Let me tell you about my week. The fact that I did not like the outcome of the presidential election pales in comparison to what many of the people in my life are feeling, as I am, but being a middle-aged white guy, I am admittedly somewhat insulated from a lot of the garbage being strewn about the country.
Let me tell you a bit about my situation. I am in my ninth year of teaching in the inner city of New Orleans, having left twenty-plus years in the business world behind in 2008 to help rebuild the educational system here post-hurricane Katrina. My school’s student body is roughly ninety-eight percent African-American, with a smattering of Hispanic students.
This week, I have hall duty both before and after school, in the main entry area on the second floor. Wednesday morning, somewhat sleep deprived, I was on my post when the first bell rang, allowing students in. It took less than thirty-seconds.
“Mr. Lucker! Did you vote for Donald Trump?” The young woman’s anger and fear were palpable. “Mr. Lucker you voted for Donald Trump, didn’t you?!” came from another young woman, not one of my students, but who knew who I was. Her anger was much more accusatory. To both young women, and the others that followed over the next ten minutes, I could only sadly shake my head ‘no’. Then I had to get to my homeroom full of seniors, who were waiting outside my locked classroom, unusually subdued. I greeted them, unlocked the door, we went inside.
I only have the seniors for twenty minutes a day, but we have gotten to know each other pretty well. Many had asked me previously if I would be voting for Mr. Trump, so their reactions were not directed at me, but they did vent over the outcome of the previous night. I tried my best to placate them, with little success.
“Donald Trump is going to put us in concentration camps!” “The police coming after everybody now! Because of Trump” “He is going to arrest Obama!” There was plenty more from my group of nineteen, but that was the gist of my homeroom group. Except for one young man, a quiet, thoughtful kid who was obviously in pain. His reflection on events was focused on one specific point:
“He calls us ‘the blacks’.”
He said it a few times, but his classmates, into their own rants, were not hearing him. As their energy began winding down, he repeated his lament, and they all heard him: “He calls us ‘the blacks’.”
His classmates had no response. I could think of nothing to say. I still cannot come up with anything to tell this young man, as I have heard Mr. Trump use that phrase, I have seen the video clips; he likes to use ‘the’ when discussing various groups. Pointing this out, I felt, would sound like an excuse so I didn’t bother. Saying ‘I am so sorry’ crossed my mind, but that, too seemed like an excuse for something I would personally consider inexcusable.
I could only take a deep breath, sigh, and shake my head as I checked off the roll. My face, however, must have given something away.
“You O.k., Mr. Lucker?” A young woman was the first to ask, then young man, a usually jovial sort, asked as well. “No” I replied, still shaking my head, “Not really.” They nodded. Empathy knows no color. They are a cool bunch of kids. I am very proud to be their homeroom teacher.
The bell rang, and as they headed out the door we exchanged the typical ‘see you later’ and ‘have a good day’ salutations, though the mood was decidedly subdued.
My first period on Wednesday was, thankfully, my planning period, so I had a hundred minutes to work on class material and prepare, and to reflect. I think I got a fair amount done, but I was most assuredly distracted; by student’s words, their tones, their anger and angst. The tension in the hallways was palpable. I was grateful for the early morning downtime.
Then it was time for my first class of the day: sophomores. Fifteen, sixteen-year old tenth graders who are as far removed, maturity and intellectually from the seniors as one could possibly imagine; their anger and confusion is less easily contained, far more difficult to channel into constructive dialogue on even rudimentary classroom topics, so my expectations for issues were heightened.
The half-minute threshold of hall duty was a record quickly broken. “Mr. Lucker! Why you vote for Donald Trump?” “Mr. Lucker! You voted for that man! He’s racist!”
I simply said ‘good morning’ to everyone as usual, adding the admonition to ‘get in and sit down and we’ll talk about all of that’. The bell rang, I closed the door. They were clamoring for answers, yelling at me, to me, against me. Against the president they had just seen elected.
