Courageous Conversations: Talking To Brown Babies About The Election

There’s a fine balance between acknowledging pain and empowering action.

There are plenty of times in my life when it’s hard to be an adult. Having four daughters combined with my background is school counseling and family coaching means I’ve answered many questions that would make other adults shutter.

Eight years ago, after voting in the historic election that brought us President Barack Obama, I sat in my home, which had just been been burglarized, watching him take the stage, and I felt a hope like I could never imagine. Not believing that everything would be perfect, but cautiously optimistic.

At 2:35 a.m., November 9th I rolled over and checked my phone for election results and I realized it’s a different world than it was only a few hours ago. The masks have been dropped and I see many things more clearly.

I am more cautious, than optimistic this time around.

I’ve said very little publicly about the election. Believing that those who know me, know my values. I awake on November 9th with the sad reminder that although I live and work in a diverse area, my friends, colleagues and neighbors may in fact feel much differently than I do. It’s uncomfortable to begin questioning how those around you truly see you. How they value, or do not value who you are.

This processing brings a sadness that is hard to explain. Seeing my 9-year-old do the same, hurts.

Many will say this election is about issues like abortion or traditional family values. Some will be bold enough to acknowledge it’s also about reclaiming the American dream of financial prosperity. And with those thoughts it may be easier to see how a wealthy man could be chosen over an experienced public servant. 

Few, however, will tell the truth about some of the darker, underlying reasons Donald Trump was elected president. Those that include racist, sexist beliefs and possibly most importantly, fear.

Like many parents and educators, I was faced this morning with young children asking me, “Why?” and “How?”

As hard as it was, it was the prime opportunity for courageous conversations.

I saw a post by a fellow Huffington contributor, which gave some good ideas for how to respond to questions from students. I liked her response, focusing on hope and the judicial system’s checks and balances, but it doesn’t completely connect with me, as an African American mother, because my children, with their brown skin, live different lives than their white counter parts.

I woke up this morning knowing I will have to explain to my daughters that we will pray and use our voices so that their brown skinned friends aren’t deported. I am hurt by my children’s confusion, as they struggle to understand how one who encourages people to beat others for their opinions could forge a path straight to the highest office in this country. This is one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had with my children. 

I have to explain something that I myself don’t understand. 

I am grateful for my faith. I am grateful I can tell my children God still has a plan and ALL the control. I am grateful that I can use this to teach them that we have to use our power to vote, our right to vote, knowing that many did not. 

I wish I had something more profound to say, but there are things I will likely repeat many times in the coming months.

First, I will look them in the eye and tell them in spite of what the vote may make them feel, they do matter as do all black lives. Having intelligent children who understand that laws aren’t always enforced equally doesn’t make that conversation any easier. Teaching brown children to trust the political and judicial processes in this country is a hard sale. While systemic racism and judicial misconduct isn’t new, it’s more visible than it was before so many are rightfully skeptical. I will encourage them to use the process to the fullest extent.

Next, I will tell them their feelings are important, valid and understandable. I also told them this morning that I shared many of their concerns. That disappointment is natural and that the questions have about the community in which they live are also reasonable. I will not tell them that they have nothing to fear, dismissing their feelings is not what they need from me.

I will continue to tell them that there is still and always has been a place in this country for questions and that we will continue to pray and expect answers.

But most importantly I will tell them not to be afraid, because fear can cause good people to make bad decisions.

Fear is a powerful emotion. Like no other, it has the ability to turn neighbors into the “us” and “them”. It has the power to turn “our rights” to “my rights” and it notorious for making “different”, “wrong”. 

There’s a Mr. Rogers quote that reminds children when bad things happen, which they sometimes do, that we should always look for the helpers. This morning I reminded my children that not only do we have access to the ultimate helper, but we also can be the helpers. 

There’s a fine balance between acknowledging pain and empowering action. Encouraging calm yet not dismissing discomfort. As a mom, I’ve never tread a line so tightly and I know many other parents and teachers will feel the same way. Courageous conversations is what we need today, full of honesty and emotion, at times uncomfortable, but leaving room for further discussion. 

I will not tell them I have all the answers. I will acknowledge that not having all the answers is hard, but it’s also a good place to start. 



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