Yesterday was a rough day. It was emotionally draining as all around me people were processing the results of the presidential election. I’m still processing it, trying to figure out what this means really.
There’s a lot of shock, disbelief, and outrage. And I’m somewhat shocked, but mostly sad and disappointed. Several colleagues and friends have expressed extreme sadness about the message that this election sends minorities of all kinds (Black, Latinx, Asian, LGBTQ, Muslim, undocumented). The message that “you are not welcome here.” And I’m sad about it too, but not surprised. Maybe it’s because I’m a second-generation Asian immigrant, and on some level have always felt like an “other” in the United States. Even though I live in a diverse and progressive city, I’ve been called a chink (not often, thankfully!), and more times than I can count, I’ve been asked “where are you from?” and been told “oh, your English is really good!” So it doesn’t really surprise me that America doesn’t want non-White people. Even well-meaning White people sometimes send the message “you don’t really belong here”.
So now what? There’s a lot to be afraid of. Somewhat for myself, although I am thankful that I don’t actually feel a lot of personal fear right now. (This, too, is privilege- primarily due to the particular type of minority that I am.) But I’m afraid for the country in general- what happens to the environment, healthcare, undocumented peoples, religious freedom, indigenous peoples and their land, LGBTQ people, minorities in general. And I’ve afraid for the many of my students who fall into these categories (sometimes multiple), although I have students who have supported Trump vocally as well (and probably students who supported Trump quietly, because let’s be honest- our liberal school is not a place where conservatives feel comfortable sharing their views).
I was so encouraged by my students yesterday. We had a test review day, and I had prepped extra material because I anticipated that many would have already done the review packet and be bored. But we were all distracted. I told them that if they wanted to talk about the election, they could, but they needed to be respectful. And they were. They were respectful, reasonable. They were afraid, and some of them showed it, but they were also thinking about how to look ahead to the future, how to galvanize change. And in my class with the vocal Trump supporters, I asked them to listen to each other and stay respectful, and they did.
Listening is the hard part. I’m seeing a lot on social media today about how social media may have changed the election, because we were all in an echo chamber of our own views. As Joanna Weiss wrote,
But the real problem with the race wasn’t the media’s behavior so much as its structure. If you hated Hillary, you tuned into outlets that confirmed your worst paranoia. If you hated Trump, you had parallel places to go for horrified screeds. No avalanche of fact-checking would mean a thing to people who didn’t trust the source. And no amount of gorgeously crafted echo-chamber lamentations would make a difference to people who wouldn’t read them.
Of course we didn’t understand each other. We weren’t even trying to listen.
Weiss encourages us to listen to each other, and I hope we do. I hope for empathy on both sides, to lead to change. But at the same time, I hope that we don’t allow racist, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic language and actions to become allowable in this country. It’s easy to label people as “other” when you don’t know them. A friend pointed out the rural/urban divide on the map this election – red in the rural areas, interspersed by dots of blue in the urban areas. And it makes me wonder if it’s because rural areas tend to be isolated and they don’t know the kinds of people that Trump was denigrating. So let’s get to know one another. I hear a lot of language about fighting, and I agree that we have to keep fighting for social justice, but even the language of “fighting” makes it hard. It’s hard to understand and feel empathy for your enemy. It’s hard to even want to get to know the other side when they keep talking about fighting with you. So how to we move forward? Am I just being naive? I don’t actually know.
I feel a burden as a teacher of urban students. I’m a science teacher, and I tend to stick to the facts. But the facts aren’t color-blind, as much as I want to think they are. I want to be a social justice educator. I want to show my students the resilience and courage that they showed me yesterday. And I’m going to be honest, it’s not natural for me. I have spent most of my life being silent, being compliant. I’m not sure how to bring social justice into my classroom- where is the social justice component of electron configuration? But I’m going to try, because my students need to know that they matter. And they need to know that others who do not look like them matter. This country is big enough for all of us.
If you weren’t a social justice teacher yesterday, be one starting today. It’s not too late. We will prevail.
— xian f’znger barrett (@xianb8) November 9, 2016