The 2016 report issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center (The Trump Effect) reveals a disturbing, but commonly known fact in US public schools: the United States has NEVER intended to educate the majority of its populace. Because it hasn’t, we find ourselves in a constant struggle to make sense of a world that masks the realities of economic decline, imperialism, and white supremacy. The inability to provide an education that equips the masses with the capacity to ask critical questions of themselves and government feeds into a sordid process that engages a mythical relationship. With a problematic account of history that is imbued in the larger racist colonial project of stereotype, violence, and innuendo, our society rewards diversions from historical accuracy through the glorification of the contributions of rich white males.
Making America “great again” really means keeping America “great” for a small number of rich elites while the remainder of folks who adhere to Trump’s ideology are being duped. While some wax nostalgic about a “different time” that was steeped in American values, younger Trump supporters are sold on a myth of an America of their parents that will bring back what they believe they’ve lost. Still, in the end, the realities of anti-Black racism, rising joblessness, state fiduciary irresponsibility, and corporate greed remain missing from the analysis due to the convenience of blame.
While it gives some of us chills to read a report where young students of color (spanning the spectrum of students who are African-American, Latin@, Native American, Muslim, LGBTQ, Asian-American, Pacific Islander, and from the Middle East) are fearful of an election that could find Donald Trump elected president, I offer a particular interpretation. Trump has simultaneously created a diversion while unearthing a painful truth. Like the traditional trope of the bully in the schoolyard, the bully often blames someone other than themselves for their own failures, while inflicting gratuitous punishment on those deemed the “enemy.” This is his attack on immigrants, Muslims, Latin@s, and the veiled attack on Black folks. The diversion is to get people to create and agree to the false narrative about members of the aforementioned groups as lazy, malcontent, and “underserving” of the great opportunities that are available to them. Missing from this analysis is the complex, winding, and brutal history of conquest, exploitation and alienation that has never entered our conversations in schools for fear of “speaking badly” about America. For these reasons, the bullying of students of color in the U.S. by Trump rhetoric and by those who feel emboldened enough to act on Trump’s call should be understood as a complex and layered reflection on the inability to address multiple oppressions.
I’m glad Trump got run out of town in my home city (Chicago) largely by a group of young people of color (i.e. Muslims, Latin@s, African-Americans) and their supporters. Nevertheless, he continues to gain ground in the Republican primaries. Trump remains a “viable” option in a primary race nothing short of a circus of the absurd. He is only a problem because the U.S. affirms that his type of racist, jingoistic, xenophobic rhetoric is normal, right, and good. Just like the schoolyard bully who often uses force to mask fear, the U.S. finds itself in a situation due to its inability to confront what many have known for quite some time: this place isn’t “great” for everyone. In fact, it can be pretty bad given the situation.
In Illinois it’s gotten pretty bad. Insurmountable debt and the failure to draft a budget for fiscal year 2016 have been placed on top of declining bond ratings and the state’s inability to pay pension debt for the last 40 years. From this juncture mental health centers have been shuttered, K-12 schools have been closed, preschools that receive state subsidies can’t pay their bills, and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. Despite the dreary outlook, I am impressed by the ability of young people to continue to organize and shed light on issues that need to be brought to light. Joblessness, school closures, police brutality and lack of infrastructure are not happenstance instances that are the “fault” of people that don’t work hard or care about their kids. In fact, we know the opposite is true. For these reasons (and many more), we should not be fearful of Trump the individual. The ideas he espouses are much more dangerous. They have their roots in the founding of this country.
We cannot run from this. If we continue to run, we will remain complicit in the normalization of Trump rhetoric and sentiment.
White supremacy predates and will last well beyond Trump. This is not a strange blip in the annals of U.S. history. It is in its foundation. Because we know this to be true, this sort of bullying should be met with an unflinching need to resist, organize and build new realities. Schools are a great place to start.
About the Author
David Stovall, Ph.D. is Professor of Educational Policy Studies and African-American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is co-author of forthcoming Beacon Press book—with educator/activists Raynard Sanders in New Orleans, Thomas Charles Pedroni in Detroit, and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis—on the rise of charter schools in U.S., and resistance to this privatization of a common good (public education). This book will be out in Fall 2017.