You’re not even a year old yet, and you’ve already lived through the toughest couple of months of your mom’s entire life. (And you didn’t even miss a nap! Well done.) The stress, anxiety, nausea, and sleeplessness of the night Donald Trump was elected president really makes the night I gave birth to you seem like a delightful, albeit bloody, family vacation. I’ve been lucky enough to make it 31 years without ever feeling this abandoned by my fellow Americans—because, in my mind, it’s hard to separate my neighbors and family members who voted in favor of Trump and Pence from all the racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic (shall I go on?) policies that those men plan to bring to fruition. I’m scared as hell—and I’m one of the lucky ones.
Through all the horrible events in recent years, I still had faith—in President Obama, in the Black Lives Matter movement, in the power of American citizens to turn things around for the better. After 9/11, we rallied as Americans and as New Yorkers to emerge stronger in the face of unknown terror. But this election has been the ultimate horror-film moment for me: The call was coming from inside the house. All the hatred and cruelty and fear-mongering and white supremacist garbage that many of us brushed off as “just crazy campaign antics” during the election turns out to have been something that is now considered worthy of a national platform. This all leaves some of us feeling as if, come Inauguration Day, there will be no protectors left to keep us safe. But Silas, there are protectors left—and soon, you will be one of them.
I won’t lie: I’m afraid for your future. I see the news, and all the hate crimes and harassment since the election, and I want to yell, “WTF, America?! This is no place for a child!!” My first instinct is always an absurd desire to simply protect you from all of it: Your uncle voted Trump because he thinks gun access is more important than women’s bodies? Guess we’ll skip Thanksgiving this year! The Rust Belt flipped for Trump? Guess we won’t road-trip to Michigan after all! But these thoughts are nothing but desperate, lame attempts at holing up and shutting down in hopes of avoiding conflict and not getting hurt—and that won’t accomplish anything. You will get hurt, Silas. I hate it. But we all get hurt; we just have to make sure it’s worthwhile wounds from fighting the good fight.
Because guess what? You are in a position of privilege. You are white, you are middle class, and you have parents who will fight with every scrap of our beings for your safety, your education, and your rights. But although you’re hands-down my favorite kid, you’re not actually any better than any other kid out there. And sure, it’s easy to assume you’re safe, protected—“lucky” enough to be a white male in Trump’s America. But maybe you won’t identify as male. Maybe you won’t identify as straight. Maybe your best friend or the love of your life will be an immigrant or a Muslim or even—how unoriginal—a woman. Chances are, you or someone dear to you will be one of the people whose health, safety, and wellbeing is currently on the line. And fighting against discrimination, harassment, and hatred is not just about protecting your own rights; it’s about protecting all of our rights, because we are all equal.
For now, as scared as I am, all I can do is promise to teach you — by doing, not just by telling. I promise to show you what tolerance and kindness looks like, every day, here in our little red state and everywhere else we go. I promise to teach you about feminism and equality, and how there are no such things as “boy colors” or “girl toys.” I promise to show you what respect looks like, and consent, and to make sure you know that everyone’s body is their own. I promise to help you meet all kinds of different people and listen to their stories. I promise to let you fall down, and I promise to pick you back up again. I hope you will have the confidence to know that you’re powerful—and the compassion to use your power for good.
I know you will be “one of the good guys”; you already are. I know your generation will be the ones to continue what we started: tearing down walls, dismantling the establishment from within. But I also want to tell you this: As much as you are strong and brave, you don’t always have to be a hero. You can rest when it’s all too much. You can be soft. You can cry. Like I said before, you are the same as everybody else. All of your feelings are valid—even the quiet or sad or angry ones. And so are theirs.
Which reminds me: Listen to folks on the other side, too. Their opinions may seem misguided to me, but their emotions are real, and many of them are no strangers to this sense of abandonment that I have only just started to experience myself. Something motivated more than 60 million people to vote differently than I did in November—and I have to believe it wasn’t all just hate.
I’ve been so angry, Silas. But the next time I talk to your uncle, or That One Conservative Guy At Work, or end up being picked up by an Uber driver who voted for Trump, I’m going to ask them why. Because it’s not enough to close our minds, cover our ears, and sing “lalala can’t hear you” when faced with the reality of a divided, downtrodden nation that’s desperate for change. Our hearts may encounter hatred, and we may want to hate it right back — I know I do (luckily, your dad is usually around to restrain me). But the only way to move forward is through conversation — as painful and cringe-worthy and uncomfortable as it can be. Because we just don’t have the luxury of staying in our comfort zones anymore.
I know you’re going to make the world a better place. It’s not going to be easy, but I’ll be right behind you (probably with snacks). These four years are going to be rough, but then they’re going to be over—and we are never going back. And hey, in 17 years, you get to vote in your first election. And in 17 years, Michelle Obama will be the exact age that Hillary Clinton is now.
There’s always hope.
Amelia Edelman is a freelance editor, journalist, and essayist from NYC now living in Nashville. She is a regular contributor to Refinery29 and has also been published by MTV, xoJane, Folio Magazine, Quail Bell Magazine, and elsewhere. When not writing, she is usually marveling at the TN “winter” and/or trying to get her son to put on pants.