My daughter turned 12 Friday. When she woke up, she said, “I hope nothing terrible happens today.” How sad to start a special day with this thought. I had the same thought, considering how domestic terrorists attempted to take over the U.S. Capitol just two days prior.
How does one celebrate the birthday of a 12-year-old during a pandemic with a president doing his darndest to take advantage of every aspect of our government built on white supremacy and crush American democracy to the ground in his last two weeks in office?
We started with her favorite treat on earth – pink glazed donuts from Dunkin’ for breakfast; an extra special treat when housebound with a dad who loves cooking and is passionate about health and eating a plant-based diet. She didn’t want to go to virtual school, but we reminded her it was a chance to have her friends and teachers wish her a happy birthday. It was fun to hear through the door that separates her “office” (my old home office which is now classroom/gym) and mine (an armchair in the corner of our bedroom) the tinny sound of middle schoolers singing “Happy Birthday” every couple of hours.
After FaceTiming friends and family and playing ROBLOX with her buddies, we enjoyed her favorite pandemic meal – Beyond Burgers and fries (and a dairy-laden junior-sized strawberry milkshake) from Silver Diner in front of the TV where we let her pick any movie to watch. Her choice of film? ‘Hamilton.’
My mom, sister, daughter, and I all have January birthdays and over the years have celebrated by going to the theater; for our 2020 birthday we splurged on tickets to see ‘Hamilton’ at the Kennedy Center in June. When the pandemic happened, we got a refund and tried to console ourselves with a socially-distant outdoor viewing of the performance via Disney+.
Friday night was the first time I had seen ‘Hamilton’ since that summer, and after the events of that week it had a drastically different vibe.
I shared this thought on Instagram Stories, and many said they too felt that, it made them even more upset that these individuals would attack our country, our government, our Constitution and dare to call themselves patriots. That we as a country worked so hard to prevent that Confederate flag from being in the Capitol and now it was waved inside and out and individuals wearing shirts mocking the Holocaust and hanging up nooses, who smeared their shit and carved graffiti onto the halls and threatened to kill members of Congress.
But when I watched ‘Hamilton,’ especially the first part where Hamilton, Mulligan, Laurens, and Lafayette are getting all excited in the bar. They were going to overthrow what they found to be an unfair controlling government, they were patriots.
Merriam-Webster defines patriot as, “one who loves and supports his or her country.” Oxford Languages (what pops up when you Google a word) defines patriot as, “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors.”
The terrorists who stormed the Capitol consider themselves patriots. The president called them patriots. They thought they were getting all ‘Hamilton' on Nancy Pelosi, who was their King George III in this live-streamed cosplay.
For the past month, my daughter and I have been reading a chapter of Stamped every evening before bed. I recently shared this book on Instagram, encouraging parents to also read it with their kids. Many adults shared they read it and shared it with other adults as it is easier to digest than some other antiracist books on the market without sugarcoating our country’s history.
Stamped inspired many powerful discussions with my kid, and she asked many hard questions. We went to bed late most nights, spending time researching further what we read. This experience was eye-opening for both of us.
Our Founding Fathers were slave owners. All men are created equal, as long as they are white and were born with a penis. Our country was founded on white supremacy. We have romanticized the birth of our country for hundreds of years and for these hundreds of years have continued to accept the laws and social norms that continue to place white men at the top, and consider assimilation to be an acceptable route for Black people to be treated with any iota of humanity let alone respect.
At the end of her birthday, while getting ready for bed, we had a lot to talk about. We talked about Thomas Jefferson, who talked about ending slavery, but not really wanting to. How he was like our president, who claims to have Black friends, takes selfies with Kanye and appoints Ben Carson but supports racist laws and backs racist politicians. We talked about Alexander Hamilton, who talked about ending slavery, yet helped his in-laws purchase slaves.
And we talked about the rioters on Wednesday, how some just wanted to get selfies, but many were thinking they were on the right side of history. They truly thought they were being patriots and helping to make America great again. That these so-called patriots thought liberal Democrats who wanted to care for all Americans were equal to King George who would, “kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.”
America was never great unless you were white and male. There is no way to go back, we can’t go back, we won’t go back. And we can’t move forward from what happened last week unless we reckon with it. What happened last week wasn’t an isolated incident, and while you may be angry and ashamed and horrified by it, you shouldn’t have been surprised. These self-described patriots have been working towards such an act for years.
The difference is, those of us who they are fighting against, we’re not George III. We do not wish to, “either master them or totally leave them to themselves.” We just want our country to grow with its people and care for all of its people.
If you feel helpless, here are some things I've done and recommend:
How to Be a Force for Positive Change
Call Your Representatives
Yes, you’ve already done this so many times in the past year (and for many of you, the past decades) but that doesn’t mean you can rest. Since we’re still in the middle of a pandemic and most are working from home, you’ll likely get a recording and have to leave a message. Even so, a call has more impact than an email or letter. Every call is logged and added to a report that gets sent to your congressman.
Don’t call just anyone, call your representative in your area for the most impact, share your name and zip code (to show you’re a constituent), and the purpose for your call. Some say you should provide your entire address if leaving a voice message. The politicians don’t hear your messages, the staffers do and they have to listen to the entire message to ensure there aren’t any threats so keep it brief and to the point.
If you aren’t sure who to call or what to say, check out 5 Calls. 5 Calls Civic Action is a 501(c)4 non-profit that helps citizens make their voices heard. You can pick from the column to the left of the site the issue you are concerned about. If you allow the site to know your location, it will provide you with who your representatives are, their numbers, and short scripts to use when calling.
