HITTING LEFT #21 with Pidgeon Pagonis

Friday, November 11, 2016

Jeff's first day back at school after the election debacle

My friend Jeff Spitz teaches documentary story, research, production, outreach and social activism at Columbia College in Chicago. Here he describes his first day back at school after the election.

So my students picked me up as I knew they would.

The energy level was low and everyone was down at first as we met for the Chicago course.

I have an unusual group with only two white female students -- both of whom are super liberal, friendly and adventurous.  The other students are an African-American woman from the South Side, an African-American guy from Oak Park, a Mexican American guy from Park Ridge, an Iranian guy from Orange County, CA and a Muslim woman, also from SoCal. These are some of the best kids I have ever had as a group. They really have bonded.

You should have heard the comments from the south-side woman. She was so painfully upset that a rapist woman-hater and racist got elected president. She was truly in shock and scared that so many white people living in this country could want such a person in the White House. She started it off by saying she loves everyone in the class and sees us all as family. But she was angry at all the people on social media who made jokes about voting for Trump just to get a reaction. She didn’t like that and now she is furious at all those people.

When Sam from Park Ridge spoke he surprised us all by saying that even though he grew up and went to high school in the burbs, his parents were immigrants. He wore a shirt today with bold letters on the front saying "Fuck Trump.”  The statement was on his chest above an American flag. He’s a former high school football player.

Then Sean from Orange County who is dark and funny and super insightful said he grew up getting shit from white kids because of his skin color.  He said he remembers feeling like he wished he was never born because of that treatment.  He feels that this election has given every racist white license to treat him that same way now and to feel good about it.  He can’t believe he has to face more of the same crap now as a college student.  He said it started for him after 911.

He is a big dude and his comments put me in tears.

The Muslim student talked about her little sisters who are growing up with her mom in Rome and how her mom had called her and cried over the phone. "They are so sad for their daughter in America", she said. She grew up in SoCal with her father who also called from San Clemente to share his feelings with his daughter.  She said he was shocked and very worried for his daughter in Chicago.

My Chinese exchange student was also shocked that Trump could even be considered a candidate for president of the US. She said Chinese friends on WeChat were filling her screen with comments about his lack of qualifications.  And questions about how Americans could allow such a person to run for such a high office.

A female student explained that she grew up in an all-white community northwest of Chicago and that she appreciates how her parents raised her to accept everyone. Being white and did not make her racist. Now she worries that she will be tainted as a racist because she is white and that she can’t really say anything because she will be considered "privileged." She worries that she will be lumped with the white racists who are now emboldened to say horrible things and act like it’s cool because their racist candidate is the winner.

So this is what Trump winning is all about for my students today.  A racist, hateful and ignorant America. It is messing up a lot of young people’s minds. The kids know that Hillary won the popular vote. It doesn’t matter one bit.  They are frightened for their siblings, for their parents and most of all for their own futures.

We have to reassure our students that winning is something else entirely. We have to re-frame what has happened and give all the people who've been marginalized a voice moving forward.

We have to take the best of what Obama represented when he was a candidate and wrap ourselves in that while fighting everything that Trump tries to do in our name. Finally, we have to teach resistance to racism, sexism and all the other divisive “isms" that this fascist used to "win"this election.

Now for my second class of the day….

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