Monday, November 21, 2016

In the Darkness of Morning

The first phone call came in at 6:30 a.m. "Mom how did this happen? What are we going to do?" On that Wednesday morning, we woke up to the realization that we had a new President. My boys were scared. I can't remember ever feeling literaly scared for our lives because of who became our President.

Editorial Note: You don't have to agree with the feelings that I have shared in this piece. 
 I am an African American woman, a mother,  of 3 boys, 2 with  hidden disabilities. I am 
writing from the point of view of my life experiences.
 Yours may be different. I honor and accept that.
 I do ask that you be respectful, or chose not to read. 
I'm good with that. 

Sometimes, I don't know where the words come from when I'm trying to keep the boys calm, especially, when I'm not.  I heard my voice say, "We're going to go to work and to school. I tell you what we're not going to do. We're not going to argue with others about their feelings. We're not going to respond to racist or bigoted comments with negativity. We're going to keep living our lives as we always have."

Kendal (Red) loves to argue with people, even when he has no basis or knowledge for his argument.  He won't actually read anything about the election or the candidates. He just listens to who ever is talking, the loudest. (Kind of like a lot of Americans did in this election.) Apparently a lot of  people listened to the loud mouth liar's stories of gloom, about how horrible everything is in America. How he is going to be our savior. How? I'm not sure, because he did a lot of double talking without saying anything of substance.  He changed his story as often as he changed his clothes.

Kendal voted for the first time.  I'm not ashamed to say I dragged him to the polling place and told him that every vote counts. "But this is a Republican state," he said. "We still have to vote. We have to make our voices heard. Some of our ancestors died so that we would have this right."

I couldn't help him in the voting booth, but I know that he went with his heart, and against racism. He knows that only one of the candidates had plans to do anything to help people with disabilities.

That Wednesday morning, I hoped that he wouldn't go to work with an angry mentality, looking for an argument where ever he could find one. It could get ugly, real fast.

By 7 a.m. Blue was standing in my doorway, in the darkness, his head hanging down, wearing nothing but a t-shirt and boxers.

"Mom. How am I supposed to go to school and face these people today? I can't do this.  I can not listen to all of those ignorant kids, who will say idiotic things, and gloat about the fact that he won. Most of them have no idea how we will be effected!"

Without the right to vote because they are only seventeen, a number of his friends are politically passionate. They've been debating for months as this ugly election cycle unfolded. Blue's mind is completely open to all points of view. In this Red state of Texas, you can bet he heard the views on the from those who support the Republican Party. As an independent thinker, he does not simply follow the political ideation of his parents. He's more academic about it. He reads. He does research. He even goes back into Presidential, American and World history to evaluate what has happened in the past, so that he can assess what may happen now. He is no fan of Hillary Clinton or a fan of any particular party. Still, because of the racist rhetoric that had been spewed during the election season, he was disappointed and even frightened by the person who was elected.

To be honest, he would have been frightened in another way if Hillary had been elected. He questioned her position on Syria. He made me start doing research on the current situation, so that I could have a half-way intelligent conversation about it with him.

My emotions were all over the map that morning. I went from denial, to disbelief, to dissappointment, anger, fear and profound sadness.

I was the person who told Blue a year ago, "Don't worry. It will never happen. There's no way in hell, the majority of Americans will vote for that guy!"

Well, the majority did not vote for him, and yet, he was elected.
Ha! Never say never. 
America has a President Elect who used hatred, racism, and sexism as a part of his platform.
America has elected a President who publicly made fun of a man with disabilities. What a horrific example to set for the children of today.
We have a elected President who spoke of sexual assault against women, and then casually dismissed it as "locker room talk," as if it was no big deal.
We have a President Elect who appears to be all about people who look just like him, white, male and wealthy.
We have a President Elect who talks about not allowing people into our country who are Muslim, and having the ones who are here be on some kind of registry. Sound like any other fascist leader in world history? 
He talks about deporting thousands of Mexicans, breaking up their families and building a wall to keep others from coming in.
As far as I'm concerned, America bought a lemon from a used car salesman. He played on working class people who feel disinfranchised with our government for various reasons.
He double talked about helping the working class, while is life has demonstrated that what he cares about, is making and keeping as much money as he can for himself and others who look like him.
He talks about more tax cuts for the wealthy, when he doesn't pay any taxes.
I pay taxes! A lot of freakin' taxes!