Stop Doomscrolling and Do Your Homework
Get off Twitter, Facebook, and MSNBC and get into a book or podcast or documentary that digs into the true history of this country. The best way to change the future is to understand the past so we don’t repeat it.
There’s no shame if your pandemic-world-on-fire-impeach-the-MFer mind can’t absorb that New York Times bestseller about antiracism. I may have said this summer you should finish that book you started reading, but even I have several dog-eared and unfinished books on my nightstand because this year has made it where I can’t even absorb a beach read. The shame is if you let that end your education.
Switch up your binging of ‘Bridgerton’ and ‘Gilmore Girls’ with If Beale Street Could Talk and ‘Dear White People’. Replace ‘The Boys’ and ‘Doctor Who’ with ‘Watchmen’ and ‘Lovecraft Country.’ Put down How to Be an Antiracist if you’ve read the same paragraph five times and turn on 13TH, which is on Netflix.
Read with others. Whether it’s one short chapter of Stamped each day with your kids or starting the morning by texting your friend group with a link to an article you read to start a discussion, by reading with others you are motivated to finish and the discussions that come from it will help you see it in different ways and question more.
The Palm Collective, in collaboration with local DC grassroots organizations, free agents, and frontline activists, has created a GoFundMe to continually fund mutual aid operations and financially support those who keep us safe and fight for racial equity. Fascists have declared that they will remain in DC through the Biden inauguration. They are fundraising specifically to secure living spaces for unhoused DC residents and sending stipends directly to frontline organizers and activists. This is a way to ensure that we can sustain the movement while also being mindful that we all have livelihoods and basic needs.
Funds will be distributed on a weekly basis to activists’ CashApp or Venmo accounts. Every person gets a percentage of the total raised in a given week. They are providing a Weekly Transparency Report so donors can see how funds are being dispersed.
Educate the Younger Generations
Think about it, our children know how to handle an active shooter in their schools yet we’re concerned with scaring them by sharing the news. Our children need to know what is going on so they can be the change. In the blink of an eye, my little baby became a young adult who will likely be taller than me by spring. She is living through a pandemic, she is seeing what is going on through YouTube and TikTok, it is my duty to ensure she learns the truth and the history that brought us to this moment.
- This article from NPR shares thoughts of parents and educators and links to resources to help you discuss the riots at The Capitol.
- The National Education Association also has some tips and a link at the bottom of the article to read it in Spanish.
- If you are a Christian, this piece from Rooted Ministry may prove helpful in finding the words to explain what happened.
- The article that helped me most to focus and tailor the conversation to my kid and previous conversations we had before was this one from The Washington Post.
Rest, Recharge, and be Resilient
In 2014 when I shattered my right radius, had multiple surgeries, was on disability, issues with my surgeon, struggled to work and blog and parent, and even wash myself while having a thread on a blog snark site tearing me apart, I was so low. A reader shared this YouTube video of Brené Brown’s TED Talk. It inspired me to purchase all of Brown’s books at that time via Audible, and I would take slow walks around my neighborhood, listening to them. I started with Daring Greatly, then The Gifts of Imperfection, and so on. It may sound hokey, but Brené Brown is what pulled me out of a pit and helped me go on.
This past year, what has helped me be resilient has been not just my Peloton bike, but the words of the instructors, most especially Tunde Oyeneyin. Her classes are positive and motivating, her words inspiring and constantly hit me like a ton of bricks. Many say that exercise helps them release emotions, I am not one of those people. But I have cried during many a Tunde class.
Her ‘Speak Up’ and ‘Year of Yes’ classes have been to me what Brené Brown was to me during that very difficult year. Oyeneyin’s words have made me see my life and issues through a different light, and this past weekend, she reminded me of my resilience. Her most recent ‘Year of Yes’ class (inspired by Shonda Rhimes’ book) discussed resilience and reminded me of times in. my life I said yes to hard things, even when every fiber of my being was under stress. And how this time in history is stressing me out, but I can’t not say yes to taking it on, to keep fighting, to keep speaking up, to keep doing what I can to make this country safer and more equitable.
I’m not saying go buy all Brené Brown’s books and order a Peloton, but I am saying you can’t be too tired to keep fighting, especially if you are a white person who has benefitted from the way this country has been run since the start. Find your way to rest up, recharge, find peace, and get back to fighting.
Talk to your friends and your family, especially if they are or prior to Wednesday, have been Trump supporters. To have January 6th be the final straw, and not all the other atrocities of this administration needs to be addressed.
Also talk to your friends who may not have voted for Trump, but are happy to go back to living in their privileged bubble, ignoring the atrocities happening right outside their field of vision.
Just as many of us who thought we weren’t racists realized otherwise through reading and self-reflection, we have the ability to help others realize how their beliefs and their priorities are actually racist, sexist, classist, and violent. We as white people can’t dismiss those who we may see as “deplorables,” we need to do our part to educate, inform, and hold them accountable.
Share Your Thoughts
I encourage calm discussion in the comments below. Share what has helped you be informed, stay resilient, make positive change, have difficult conversations with kids and relatives. Share online communities and other resources you have found helpful and supportive. Note that if you share more than one link in your comment it will go to spam but I will approve it as soon as possible if it contributes to the discussion.
Also note I have the right to delete any comment on my website, my social media, and my Facebook group that is inflammatory, inaccurate, attacks another commenter or me, or does not contribute to the discussion. Comments about the intelligence, state of residence, general appearance, body size or health in a way to criticize any person will be deleted, no matter how horrible the person or how poignant the rest of the comment. As I teach my 12-year-old, we have so many descriptive words in our language to share anger and disgust, we can use them without name-calling and body shaming. Thank you for being a part of this community.