A Letter to My Ten Year Old Son Upon The Election of Donald Trump To The Office of President
I wrote this letter back in November and held onto it because I felt like it sounded a bit alarmist. I opened it again just a couple of weeks ago and I was surprised to discover that I’m not sure it’s alarmist enough. I’m sharing it now because I want all my children to understand my heart about the rhetoric of our current president. I want them to join me in grieving the state of our nation. We are having a lot of conversations at our house about racism and hateful words as people around us ask what on earth is happening in America, so this letter reflects this dialogue that has been happening in our house for a while now.
This week you said to me:
Donald Trump won? What does that mean?
Does it mean we can’t go back to America?
And as I was pondering how to answer, I was also wondering what was going on inside your ten-year old brain.
And before I could form my reply, you said something about a wall.
People keep talking about walls being built.
Oh, yes. There has been a lot of talk about walls.
About divides. There are a lot of divides in our country.
There is a big deep chasm right down the middle that seems impossible to cross.
So I said to you.
Do you think a wall will go up that will keep us out of America? That will not happen. We are citizens and holders of American passports, so yes, we can go back to America whenever we want.
But I guess the question is,
When there are walls going up, when so many people are divided by hostility, do we want to go back?
Of course you said,
Oh yes, I want to go back.
I knew your answer before you said it. There is no president that can come between you and your love for America.
I understand how you feel. I, too, love America. In fact, being an expat makes me love our country more. In big ways like I miss a hecka lotta people who are crazy important to me and in small ways like how I think American central heat and air is the eighth wonder of the world.
But this election means I have to ask.
Do I want to use my privilege to return to a country that is projecting the message that we, as Americans, do not value all of God’s people?
Simon, do you remember a few weeks ago when we made you watch that movie about how white people in America have treated (and continue to treat) black people? It was called 13th, because it was about the 13th amendment.
Remember how you covered your eyes and cried and begged us to turn it off because seeing that much hate for our black brothers and sisters was just too much.
It was too painful.
But the most painful thing is that the hate that we saw in that documentary, that horrible hate still lives in the hearts of many white people in the United States.
In fact, because our country was founded by white men who believed that they were fundamentally better than black people, they have handed all of us a legacy of hate. Even if we think we are not haters, we cannot help but have inherited some of the ideas that have spread this hateful idea that white people somehow deserve to have more than black and brown people.
You know what I mean by black and brown people, right? I’m talking about the folks that were in that documentary we watched. I’m talking about people who are from Mexico or from other Latin American countries. I’m talking about Muslim people like the ones in your international class who came here to escape wars in their own countries.
Well, I don’t know if you know this, but Donald Trump said a lot of horrible things about black and brown people while he was running for president.
There are a lot of people who don’t want black and brown people to feel welcome in America who supported Donald Trump for president. Elections are complicated and there are people who voted for Donald Trump for other reasons, but still, the reality is that too many Americans agree with the meanest of his statements.
So imagine that this morning when you woke up and found out that Donald Trump was president, if you were a black person or a brown person, how would it make you feel to discover that your country elected a president who encourages that kind of hate towards someone who looks like you?
You would be wondering which people hate you.
If you were an immigrant from another country you might be afraid that you will have to leave the United States.
And even if you don’t have to leave, you might not feel welcome. You might feel like people don’t want you around.
I know you know how that feels. Because we are expats, we have been living in other countries where we don’t belong. We are outsiders. We do not feel at home.
Do you remember when we lived in Scotland what it took for us to finally feel at home? It was not until we made friends who were Scottish, people who welcomed us into their homes and let us know that they were glad we lived in their country.
Can you imagine how we would have felt if people never did welcome us? If we had lived in Scotland for three years without making any Scottish friends?
What if when we went to the store in Scotland, people said things to us like, “Go home!” or “Get out of our country!” or “We don’t want people like you here!”
Do you think we would have felt at home in Scotland if that had happened?
