So my last post was my first foray into things political. You may or may not have picked up on my trepidation. You may or may not have picked up on my desire to project somewhat of a neutral posture. You may or may not have bought into my neutrality. But I’m going to continue to try to maintain it as I reflect some on the results of this week’s election.
It’s been historic, this week. An African American president of the United States. Wow. I mean, growing up I was told it could happen. I was told to believe it was true. But still. It was so hard to wrap a head around.
I’m heartbroken over the fact that there are people who can’t just stop and appreciate that for what it’s worth, who are unwilling to stop and appreciate what it says about where we as a nation have come. That we have reached a point when this could happen. I mean, had Obama’s father been a US citizen, he still would not necessarily have been able to vote. Or vote easily, anyway. Obama’s father. One generation. One generation from “No, you can’t sit there.” “No, don’t use that entrance.” “No, your water fountain is over there.” To “Good afternoon, Mr. President.” Wow. I don’t understand how, whatever your political view, you can’t pause in wonder over that. How you can’t just give thanks for that little bit of good. Sure, you might be worrying our country is now well on its way down a paved path to hell. But come on, for just one moment, consider the possibility that our progress on racial prejudices distanced us, even just a tad, from our final, flaming destination.
I just keep thinking of all these little kids who learn in their social studies classes that anyone can grow up to be president. Anyone. And then one of them looks at the pictures of all the presidents and doesn’t see anybody who looks like him or his dad or his uncle or cousin. “Really? I can be president? But clearly I’m not qualified. I don’t look like a president.” We told him he could, but it really doesn’t look that way.
This concept was illustrated by my kids the other day. We’re not terribly political people. I mean, we pay attention, and we have our opinions, but it’s not a big part of our family discussions. My husband and I spend most of our time talking theological/church shop talk. However, this week, this historic election week, we have talked about it. We’ve probably talked about it because Isaac talked about it in school, participating in a mock election last week. So Monday or Tuesday dinner time, Hannah told Isaac that she wanted to be president when she grew up.
“No, Hannah, you can’t be president.”
Just tuning in to the conversation at this point, I asked, “What, Isaac?”
“Hannah says she wants to be president, but I told her she can’t.”
“Why can’t she be president?”
“Because she’s a girl.”
Hunh. Funny he should say that because less than six months ago I was introducing Isaac to Mrs. Hillary Clinton, a woman aspiring to be president of the United States. So, somewhere in his head is the notion that a woman can try to become president.
“Well, Isaac, why can’t she be president, even if she’s a girl?”
“Well all the presidents are men.”
There you have it, ladies and gentlemen, all the presidents are men, therefore Hannah can’t be president. Come to find out Isaac’s library has poster portraits of all of the presidents on the wall. So, he’s seen the line-up and noticed Hannah doesn’t fit the profile.
“Isaac, women can be president, too.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
He’s not convinced. And I know we’ve had this conversation before. I know we’ve talked about how a man or a woman can be president. But he’s seen the evidence and he’s not convinced.
So I’ve started reflecting on that from the racial standpoint. “Sure,” we tell the boy or the girl with darker skin. “Sure you can grow up to be anything you want. You can grow up to be president!” Really? Because I don’t see any evidence of that fact. So I’m not sure I can believe you.
My experience with Isaac this week tells me that just telling a kid something doesn’t make it so in their heads. Really, anyone who has spent any time with children or studying about children knows that just telling a kid something doesn’t make it true for them. Children are, by their very nature, experiential learners. I mean that’s how they land on this planet: exploring their worlds to learn about it. That’s why baby’s eat everything. You can’t truly know something until you’ve tasted it. Thus says the baby brain. But seriously, all kids learn through doing. Mommy says don’t pull on this electrical cord. But does she mean it? Here. I’ll try again. And again. And again, because maybe she doesn’t mean it today. Even my Boy, a month or two ago felt like he had to experience why we tell him not to touch a hot iron. I mean, how hot is it? he needs to know. So he touches it. Yep. He touched the hot, unplugged iron. Because our telling him it was hot and would burn was not enough. He needed to see it, touch it, experience it.
So if my kid—who is of reasonable intelligence, I assure you—couldn’t believe a hot steaming iron would be incredibly, burning hot two minutes after it’s been unplugged, how’s a kid going to believe the up-until-now theory that anyone can grow up to be president? He has no empirical evidence whatsoever to show him that this is true. In fact, he has a line-up of 43 white guys telling him that the exact opposite is true.
Now, I’m not saying no kids can buy into it. And I’m not saying just because you can’t believe it when you’re a six-year-old experiential learner that you’ll never believe it, clearly that’s not the case. However. I am saying it matters. I am saying that when you’re six and you’re feeling that surge of independence from your parents and the first stirrings of aspirations for your future, you need to believe anything is possible. You need to see and feel and touch and hear what is really possible, in order to believe that you, too, can do it.
Going back to Isaac who didn’t think Hannah could be president because all the presidents were men. When I told him she could be, he changed his story to “Well, when Hannah grows up she can be the first woman president.” And despite the fact that I told him several times maybe there would be another woman president before then, he continues to go back to “Hannah could be the first woman president.” Not because he wants that honor for her, but because that’s all his head can wrap around. “She would have to be the first, because I have seen the others and they’re all men,” his brain says. He can’t extrapolate. He can’t think through the fact that there will be another 8 presidents before Hannah would be eligible to be president (please don’t check my math on that). He can’t because he’s six. No, if Hannah wants to be president, she has to be a trail-blazer. And that takes a whole other set of skills.
I want it all out there on the table before these kids. I think when you’re six you shouldn’t have to start confronting your obstacles right then. I don’t think that at this young age you have to muster the wherewithal to envision yourself blazing a new trail. I want you to know it’s possible for you because you’re human. And a US citizen. And that’s all that matters.
Not every person is gifted to be a trail-blazer. And I, for one, think that’s OK. Because I believe in gifts coming from a Gifter and I trust his shopping skills. Today I am grateful that all those kids who don’t look like the line-up of 43 don’t have to be gifted as trail-blazers to aspire to go as far as one can in our country. Today I’m grateful that those kids can look at number 44 and say, “Oh. You’re right. I can be president. And if I can be president, I can be anything.”
Now if number 45 would help my then eight- and five-year-olds see and know that they too can be president, that would be great.