Children Are Listening…
Last weekend, while the country was still reacting to or recoiling in disgust from Trump’s racist “…why don’t they go back to where they came from…” spewage, my immediate thought was of children. Children who might be exposed to the racial animosity he was expressing toward four women of color, Representatives, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; Ilhan Omar; Ayanna Pressley; and Rashida Tlaib, and the endless, wall-to-wall cable and network news coverage. I also thought of the children separated from their parents and loved ones and being held in cages at U.S. border crossings and the horror of the inhumanity they are experiencing.
Trump’s “…Go back where they came from” dog whistle stirs personal memories of the familiar racist rants I heard in childhood in pre-civil rights era Montgomery Alabama. Growing up in the segregated South and living under the shadow of the Jim Crow laws that my parents were powerless to shield me from. Where, with each encounter with a white person, I was challenged about the authenticity of my name.
“Aundra?” (invariably mispronouncing it) they would protest. “That ain’t your name, girl. What kinda name is that for a little Nigger girl?”
So, let it suffice to say, I believe I possess an intimate familiarity with racist language, coded and overt. And the experience of having had to be trained by my parents to process these evil words, whether they came from ordinary citizens or purported political leaders, or the so-called leader of the free world, is everlasting.
Children are definitely listening to Trump. This undeniable fact was demonstrated to me personally a few days ago while I shopped for groceries at my local supermarket.
After searching for and finding the bottled water aisle, I moved the shopping cart closer to the area where I noticed an “on-sale sign” for my preferred Dasani brand. After reaching the first accessible shelf and filling my cart with three 8-bottle-paks, I reached up for one more, but was interrupted by the arm of another shopper who was reaching for another brand of water next to one I was getting. The young Caucasian woman was accompanied by a little girl of 6 or 7 years of age who was seated in the shopping cart. After a brief exchange about whether I intended to purchase the water she was reaching for, I assured her I was not and pushed my cart and began to walk away. Seconds later, however, I heard a small voice say:
“Mamma. Is she one of them Mexicans?”
Needless to say, this child’s question stopped me dead in my tracks, and I re-routed the shopping cart and returned and approached them. Realizing that I had heard what her child had said, the young woman apologized, weakly and half-heartedly. But ignoring her completely, my focus was on the child, because I wanted her to hear directly from me. Not her mother. So, I said to her:
‘What is it you want to know, Sweetie? Are you asking where I was born?’
The little girl shrank down in the shopping cart and lowered her voice to an almost inaudible whisper.
“I don’t know.”
So I continued: ‘Well, let me tell you, so you’ll know next time you come across someone who looks like me. I was not born in Mexico. So I’m not Mexican. I was actually born in Alabama. Then when I was a little girl, my family moved to Detroit. That’s in Michigan. Then after that I lived in Cleveland. That’s in Ohio. Then I lived in South Pasadena. That’s in California. All of those places are in the United States. Not Mexico. So what do you think I am?’
I was revved up and primed to continue to say: ‘And just so you know, there’s nothing bad about being Mexican.’ But after a few seconds of stone-cold silence, her mother abruptly commandeered the shopping cart and hurried away.
All during the remainder of my grocery shopping, I could not get that little girl out of my mind. What is she hearing and learning in her home? Who is guiding her toward adulthood and equipping her with such animus toward other races?
I thought of my own four children. Now men and women of character and decency and substance. And their children, equally so. And I am comforted by the fact that they are warm and genuinely compassionate and incapable of being intolerant of any race or ethnic or religious group. The fact that my Peruvian husband was welcomed and embraced by them with open arms prior to our marriage is an indication of their solid foundation. Knowing that I raised them to adulthood to be genuinely kind and tolerant men and women who contribute positively to society gives me a bit of hope in this new generation. But my heart breaks for the children in this era of Trump.
Children are listening and learning. And they will remember. And the unspeakable horrors being visited upon them today will someday be re-visited on society.
These beautiful innocents are human beings. Children of God. And their human rights are being violated right before our eyes. They should be playing and learning and loving and being loved in return. Where is the empathy and compassion for what these babies are enduring? Who among us can look at these images and not want to wrap each one of these children in our arms and reassure them that they’re going to be OK?
Children Learn What They Live
Children are listening and watching…As the vile, racist rhetoric continues to spew from the bloated, orange-hued orifice of Donald Trump, in his ongoing illegitimate occupancy of the Oval Office.
Children are listening and watching…as his dog whistle signals to his base of supporters encourages their willful ignorance with his assurance that people of color are less than human and undeserving of human decency and empathy. An emotion that he is totally bereft of.
Children are listening and watching…as Trump continues to lie with absolute impunity and exhibit disturbing psychological disorders, which to anyone other than trained psychiatric professionals are frightening and above all, dangerous.
But what can be said of the children growing up in Trump supporter households? The innocents trotted out wearing their red MAGA hats and T-Shirts, selectively perched behind him at his raucous rallies, shouting “Lock her up!” and “Send her back!” Perfectly on cue?
The images of innocent children conjures up two songs that perfectly express what the adults in their lives must always consider.
Stephen Sondheim’s, Children Will Listen from the Tony Award-winning Broadway production of Into The Woods, and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s You’ve Got To Be Taught from South Pacific. Lyrics are provided below:
Children Will Listen
Careful the things you say. Children will listen.
Careful the things you do, children will see.
Children may not obey, But children will listen.
Children will look to you for which way to turn,
To learn what to be.
Careful before you say, “Listen to me.”
Children will listen.
You’ve Got To Be Taught
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught from year to year,
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!