“They loved their children just as much as we love our children.” I was taking notes during an anthropology class in college when my professor said this. I looked up from writing because something about this statement brought me up short.
The class was on Native Americans. Every time the professor would introduce a new era or a new tribe, he would include this phrase in the list of what they planted and how they governed and what they believed.
“They loved their children just as much as we love our children.”
It made Native Americans more relatable and less “other.” Recognizing that we were talking about people with a deep capacity for love made the Trail of Tears more gut wrenching. It made what our government did to them more devastating. It made the separating of families more agonizing.
This past week, as all of our awareness about what was happening at the U.S./ Mexico border was growing, I kept thinking about what my professor said. I sat with the truth that these parents love their children just as much as we love our children.
For the people who are able to justify our nation’s policies, I have to think that they just don’t see these refugees and asylum seekers and desperate immigrants as fully human. It would be easier to hear about these cruel separations if you thought these parents weren’t the same kind of parents that you are. It would be easier to look the other way if you saw them as “illegals” instead of as desperate moms.
I have to think that a lot of this has to do with race in our country. I wonder if white children would be torn from their parents’ arms and placed in “tender age” facilities. If the children trying to come into our country looked more like the ruling majority, would they be sleeping on warehouse floors?
One thing I noticed on social media this past week was a distinctive reaction based on race in regard to Trump’s immigration policy.
Many white people, myself included, were horrified. They stated that “this isn’t who America is” and demanded that we stop separating families.
People of color were more exasperated, stating that “America has been busting up families since our founding: African babies sold, Native American children sent away, Japanese American families separated. We’ve been telling y’all this. I guess you’ll believe us now.”
As a nation, the white ruling class has a long history of busting up families that don’t look like ours. We maintain emotional distance by seeing people with brown and black skin as “other.” If they are viewed as different from us, then it makes it easier to deny them rights: to freedom, to vote, to work, to raise their own children, to thrive.
I can’t decide if the Trump administration doesn’t know that these parents love their children just as much as we love our children or if they simply don’t care.
I do know this: there are scared children in these facilities who are missing the sounds of their moms singing lullabies and the comfort of their hands on their brows. There are heartbroken mamas aching for the smell of their kids and the sweetness of their sleeping faces.
I know this because they love their children just as much as I love my children.