Getting them calmed down was an even bigger chore than usual. The class had an assignment on the smartboard, they had all grabbed laptops from the cart and were logging on; I encouraged them to focus on that while I took roll. Some students just wanted to log on, get to work and/or just be quiet and hide, but this was not the day to be a wallflower.
“Mr. Lucker! You voted for Donald Trump, didn’t you? I know you did!”
“O.k.” I stood in the front of the class, arms clasped behind me, rocking on the balls of my feet as I do when I am trying to get a group to calm a bit. I sensed a teachable-moment. “Just out of curiosity, why would you make an assumption like that?” The response was immediate, and from multiple sources. “Because you a white man!” I nodded, shook my head and sighed.
“First of all, don’t be racist in my classroom.”
“I aint being racist!”
“We have talked about this; if you make an assumption about someone just based on their color, in my opinion, you are being racist.” This took some of the wind out of their sails; we have had that discussion.
“Wait!” said one girl, an always vocal class leader. “You DIDN”T vote for Trump?!”
“I did not.” The class was buzzing. They looked at each other, puzzled.
“Are you telling us the truth?”
“Yes, I am.”
“You did. Not. Vote. For. Donald. Trump?!” It was the vocal girl, her skepticism in full bloom.
“I did not, and would not. Not ever.”
My sophomores calmed down somewhat, many of them started in on their assignment from the board. Some kept chatting, a few just angrily muttered epithets as they got to work. A few repeated concerns shared by the seniors and added a few: ‘arrest all of us’ ‘send us away’ ‘send us back to Africa’ and ‘he’s going to build walls around the hood’ to name some of the favorites.
A short time later, the principal came on the P.A. with an announcement that Hillary Clinton would be shortly making her consolation speech, and if we wanted to air it, it might help calm some folks down to hear some reassuring words. She also noted that president Obama would be speaking at noon. My students wanted to watch it all, so I told them if they could keep working, we would watch it. I pulled up the CNN feed, keeping the volume off until Tim Kaine got up to introduce Ms. Clinton. We watched, they were mostly attentive, but confused.
“Why are those people cheering her? She lost!”
“Why is she making jokes? She lost!”
“Why are those people laughing? She lost!”
“Man, Donald Trump is a racist!”
After Clinton spoke, the students wanted to watch the president, but class was about to end, and it was time for students to go to lunch. They put away their laptops, filed out quietly – for them – and I too, went to lunch.That afternoon, my two classes of tenth graders followed pretty much the same pattern; my ‘good afternoon’ greetings answered with accusatory electoral assumptions, followed by getting kids in, relatively settled, and telling them the same thing:
That afternoon, my two classes of tenth graders followed pretty much the same pattern; my ‘good afternoon’ greetings answered with accusatory electoral assumptions, followed by getting kids in, relatively settled, and telling them the same thing:Don’t be a racist in my classroom.
Don’t be a racist in my classroom.We had no speeches to watch for the last two cases, but the kids were asking a lot of the same questions, having watched it in other rooms; why is she laughing, why are they cheering, Trump is a racist, etc.
We had no speeches to watch for the last two cases, but the kids were asking a lot of the same questions, having watched it in other rooms; why is she laughing, why are they cheering, Trump is a racist, etc.
Thursday found us with a fresh day, but more of the same – though more subdued in nature. Generally. My hall duty followed the same pattern, my homeroom was still agitated, though a few could at least joke a bit about ‘all being locked up’ and my sophomores (three different groups, as we are on an A/B day schedule) still angry and questioning –of me and the fates in general.
Friday found us all running emotionally empty, with even the really vocal ones protesting seemingly having lost their energy to do more than just throw out a few f-bombs with the new presidents name attached. A few kids incredulously mentioned that they heard the KKK was going to have a parade for Trump, which I thought might ignite some verbal fireworks, but again, everyone was pretty much out of gas.
The longest three days of my teaching career, no contest.
The months ahead, I am afraid, promise more of the same, on different levels, with varying degrees of bewilderment, anger and apprehension taking root like weeds in parking lot pavement cracks; randomly, expectedly and at times both colorful and curious, but an unseemly nuisance. Very organic, and totally expected.
It is a different time we now live in, let me tell you.