I woke up Wednesday morning and did what I always do. I made a cup of coffee, turned on my local news, and grabbed my iPad. My husband had sent me a text message at 2am telling me I was right, it was over, and Mr. Trump had won. It said some other private things that I will cherish forever, but that is private. I feel like, as a nation, we've forgotten some things can be private. My husband and I have never discussed who we voted for or why in public forums. We watched the debates, and as a teacher of language, my students and I discussed both candidates' rhetoric. We discussed the different media approaches to the election, and had lively, thoughtful discussions. I would wager that many of my students have no idea who I voted for. It never came up. I am a teacher of language. We analyzed the language on both sides and had wonderful discussions about how both candidates were attempting to address their target audience. That's my job. To teach my students to be critical thinkers-to examine the evidence and make a decision-for themselves. To develop their own arguments (with evidence) and to attempt to see both sides of an issue. Wednesday morning, as I scrolled through my social media, I saw on Facebook so much panic and disbelief. I took a breath, and got ready for what I knew would be a difficult day. I put on a cheerful dress, an extra layer of mascara, packed extra chocolate in my girl and I's lunches, and headed to school.
This election for me is not about anything other than fear. With the ability to encapsulate yourself into a small spot on the internet and surround yourself with people who think like you, you can feed your fear and disdain of others. The people who are devastated by the election of our new president are afraid. They fear the racism and misogyny and hate that they believe will be possible-and even desired-as a result of Mr. Trump's election. They surround themselves with people who encourage and support their fears. They read articles about how horrible Mr. Trump will be. They reinforce the fear and highlight the evils of Mr. Trump. The spread news articles about the Trump supporters (considering there were thousands of them, I imagine it is a tiny percentage of them) who are engaging in their own hateful, disgusting actions. But, I wonder if they've even considered the fear of the Trump voters? Have they considered how marginalized these people felt-no one listening to their concerns? They have tried to make themselves heard over and over again, and they talk in their own isolated corners of the internet, creating their own fear and hate of others. They spread news articles about immigrant crime and other candidate indictments and trade deficits and growing government debt. They spread articles of riots and violence against Trump supporters.
My question is, what have we done to overcome the fear? The only way I know to overcome fear of a thing is to get to know it. I am not afraid because instead of issues being a paper and pencil threat, I see the world as human. The things I fear are the things I don't understand or know about. I have seen the most ignorant kind of hate alleviated when barriers were removed and the people got to know each other. It happened to me. I never really knew an illegal immigrant until I was a teacher, and I sat with terrified families and listened to them, taking on their fears and trying to see America through their eyes. I never really understood their struggles or understood how much these people could teach me. I had never met a transgender person until I was a teacher. And then, I learned to love a young man, laughing with him and him teaching me humanity. Watching his struggles on every level taught me so much. And by authentically being able to talk to him about my misunderstandings and misconceptions he learned I wasn't trying to marginalize him, I was just un-informed. I want to believe we both gained a lot from our relationship. Honestly, I had never really known someone who is truly racist until I became a teacher. And I have watched walls come down with students when they befriend a black or Hispanic person. Of course, at first, they just think their friend is an exception to all the hate they have been taught, but it is the beginning. If I start off, with any of these people, by being closed off, refusing to listen, exactly what do you imagine these students would learn from me? That they shouldn't change. That their teacher is-insert whatever extreme group they think I belong to-and they don't have to listen. Harper Lee's remarkable book, To Kill A Mockingbird comes to mind for me, when Atticus Finch says, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view..Until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it." I try every day to leave my biases at the door (impossible but I try), and to, instead, create and model a classroom where listening is valued. I try to let students have a voice that will not be mocked, and I try to encourage them to listen. I try to show my own curiosity and open-mindedness, and hope that maybe they will take a risk and listen to someone different from them. Many of them don't. I am aware of this, but if even one student hears something different, thinks a little differently, I think it's worth it. If I let my fear of the unknown of the upcoming four years show, I am giving permission to some students to feel afraid, and I am showing other students I am biased against them and their parents, immediately building a wall that they will refuse to tear down in the short time we have together.
What I am seeing, is not just a refusal to try and see anything from someone else's perspective, but an out and out war on people who are trying to learn from people different from them. In the worst post I have seen, a person I thought was loving and kind, posted that Trump supporters were terrible parents, they could "go f*** themselves." Can you imagine this bringing anyone together? As a parent, I try to live by example. I have never posted a curse word-particularly destined for another person. What kind of parent writes this as an example to her child? This person is claiming her daughter is being bullied. Have you tried getting to know the families of the so-called bullies? Have even attempted to understand another side of this? Have you asked your daughter why the students that say these hate-filled things feel this way? Get off your computer and get into the world. Go hug a bully. See what happens. Don't show your daughter the isolating, hateful, exercise of complaining and name-calling and accepting the evil. Face it. Reach out. When you write that hate language, you immediately make people not want to learn from you. You either reinforce other scared people who feel like you, allowing them an excuse to keep to their corner, or you alienate the people who think differently from you, causing them to fear you and, as a result, refuse to listen to you. By the way, another thing I have learned, is that the overwhelming majority of parents are making choices they genuinely believe are best for their children. The audacity for anyone to assume they know why someone was motivated to make decisions they did, and to insult their parenting, is the most hateful type of action I can imagine. To believe, in the most ignorant way, that people voted to hurt others, and not even consider that, they, just like you, voted in a way they believed was best for them is the definition of elitist and in my opinion horrific.
So, what to do with all this? Where do I go? Here's what I know. Now, more than ever, I need to teach empathy. I need to give space and time for students to learn to listen. I need to read articles that are counter to my own positions. I need to remember, despite all the fear, that love and understanding really will triumph. Because, I can't forget Scout's most profound idea, "I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks." I am going to try to model empathy, and when I fail, I'm going to admit I was wrong and pray for grace. I am also going to offer grace and refuse to believe anyone is the oversimplified version of themselves they are creating on social media. I am going to reach out in love and an authentic attempt to learn. I wish you all the best in your journey.