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'Politics Is Not My Thing' Won't Cut It If You're a Parent

Photograph by Twenty20

When the presidential campaigning started over a year ago, I vowed to pay no attention to the circus of Republicans and the old-guard Democrats. I knew there was a lot of time ahead and that many changes would occur before we actually stepped into the voting booths in November 2016.

For the most part this was an easy decision to make, having devoted a great deal of time and money supporting then-Senator Barack Obama. As a new mom in 2007, I believed that the idealistic Obama would somehow cure the many issues that poisoned this country. But as a native Californian surrounded by other liberals, I failed to see just how different my positions were from those of so many others across the United States.

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I was shocked to learn, for example, that several states (all of them red and with a great deal of poverty) were simply not implementing the benefits of Obamacare, rendering its protections toothless. I was also surprised to find that the NRA's grip on our political system was so tenacious. I sincerely believed President Obama would have the power to make some significant changes around gun laws and licensing gun owners. Instead gun ownership and production has increased significantly under President Obama according to Bloomberg Business. Also equally surprising and shocking has been the militarization of local police departments.

Call me naïve, but I truly believed electing a black president meant that our nation had changed. I'm ashamed to say it, but I believed that we were actually a post-racial society, that our new president would restore the middle class, release the government from the arms of the banks, and reform American foreign policy so that we would no longer be the planet's biggest bully. I hoped by the end of Barack Obama's two-term presidency, the United States would mirror a country like Sweden in socially progressive issues.

I want my son to understand what being a citizen of this country requires of us—I want to raise someone who cares.

I've always felt that the terrible job Bush did as president paved the way for Obama's election. Obama was a symbol of hope, change and healing, all of which we desperately needed in 2008. Now I can't help but see a similar turn in our population toward ethnocentrism and the status quo. The fear of change, sparked by this progressive administration (and the media, which loves to generate panic), that people are, as you well know, looking to Donald Trump to bring them the nation they think America should be. With all of his hate speech against South Americans, Muslims and women, Trump continues to shine a light on the frightened, and frightening, underbelly of the country.

As a black American woman, mom, voter and historian, I'm heartbroken by what I see happening in our nation in 2016. I feel a deep sense of ambivalence taking hold of me, but I feel I must nonetheless force myself to participate in this upcoming election.

First, I was raised in a political family that taught me to vote locally and nationally because it is my birthright and because blacks have been denied the right to vote for generations. While gradually increasing, black voter turnout is chronically low (According to the United States Election Project, in 1996, only 48 percent of eligible black voters cast ballots, spiking in 2008 with 69 percent when Obama was elected). We need to protect the rights won after the long struggle to make voting even possible—both as a black American and as a woman. And we can do that by understanding and participating in politics.

Second, I have a child that I want to provide a good example for. I want my son to understand what being a citizen of this country requires of us—I want to raise someone who cares. If there is one thing I believe entirely, it's that politics is personal. We can't separate politics from parenting. What officials and government bodies decide affect our daily lives and our families' lives. And our apathy can reach our kids, especially in how they in turn approach and respond to politics.

And finally, I can't allow my ambivalence to take hold of my consciousness. Even though a naïve part of me believed that Obama would make greater strides in some areas than he has, I'm deeply proud that he changed the laws for LGBT Americans, which eventually led to marriage equality in many states and nationally. He breathed life into a flailing economy and restored the job market. And having a child with special needs, the Affordable Care Act means that my son will never be denied insurance or care due to preexisting conditions. These are complicated issues that will take more than eight years to address, and I can't quit because the fight is hard.

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I can't afford to be ambivalent, as much as my disillusionment with the system makes me want to stick my head in the sand. This is a call for me to grow up. I may be surrounded by socially progressive people but that doesn't mean the entire country has to agree with me. If anything, President Obama's terms have given us a clear idea of what drives a great many of our citizens. And it's time I pay attention.

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