When Barak Obama was elected President in 2008 I stood in my living room with the boys and watched history being made. And I made the dangerous assumption that this was a signal that clearly racism was no longer a part of the world at all. It’s also true that in the moment because of where I had lived for my entire lifetime I had no idea about racism to begin with. It’s likely what helped me to make the sort of ignorant leap that I did that day, that things were over with. It was what let me with all my white skin not have to worry about that anymore.
Now after living in California for six years, I have had the wool pulled clear off of my eyes. Through the people I have met, the stories I have heard and what I have witnessed myself I have come to understand a completely different story. Please don’t get me wrong, I am quite juvenile in my understanding at this point. I am still undoing my own misunderstandings, seeing how ignorance has wound it’s way into my own thinking, my own actions and reactions and how privilege can put on some serious blinders. I am no where near expert on this topic, no where near, I have much work to do to learn and grown and understand. I do feel like I am awake now. And I can’t be that woman who stood in her living room that night and believed race issues where behind us. Because I have two human beings watching me closely, for some guidance in how to be in the world.
Two nights ago when a whole different kind of election result rolled in, these two human beings were still watching me. I had said from the comfort of my privilege more than once that if Donald Trump was elected I would flee the country and head back to my homeland. I said it with the kind of certainty that comes from knowing I would never have to follow through on that action. The media, my husband, all my FB friends convinced me into believing that this would NEVER happen. And so I could toss about threats like that. I could sit back in my comfort zone of “I’m not allowed to vote here,” and hide out waiting for the election to be over already. But then it began to happen. And while I drove with my youngest son having an anxiety attack in the back seat about Donald Trump becoming president something broke inside of me. I don’t even know if broke is the right word. Something inside of me shattered. And my own ignorance poured out in front of me. I knew I had to do better by my children. I had to step up and be a leader for them.
My journey as a mother has been committed to being the parent they need me to be. Looking to them for guidance as to what stories I need to rewrite so I can continue to show up with love and connection. For building them up so that they have the tools to go out into the world and make it a better place. I have used a lot of words along the way and some action for sure but in this moment of election results that shook a nation to it’s core, I realized I had a lot more work to do. It was time for my actions to speak louder than my words. So when my son asked me “are we moving back to Canada mom?” with both worry and confusion in his voice I explained, “I never should have said that. It was a selfish thing to say. I think the best thing we can do is stay here and work hard to help our friends who have ever right to be afraid. We are safe. We will continue to be safe under this new leadership. But I’m not confidant that is true for all the people we live alongside. So let’s find out how we can help.” I will be honest, I was surprised by how relieved he was with this answer.
In this unthinkable moment, I knew I had to step up and be a leader for my children. At a time when a country was electing someone who had, in the kindest description, been a bully and rewarded for it, I needed to show them a different sort of leadership. If my hope was for them to stand up for their friends in the face of adversity I was going to have to give them some examples of what that looked like. If I was going to hope that they would use their privilege to help others in life, I was going to have give them some concrete examples of what that looked like. Because it is true that my sons see what is wrong with the election results. They understand how woman have to work harder in this world. They have a solid knowledge base but I’m not sure they know what to do with all of that.
This was my lesson. To see that my words to date have served well but they are no longer enough. My sons are getting older. They need me to show them how to stand strong in the face of adversity. They need to know what action looks like when you stand up and use your voice to help those who have lost their’s. And that doesn’t come from packing up all your belongings and running away to keep your own self righteousness intact. It means standing boots on the ground and saying “I will fight for your rights, with all the privilege I have.” I don’t think there has been a moment in my life where I have felt so called to action, to be the leader for my children, in how to make the world a safe place for all the people. I know things now that I can’t un-know. And turning away feels like the action of a coward. I want courage for my children, for all the life ahead of them. So I put that courage in my own hands right now and lead them.
I am far from having all the answers of what that will look like in the coming weeks, months and years. I do know it starts now with small acts, each day, that they can witness in me. Yesterday, it looked like walking to neighbors homes who we had not spoken to in the three years of living here, with a bag of cookies and saying “Hi, I’m your neighbor and today felt like a good day to share a little kindness.” And you know what. My son who says “I don’t talk to strangers ever mom.” stood by my side at each of those houses, by choice. Today and for all the tomorrows, it will look like similar acts of small kindness, eye to eye contact, a smile, holding the door open, buying a stranger a cup of coffee. As well, I will continue to learn what is broken in a system that does not support all the people and use what I know to lead these young men forward. I will examine my own privilege and the shelter it has given me and how best to use that to insist on shelter for everyone. To show in actions, these young men, that courage beats fear every time and that LOVE aways wins over hate.