Hey, bud. It’s been a week, hasn’t it? My head and heart are still in shambles. I feel broken. The world feels broken. The country I thought I knew feels foreign, like we’ve sacrificed our moral authority.
First, I want to say how proud I am of you. You’re 14. You got interested in this election without my prompting. I didn’t know you were becoming active until I saw a few of your tweets a while back. Yes, your views aligned strongly with mine, but that wasn’t the point. You were becoming active, vocal in your own way. You were becoming a citizen.
I can’t say I’m surprised. You’ve always been one to question when justice and logic are skewed. You’re eminently practical, but above all you’re kind. A while back, I told you that in elementary school, at least five of your friends told me that you were their best friend. That only comes when you are kind and accepting of others. After telling you that story, I believe I said, “Whatever you do in life, don’t stop being kind to others.”
I grew up in a family where difference was palpable. Racial and cultural slurs were common, sexism pervasive. My grandfather, uncle and father — the central male figures in my life — all found nothing wrong in painting the “other” as stereotypes to degrade or fear. Our family circles never transected diversity, at least not in a way that embraced it. Racism was ingrained. When the holidays came around and the mixed nuts appeared, my father never missed a chance to refer to the unshelled Brazil nuts as n***er toes. My uncle never missed a chance to speak about the ethnic purity of our German heritage. My grandfather never let my grandmother get a driver’s license or work outside the home.
With that as a backdrop, we lived in a neighborhood that I now describe as having “one of each.” Black families. Latino families. Jewish families. Families with disabled kids. A lesbian couple. We lived in the middle of the melting pot, and guess what? I grew to know them as neighbors and humans, not stereotypes. That’s where difference dissolves into diversity, and where kindness is born.
Your mom and I have tried so hard to raise you in a way where you didn’t have to see difference — at least not in a negative light. You were born into a neighborhood where interracial families are common, and we regularly heard multiple languages in the park across the street. It’s the privileged kind of diversity you find in a college town, but it was diversity nonetheless.
I’m still trying to make sense of last Tuesday’s election results, and it’s easy to blanket everyone who voted for the president-elect in an angry soup of -isms. They supported a candidate who was openly hostile to any combination of our non-male, non-Christian, non-white, and non-hetero-normative fellow Americans.
Yes, voters from all backgrounds cast their ballots for the victor, many out of sheer desperation for change, but the largest and most supportive group looked just like you and me.
To millions of Americans who don’t look like us, we are at best an unknown, likely and understandably a threat. When so many of those who look like us voted for (or most generously accepted) a platform that was saturated with hate, the definition of what it means to be an ally seismically changed.
Being an effective ally can no longer be passive.
I spontaneously participated in a political protest on campus last week, walking into a parade of solidarity that happenstance had me intersect. I’ve never done that before. When I told you about it, I was surprised by your visceral embarrassment. You asked me, “Why would you do that?! Those things don’t do any good.” You’ve never been one to attract attention to yourself, so some time has helped me understand your reaction. I get why you don’t see the benefit of a large group of people chanting and marching. What good does it do?
I wasn’t able to explain it clearly the other day, so I hope I can here.
When I stepped into the street and joined that protest, I did not do it for me. I did not do it alone.
I stepped into the street for and with my brother in spirit, who was brutally raped because of his sexuality and now faces the prospect of his relationship with his beloved being legally invalidated.
I stepped into the street for and with the Muslim members of my team at work, who, like many of their faith, are now wondering if they are welcome in this country.
I stepped into the street for and with my dear friend, who is afraid to return to the United States because of how her infant daughter’s Mexican heritage will be perceived.
I stepped into the street for my black colleagues, who are often seen as dangerous by default.
I stepped into the street for and with my girlfriend, who bravely came out as a bisexual woman just weeks ago and now lives in a country whose vice-president elect believes that shock therapy can “cure” her.
I stepped into the street for and with her girls, who suddenly see an unshattered glass ceiling above them and who have to try to come to grips with a president who has wanton disregard for their rights and their bodies.
I stepped into the street for and with you, because I don’t want you coming of age in a nation divided by hate.
Walking into that street was just a beginning for me. Now is not the time for silence, nor is it the time to gather in unity with those that rode hate to victory. It is the time for me, as a straight, white male in the United States, to be an ally.
You’re 14. I don’t expect you to be carrying the full weight of this torch — or even fully understand why I do. I hope you continue to be the kind human you are, pay attention to what’s going on, safely speak out against hate and injustice where you see it, and — most importantly — be an example and safe place for your friends and classmates.
I will be a haven for those that feel threatened, even when it’s not convenient.
I will call out bigotry and sexism where I see it, even when it’s uncomfortable.
I will be an example for you, even when I’m imperfect.
I will be there for you and listen, even when I’m tempted to preach.
I will be an active participant in our flawed political process, more deeply engaging those with whom I disagree on policy, but who agree that discrimination should not be a part of any political platform.
At the end of the day, I hope you are as proud of me for standing as an ally as I am of you for being interested, engaged and, above all, kind.