Author Jacqueline Woodson considers the effect of Trump’s election on our children in her article “How Do I Comfort My Frightened Son after the Election? I Tell Him How Our People Have Survived” in Sunday’s New York Times magazine:
“When I was a child in South Carolina, survival was never a question. My grandparents, only a generation removed from enslavement and having witnessed the cruelty of this country’s racism daily, from the Whites Only signs that plagued pools and restaurants to the way they were forced to walk through their Southern world — eyes downcast from white folks, “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir” more rule than reverence — knew that this was just where they were at this moment. Nothing surprised them. Nothing was shocking. They had seen black men hanging from trees, images of Emmett Till’s brutal beating, German shepherds unleashed on children, 6-year-old Ruby Bridges being spat on by grown white men and women. In all my childhood, I never heard my grandparents say that anything shocked or surprised them. They knew what their country was capable of.
Still, our nights, spent on the front porch, were as sweet as the tea my grandmother made and filled with stories of their everyday living. While so many of the stories are long forgotten, what stays with me is the way they could take a bitter moment, lace it with a turn of phrase or cluck of the tongue and excavate humor. More than once I heard my grandmother say, “I’m laughing to keep from crying.” As a child, I didn’t know what that meant. I do now. In this way, my grandparents moved through the South, through the civil rights movement, through the country’s violent resistance to change, the rage of white people, the many deaths of black people. And like so many from their generation, they didn’t live to see the changes they had fought so hard for.
My son is 8 years old. He wears glasses and has curly brown hair with a green mohawk, an affinity for “Calvin and Hobbes” and a developing tween-edged sarcasm that makes a mother do an I know you didn’t just say what I thought I heard you say double-take. He is tall for his age, has a deep aversion to guns, knows who Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice are, has never known this country without a brown president whose platform was Hope. For my son, enormous change, up to this point, has been theoretical. He has always lived in his house, always been circled by the same big sister, parents, bevy of aunts and uncles and cousins. Walking toward a greater good has been drummed into his marrow. And as the numbers came in on election night I watched him head to his room, his head down, his shoulders curving into his chest. I saw my son bending against the shattered promises of not only his country but also his own family.
When I was a child, we never began a meal without prayer. We thanked God for the food, for each other. My grandparents always ended the prayer with “And most of all, thank you for giving us all another day.” I didn’t understand the need to be thankful for being able to wake up and walk — however we were walking — through the world. But now I do. So each evening, before starting our meal, we say what we’re grateful for and what kind act we witnessed, were a part of. Some days, my son can come up with no more than “I was nice to Toffee,” our dog, and “I’m grateful for mashed potatoes.” We’ll take it, because we know he’s growing to understand that one of the many rules of life is kindness. But on election night, as my son headed downstairs, he was slowly beginning to understand new truths: that the people who love you cannot always protect you, that unkindness can be a platform for the presidency. That we can fight and write and teach and learn and hug away tears and bandage scraped knees and bring glasses of water into bedrooms at midnight but that this country is bigger than the beliefs of the family that loves him.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” my son said, and I knew it would soon be time for him to know the deeper truths of this country. It would soon be time to tell him about what I saw this year: the Confederate flags in my own childhood home of South Carolina and in Alabama, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Virginia, Georgia — even in his home state of New York. It would soon be time to tell him that this country’s earliest history is one of unkindness. That the blood of his ancestors was expendable, priced along with stocks of cotton and gold. I knew the time was coming now, in the heart of his devastation and fear, with each question he asked — Will he really build a wall? Is he going to send my friends away? — to tell him that we as a people had not been meant to survive and yet we survived anyway. “You come from people who have always made a way out of no way,” I said as I rubbed his back. “We’ll get through.” And maybe both of us fell asleep believing this.”