(Note: I have written and deleted this entry seven times. Just thought you should know…)
My job is to talk about difficult issues.
My job is to research, teach, explore, examine, support, and introduce difficult issues. And, yes, occasionally, I write about them, too.
But, today has felt different because I often write in reflection, in retrospection, and in examples of events in my life as a parent, teacher, scholar, research and practitioner.
So, to write a piece about “How to Talk to Your Children Post-Election” is nearly impossible because, well, I haven’t yet talked to my children. For the past week, I’ve been traveling around the United States and internationally. So, I haven’t talked to my three children.
And, I won’t see them for another few days, either.
But, I already have a feeling what that conversation is going to look like. They’ll reflect on the phrases we’ve heard and conversations we’ve had over the past 18 months about anger, fear, language, equity and kindness. They’ll reflect on the actions they’ve heard about that violate our U.S. constitution. They’ll reflect on the amped up rhetoric that affect our families and their friends.
In our house where we openly discuss issues of identity, my children are likely feeling a certain kind of way about the election results; but, make no mistake, my children also are very aware of the history of our country and that these words we have heard from this President-elect are words that have echoed throughout our nation’s history.
But, I have far more questions than answers and advice. Admittedly, some of this is written out of frustration. Some of this is written out of kindness and urgency.
All of this is written as a call to action and to begin asking the impolite questions of ourselves.
To teachers, if you did not actively include identity in your classes or lessons or morning circles or read alouds, I’m not asking you to suddenly do it. I’m asking you to think about why you weren’t doing it in the first place. I’m not kidding. I appreciate that this feels a little bit like a call-out rather than a call-in, but our election results have me feeling a certain kind of way. Yes, sure, read that book in class. Yes, grab your book bin that is filled with identity texts. Those are helpful for our students as they affirm identities and, more importantly, reading these texts demonstrate to them that YOU affirm their identities. But, really, I’m begging you to think about why you weren’t doing it already. Is it structural? Do we need to change aspects of our schedule? Our curriculum? Our daily format? I’m serious. What can we do so that you feel ready, empowered, or interested in including this teaching tool as a way to engage in this dialogue on identity? Or, is this dialogue as important as anything else you are doing in class? Yes, I am asking you, #doesthismatter ?
To parent and caring adults, what do you need in order to talk about identity in your homes? What do you risk? What do you lose? What do you fear? What do you want to protect your child(ren) from? What messages are you sending to your child(ren) about identity dialogues? What do you want to learn? What do you need to learn? What do you want to talk about with other adults? Our children look to our adult community for safety, stability, and security. Yet, regardless of who you voted for, if you were able, our country is waking up a divided nation. How do you want to talk about this with your children who, for the next four years, will experience this social climate? What do you gain by not talking about it at all? What do you lose?
To administrators and leaders and aspiring leaders, what does leadership look like in a time of division? What does it mean to support leadership? What does it mean to challenge leadership? What does it mean to be charged with unifying a divided community? What does it mean to be disappointed in leadership or to be fully energized by leadership? What expectations do we have of leaders? What role do we play in supporting or disrupting leadership?
Finally, I want to caution us, as caring adults, about promises. There is a blog post going around with advice to adults about what to tell children. I loved most of these sentiments — that bigotry is not a democratic value (yet, our current election has proven us wrong) and that bigotry is not tolerated in our schools (I totally believe this at our school).
While this is comforting, I am compelled to respond from my lens as a woman of color and as a race scholar, particularly about “I will protect you.” Unless you are willing to go to court or be there when INS shows up at a family’s home or throw yourself in the pathway of anti-Muslim taunting, please know that you, singularly, cannot protect people. Unless you can be everywhere at all times, you cannot protect people who are targets of hate and bigotry. Democratic processes and laws are only as good as the folks who believe that they apply to them. We have laws that protect LGBT communities, yet my newsfeed is often filled with hate crimes and violence against people in this community. We have laws against assault and brutality, yet we have witnessed how those laws do not always protect people.
I write that paragraph not to dissuade folks from allying with communities; however, I do write it because I do not want to pretend as if minoritized people are always protected. We can have agency in our own classrooms and in the small hallways of our school (I make this distinction between our school and larger schools). Yet, we would be naive to believe that our students have not made homophobic, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and classist comments to each other. And, as we know, we cannot protect our students who leave our campus and then walk through life outside of our campus.
Over the past few hours, i have found great comfort being in the presence of other race and identity scholars and practitioners. We exchange knowing looks; simple nods; hugs; holding hands; and deep breaths together. I sit through sessions about race and identity; am comforted by the weight of a hardcover book in my hands (one that centers around race — I picked it up after the election results); and appreciate being seen and heard.
It is important for us, as adults, to process our feelings about a divided country. And, it’s important to find ways to move forward. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But, eventually, we have to keep pressing on (note: not moving on .. there is a difference!). Ask young people (and each other), “What’s one thing you can do this week to press on?”
I think about how future generations will look back upon this time when they study this moment in history; and I look forward to the many ways that we can generate ideas and action to shape a more inclusive and equitable community.
Peace and Park,