“I know why the dandelion grows. It grows to spite the rock.”
When I was a little girl, I remember seeing my mother cry for the first time. This wasn’t the sort of cry you could quickly laugh off into a napkin in hopes of hiding it from your children. It was thunderous – her body quaked and bent in a shape that frightened me. She was on her knees. It was as if I was watching my mother’s spirit breaking in front of me.
Later, I would learn that was the day my mother experienced racism at her job – a job where she was the only woman with a skin tone darker than the eyes of the man who hired her. She was a single black mother finding the strength to welcome her children home from school after her own boss told her she was unwelcome at her workplace. She had two little girls to support on her own. And that night, she did not know how she would do it.
I sat beside her on the floor, which was covered in a blanket of freshly printed résumés. She held me there. I listened to the decrescendo of her sobs. What she said to me next, I would never forget:
“I know why the dandelion grows. It grows to spite the rock.”
I did not know what she meant then, but I know now. And it was the first of many lessons she would teach me about what it means to thrive in an environment designed to exterminate you.
Decades later, as I am on my way to California ahead of the 2016 election, I began to think about Republican nominee Donald Trump. I started to ruminate on Trump’s abhorrently offensive comments about women, his well-documented acts of racism, his hopes to stop Muslims entering the U.S., his claim that Mexican immigrants were ‘rapists’ and all of the other heartwarming things he has said throughout his divisive and controversial campaign.
It was the first of many lessons she would teach me about what it means to thrive in an environment designed to exterminate you.
I thought about my nieces hearing a presidential nominee’s recorded voice utter the word “pussy” on CNN and the description of sexual assault being referred to as “locker room talk.” I thought of the Southern black church that was burned down, and the triumphant phrase “VOTE TRUMP” spray-painted on the charred wall. I remembered the Trump supporter who stabbed an interracial couple in Washington. I recalled the black man who was assaulted at the Trump rally, a black Trump supporter being thrown out of a Trump rally and the presidential candidate prompting rally-goers to commit acts of violence. We are still reeling from headlines featuring a massacre at a gay night club in Florida and watching heart-wrenching videos of unarmed black men getting shot by police on a monthly basis.
At a time like this, it is easy to become fatigued in a world that seems to be breeding hatred at an unprecedented rate. Hours before the election results are in, we are left with homework we aren’t sure how to complete. Where we go from here is more of a geographical question than a moral one. Instead of searching for ways to immigrate to Canada, we should learn how to survive where we are planted.
If we try to squeeze our way through concrete alone, we may fail. But as a country, we have the strength to acknowledge the depth of the barriers that still need to be broken. And we have the power to grow together.
When they pull us by the necks, hang on to our roots.
This election may have drained many of our will to speak up, but we can express a lot without saying a word. If you ever feel powerless and speechless, remember those who have sacrificed to give you a voice. Remember July Perry, who was tied to a car, dragged through the city streets of Orlando, shot, lynched and hung out on display with a sign that read, “this is what we do to niggers who try to vote.” Remember the 1975 extension of the Voting Rights Act, which helped the Latino community end voting discrimination against “language minorities.” Remember Susan B. Anthony, who fought tirelessly in the women’s suffrage movement and now has “I voted” stickers placed by fans at her gravesite – despite Trump supporters encouraging Americans to #Repealthe19th.
we cannot begin to prepare the young without leading by example.
It is easy to wilt when you look at our dark history as a nation. Our soil is rich with blood spilt over many years and wars. The very anthem designed to bind our country is riddled with racist rhetoric. No one wants to talk about it – either out of embarrassment or sheer exhaustion. Our history books have maintained a status quo by leaving out vital material. In a way, over the years, we have earned Trump. We raised him. Many agree that Trump is the result of our failed education system, which is lacking in updated civics, socioeconomics, politics, financial literacy, and environmental courses. But it doesn’t end there – our educators are responsible for teaching our future leaders, and yet they are paid less than doctors and lawyers. Our children aren’t being exposed to people from different religions and cultures. Just as children are taught how to count, they can be taught how to hate. It is our responsibility not to shield our children from the lessons that make us uncomfortable, but to teach them the values that can prepare them to be honorable citizens and enable them to make ethical decisions about our country.
But we cannot begin to prepare the young without leading by example. If we are unfamiliar with a religion or a race different from our own, we must take the time to expose ourselves to different experiences, ask questions, and diffuse fear with knowledge. If we hear something that troubles us to our core, we must talk about it. Leaning on each other for catharsis at a time of bewildering fear and hatred can help mend wounds from our country’s past. We cannot heal unless we are willing to talk about how we got these scars – no matter how unpleasing they are to look at.
When they call us a “weed,” remember that we are flowers.
I know you are tired. I know this election has left you feeling beaten and ripped apart before you even had a chance to flourish. I know they have poured layer upon layer of pavement on our backs. The dandelion is considered an unwelcome weed. And there are many means taken to eradicate it from carefully groomed lawns and power-washed sidewalks. If we can determine the character of a stranger not by the language they speak or the hue of their skin, but by the color of their humanity, we can grow again. Adversity makes your life’s story all the more beautiful. You have earned the right to thrive where your roots are planted. No matter how this election goes, you are worthy of sunlight. I urge you to bloom – in spite of the rock.