The results of election night cast a long, gloomy shadow across my household, my classroom, and my life the past month. Despite the influx of blog posts and Facebook activism, many people (white people *cough, cough) don’t seem to understand why this is a big deal. It’s not enough to point out that it’s concerning to have a leader with no experience in politics, no understanding of American government, or human rights. It’s an understatement to say that I’m angry that we’ve accepted a man who consistently demonstrates misogynistic, racist, xenophobic behaviors and ideals to be our president-elect (I’m not here to argue with you if you don’t agree with those labels).
As a woman his power concerns me because at best we now have a president with a cavalier attitude towards sexual assault who consistently objectifies women’s bodies while insulting their brains. At worst, I have a new president who will work to pass laws that continue to keep me paid poorly and take away my reproductive rights.
As a white woman who cares about my family, I fear for the future of the people I fiercely love--my husband, my brother-in-law, my sister-in-law, my biracial nieces and nephews,many of my close friends, and certainly my students. As a white woman who cares about intersectionality, I believe that “an injustice to one is an injustice to all”. More than ever those of us with societal capital must wake up and use our privileges to fight for those whose rights are threatened or increasingly under attack.
So when I thought about our future and looked out across the sea of black, brown, beige, and white faces the day after the election, I felt panic. I felt fear. I felt rage. And...I felt hopelessness. I suppose I maybe kind sorta feel a tiny bit of the daily terror that many people of color, many LGBQT, or religious minorities face EVERY SINGLE DAY.
I just couldn’t follow the advice of all the well-meaning articles. Tell your students you’ll keep them safe. I can’t keep them safe from being deported. I can’t keep a kid safe when someone is spitting on him or calling him the N-word. Tell your students that many people are frustrated by the economy. Yes, because despite his approval ratings, Obama may actually be the president who actually positively impacted. I think not. I found some solace and support in the advice from Teaching Tolerance, including being honest with your students about potential impact of race and class in society. In the following weeks, I’ve pulled myself off the couch, thrown away the tub of ice cream, tossed my shoulders back and faced my students. I’m embarrassed to admit how much Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock, and SNL nailed it with their election night skit. I don’t feel hopeful, but I do feel resolved.
Now, more than ever white women--especially white educators--need to grow some ovaries and be the allies we know we can be and we need to be. Clearly, we've got some serious problems manifested in the 52-62% of “us” who voted for Trump (that's a blog post for another day). For now, we need to examine our privileges and use what status or voice that provides.
Allyship looks different in 2016 than it did twenty years ago. We need to look to the past for courage but look at the present for direction. There’s a place for marching. There’s a place for demonstrating. There’s a place for donating that hard earned cash to an organization reaching a community I don’t have access to.
In the classroom, I’m determined more than ever to challenge myself to be a culturally responsive ally, who embraces the interchangeable white lady challenge and equips my students to the best of my ability. I regularly ask myself the following questions:
Is my classroom a space where all my students feel safe? Are students reading about contemporary issues that matter in their lives? Are my students practicing seeing from different points of view? Are we sugarcoating world problems or exploring their complexities and solutions? How am I developing empathy across racial and cultural differences in my classroom?Am I practicing what I preach?