By Jody Allard
5,000 students from 20 Seattle public schools walked out on Monday to protest the election of Donald Trump. My son wasn’t one of them.
“I didn’t walk out,” he told me. “It’s stupid. Protesting won’t change anything.”
My son attends an alternative high school where Black Lives Matter signs hang in the windows and he is regularly exposed to social justice issues. I had hoped he would have participated in the protest, but I knew the answer before I asked the question.
My daughter walked out, but none of her friends did. They attend a mainstream public high school in a predominantly white neighborhood, where only 400 of the 1,800 students joined in. Most of them said they needed to focus on their classwork. She was angry at them, and even angrier at her brother. “Why won’t they do something?” she asked me, and my answer to her question only spurred her frustration and sense of helplessness. “They won’t take action,” I told her, “because they don’t care enough to put themselves on the line.”
White people overwhelmingly elected Trump. Even here in my liberal bubble of Seattle, I know Trump voters who prioritized what they characterized as his positive economic plan over his undeniable racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Since the election, I’ve participated in protests and rallies, but they’ve included fewer white people than I’m used to seeing at these kinds of events. White people who were willing to show up to chant “Black Lives Matter” are nowhere to be found after electing a man who made it clear how little black lives, or the lives of all marginalized people, matter to him.
My son voted for the first time this year, and he didn’t vote for Trump. He thinks he did his part, and I see his sentiments echoed by many of my friends. I watch as my fellow white people turn their profile pictures black, churn through their fears on Facebook, and don a safety pin to offer support, but few of them have taken concrete action. They take comfort that they cast the right vote. But the election is over and it doesn’t matter who we voted for—it matters what we’re doing right now to fight Trump’s agenda.
At first, I was comforted by the exit polls that showed Trump clearly lost among young voters. Then, I delved deeper into the data and was surprised to find that when young voters are broken down by race, the majority of white voters age 18-29 still voted for Trump. The future isn’t any better when it’s left in the hands of white kids. It’s exactly the same as today.
That should be a resounding wake up call to white parents—especially the ones who voted against Trump. Despite our rhetoric, we’ve taught our kids the same complacency we now find ourselves trapped inside. If we want our children to be a part of the solution, we need to start modeling activism for them. And we can’t do that when we haven’t figured out how to be activists ourselves or when we’re not even sure we want to be.
If we didn’t already know this country has a bigotry problem, it should be clear after Trump’s win. Hate crimes are up, we have a white supremacist on Trump’s transition team, and the Klu Klux Klan is celebrating his win. There are no shades of grey anymore, it seems; there is only right and wrong, and it’s up to us as parents to guide our children through this tumultuous time.
My son isn’t looking for me to form his opinions for him. He doesn’t think walk outs or protests will bring real change, and maybe he’s right. But when I asked him what he’s doing to bring that change he wants, he had no answer. As white people, it’s our obligation to lead the fight against the system we’ve created; we elected Trump, whether we voted for him or not, and it’s up to us to break down the system that enabled him to win. It’s up to me to show my son how we can do that through grassroots efforts, volunteering for local causes, and prioritizing activism over discomfort or even apathy.
White kids like mine don’t need us to normalize Trump and his agenda in the name of assuaging their fears, or to pat them on the back for centering themselves when marginalized people are afraid for their lives. Our kids need us to challenge their beliefs, urge them to set aside their own discomfort, and teach them to prioritize action over inaction.
My son may never develop an activist spirit, but it won’t be because I sat idly by. He will grow up watching his mother have difficult conversations with friends and family members, he will know I protested for what I believed in, and he will see me fighting for change from the ground up. He will question his own privilege because I taught him it exists, and he will grow up questioning authority even when it is hard. When he finally decides to use his voice, he will know how to do it.
Our kids won’t learn how to break the bonds of bigotry on their own. They need us to teach them how to push back and buck the trend. They need us to be stronger than we’ve ever been before—they need us to join the fight for equity.
Jody Allard is a writer and mother living in Seattle. She writes about parenting through a staunchly (some might say stridently) feminist lens.
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