An Open Letter to My Students After Waking up to Trump as President
Written by Teachers Unite Member, Emmy Bouvier
What can I teach you about this election? What do I say as you wait for me greet you at the classroom door that can ease your mind, to make it right? Will it help if I tell you I spent last night preparing for a special social studies lesson on the election- letters to the next president of the United States- Hillary Clinton. Should I mention, yet again, that I was adamantly “with her” in this election because I was decidedly “not with him.” I had planned for you to write to Madame President, congratulating her but also urging her to change the racist and exclusionary policies that disenfranchise, disempower, and lock up communities of color across the country. Now, I don’t know where to start. My instinct as your teacher, someone who loves you, is to turn our classroom into a space of self love. I want to ease your worried minds, as if being Black and Brown in this country wasn’t already hard enough. As if you haven’t already told me your one purpose in this world is to be Black and die.
I want to tell you that you matter.
That I spend all night thinking about you, planning lessons on reading non-fiction texts with a critical lens, multiplying two digit numbers using the distributive property, how to write an interesting hook on a persuasive writing essay, yes I think about these things, but I mean really thinking about you. I think about how you feel disconnected to your mom because she plays go fish the Guyanese way and won’t take you trick or treating because that’s not something they do in Guyana. I will never understand the way being in between two places, two mind-sets, two worlds, is what you are wrestling with while I’m trying to teach you the associative property and how the food chain works. I’d tell you I think about my role as a white educator teaching in a community of black and brown families constantly, but that won’t help you win go fish.
I want to tell you, my student, that the two year old who calls you mom will have access to quality health care. I want to tell you that she will be able to go the doctor like every two year old in Park Slope, or Tribeca, when she’s got a fever, needs a flu shot, or wants to go to summer camp. I want to tell you that you’re covered, that universal healthcare is here to stay. But I can’t. What I can tell you is that Trump has a plan that he claims is even better than Obama’s, but we both watched the debates, and he included no specifics.
I want to tell you, peacekeepers, my group of girls who meet every Tuesday and Thursday mornings to learn conflict resolution and do restorative justice work in a space that is yours, as free from patriarchy as possible, that in the future you’ll have access to sex education that is more than just abstinence only. I want to tell you that you can go to Planned Parenthood and that doors will be open for you, services provided without judgement and with education. I want to tell you that you will be safe, even if you aren’t safe.
I want to tell you that he won’t deport your family. I want to tell you that he won’t deport you back to a country you don’t know how they play go fish, not because the United States is so great, but because it is your home and you’re worried about not knowing where you’ll be. I want to tell you that he won’t separate your family. I want to tell you that he won’t negatively impact your developing identity- that he won’t spread hate speech, white supremacy, and sexism. I want to tell you that the racists that voted him into office don’t really mean it, that you are black and brown and beautiful. I want to say this even amidst the news reports of Trump and his supporters celebrating with the chant, “we hate Muslims, we hate blacks, we want our great country back.”
I want to tell you that here, in this school building you will continue to be safe, and loved, and supported, free of suspensions and test prep.
I want to tell you that community schools like this one- that are free from extended days, Saturday academy, silent lunch, silent transitions, silent work time- will still be supported. I want to tell you that Corporate Charter schools where you are silenced, boxed in, and whitewashed in the name of closing the achievement gap won’t become the norm in education policy over the next four years. I want to tell you all of these things because I want you to have childhood afforded to you like every student on the Upper West side. I want to tell you these things because I already know, that you know at age nine, that you aren’t afforded this childhood, this safety, the power of knowing your rights will be protected and upheld.
I want to tell you Trump in the white house could possibly be the first real threat I’ve felt to living in a world of white privilege. I want to tell you that I’m scared of being disenfranchised, and disempowered. I want to tell you that I want to hold on to this notion that everything will be ok. But I can’t. What I’m going to do is acknowledge that nothing was ever ok. I’m going to acknowledge that communities of color have been strong throughout a long history of things not being ok. I’m going to look to organizers and activists who have been doing this in ways that uproot white supremacy and institutions that hold these values in place. I want to learn with you from artists and organizers, parent led organizations, and community based action teams. I want to share with you that there are better people to tell you how to organize, and that we are here to learn.