We've all heard about the spike in hate crimes and discrimination since the election, but the most recent news is perhaps the most disturbing of all: According to a new survey, racist and misogynistic harrassment is on the rise in our schools, too, with a whopping 90 percent of over 10,000 teachers, counselors, and administrators from K–12 schools across the country reporting a "profoundly negative impact" on students since Trump was elected president. As a mother of biracial children, I'm heartbroken, but I'm not surprised -- because I'm watching it happen firsthand.
I always knew that my kids, who are half Asian (my ex-husband is Korean) were at risk of being targeted by ignorant people, but up until now it's something we've mostly managed to avoid. We live in a blue state, and my children go to relatively diverse schools. Still, there's no shortage of Trump stickers on cars and lawns in my town, and our town is over 80 percent white. Yet in all the years we've lived here (going on seven), they'd never experienced any sort of outright discrimination ... until very, very recently.
The week after the election, my 11-year-old admitted that he was being teased at school for being Asian. He wouldn't tell me what the kids who teased him actually said -- or who they were. He barely wanted to talk about it at all. I know that what happened was nothing violent, that it was "just words," but still: They were words that made my son feel bad about who he is. They were racist words. Plain and simple. In 2016. In a place where this kind of thing isn't supposed to happen. In a school where the principal made a point of reading a statement to the kids the day after Trump was made president elect discouraging "mean spirited talk" and encouraging respect and sensitivity.
Apparently, that well-intentioned statement fell on deaf ears -- but that's not the principal's fault. It's the fault of the parents who are spewing hateful rhetoric at home, planting poison seeds in their children's minds. It's the fault of the current political climate, which is emboldening these parents and others like them, giving racists and xenophobes a virtual free pass.
My son understands that there is something wrong with these people -- so wrong. He understands that their values are skewed and that there is no excuse for their behavior. But really, he only understands this theoretically. He's a child. A child who is now developing a sense of shame over his identity.
"I don't really look that Asian, actually," he said out of nowhere the other day. "People only know because of my last name."
I told him "looking Asian" is something to be proud of. I told him his last name is something to be proud of. I told him everything I could think of, then I went in the other room and cried.
This is the world we're living in now. I can barely type those words without choking up. My beautiful, perfect son. My little boy who has nothing to be ashamed of, ever, is now ashamed.
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There are those who say we have no choice but to accept this new reality. We're all expected to "move on" and "heal." How are we supposed to accept the fact that our children are under attack?
According to the survey, which was conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, eight in 10 educators "report heightened anxiety on the part of marginalized students, including immigrants, Muslims, African Americans and LGBT students." Another four in 10 "heard derogatory language directed at students of color, Muslims, immigrants and people based on gender or sexual orientation." Half claimed that students were "targeting each other based on which candidate they’d supported." Among the specific incidents reported were discriminatory graffiti (such as swastikas), assaults, property damage and violent threats.
It's nothing short of terrifying, and I have no idea what to do about it. I have no idea how to make my kids feel safe, short of flat-out lying to them about how things will of course be "okay" (which wouldn't work anyway, they're too old for that now).
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I'm so conflicted and sick over what they're going through that I'm writing this anonymously, despite having written countless essays about my family and our lives in the past. I'm afraid of contributing to the negative attention my son is already receiving, however inadvertently. (My 15-year-old daughter, for the record, hasn't experienced any racially-based discrimination at her school yet, but she did come home shaking with rage the day after the election over the ramped-up "grab her by the p*ssy" mentality displayed by some of the boys in her class.)
I'm writing this anonymously because we're all playing by different rules now, and I'm still not sure what those rules are.
The Southern Poverty Law Center report calls upon schools to have crisis plans in place to deal with bias incidents, and to increase their anti-bullying and pro-tolerance efforts. These are good ideas, but they're not enough. Schools can't erase the damage parents are doing at home. Schools can't erase the damage our president elect and his supporters have already done and will surely continue to do.
I don't have any answers, unfortunately. What I have is a pain in my chest. A migraine that won't go away. A sense of dread that overtakes me every morning when I open my eyes.
That's a reality I refuse to accept. It's a reality we should all refuse to accept. The question is, how do we change it?