Amidst all of the thoughtful conversations about the President’s recent address to the Nation’s schoolchildren, I have felt a strange sense of isolation and alienation. While folks are making cogent and important arguments about whether the speech went too far or not far enough, or whether parents are justified in demanding that their children be shielded from the potential indoctrination hiding in the dark corners of the speech, I find myself fighting a sense of rage that takes my thoughts away from the discussion at hand. Why rage? Because in spite of the intellectual interest I might have in these discussions, I am led to a deeper emotional dimension. I am anticipating the crushing disappointment and internalized powerlessness that may be experienced by brown and black skinned schoolchildren who saw in the election of Barack Obama a shining, liberatory moment in a history of oppression. I have other questions I would like answered.
What are these children thinking as they see their democratically elected symbol of hope and transformation scrutinized, vilified, publicly humiliated, and systematically disempowered? What can they be thinking when they see, as I did, a mother on television openly weeping because she feared that her children would be damaged by the words of a man intent on indoctrinating her children with ideas that fall short of her notion of ethical or moral integrity? What is the message being sent by another television clip of an enraged man intent on pulling his child out of school to shield the child from hateful propaganda being spread by this frightening man we call “President”?
What does it mean for children when someone in their own image is elected to the most powerful office in the land but is still not able to garner the admiration, respect and support of the Nation? What does it mean that even after making the impossible possible with the election of Barack Obama, that justice, mutual respect, and a sense of common good is once again eclipsed with politically-motivated tools of distrust and scorn?
I think that pondering the content of the speech and the appropriateness of the presidential address for schoolchildren is taking our eye off the ball. I think it is more important for us to understand how children and young adults who feel a strong sense of kinship with Mr. Obama will internalize the wrath directed at our President. Will they feel like they are not entitled to respect, that their voice does not deserve to be heard, or that hope is hollow?