out these kids, giving them correct information, redirecting conversations, and doing everything they can to educate everyone and diffuse the situation. They check in with Katherine and support her in many ways and she knows they have her back, but the words these kids use are still hard to hear. When I asked her about it, Katherine said, "They just ignorant. They really don't know anything. I don't care about them, so it doesn't really bother me." And she shrugged it off.

Katherine and I have talked about micro-aggression, the tiny little incidents of racism and sexism that she faces every day. Things like, "Well you got an A on your math test because you're Asian and Asians are smart." Or "You'd be prettier if you wore a dress." Or "Is that your REAL sister?" Girls and women get these little comments all the time. So do Asians and anyone else not obviously white. So do adopted kids. So do politically liberal people in Kansas. Katherine is all of these things, so she faces a lot of crap. Every. Single. Day. And all of those little comments and incidents pile up and get bigger and more stressful. Katherine is handling this all admirably well right now, but some day her hurt and angry will surface and the little things will become big.

All of us are struggling right now. This week has been hard and the weeks and months to come bring issues we are only beginning to imagine. The change in administration will bring new, and most likely unwelcome, changes in the lives of all citizens. We are probably facing cuts to education, health care restrictions, environmental destruction, and the revoking of civil rights for whole groups of people. That angers and frightens me. My family, Steve and Katherine and Rachel and I, are also steeling ourselves for possible attacks of a deeply personal nature. Only a few days post election, there has been a significant rise in hate crimes based on race. Racist graffiti, verbal threats, physical attacks, and at least one death have already been reported. We are a multi-racial family and these kinds of incidents could easily be aimed at us. Trump has talked frequently about his intolerance for immigration and is filling his transition team and his cabinet with people who share these views. My girls are United States citizens, documented and fully legal. Despite Rachel's fears, they can never be sent back to China. They could, however, be forced to carry citizenship papers with them to prove their legality. They could have to register their identities so that governmental agencies can track them. They could have their adoptions scrutinized. These things have actually happened to groups in America and some of them still are happening. This could be Rachel's future, Katherine's future.

One of the things that all of us are struggling with is how to explain and understand how so many people voted for Donald Trump. Half our country. Half of our country has chosen a leader whose words and actions and political vision are based on fear and anger and exclusion. Who has openly said that women and immigrants and Asians and people with physical differences don't matter. That I don't matter. That my children don't matter. We take that very, very personally. Katherine sees her relatives' Trump votes as a betrayal. And it is. If you support Trump's vision for America, then you are supporting a vision that does not leave a place at the table for us. And that hurts.

We know that the vast majority of people who voted for Mr. Trump are not evil. They are not using demeaning language and perpetuating violence. I know the friends and neighbors and relatives who know and love me and my girls never meant to hurt us. But they did. My family, and many others, have been wounded by this election. We will work hard to heal ourselves and mend the relationships that have cracked these months and weeks, but we will always carry the scars. We are sad and we are scared and these feelings are real.

What we need now is space and support. Our grief is real and it is valid. We have the right to be sad and angry and afraid. It will take us a while to process all that has happened to us, so please be gentle. We need hugs. We need words of support. We need the freedom to cry or scream without judgement. We need people who are willing to just listen. Please do not dismiss our fears, mine or my girls'. Don't tell us we're overreacting. Don't say there is nothing to worry about. Certainly don't tell us that Trump doesn't really mean what he says. What is happening to my family is real and it is hard.

What we also need, what many, many people in our country need, are allies. If you want to help my family, then stand up for every injustice that you see. Refuse to allow your friends and co-workers use racist language. Point out instances of sexism. Protest racial discrimination. Seek out ways to help immigrants. Learn about other religions and other cultures. If you see someone being bullied or attacked, step in. Write letters and sign petitions and work to pass laws to protect those without power. Stop and think "What if this was my daughter? What if that were my son?" and react accordingly. Do not remain silent, because silence will not keep us safe.

This is where we are. This is what we are facing. I thought you should know.

1 comment:

  1. The hardest thing about this election has been talking to my kids about how people they know, and sometimes love, can support someone who is so blatantly against everything we have taught them is fair and just. Like you we've avoided letting our younger kids be exposed to media lately and we've talked it out A LOT with our older kids.


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