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What do they tell the children?

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the terrifying scale of the racist hatred being directed toward Obama. Yesterday I saw this article, which implied that the Secret Service is struggling to keep up with threats against the president.

Since Mr Obama took office, the rate of threats against the president has increased 400 per cent from the 3,000 a year or so under President George W. Bush, according to Ronald Kessler, author of In the President’s Secret Service.

Some threats to Mr Obama, whose Secret Service codename is Renegade, have been publicised, including an alleged plot by white supremacists in Tennessee late last year to rob a gun store, shoot 88 black people, decapitate another 14 and then assassinate the first black president in American history.

And today there’s this article, about a creepy militia-like organization (one of several hundred just like it, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center [cited in the article]) that’s convinced Obama is Hitler and is therefore preparing to fight back against his impending “dictatorship”:

Oath Keepers is not preaching violence or government overthrow, Rhodes said. On the contrary, it is asking police and the military to lay down their arms in response to unlawful orders.

The group’s Web site,, features videos and testimonials in which supporters compare President Barack Obama’s America to Adolf Hitler’s Germany. They also liken Obama to England’s King George III during the American Revolution.

One member, in a videotaped speech at an event in Washington, D.C., calls Obama “the domestic enemy the Constitution is talking about.”

OK, none of this is surprising to me, nor should it be to anyone who understands just how racist this country is. This is simply the new face of the KKK — the sheets are off, the N-word is gone, and they’re using code-words like “patriotism”, but these people are preparing for a race war. They’re terrified that Obama’s election means… something. That PoC will enslave white people, maybe. The end of white dominance in the country’s bastions of power and privilege. The fact that these bastions are in no danger whatsoever of a mass “browning” is beside the fact; Obama is a symbol, and they’re terrified of the potential change that he represents. And to assuage their terror, they’re gearing up to kill… well, not just him, but pretty much anybody who scares them. I figure most of us ABW bloggers and readers are probably somewhere on that list, if you go far enough down. I mean, really — we’ve got radical Christianists* praying for the man’s death. These are the terrorists we should really fear.

But I found myself wondering, today, what Barack and Michelle Obama have told their children about this.

Because parents of black children have to do that. If they have any sense of responsibility, they prepare their children for the racism they’ll inevitably face. I don’t have kids, but I certainly remember my parents and grandparents carefully pointing out incidents and disparities and stereotypes, and talking with me about them. I remember my mother instructing me about how to act with the police — as a woman I’m not in quite as much danger from them as a black man would be, but I’m not safe either. Yet even with this advance preparation, I remember being shocked as I grew older and realized that racism had not ended with the Civil Rights Act, as I had been taught in school. It was still happening, still killing — still a near-daily threat to my personal health and welfare. My parents had done what they could to cushion this shock, but it was still painful, even terrifying, when I finally understood it as more than an intellectual exercise.

So what, I wonder, does the first couple tell Sasha and Malia? Do they try and prepare their daughters for the possibility that their father will be assassinated because of his race? Have they warned the girls that they’ll probably never be able to leave Secret Service or bodyguard protection, at any point in their lives? Do they keep the girls off the internet, for fear they’ll find out that Dad is getting 30 death threats a day? Or when they talk with the girls about it — how the hell do you talk to a child about something like that, without traumatizing them for life? How do you keep children, when they’re immersed in so much hatred and fear, from growing up hateful and fearful themselves?

I’m not a parent yet, so fortunately I don’t have to deal with these questions. (I am an official “auntie” to my best friends’ kids, but like a good auntie I get to defer the tough questions to Mom and Dad. To a degree.) But I cannot help empathizing with Michelle, who was younger than me when she had Malia, and wondering how I would handle the matter if I were in her position.

PoC parents: how do you do this? How do you prepare your kids for this fucked-up world?

* Using this term consciously to mimic the way most of American society refers to “radical Islamists.”

11 thoughts on “What do they tell the children?”

  1. Sigrid Ellis says:

    Huh. Huh.