I know what you are thinking. You would tell me that if we were not welcome, we could just go back home. We could go back to Arkansas, where we are always welcome.
And yes. That is true. We will always be welcome in Arkansas.
(That’s called privilege by the way.)
But what if there was a war in Arkansas? What if our home had been bombed and we could not go back without risking our lives?
Or what if there was a famine back home and there was nothing to eat? What if going home meant we were in danger of starving?
Or what if a group of people back home decided that they wanted to kill us because of the church we belong to, or because we are mixed race family or because we love Jesus?
What if we could not just “go home?”
What if, like many of the people in your class at school, we were wandering the earth, broken-hearted because we could not go home, but also trying to make a life for our family in a new country…only to wake up and discover that the new country does not want us?
That the new country actually hates us?
What would that feel like?
We would cry and moan and ask God WHY?
We would wonder why the world feels this way towards us?
Why is the divide so great between us and others?
Simon, your father has been telling you something about politics since before you were old enough to understand words – he has been saying that it does not matter who is president. It doesn’t matter because both parties are controlled by big business.
Again, if you remember watching 13th, you will recall that they explained how this is true. Every president helped to pass laws that were written by a company that was being paid by corporations who would benefit financially from those laws.
All the presidents for all of time have bowed down to the idols of capitalism.
So, yes, in one sense your father is right. It doesn’t matter who is president.
But in another sense he is wrong, because the face of the president of the United States is representative of our county – not just to the world – though that is important too – but also to the people who live in America.
This is the reason I broke with our family habit of voting third party candidates to cast my ballot for Barack Obama (twice). It was not because I thought Obama could “save America.” Lord, help me the day I am fooled into thinking that the representative of a large machine (Democrat or Republican) will turn on that machine and suddenly become the champion of the poor, the oppressed and the prisoner. No, I voted for Obama because I wanted the black kids at your school to turn on the television and see that the highest office in our country could be held by someone who looked like them. I wanted Americans (you included!) to look into the face of our president and be encouraged and proud of the fact that we elected an African-American president. I wanted us all to see the black man on the news who was president. I still believe that the greatest gift Barack and Michelle have given our country is their gracious presence as a black family in the White House. There is no policy that can outweigh the uplifting effect of Obama’s being the face of our country over the last eight years for all of us, but especially for minority children.
If you were older, maybe you would ask me if I believe that Hillary’s face would have been a great encouragement in that same way for young women? To that I would have to say, no. The hope of her presence in the White House did not compel me to break from voting a third party candidate this year.
But even so, I would not have chosen over Hillary the face of someone who is willing to say out loud that he does not value all people.
But that someone is now the president-elect. Donald Trump will be the face that we see on the news for the next four years representing our country.
And so, Simon, what are we supposed to do when so many people that we know and love are having to wonder if they are welcome in America?
When someone who looks like you and me is telling our brothers and sisters that they are not welcome, we cannot stay quiet.
We have to figure out ways to say again and again that we need our African American friends in the United States. We need people from all over the world. We need immigrants and refugees.
Simon, I want you to grow up in a country where everyone is welcome.
I want you to grow up in a country where policemen protect people of color.
I want you to be a part of a country where the refugees find refuge. Where the prisoner is set free.
I want you to grow up in a country where the walls are coming down, not going up.
In this world of great divides, I want you to be a builder of bridges.
Right now you are living a life as an outsider. We talk funny and we don’t understand the systems and we puzzle our way through most days. It is exhausting and discouraging and sometimes it feels pointless.
But Simon, I’m asking you to pay very close attention.
You are learning how to stand in the shoes of the alien.
One day you may find yourself on the inside in America again, but if you have been watching, you will have learned how walls get taken down between the insiders and the outsiders.
And, oh my son, you are going to need those skills.
America will need you use them.
Because there will be many walls to tear down.
Here’s a verse to remember when you need encouragement in this good work of tearing down walls:
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility
– Ephesians 2:14
Love you so much,