That Was Then, This Is Now

This week my thirteen-year-old son remarked that the U.S. presidential election is a lot like Pokémon Go. “How’s that?” I asked.

My son explained that two of the Pokémon teams, Valor and Mystic, are at war. “I’m biased,” he said, “because I’m in Mystic. Not to be ‘team-ist’, but Valor acts more like the Republican Party and Team Mystic acts more like the Democrats.” He went on to tell me a story he heard, where a restaurant owned by members of Team Valor gave Valor members a discount while charging members of Mystic more. “But to be fair,” he said, “there are examples of Team Mystic doing that same thing.”

“So what do you think about that?” I asked him. “Is it fair for one team to charge members of another team more? What if the restaurant were owned by white people and they gave discounts to white people, but charged black people more?”

“That wouldn’t be fair,” he decided. “That would be racist.”

This is not the first time we’ve talked about racism (or other social justice issues). This election year has not been pretty. No, it’s been pretty horrifying at times, but I have not shielded my kids from the ugliness. Instead, we talk about the things we hear candidates say and how those things could affect our country.

My sons are growing up in a different world than the one I grew up in. When I was in middle school twenty-something years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to hear racial slurs from my older relatives. I lived in a small town in Arizona, not far from the Mexican border. I’d estimate a third of my classmates were Latino. Some were new immigrants to our country, some came from families who had been U.S. citizens for several generations. I don’t remember thinking about race much—my classmates were simply my friends—until it was brought to my attention. One message I heard from a family member was I shouldn’t date boys from other races because if we ever had kids they’d be “mixed-race children” and wouldn’t fit in with society. Now I have a nephew who is bi-racial, and while I’m not naïve enough to think he’ll never experience racism, I truly hope he’ll live in a better world than the one I knew.

I had friends in high school who I later learned were part of the LGBTQIA community. Even though I knew gay people existed in the world, I didn’t know much about them or the issues they faced. At the time, I had no idea there was diversity within the LGBTQIA community, that people identify in different ways. Looking back, I understand why my friends had to keep that part of their identity secret. Coming out in a small town like mine was dangerous. At best, you would have been ridiculed and shunned. At worst, you might have been beaten or killed.

I recognize that my children and I are privileged. We’re white, heterosexual Christians. No one questions our race, sexuality, or religion. We’ve never had our citizenship questioned. None of us have disabilities, so we have not been ridiculed or patronized for that. No matter how much we discuss social justice in our home, my boys still have more privilege than other people in society, and while they can be allies, there is no walking in other people’s shoes. Not really. My children can have empathy and be educated on issues, but there is no educational experience that will make them understand how much privilege they truly have.

Still, I’m hopeful about their generation. My kids were in pre-school when our first black president was elected. They have no memory of a president before Obama. They have had friends of all different races, and even some from different countries. They’ve had teachers and role models who identify as LGBTQIA, and they are aware that some of my friends are members of that community. They accept all of these people as family and friends—as equals. It’s that simple for them.

My boys see the ugliness of the election for what it is—bullying—and they know bullying is wrong. They speak up when they see bullying happen at school, and they and their friends stand up for classmates.

So, as worried as I feel about the outcome of this election and the thought that electing Trump could negatively affect the lives of friends who aren’t white, or heterosexual, or Christian, (among many other concerns I have about his policies), I’m not worried about one thing. I believe my sons’ generation will hold to their values of accepting and respecting others. They will be resilient, no matter who becomes the next president.

By the way, I asked my son what he thought about having a president who was a woman. He shrugged. The idea wasn’t novel. Why would it be? He’s known teachers, principals, dentists, and doctors who were women. Both of his parents have doctoral degrees. His grandmother served as mayor in our hometown. In his mind, a woman can be whatever she wants to be. When I was growing up in the late twentieth century, the idea of a woman as president was frowned upon. Know what? I like the twenty-first century better.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016

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