The Children are Watching and Learning. Let’s Govern Like We Care.

I am struggling to talk about accountability with my son while explaining what is happening in our country right now. How do I look at his beautiful Brown face and tell him that things will be okay?

“Will those in power continue to ask people of color to swallow and deny our pain, making it near impossible to look our children in the eyes and tell them that white supremacy does not belong in America?” (UN Human Rights @UNHumanRights / Twitter)

Actions have consequences.

This foundational tenet is one parents strive to teach their children in hopes that they grow up to be responsible, caring adults. The last four years of the Trump presidency—along with the politicians who have enabled him—have made it increasingly difficult for me to impart this to my son. 

The legacy of Trump’s presidency is ripe with racism and xenophobia. Black and Brown children have been separated from their parents and sequestered in cages. White supremacists and Nazis (Nazis!) proudly marched in Charlottesville, killed a woman—yet were called “very fine people.” Muslim people were unjustifiably banned from entry into the country. And then last Wednesday, Trump incited a mob of white supremacists to siege the Capitol and attempt a coup.

Exhausted? It doesn’t end there: Several congresspeople have now tested positive for COVID following what Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) is calling “a superspreader event,” after being sequestered in a room while under siege for their safety with Republican lawmakers who not only refused to wear masks during a raging, global pandemic, but laughed about it. 

I am struggling to talk about accountability with my son while explaining what is happening in our country right now. How do I look at his beautiful Brown face and tell him that things will be okay? How do we all look at our children and teach them that actions really do have consequences, when many members of the president’s party do not believe Republicans need to be held accountable for anything?

Like expert con artists, they are gaslighting us—shrugging and asking us to move on and unite with a blink of an eye to the most abhorrent, despicable actions while death and destruction surround them.

They found bombs during Wednesday’s insurrection. (BOMBS.) The Confederate flag—the ultimate symbol of anti-Blackness, white supremacy and patriarchy, which never crossed the line into Congress during the Civil War—was paraded around the halls of our government with glee. Legislatures of color feared for their lives. 

The white supremacists are mocking us, showing us that they know they can act with impunity. And can you blame them? Only 10 Republican house members voted to impeach the President. The rest voted to uphold a culture of hate, violence and blatant racism. It’s infuriating, and yet so, so familiar. We are operating from generations of racial trauma and violence which has never been appropriately addressed, perpetuating a continual cycle of little to no accountability. 


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There is a passage in Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste, where she details a photograph from the early 1900s of a public lynching of a Black man by a white mob. She describes a face of a little girl looking up in awe and excitement at a human being with a noose around his neck hanging, eyes bulging, left to die as the white adults around her cheered and clapped. That little girl received a message that day: She learned it is acceptable to treat Black people with disregard and hate, and she internalized that lesson and passed it on to future generations. Clearly, many who hold office now received this same message. 

This is where we are again. What are we teaching our children when blatant acts of anti-Blackness, xenophobia and a complete disregard for human life go unfettered?

Trump has been president for more than half of my son’s life. It has marked how he sees the world and his place in it. He saw children that looked like him locked in cages and feared he would face the same. Watching Mitch Mcconnell give a speech on the House floor last Wednesday, he asked, “Why isn’t that man wearing a mask? Don’t we all have to?”

It left me wondering what message he receives seeing a white unmasked man, governing at the nation’s capital. 

Children all across America are watching. What are they learning? It is okay to incite a racist riot. It’s okay to lie if it benefits you or upholds your power. It’s okay to skip wearing a mask if you don’t want to—even if it means you may give someone a dangerous disease. No big deal to endanger the lives of your colleagues to protect white supremacy. Totally fine to obstruct comprehensive COVID response legislation, increasing childhood poverty disproportionately for Black and Latinx children.

America’s children need lawmakers to take responsibility, own up to their mistakes and act with urgency and regard for the psyche and lives of Black and Brown people. Yes, Trump now has two impeachments on his record; he also has six bankruptcies. Impeachment—like his bankruptcies—is insignificant without tangible consequences and removal.

We have a choice to make at this moment: Will we move forward and govern in a manner that acknowledges that white supremacy and anti-Blackness specifically is baked into our systems and institutions and must be addressed and rooted out head on? Will we recognize that Trump unleashed what was always within the bowels of America and doesn’t just go away once he’s out of office? Will we do the work towards truth and reconciliation to finally build a multi-racial democracy and equitable society?

Or will those in power continue to ask people of color to swallow and deny our pain, making it near impossible to look our children in the eyes and tell them that white supremacy does not belong in America? 

It remains to be seen. As a mother, I implore you to remember: The children are watching and learning. What we do today will reverberate beyond our time.

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About

Jhumpa Bhattacharya is Vice President of Programs and Strategy at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development in Oakland. You can follow her on Twitter @Jhumpa_b.