Trump and the Muslim ban: A conversation with my eight-year-old
by guest blogger Michael Loeb
My daughter is eight years old and lives with me, Michael Loeb, a NYCDOE administrator, and Julia Davis, a civil rights attorney, in Brooklyn. This conversation was part of an ongoing attempt to help my daughter make sense of the Trump presidency and, in particular, what it means to be a White, privileged child in a time of such inequality based on race and class. My daughter knew she was being recorded and was excited by the possibility that her thoughts might be published.
Me: OK, so, when I say the word “Trump,”—respectfully—what does it make you think?
My daughter: It makes me think of, a racist man who doesn’t understand what the right thing is. Who doesn’t understand the difference between right and wrong.
Me: Who just doesn’t understand…OK. Is this something you talk to your friends about?
My daughter:…um…Does it have to be friends, or can it be one friend?
Me: Sure. So, you talk to one friend. What is the conversation like?
My daughter: It’s like “Boo Trump, we hate Trump, blah, blah. He’s racist,” stuff like that.
Me: Do you think it’s important to talk about it at school?
My daughter: I do.
My daughter: Because, I think, as kids, we might not really understand what’s going on. We’re just hearing from our parents how Trump is doing the worst…so we’re not really getting the full picture. I think it’s important.
Me: What does it feel like that me and mom talk about Trump so much?
My daughter: What do you mean?
Me: I wonder if it sometimes feels like we are talking about the president and the changes too much, and we’re sharing too much about it with you.
My daughter: I think…I have two opinions on that. It’s annoying that you talk about it a lot but I think you should give me…more information. Try to give me the full picture. I don’t think you’re doing that.
Me: OK. What is missing? What am I not telling you?
My daughter: Well, try and look at it from a different person’s perspective, like a Trump supporter. Try and look at it that way, and I might get a fuller picture. Or try and tell me, try and explain exactly what he’s doing, not just “being bad.”
Me: Right. I do try to be specific…
My daughter: Well, can you try to be more specific?
Me: One of the things that we’ve talked about a lot is refugees. Why do you care about refugees—you’re not a refugee, I’m not a refugee…
My daughter: Because…well…what I’m about to tell you is just what influenced me, what information, what ideas I’ve been told. Which is: refugees are like the beginning of our country. The way our country started is that people came from England. So, technically, they are kind of like refugees. And our country was made by people fleeing from different parts of the world. So, I think… this is just my thinking…this is something that you have told me about Trump. That he is banning Muslims and immigrants. Which is wrong, from my perspective.
Me: That was the next question I was going to ask you, if you had heard about the Muslim ban and what you think about it.
My daughter: Let me finish the first question. So what was that again?
Me: Oh…why do you care so much about refugees?
My daughter: I mean, I’m just the third generation that has been in this country of my family. Without the United States letting in my refugee grandparents [grandfather] and great grandparents, I wouldn’t be here.
Me: Right. OK. And the Muslim ban?
My daughter: I really think it is wrong, because everyone had ancestors that were refugees here.
Me: Well, slaves were brought here. Africans were brought here and enslaved. They didn’t choose to come here.
My daughter: You know what I mean. So it’s wrong now to not be letting people in when our country at the beginning was letting everyone in, to create what we have now.
Me: Have you ever thought of how it would be different if you were Black, or if you were Muslim, or if you were an immigrant from Mexico.
My daughter: I’ve never thought about it. But, do you want me to give my thoughts now?
My daughter I think…well, which one?
Me: Well, start, if you were Black…
My daughter: I think I would feel thankful, very thankful, for the fact that we are no longer segregated. But, I would still feel quite afraid because Black people still are not being treated, in my perspective, as fairly as they should be.
Me: What about if you were Muslim today?
My daughter: I would feel quite afraid. I would feel like I wasn’t safe where I was, which I think is very important to feel. I would probably feel pretty angry.
Me: What if you had two moms or two dads?
My daughter: I would feel thankful that they were able to be together… I would feel kind of different, but I’d still feel kind of happy.
Me: One of the things that is happening right now is that people who are undocumented immigrants, which means…
My daughter: [interrupts] I know what that means, Daddy!
Me: OK…are being threatened with deportation. They’re being threatened with being forced to leave the country.
My daughter: Could they ever come back?
Me: No…so, do you think that that’s fair?
My daughter: Give me one reason why I would think that that’s fair.
Me: Because…there are many, many people who want to come to this country and some people feel that if you didn’t come a legal way, then you shouldn’t be allowed to be here.
My daughter: I think it’s unfair. Even though it’s the wrong way to come in, I think it’s unfair. Because, imagine how much they had to go through! You’re not really thinking…you’re not really putting yourself in their shoes. And that isn’t OK! You have to really think about what they…who they are.
Me: Two more questions. If you got to sit with President Trump for a few minutes, what would you ask him or what would you say to him?
My daughter: I would say to him… I would tell him in the quickest possible way how I think what he’s doing is wrong and how he should fix it.
Me: Last question: do you have any questions for me?
My daughter: What would you say to him?
Me: I would say that the whole planet and the future of the whole planet, all of the billions of people on this planet, are counting on him to make good decisions. So, please think of your grandchildren, and your grandchildren’s children, and the children all over the world, before each of the decisions you make.
My daughter: Now, can you explain to me why you would say that?
Me: Because I think he’s worried about things like his popularity and reputation and that’s not what matters right now. There are so many people’s lives…and the future of the planet is at stake.
My daughter: Why do you say “the planet?”
Me: Because one of the things he might do that’s irresponsible is to say it’s more important to have business than to protect the environment.
My daughter: OK, so you’re saying this more on the environmental side?
Me: Yes, but also, I mean…the whole planet, everybody, looks to see what the United States is doing and if the United States does things that are unsafe, they could affect the whole planet.
My daughter: I think that Trump looks at everything through an economic way and that is not OK! He’s more focused on…I think he’s more…he’s looking like business is the number one thing that should be happening in America and it’s not. Business—factories like that—can ruin, can be very unsafe for the environment. And if he does that, like you said, everyone else will be looking to see what America does and they’re going to be doing the same thing and it’s not going to be good for the planet.
Me: Well, I would disagree a little in saying that there has to be a balance; there have to be some factories. It’s not just “no factories,” but that you have to be careful when you create one.
My daughter: That’s what I meant.
Me: Well, thank you for speaking with me today.
My daughter: You’re welcome.
Me: I love you.
My daughter: I love you, too.
Michael Loeb taught primary grades in a dual language school in East New York for ten years. At present, he works as an administrator for the NYCDOE. He is the son of a German Jewish refugee and was born in Philadelphia. He is an avid record collector and daily walker.