Since the election, we have worked with educators around the country to strategize how to negotiate their roles working with our kids during times when we are navigating a space that has both surfaced some deep historical surges of hate and violence and ignited some unprecedented uncertainty… when our country will be run by a number of individuals who are wholly unqualified for their positions.
This is a deeply troubling and challenging space. Since the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center has been collecting reported incidents of hate and violence and as of their latest update, there have been 1,094. We first must acknowledge that we know from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that typically ⅔ of hate crimes go unreported, so conservatively we can double, if not triple that number. The number one location of these incidents is educational settings if we combine K-12 schools and colleges/universities. Where does this leave us? Well, it means that no matter how much we want to believe that our kids are safe in our schools, that isn’t necessarily true. When we as educators have that instinctual impulse to assure kids they are safe and everything will be okay, moments like the present must give us pause. We must not lie to our kids. At best, we can assure uncertainty and if we say that we will do everything in our power to keep them safe, then we must unequivocally mean it and be prepared for what it might require of us.
Let’s be clear. Racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia did not begin November 9th, 2016. They were just given a most public, inviting platform and endorsement at the highest levels. The election results were mostly about preserving whiteness and its supreme hold on all of us.
The effects of the man who won were felt even before his victory….in our schools and communities. Experts tell us that the first step in countering these effects is being able to talk about them: the election and the hurt. Yet, what many educators are doing or being told to do by school and district leaders is to remain silent. When dealing with a highly contentious topic, avoid it entirely. This harmful messaging of silence communicates more than any words ever could. And that matters given what some of our brothers and sisters are currently feeling.
The impacts of the current sociopolitical climate are exceedingly varied. Some of us fear literally for our bodies and lives. Some fear being deported. Some fear family members will be deported. Others fear for loved ones. Others are preparing to grieve the ending of 8 years with our first Black president and our first Black family in the White House. Others yet are concerned about their access to health care.
Many of us have been through what can be termed a collective trauma and our kids are looking to us for how we are handling it.
Collective trauma is “a shared experience of threat and anxiety in response to sudden or ongoing events that lead to some threat to a basic sense of belonging in society,” says Jack Saul, the director of the International Trauma Studies Program. “It usually is a disruption to the social and moral order.”
One could argue that those who opposed Donald Trump’s election have been through a collective trauma that has left them feeling rattled and afraid. Women and people of color have good reason to be anxious, given the sexist and racist things Trump said during the campaign, given his threats against the women who accused him of sexual assault, given how he has painted Mexicans as criminals, given that he was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, given so, so many things. People have very real fears rooted in policies Trump has promised to enact in office—including a ban on Muslim immigrants and the deportation of millions of immigrants. (Beck, 2016)
The way we have seen effects of the current climate manifest in our pre-k to 12 schools and our colleges/universities is clearly evident, persistent, and profoundly alarming. A few examples include:
- Increased use of racial slurs;
- Young children, even four years old, mimicking divisive language of “building a wall,”
- Elementary students playing “trump tag” where you tag the Mexicans and they are deported;
- Black girls being spat on when they have the audacity to suggest #BlackLivesMatter;
- LGBTQIA students being told they need to “turn straight” before the new administration comes in;
- Immigrant students crying and wondering literally if their mommies will be home when they get back from school;
- Communities hosting parent forums in partnership with attorneys to have explicit conversations about needing to plan and protect;
- Students throwing around the term “racist” in a reductionist, mocking way (e.g. Why did you take my pencil? That’s racist.)
How schools and districts are responding to these types of incidents greatly varies. In the majority of places where we work across 25+ projects, the inclination has been to address the fruit, but not the root of the issue. By that we mean, telling students that their racially offensive language is wrong and maybe even applying punitive repercussions, but not addressing deeper issues of divisiveness as they relate to the larger sociopolitical context. In fact, many schools and districts have not offered a space even for adults to process how this election, how the man who was elected, and how his cabinet may change the face of our work with students. In a number of places, the opposite has been done with unions or principals encouraging staff not to approach the topic of the election at all. Our work has been to alert folks to the misalignment with being culturally responsive but not responding to the need of adults and kids to process their emotions, be them fears or anxieties. And we work in a number of spaces where folks who supported the man who won outnumber those who did not, but this doesn’t have to be about politics. If we forefront our kids, then we can engage as critical, reflective educators who can look at a moment such as this and say it is a time to reify our community values, to resist hate, and to rally around our commitment to equity. And equity means that everyone in our community has everything they need. So, if even one member of our community is afraid or anxious, then that is one too many and it is our responsibility as educators to do what is within our power, to do everything we can for them.
