Senator Jeff Sessions — a man who was deemed unfit to serve as a federal judge based on racial allegations in 1986 — was confirmed as President Donald Trump’s attorney general on Wednesday.
The prospect of Sessions leading the United States Department of Justice has left Americans befuddled. More importantly, it has obscured the picture of what America might look like in the next few years.
Whether you currently have kids, or you may consider starting a family one day, the thought may have crossed your mind: What do we say to our children about the Trump administration? How do we begin to navigate the imminent obstacles that may derail the future we built for our young? How do we begin to explain why these events matter?
Your child may ask what you did to help prevent — or even contribute — to these historic times. He or she may ask why certain groups treat others differently based on the color of their skin, who they choose to love, the way they choose to pray, or by how much money they make.
If you are wondering where to start, begin with the truth.
1. Document everything — provide a detailed history of Jeff Sessions.
Sessions was embroiled in one of the most controversial nominations in U.S. history. Human rights groups and leading Democrats have expressed their adamant disapproval of the Alabama Republican — often citing serious racial allegations, Sessions’ disturbingly lax attitude towards the Ku Klux Klan, and his criticism of a civil rights lawsuit that forced a high school to remove its Native American mascot. That doesn’t even begin to cover his alarming opposition to LGBT rights, immigration, affirmative action, and voting rights. While Sessions has notably made strides to correct his marred past by commenting on issues like housing discrimination, his opposition to a measure that would promote equal housing opportunities did not bode well.
White nationalist and former leader of the KKK David Duke has praised Trump for nominating Sessions. Duke applauded Sessions for opposing “the massive, institutionalized racial discrimination against white people called affirmative action.” Duke celebrated the confirmation of Sessions on Twitter, claiming Sessions will defend “law-abiding people rather than criminals, thugs & illegals”:
Parents instinctively protect their children from the ugliness of our world. But you must resist that urge when it comes to the development of your child’s character and capacity for empathy. Show your child the inhumane atrocities committed to groups of people throughout history — teach your child about the true discovery of America and the cruelty Native Americans experienced. Teach your children about the interment camps held on U.S. grounds. Show your child the harrowing images of the slave trade, lynchings, segregation, and the Civil Rights Movement. Use the past as a warning for the future -- tell your children that we risk reverting back to those times if we don't keep fighting for progress.
Senator Orrin Hatch claimed that people shouldn’t criticize Sessions and urged them to “think of his wife.” Hiding history only ensures that we will repeat it. Educate your child by exposing them to America’s past and present.
Sessions will be scrutinized more than ever now that he is the attorney general — hold him accountable for every move that he makes. Take note of his contribution to institutionalized racism and do not let it become normalized. Explain to your child that we have taken steps in regards to race relations in America under President Barack Obama’s administration, but there is still more work to be done.
When your child asks you how a man like Sessions could become attorney general after the Obama administration, lead in with the next point.
2. Progress does not mean success — teach your child the perils of complacency.
Own your complacency. Admit that you, too, have been lulled into a false sense of security while living through the Obama administration. The scandal-free, progressive, and admirable leadership garnered a sense of pride and hope among most Americans. The United States was generally liked and respected by world leaders. Critical issues including climate change, immigration, affordable healthcare, and LGBT rights were finally addressed. Obama’s staggering list of remarkable accomplishments are still being documented to this day.
Unfortunately, while basking in the glow of progress, Americans believed that we have arrived, when we have, in fact, only begun. The defeat of presidential nominee Hillary Clinton can be blamed on hubris — we kicked off our shoes and thought the work has already been done. Our egregiously partisan congress needed attention, the Democratic National Committee needed oversight, The Electoral College process needed revision, the dispersement of “fake news” during the 2016 election needed regulation, and the media did not help Americans get out to vote by projecting polls that suggested Trump needed a miracle to win.
While Obama fought for innumerable issues, we weren’t finished. The future of America is put at risk when we start becoming comfortable.
When your child asks you what they can do to fight complacency, follow up with the next point.
3. Encourage your child to think big and get involved at an early age.
Tell your child that success doesn’t happen, it is earned through years of hard work and dedication. Encourage your child to learn from people who are different from them — expose them to other cultures, communities, and religions at an early age. Inspire your child to become active in the things that matter to them the most. Today, your child may be interested in saving the bees. Tomorrow, it could turn into a lucrative business. While children of color experience discrimination based on the texture of their hair, you can tell your child that the President of the United States had the same hair. Show your child that the oppression instilled by society cannot stop them from fulfilling their dreams. Let them know that they can achieve anything they want and assure them that you will cheer them on every step of the way.
4. Oppressors count on the oppressed becoming fatigued. Even when you are tired, you must keep going.
Every protest and mind-numbing headline causes mental exhaustion. Explain to your child that they will want to quit, but they cannot falter — too much is at stake. The waters of progress are tumultuous and unpredictable — there is an ebb and flow. Let your child know that even though things may get scary, there is beauty to perseverance. Tell them the inspiring story of the female Senator who was warned, but “nevertheless, persisted.” Be an example for your children — mobilize within your community, join a protest, and advocate for an issue that you are passionate about. Do your part in contributing toward the betterment of mankind so that you have a story of your own to tell. You are living history at this very moment. Your legacy is being forged at this time. You must decide which side of history you’re standing on and lead a life that will serve as a blueprint for future generations to come. When you tell your future son you loved him and fought for him before he was even born, mean it.
Who knows, maybe one day when your child performs a presentation on the Women’s March, he’ll say, “See that man holding the sign in this photo? That’s my dad.”
Be that dad.
Gabrielle Dunkley is the author of “How to Explain a Donald Trump Presidency to Future Children of Color.” Her political, social and cultural commentary can be found here.