The big question I am asking myself is, what will this mean for our family?
I have three black sons.
What will be the climate of this America be, since we have elected a leader to the highest office in our country, who used racism to incite violence at his rallies during his run for office?

On that Wednesday morning, my boys were scared and frankly, I was too.  I didn't have the luxury of wallowing in all of my feelings. My boys have autism and high anxiety. When their anxiety is high, I have to appear to be calm. I have to figure out a way to explain the unexplainable, even when I am as confused and upset as they are.

As people of color, we have always had no choice but to face the music. Racism and descrimination is not new to us. The boys have been sheltered from a lot of it. They have never lived in the hood. They have always lived in a house, in the surburbs, in a racially diverse community.
They have never attended schools where the population is so poor that they don't get the same learning opportunites and access to technology, that everyone else does --a school where their special education resources are minimal. We have worked hard to give them the best possible opportunities, despite our challenges.

Sure, they've received strange looks when walking through a store.
Sure, they have been the ony black kid in their class.
They been called the N word, more than once. We all have.
They have never NOT been hired, or not promoted when they were more qualified than a white counterpart. I have. Their Father has. 

Still, they are cognizant enough to see that black men are being killed and incarcerated by police at a disproportinate rate.
They are fearful about learning to drive because they may be pulled over for driving while black. Their father has, and he has the nerve to drive a fancy car. They've seen it happen to me. They've seen me pulled over, detained and given a warning for something I did not do, while in a predominantly white neighborhood, while also driving a fancy car. 
Because of their autism, their facial expressions may indicate nervousness or even anger if they were pulled over, which could be interpreted the wrong way and their life could be ended in the blink of an eye.
They know this much about racism.

In the fog, I said to Blue, "Our country and our people have been through times worse than this. We lived through slavery. We lived through the depression, through the Civil Rights Movement. We lived through Presidents who took us to wars we should not have been in.
We survive.
We get through.
We get up.
We go to work.
We go to school and do our best.
We build our own life.
We take care of each other, and try to make whatever small changes in the world around us that we can make."

Blue's response, "People died going through all of those things."
He is right.
Some did die, but overall, our nation survived.
I sensed his dispair, his vulnerabitlity.
His anxiety wants him to live in a world that he can control.
It just became more uncontrollable.

Photo Credit to Someone other than me.  Found it on FB. 
I tried to bring these astronomical feelings and worries down to a size that he can handle. "The one thing we can do on this day, is show someone love and compassion. Show people that some of the hate-filled perceptions they have about us, are dead wrong. Go to school.  Kill them with kindness and your intelect, as your dad always says. You can control that."

That's all I could come up with in the moment. I don't know if I totally believed what I said, myself, but those were the words that came out in the darkness of morning, after not having slept most of the night. I had awakened at four a.m., unable to go back to sleep until I found out the results of the eletion. Once I found out, sleep eluded me.

Blue was still too upset to start getting ready to school. He ranted for a while. I listened, and then asked him, "What choice do we have? Do we just lay down and say the world is over? That's not an option. We have to keep going."

He didn't want to go to school. Part of me didn't want to send him. If he was half as tired, sad and pissed as I was, I didn't know how he would make it through the day.
He's younger. He had slept. He has already missed too much school this year.
I sent him.

It wasn't an hour later, after I dropped him off that he texted me.

Him -"I can't be here surrounded by these people. F*@% them!"
Me -"Love them. Meet ignorance with love. That's how we win,"
Him -"That's useless. They're arrogant! I can't change any of them!"
Me -"Never give up. You're generalizing all of them.  We don't want people to do that to us. Probably more than half of your classmates feel the same way you do."
Him -"But now one of the most arrogant racists in the world, is now the face of America! People all over the world are going to hate us!"
Me -"There is still more love than hate in the world. Today, you are surrounded by the same people you were surrounded by yesterday. You can do this."
Him -"Maybe if they hadn't LIED to us and said America is about freedom!"