What we are seeing is also evident on a national scale. College and university counseling services were already stretched to capacity prior to the election, but now are seeing increased demand. Suicide prevention hotlines have also seen peaks in call volume after the election.
Now, what we know are two concrete things: 1) There are upcoming, predictable moments of heightened anxiety. Read: today. Read: every time a new policy announcement that fundamentally shifts protections for marginalized people is released. 2) Along the way, there will also be fires ignited in the classroom and in our workplace that force us (ready or not) to engage. To respond. To address. To say something. To do something. This means we need preparedness on two fronts: proactively and reactively. And who we are will absolutely impact how we prepare and how we act.
So, what can we do in our schools and classrooms?
- Make sure each of your kids has one adult with whom they deeply connect. We heard Dushaw Hockett, Executive Director of SPACES (Safe Places for the Advancement of Community and Equity) speak last night at an Expanded Success Initiative Courageous Conversation event and he shared an old saying about kids. He said every kid should have someone in their lives who is irrationally crazy about them. Irrationally crazy! Do we fulfill this role for any of our kids? Does each of our kids have someone in this role? Let’s make it happen!
- Honor The Obama Legacy and CREAD NYC has already got you covered with some great ideas. Recognize and honor that many staff, students, and families are going to be grieving the end of the Obama Era, and our classrooms and schools should afford spaces for processing and channeling our related emotions.Think specifically for our kids who have grown up only knowing a Black President and what a shift it is now to the man who won by spewing venom against Black folks and so many others in furtherance of fueling the white supremacist machine.
- Commit to arming our kids with tools of resistance that go beyond voting. Here is one example of a way to teach on resistance from Teaching for Change.
- Counter stereotypes and deficit narratives about our kids of color. If we don’t stand up, then who will? If not now, then when?
- Read up on resistance and fighting the hate spewed by the man who won. Gather with communities who are doing the work #disruptJ20. There is literally a Resistance Manual and a Guide to Resistance. And so many other resources like this issues of VUE magazine on Educational Justice in the Next Four Years: Post-Election Reflections.
- Complexify the dialogue on protest and ask our students to think critically and deeply about how race intersects with sexism and misogyny. Promote the dialogue about the deep historical entanglements of black women’s exclusion from large scale marches and how today in many “progressive,” “liberal,” “social justice” spaces many are still unwilling to approach the topics of race and racism.
- In schools that are viewing the inauguration with students, offer a space for staff and students who want to opt out and reconsider making the viewing mandatory by offering loaded statements like “you should watch it because this is a historical event” or “as an American, it is our duty to support our President.” These words fall hard on folks who see the man who won as one of, if not the biggest threat, to their safety, well-being, happiness, success, and lives in general.
- Flip the script on social media being used as a tool for hate. Use a 30-day instagram challenge with your students to promote the values they believe in for racial justice in this country. Use Twitter for debating topics in class, modeling for kids how to use 140 characters to debate substantive issues without attacking individual people. Follow folks on social media who are leading the resistance movement like Shaun King and Deray Mckesson, Johnetta Elzie, and Sam Sinyangwe from Campaign Zero. Have your students tweet at the man who won telling him what kind of a President they demand he become.
If we were to categorize the driving question for our work, it would be this modified from a presentation Paul Gorski gave: How can I disrupt and dismantle inequity within my sphere of influence? (2016). With that in mind, we can focus on the work we need to do individually but also the community we need to build to leverage our individual voices. Most importantly, we must acknowledge the power we have in the direction of our classrooms, schools, education system, and society. When we come together and coalition build with like-minded folks, we rewrite the story. Join us!
Check out this artist’s work combatting the whitewashing of MLK’s words using memes created with his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
***There are lots of clickable links in this blog post. We have thoughtfully loaded a ton of resources here, so click them and use them!