The morning after the man who bragged about grabbing women by the crotch was elected President, I turned to my wife and son and just sighed. I had tried to prepare myself for this moment for over a year. Since September, students in my English classes had ranged from nervous to angry about this man. They were often more frank about the Republican nominee’s bigoted campaign than most mainstream news coverage. Now, post-election, I had to look into their eyes as they face a truth I had acknowledged only tacitly in class before, but which the American electorate confirmed without hesitation: this country isn’t for them.
The reality of who will be the next Commander-in-Chief has only solidified my rage at people who have yet to truly reflect on their country’s legacy of racism, sexism, and xenophobia.
We’re now asked to unite around a divisive President-elect, and a vice president who opposes same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination laws that protect gay people, and supports conversion therapy for LGBT youth. We’re now asked to accept an election in which 868 voting districts were disenfranchised by a Supreme Court ruling gutting one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in our country, the Voting Rights Act. We’re now asked to stop scaring children in our classrooms when we see nominee after inexperienced nominee for a new cabinet speak directly to dismantling our social safety net. We are asked to unite under a philosophy that has produced an uptick in hate-based crimes across our nation’s schools, including the adults charged with protecting our students.
Forget fear in classrooms. My students were texting their parents and siblings at home to make sure there’s a back-up plan in case of danger. My students, who come from different racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, understand that there are no safe spaces. The election of Trump has only solidified the reality of a hateful America I had seen burgeoning after President Obama’s election. I mean the trolls who popped up in my mentions on Twitter after people like Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, and Eric Garner became hashtags. They were also the judges, juries, and district attorneys who didn’t press charges and acquitted people like Daniel Panteleo, Daniel Wilson, and, most recently, Michael Slager. They were the fifth of American Federation of Teachers’ members and third of National Education Association members who deeply resented Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen-Garcia’s enthusiasm for Secretary Clinton.
They were the voters who saw my students and our futures as expendable.
There was little consolation for me either. I bristled at the philosophical and hypothetical arguments over Clinton v. Sanders. As quickly as people held the flag for Senator Sanders, Sanders told us how we must disavow identity politics, as if the identities of my students didn’t captivate the hate that spurned the President-elect’s movement. Too many folks on the left disengaged with race-based movements, including Black Lives Matter and DREAMers, because they think class matters more than race, even though class is a race issue in this country.
I held all these thoughts in my mind after the election as my classroom was in a bit of a fit. The tears and anger flowed. I held it together until I could get some alone time. Being a teacher means that we believe we are instrumental in controlling the environment in which students learn. We decorate around us, set rules and routines, establish relationships, and clean up after students almost daily. But any reflective adult in that position must wonder how to fight against the uncontrollable. Individually, we are not mass movements.
The silver lining in all of this is the reminder that we would do well to build the mass coalition that pulls in people like my students, all of whom deserve to have a stake in the direction of the American experiment.
José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist in New York City, NY. He is the author of This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, and has spoken about education, math, and race for The New York Times, Education Week, The Guardian, Al Jazeera America, Huffington Post, Edutopia, GOOD, and El Diario / La Prensa, NY.