A Letter to My Three Black Sons About The Day After Trump Won

Mommy doesn’t want you to deny the sadness and loss that you feel.
12/13/2016 12:14 pm ET Updated Dec 31, 2016
Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

To My Dear Three Black Sons,

When you called the morning after Trump won the presidency, I heard something different in your voices, although it wasn’t an unfamiliar sound. It was the sound that I’d heard on the other end of the line when I called relatives to tell them my Mama had died. It was high-pitched, weak in tone, with an unsteady rhythm.

It made my heart feel broken!

But I understood. I knew that you felt queasy, as did I, from the ground shifting underneath our feet on November 8th. So I wasn’t surprised when my cell started ringing, since I was, after all, the one who taught you three that your fellow Americans were the fairest minded citizens in the whole wide world. I taught you that the United States of America was the greatest country in the world and that you would never be limited because of the color of your skin. And now all four of us were barely audible on the phone.

I reassured you that we would survive. I reminded you that I survived Martin Luther King’s assassination, that I survived Ronald Reagan, and I survived two George Bush presidencies. They were, mostly, civil and polite presidents, unlike what we’re going through now. Your Nanny, my mom, survived the same, although she passed right after George W. Bush won a second term, and I always thought that the win was just too much for her weakened immune system. But before that, she had survived Jim Crow being the law of the land and having to drink out of “colored only” water fountains, and having to ride on the back of the bus. It was only after this dark time in America’s history that she was able to go to college, then obtain a Masters, and finally get her Ph.D.

Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight both have stories of having to enter in the back door of hotels as they toured the United States in the sixties. James Brown, whose songs are the favorites of advertisers and filmmakers alike, also had to enter hotels through back doors and use “colored only” facilities.

This letter, I hope, will always remind you that Black people are strong. We walk with our heads held high, even during periods when racism in America is at an all-time high. This new conservatism is crass, dark, and a shock to the nervous system for people of color. But you, Kelly men, will survive, and Mommy doesn’t want you to deny the sadness and loss that you feel.

America is meaner than ever before. Americans are more divided and hate crimes are at an all-time high. The sadness is compounded by President Elect Trump’s failure to apologize for any of the racist and sexist rhetoric he espoused over the last year that gave racist permission to unleash their hate across America. The president elect has not made a speech to the American people outlining how he intends to bring the country back together after his hurtful campaign. He has not addressed the all-time high incident of hate crimes.

Just last week, an NFL player’s house in New York was vandalized, with “Trump” and “Go Home Nigger” scrawled on his walls. There’s a black Trump car with flags flapping in the wind, Trump sprayed in white on the back, and a man with a red Trump cap behind the wheel, his elbow hanging out of the window, that races up and down our beautiful southern California neighborhood. The other day when I tried to take a picture of him, he held up his middle finger at me.

All of this is stressful, so you must be kind to yourselves and allow your mind and body to process this change of moving backwards in time. It is frightening and stressful that white supremacists and Neo-Nazis are being legitimized and normalized by the media calling them “alt-right.” You must grieve to release the sadness that you feel. You will go through the five stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. You were in the first stage of denial when you called me the morning after.

The day after was also filled with the second stage of grieving: Anger! I felt mad as hell at white people for voting for Trump; according to the Washington Post, Trump received 65 percent support among white registered voters without a four-year college degree and 46 percent among white college graduates. I felt betrayed by whites, and you may have experienced this feeling also. How could they ignore the painful history of racism in this country and vote for a man who openly spoke racist rhetoric and called African Americans “The Blacks” or “My African American?” A man who encouraged his supporters to push a black girl more than 25 times out of his rally and, on another occasion, said that he’d pay for the legal fees of a white man who punched a black man on the campaign trail.

I watched an older Black woman, a nurse, cry on TV as she recalled the pain she felt when she wasn’t allowed to rent an apartment owned by the Trumps because of the color of her skin. Her pain was raw; it felt like I could reach through the television set and touch her tears. I wanted to. Then I read an article on Mother Jones, wherein a reliable source is quoted as saying that Trump required that Black employees of his casinos be kept out of sight when he arrived at the hotel. Like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Gladys Knight experienced, they had to be ushered to the back!

Our anger will give way to the next phase of grief, bargaining and praying that the electorate will vote differently on December 19th and deliver Hillary a surprise victory. I must admit that I’m still in this phase just a little bit. For a while I just knew that Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida went to Clinton, and it would only be a matter of time before the world realized this also. I’ll never let go of my morsel of hope that the election results could change and, together, we could all work really hard to make America sane again.

I must admit that I slipped into the next grieving phase of depression without even realizing what was going on. I have not wanted to write. I expected to be over-the-moon excited about contributing to The Huffington Post. I thought I would be bubbling with excitement about the conversations I wanted to ignite about race, identity, purpose and love with my new short film, Out of Bounds. But there’s a part of me that just isn’t excited about maneuvering a world that is so divided, so openly hostile, and so racist. My feet feel heavier than usual, like they’re stuck in thick mud and unable to move backwards in time. You may experience this sensation of sluggishness also.

As we enter the final grieving stage of acceptance, I want you to know, my sweet sons, that it is so important that you contribute your best to society during this time. As old Black folks always say, God works in mysterious ways. And I believe on this leg of the journey, He’s going to use ordinary folks who, authentically, share their gifts to make a change.

Speaking of mysterious ways, a strange thing is happening with me. I feel grateful every time I see a jubilant white person wearing one of those red hats. I’m glad that they’re no longer hidden in the shadows, ready to explode with anger. It’s always best that anger is released rather than bottled up inside a person. I’m glad that those with deep animosity against “the other,” or anyone allegedly usurping white people’s entitlements, are now easily identifiable in their “Make America Great Again” red hats and in their movement. I’m glad that they now have an open outlet at the Trump rallies.

When you see them, send a smile their way. Shake their hand, give them a loving hug if they will allow you to get that close. I know many will say they chose Trump for his policies, not for his racist rhetoric that he spewed during the campaign. They will shout that they’re not racist. But I believe a man is what a man says. Look them straight in the eye when you say this, then shake their hand.

I expect you to lovingly engage whites whenever you can about racism and its root cause. Don’t be afraid to ask whites to explain how your skin color, alone, can make you less than a man, although underneath your skin your heart beats the same as theirs.

As we accept this change in history, my sons, keep being the wonderful, loving, smart young Black men that I raised you to be, who went to the best schools from kindergarten to college. Continue to believe you’re not limited by the color of your skin.

There are more fair-minded Americans than racist ones. Hillary Clinton received 2.8 million more votes than Trump, according to the latest tallies. Always remember that there are a lot of good white people who don’t deny the history of racism in America and who would never vote for a candidate who spewed racist rhetoric. They will stand with you. You are not alone!

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