    My daughter is a person of color; I and my partner are not. I am not confident in my ability to help prepare her (in the ways you describe) for the racism she will encounter, ally though I attempt to be. (I mean, we talk about racism, we talk about the other -isms, but racism is not something I have experienced. I lack that perspective.)

    Guess I’ll keep working on this one.

    I’ll be reading the comments with interest, thank you for posting this.

  2. karnythia says:

    We are navigating these waters now. You know I get some ugly stuff by email and obviously that has required some changes in our approach to life. But, I don’t want the boys living in fear. So it’s a balancing act. At 10 my oldest is too old for me to keep everything away from him and we talk about things when he asks questions. He knows that the police are the people to go to if he’s in trouble and can’t get to us, but that the police are not necessarily going to treat him fairly (before someone jumps on me, please Google Chicago and Ryan Harris, follow that with a look at Lenard Clark’s case) and so he needs to be careful about what attracts their attention. We’ve discussed the conventions I go to, and why Daddy is so uncomfortable with the idea of bringing him and his brother. And it’s hard because I don’t want any of this to touch them, but I also don’t want my kids to be completely unprepared. The youngest is a toddler and so he’s insulated from a lot of things, but I wonder sometimes what he’s noticing because the oldest is looking back and remembering things from preschool that he’s now aware were race based and it’s clear that even then he was aware that his teacher was treating him differently. We do what we can to make sure they know who they are and don’t internalize the racism that floods our society, while learning to navigate life.

  3. J. Andrews says:

    Hrm.. wouldn’t it be Christianityists? Doesn’t roll off the tongue as well though. Maybe Christists.

  4. Elisabeth Kay says:

    It’s really not a race thing.

    Please take the time to google “George W Bush is Hitler” (without quotes for best results) and you’ll see that there was the exact same backlash to our former President as there is to our current one.

    1. karnythia says:

      Except you know…not. The Secret Service is reporting concerns that they cannot protect the President and perform any other mission at the same time due to the volume of threats. There is a distinct possibility that their other duties will be handed over to the Treasury department.

    2. TallyCola says:

      an alleged plot by white supremacists in Tennessee late last year to rob a gun store, shoot 88 black people, decapitate another 14 and then assassinate the first black president in American history.

      Not a race thing. Right.

  5. Quercki says:

    I worry about President Obama’s safety too. As a parent, I can’t imagine what the Obamas tell their children. My parents never told me anything, and lied about murdered family members when I asked what they died from.

    This is an example of how racism hurts everybody. The best president we’ve had in quite a while is at high danger of being assassinated.

  6. Matt says:

    @Elisabeth Kay – I’d like to believe that, too, but your own evidence doesn’t really support you:

    Those results suggest that the sheer volume of Obama hitlerisms is nothing like the bush equivalent.

    In terms of raw, un-quote marks search results, ‘bush’ has a million edge over ‘obama’, but since he was in office for eight years and Obama hasn’t yet served a full term, you’d think that he’d do, uh, better, if this was a purely political thing.

  7. Mia says:

    I don’t remember my parents talking about the racism we would face… ever. In the world they grew up in it was pretty commonplace, so I guess they felt it didn’t need any explaining. But children start dealing with these issues as early as preschool, and the heavy hateful stuff picks up as early as kindergarten.

    It really just depends on the kid, their interaction with the world around them, and their resilience; because for some kids it can be emotionally crippling. What I like about the Obama’s is that they keep extended family members around, and that helps alot.

  8. Steven says:

    Racism is only present as much as you are cognizant of it, if you look for seagulls you’ll see them everywhere too. As for preparing kids for racism, it’s like our attempts to prepare them for sex, too little, too late, and woefully inadequate. Part of being a parent is screwing up, accept it. My question to all of you is what do you do with racism when you find it… (paraphrasing) “Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one” – Friedrich Neitzsche

  9. Quercki says:

    Racism, like seagulls, is present and pooping whether we are cognizant of it or not.

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