On the Wednesday morning after the election, I woke up on the couch after I had shut the TV off when I saw the election starting to turn towards Trump. I woke up with hope that something had changed. It, in fact, did not. The emotions came streaming through me. With this one decisions, I was left feeling that my thoughts and beliefs no longer had a place in this country. Immediately after that, the thought came rushing to my mind: I have a choice in fighting for justice and equality for all in this country, but people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, Muslims sadly do not have a choice. They have to live in a country where a man who used “dog-whistle” politics to get elected, a man who has awakened and brought to the surface the intense hatred of these communities of people was elected. I want to make it clear that I do not believe that just because someone voted for Trump you are a racist, rather many who voted for him had the privilege to ignore the racism and vote for him in spite of it.
It was a difficult day to be in front of a room of students. My energy and emotions were sapped. I barely had time to make sense of the situation for myself and yet I had to be prepared to address the concerns of my students. Out of nowhere, something spoke to me. I have spoken it time and again, when things become difficult you better bring a compass and road map to lead your way. The map and the compass that I speak of are the values by which we frame our lives. It doesn’t matter your station in life, our core values are something that all of us must cling to and never let go. The feeling of the room was somber as the students shuffled in— not their normal selves. Some of them quiet, others full of energy as if the emotions were causing them to unwind. In an effort to create space for my students to think about the values that they hold that remain unchanged by the election, I asked the students to think about those values for themselves and our country that they hold close to their hearts. They wrote them on post-its and one-by-one they hung their values on the classroom door. These notes act as a visible reminder of the ideals that we hold as a community of learners.
Later in the day, a teacher approached me to let me know what one of our students had said when he approached him about the election: “It sucks what happened in the election…but at least you’re white.” This is the reality that many of the Trump voters have the privilege of ignoring. As a white male, I can choose to ignore the outward and inward racism of this country— my students of color cannot. We can argue whether or not Trump is racist himself, but we cannot argue the awakening of the racist and xenophobic attitudes that have long existed in this country. I, for one, am not surprised that these attitudes existed. I grew up in a small town where these types of attitudes were normal and often whispered between people they felt that they could trust— people who looked like them. After 9/11, it was rather often that people who knew my Syrian heritage would poke fun at this aspect of my identity. The fact of my appearance allows me to move through society without people turning their heads. My heritage is hidden until announced. For people of color and others, this is not a choice that they can make. They wear their heritage outwardly and are judged by it.
As social justice, activist educators, we must rise out of our depression, collect our thoughts and continue to make the places in which we teach an inclusive environment in which ALL of our students are seen and heard. We must continue to teach our students how they can awaken their minds to the realities of this world and use their voices to make it a less harsh, more welcoming place. As I have said to my students: “Trump will be our president. That doesn’t mean that we must respect him or respect his decisions. We have a bigger role to play. We must continue to speak up and speak out when we see things that are unjust being carried out in this country by him or anyone else.” This is a promise that I make to my students and to my country: I will seek out unity and listen, but I will speak out and fight in any way that I can when policies are enacted that do not honor and value the uniqueness of every individual in this country.