In the immortal words of rapper Aubrey “Drake” Graham, “Man, what a time to be alive! You and yours, versus me and mine!”
When the annals of history are compiled, what will 2016 be known as? The year of Brexit and Trump? The year Prince and Bowie passed on? Or perhaps we’ll just know it as the year before the year when the fecal matter really hit the fan.
The day Barack Obama was elected I remember thinking “So, this is what it feels like to live through history!” I made mental notes of where I was, what I was doing and how I felt so that one day I could pass on this valuable information to my children. More recently I’ve been wondering how to explain how we let Brexit and Trump happen as my offspring and I are stalking the ruins of a dystopian-future London foraging for fuel to warm our nuclear bunker.
“Remind me why we bring children into this messed up world again?” a friend of mine said on WhatsApp. A non-parent questioning the procreation choices of others doesn’t go down well at the best of times, but when the days are as dark as they feel at the moment, this becomes a reasonable question. Why do we bring children into this grim world as witness to our personal ordeals and the demise of our nation?
“Deep down we have hope that things are going to better,” I answered. Simplistic, yes, but I think that it’s true. Somewhere within the human psyche there is some kind of audacious optimism to counter the surface level fatalism we wallow in. It’s either that or we are hopelessly stupid and should let our species die out so that the Earth can heal itself and move on. But even if you take the optimistic view, the fear felt by many in the aftermath of recent political upset is real, and as parents, what do we do with that?
The highest priority for most is to protect: protect your child from anyone and anything that does not have their best interests at heart or view them as a fully-fledged human being with the right to exist in all their fullness. When I wrote about this in relation to homeschooling in a previous column, some interpreted it as “coddling” or “sheltering”. I’m saddened that some of us have internalised the view that somehow black children are not really children but small adults, and should be exposed to all the stresses and strain that weary full-grown people. Black children have the right to a childhood of innocent ignorance, as do all children. Furthermore, when children feel safe and loved, they generally grow into well-balanced, emotionally-stable adults. Generally.
Logically, the next priority is to prepare, and as parents we are doing this all the time. Everything we teach our children ultimately prepares them for adulthood in some shape or fashion. I’ve half-imagined the conversations I might have with my son when he’s older, and while this is a futile exercise on some level, I’ve come to the conclusion that these conversations are only going to work if I tell him the truth. The need for this to be age-appropriate goes without saying and also conveniently feeds back into the desire to protect, but we can prepare our children by respecting their intelligence and not underestimating their perceptive skills or ability to understand nuance.
This balance between protection and preparation may sound a bit complicated, but it can be done. In fact, most parents are doing it already. For example, parents protect their children when walking down the street by holding their hand and ensuring that they walk on the inside of the pavement, away from the kerb and oncoming traffic. They also prepare their children by teaching them about road safety. Once again, this can sound very simplistic when facing the cultural apocalypse of the West head on, and it can be hard to envision what this practically means, but one other benefit we have as people, parents or not, is history.
I joked with friends about how recent events suggest that we are in a real life time machine. Some variation of the tweet “don’t forget to set your clock back 60 years” was tweeted and retweeted onto my timeline the day Donald Trump became President-Elect. It’s cliché to say, but when we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. This does mean, however, that we have a cheat-sheet of sorts because we’ve been here before. The ideas are rehashed, the rhetoric is the same, and really, the only thing that’s changed is the technology used to broadcast the propaganda. Those of us that are diligent can use this to our advantage.
There is some kind of reassurance to be found in the fact that generally speaking we have been through slavery, colonialism, genocide, war, segregation, apartheid, pogroms, and whatever else and yet we are still here. Parents raised children, communities still grew, and we survived the unspeakable violence levelled against us, still hanging onto our cultures, languages and identities by the skin of our teeth. I don’t say this to trivialise the horrors that we have been through but to remind us that survival is possible, and we can even look to the lives of those who have gone before for ideas on how to move forward. History shows us that somehow we survive again, and again, and again, so perhaps we do have the right to be hopeful after all.
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Jendella Benson is a photographer, writer and filmmaker based in London. She writes about issues of faith, race, identity, feminism and the arts for various publications online and offline, and is also an occasional public speaker and workshop facilitator. She tweets regularly from @JENDELLA and more of her work can be found at www.jendella.co.uk.
You’re Doing It Wrong is a bi-monthly column by Jendella Benson on parenting, relationships, and the kaleidoscope of small victories, anxiety and unsolicited advice that is modern family life.