My daughter is 9 years old. When she was about 5, she asked me, “Is it legal for a white boy to be president, or are only Black boys allowed to be?”
She had clearly not paid close attention to a ruler my oldest son had in 4th grade, which featured photos of all the presidents up to that point, from George W(ashington) to George W (Bush), and which my then 9-year-old summarized as, “White guy, white guy, white guy, white guy in a wig…”
For the majority of my daughter’s life, a Black “boy” has been president. Now—pu, pu, pu, don’t tempt the Evil Eye, we are still Jewish, after all—it’s very likely a white “girl” will be president until my daughter is practically old enough to vote.
Because my husband and I are an interracial couple and our children are biracial (between skin tone, haircut, and protruding ears, my middle child bears an unmistakable resemblance to a certain non-white-guy president—and his Hebrew name is even Barak!), when Obama was first elected, a disproportionate number of people—even strangers on the street—came up to us to gush, “You must be so excited about it!” (As soon as they left, my oldest son, he of the presidential ruler, would mumble, “Micro-aggression,” under his breath.)
Yes. We were excited about it. But not (presumably) for the reasons our new friends thought.
We were excited by Obama’s election because it gave us a chance to demonstrate to our children that a Black man could make horrible decisions we strenuously disagreed with as much as a white man. Political hubris and the belief that they know what’s best for other people doesn’t discriminate by race or gender, kids!
As my husband ranted and raged about a variety of hot-button issues (I’m more of a quiet stewer), our children got to hear where he and I personally stood on them (not that we agree on everything; they got to hear that, too). They also got to hear why we felt the way we did. As they got older, our kids began to express their own opinions. For instance, my middle child, who carries a Constitution in his pocket and thrills me to no end by threatening to tell NYC police what they are doing is wrong, has numerous bones to pick with the president, based on his own interpretations of key Amendments. As does my oldest son, who is now taking AP Economics and AP Government in high school, and thus is obviously an expert in both fields (he spent this summer in Israel as a Bronfman Fellow, which makes him a Middle East expert, as well).
As an added bonus, for the past eight years, my children got to hear the popular opinion that any and all criticism of the sitting president is based on racism only. They even got a front row seat to that time my husband was lectured by a group of white people about how he didn’t understand the African-American experience and that was obviously why he (a teacher, and, oh, yeah, an African-American) objected to Obama’s education policy.
My kids were initially very confused by the whole thing. My oldest—the most sensitive to issues of race and religion since he was in preschool—was even deeply upset by it. But I’m glad it happened. It sparked some amazing discussions and gave my husband and I a chance to explain why we didn’t feel a need to walk in lockstep with the mainstream, no matter what names we might get called as a result. And why we hoped our children would follow suit. They didn’t have to agree with our opinions. But they really should think deeply and form their own, even in the face of outside influences enlightening them as to the “proper” way to think.
And now (see Evil Eye disclaimer, above), we’ll have the chance to do it all over again with a woman president. I look forward to men of all races and religions lecturing me about disagreeing with Hillary Clinton due to my obvious misogyny and, oh, yes, another tune from the hit parade, “self-hatred.”
And I look forward to sharing that experience with my Jewish, African-American daughter. Because she still has a lot of presidents ahead of her. Maybe, one day, she’ll even get the chance to disagree with a Jewish one!