I decided to share with Blue the words from a friend of mine, another autism mom, an Advocate and a champion for others. We have become friends through my online autism network. She volunteered many hours for Hillary -for equality during this election. She also served on President Obama's transition team when he was elected. She has young children with autism. She is a warrior for them and many others in the city in which she lives.  She is a total rock star!

My friend Anna wrote on Facebook and I quote, in part,

"I know many of you are devasted and afraid of what yesterdays election results mean for women, African Americans, Latinos, AAPIs, LGBTWIA, and people with disabilities. My son doesn't understand why Hillary Clinton is not President and a bully like Donald Trump, is. It's hard. I'm sending my love. We will get through this together...when you have nothing to lose, when you have always been the underdog, you get used to fighting back. I'm not giving up on our dreams and our vision for an inclusive and just society --not today, not ever... Stay positive!"

After I sent her words to him via text,  I didn't hear from him for the rest of the day.
Coming home from school up, giving in, was not an option.

Worried, I called the school to see if there would be anyone on campus to talk things through with those who may be upset about the results the election. I guess I forgot where we live for a second.  We live in Texas. We live in a school district that asked parents if they wanted to "opt out" when President Obama wanted to address the nation's children in school, about the importance of education. I will never forget the racial undertones in that note they sent home. If you don't want your chidren listening to this black, Harvard Educated, Democratic President, sign on the dotted line. 

Most of the people who live in this community are not upset. They didn't lose anything.  62% of the county that we live in, voted for this outcome.  Most don't have anything to fear. They don't have to worry that racism is more acceptable now. Most don't have to think that people who have disabilities or differences, were mocked by the man who was elected, thereby making it more aceptable for others to do the same.

My sons live surrounded by people who are oblivious to their challenges. Most people are voted thinking  of their own situation and what will help them. How others who don't have their privilege are affected, is probably not even be a blip on their radar.

I realize that the 60 million people who voted for this candidate are not all racist. There are many good people who voted for this outcome. They had their reasons. Some voted for change. Some voted for an outsider, a strong leader who they believe will shake things up in Washington. Some voted for jobs that we are losing to other countries. Some voted against a political system that they feel has ignored them.

What they did not vote against, is racism.  Racism was not a deal breaker.  That is a hard pill to swallow. I'm choking on it.

I could be angry with the so called good people who voted for him, despite his personal failures, depite the freedoms that are at stake.  But what does that anger do for us?  When I'm angry, I can't see clearly. I've decided to try my best not to be angry, but to be motivated. More motivated than ever to fight for those who are being marginalized because of their differences.

The question we should all be asking is, "What can we do that will actually help our country, given our current circumstances?"

We continue to live our lives.
We continue to do our best in our jobs, and in school.
We become the change we want to see in the world.
We can't run.
We won't hide.
We get involved.
We fight -just as I have fought for my children's rights to a fair and appropriate public education.
The fight isn't new. It's just more blatant, and impossible to ignore. We can't sit back, and just wait and see what this guy is going to do, and hope for the best.  I hoped for the best outcome of this election. That didn't work out so well for us.

As I try to find something positive in this situation, I have come to realize that there are more people who are in this fight for equality. As I browse through my Facebook newsfeed, I see more support for the fight, than I ever have before, from people of all races, politcial backgrounds, sexual orientation and religions. I'm one of the lucky ones I guess.  My friends are racially and culturally diverse, but very few voted in a way that could compromise the freedoms of others.

It is my prayer that this new dialog will lead to us banding together in action. I pray that more of us will actively stand up and fight for the rights of everyone in this country. That we will not sit back and say, this is happening to those people. It doesn't affect me.  When one group of people starts losing their rights in this society, it's only a matter of time before there is another group, and then another. This effects all of us.

When we see the President Elect filling up his transition team with more faces of White Supremacy, we have to ask ourselves, what the hell have we done?
We can not remain silent.
We must be vigilent.
We have to actively stay on our leaders in the Senate and in Congress, to make sure they do not allow our country to be further divided.
WE MUST work together.
We can't sit back and just watch it all happen.

It is my prayer that we work together and keep the dialog open about what's really going on. Maybe then this election will be the catalyst for the real positive change, that we've all been looking for.

For the sake of my chidren, I remain hopeful.