Melissia Hill was eating crepes with her 5-year-old son, Phoenix, at a Brooklyn cafe this summer when he asked her, “Is Donald Trump a bad person? Because I heard that if he becomes president, all the black and brown people have to leave and we’re going to become slaves.”
Next he wanted to know, “What is a slave?” and, “Where are we gonna go?”
Hill was taken aback, and well aware of the wide-eyed interest Phoenix’s questions attracted from neighboring tables. She asked him where he’d heard these things. His answer: from another child at his local YMCA day camp.
And kids like Phoenix aren’t waiting to see what happens on November 8 before they absorb these views, repeat them, and integrate them into the set of perspectives that combine to make up how they see themselves and others. Many, according to a recent survey of teachers’ perceptions of their students, are using them as fodder for bullying. Others are anxious and scared as a result of the taunts and the real-life threats to their families.
Nobody — not even those who study the development of racial attitudes in kids or the impact of racial trauma — can say with certainty what the long-term effects of this unprecedented dose of high-profile animosity will be on the young people who are steeped in it.
This spring, Teaching Tolerance, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s education arm, took an informal poll of educators to gauge how this campaign had affected schools so far.
Maureen Costello, the director of Teaching Tolerance, said the organization’s interest in the election’s effect on school-age kids was piqued by news reports about high school sporting events where chants of “Trump, Trump, Trump” and “Build a wall” were used against predominantly Latino teams.
“We wondered, is this the tip of an iceberg? Is there something beneath this?” she said.
The organization sent queries to the teachers who subscribed to its weekly newsletter. “We weren’t trying to be scientific. We were trying to find out, ‘Is there anything going on?’ I compare it to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] asking doctors to report if there are measles outbreaks,” Costello said.
The organization’s conclusion from the thousands of comments it received: Yes, something is going on. More than two-thirds of teachers reported that students — mainly immigrants, children of immigrants, and Muslims — had expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election:
Teachers used words like “hurt” and “dejected” to describe the impact on their charges. The ideas and language coming from the presidential candidates are bad enough, but many students — Muslim, Hispanic and African-American — are far more upset by the number of people, including classmates and even teachers, who seem to agree with Trump. They are struggling with the belief that “everyone hates them.”
There were reports of tears shed in classrooms from second grade to high school. Concerns about being “sent back” transcended immigration status, as in Phoenix’s case, to affect African-American kids:
African-American students aren’t exempt from the fears. Many teachers reported an increase in use of the n-word as a slur, even among very young children. And black children are burdened with a particularly awful fear that has been reported from teachers in many states — that they will “be deported to Africa” or that slavery will be reinstated. As an Oklahoma elementary teacher explains, “My kids are terrified of Trump becoming [p]resident. They believe he can/will deport them — and NONE of them are Hispanic. They are all African American.
According to the report, even children who did not face, or did not believe they faced, direct threats as a result of Trump’s policies, perceived the same pattern as the white supremacists who support Trump: that the candidate’s vision for a return to a “great’ version of America was dismissive of people of color.
I highly recommend reading the whole article at Vox. This is heartbreaking, to say the very least. Institutionalized, systemic racism is bad enough in uStates, what with it being the very core and framework of this country, now there’s the storm of ugly Americanism breaking right over the heads of these children. I remember growing up under the cold war and the constant threat of nuclear war, you heard about it constantly, and it was a very real fear. Even that pales in comparison to the depth of fear facing non-white children now. Do people truly want to claim this legacy? A legacy of hate, fear, and bigotry? A legacy of gleeful traumatization? There is already a deep divide in schools when it comes to white children and non-white children. I was reading an article about Seattle teachers donning BLM t-shirts, and there was mention of children of colour not seeing themselves in curriculum or histories. No kidding. And if people think that’s bad for Black and Hispanic children, think about what it’s like for Indigenous children. I have mentioned, so many times, just how white-washed uStates ‘history’ is – if you aren’t white, you’re definitely going to be the villains in one way or another, if you are represented at all. About the only people who actively campaign to have special history modules taught in school are various Indigenous tribes, who are damn tired of the lack of representation, combined with ugly, racist, inaccurate representation. There’s not been any concerted effort to have accurate history texts, and with Texas in charge of school textbooks, it’s not likely that will ever happen.
Now, with Trump opening up Ugly Americanism, with way too many people diving into that ugly headfirst, we’ll have at least one generation of children who, already standing at the edge of a deep divide, will be traumatized and living in fear of their very lives. Way to go, America.