By Julio Angel Alicea
When Donald Trump was making waves for his bigoted statements about Mexicans, Muslims, and women during the Republican primaries, my high school students, most of them low-income students of color and many also of immigrant families, sought reassurance from me, as their history teacher, that he would not win the presidency. I naively granted them that assurance, thinking to myself “How could the country elect a candidate reminiscent of the segregationist George Wallace?”
After sleeping for what seemed like a few minutes after watching the results pour in, I woke up to an email from my principal. In it, she called for an emergency staff meeting before school to discuss how we would accommodate students’ (and staffs’) varied emotions, concerns, and needs. Not long after, the students whom I had assured came to me with questions of how, why, and what now. My eventual response was to share an affirming poem another teacher had written in the aftermath of the election, but provided only a temporary remedy.
Like others around the country, my school worked hard to affirm my students in the face of the emerging Trumpist wave. We even had an immigration attorney who met with some of our undocumented students who were the most afraid. But despite local efforts like these, Trumpism crept into the minds, hallways, and classrooms across America, resulting in (until now) immeasurable harm.
I am not speaking about Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s desires to put more guns in schools or Attorney General Sessions’ support of anti-affirmative action causes. Rather, I am speaking about the president’s own pivotal role in reconstructing what sociologist Margaret Hagerman calls the “racial context of childhood” in the United States, in her book White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America. This context, according to Hagerman, includes, “…certain aspects of a child’s local environment, especially one’s neighborhood but also one’s school, peers.”