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Pain, Betrayal and the Recognition that “We Gon’ Be Alright”

By Christopher Emdin

Christopher Emdin, Associate Professor of Science Education
Christopher Emdin, Associate Professor of Science Education
We all have to collectively recognize that the election of Donald Trump is particularly painful for many of us. It’s not just that a candidate we didn’t like got elected – it’s that someone who looks at many of us and only sees worthlessness has been chosen to be a representative of all of us. We have to start with recognizing that pain. Understanding that it’s not going to get healed in one venting session or an email or two acknowledging that many are upset. This is real pain. Real heartache. Real trauma.

 [ Post-Election America: Read more commentary on the election from Teachers College ]

I’ve written about undiagnosed and very real traumas that folks of color experience in this country. I’ve highlighted undiagnosed “PTSD” in the forms of a Poor Teaching in Schools’ Disorder and a Post Trayvon (Martin) Stress Disorder – well, there surely has to be a President Trump Stress Disorder. People are traumatized. Our Muslim brothers and sisters feel attacked. Our immigrant colleagues are fearful. This is a real and ongoing trauma, and we must treat it as such by working together on it over time. Healing is going to take a community that is actively working together. It won’t happen by passively engaging or wearing of safety pins, but by the provision of safe spaces where people can be truly honest about how they feel.

I’ve seen the breakdown of who voted for Trump – people who immigrants and people of color thought were allies. It’s scary to have to acknowledge that many of those we think are working together with us have stronger binds to protecting whiteness than preserving any progress a black man has made in the oval office.

Of course, the wounds come from more than just Trump’s election. There’s the feeling of betrayal as well. I’ve seen the breakdown of who voted for Trump – people who immigrants and people of color thought were allies. It’s scary to have to acknowledge that many of those we think are working together with us have stronger binds to protecting whiteness than preserving any progress a black man has made in the oval office.

Why did people vote this way? Because of a fear of losing power and control. It’s the final grasp for age-old white supremacy, by hanging onto someone and something who represents that. Trump ran on a campaign of returning to a history in which there wasn’t equality. And people who voted for him are scared of what a more inclusive future looks like. But that future, in which we recognize a more diverse society where more voices are accepting and accepted, is inevitable.  Progress happens in pendulum swings. But it’s scary when the pendulum swings the wrong way – especially when you felt it was swinging in the right direction. If this had happened post-Bush, we would have shuddered and said, well, this is where we are. But post-Obama, it’s just so painful. People have to recognize that, with all the hurt around Hillary losing, the pain is intensified because of the election of Trump after an Obama presidency.

My strongest image of Trump is his post-Central Park Five identity. I can’t get past the way he demonized young men who didn’t commit a crime but were set up by the New York City police department. He put out an ad in the Times back then in which he said we should “Bring Back The Death penalty” for these young men. Years later, after these men have been exonerated, he has yet to say, I apologize, I was wrong.

As a man of color who grew up in New York City, my strongest image of Trump is his post-Central Park Five identity. I can’t get past the way he demonized young men who didn’t commit a crime but were set up by the New York City police department. He put out an ad in the Times back then in which he said we should “Bring Back The Death penalty” for these young men. Years later, after these men have been exonerated, he has yet to say, I apologize, I was wrong. There’s no sign of progress there. He’s the kind of person who looks at young people of color and sees a criminal before seeing who they are. He does not see their humanity. It’s very tough to handle the idea of someone like that being in charge of or representing our nation.

My daughter is three. She may not understand what’s happened, but she’s old enough to recognize that Mommy and Daddy are not happy. She’s old enough to ask why. The morning after the election she asked, Are you OK?  

It’s a physical sensation, a sadness, and while she may not understand all of the details, she’s old enough to recognize it. I had to explain where it comes from. I can only imagine what kids who are not provided the space to talk about any of this feel.

There are so many layers to this. There was the initial state of shock and sadness. Then there was optimism – maybe he’ll take a more conciliatory tone as President. And then you see who he’s choosing for his cabinet and his team – you see him putting a white supremacist in charge of strategy – and you feel it all over again. Because it’s not just him. It’s what he’s ushering in. There are kids in school cafeterias chanting, Build the Wall.

Every time a person is confirmed, every time someone who is a white supremacist is asked to take another position of power, it’s going to conjure up the trauma. Daily, weekly, monthly – it’s going to go on for the next few years. The wounds will not have the time they need to heal.

The most amazing and beautiful thing I’m seeing right now is the young people, who are more resilient than the adults. They’re fighting back. There have been walkouts in schools. They’re asking questions.

I know there are those who believe we must accept the half of the country who voted for Trump, but it’s tough to ask someone who’s been victimized to take the high road, particularly when those dealing with black people have taken the low road for so long. Obama was demonized for his relationship with Jeremiah Wright, the pastor who presided over his wedding, because of some notion that this person might have an ideology that did not align with what people could accept. Obama had to distance himself from Wright. But those rules don’t seem to apply to Trump. So it’s almost like re-victimizing someone when you ask a victim of oppression to take the high road.  To tell us we have to heal immediately – to be emotional superheroes – is to rob us of our humanity and to ignore our need to grieve. 

The most amazing and beautiful thing I’m seeing right now is the young people, who are more resilient than the adults. They’re fighting back. There have been walkouts in schools. They’re asking questions.

I use hip hop to teach kids, and they’re writing rhymes with emotion and purpose in carving out a way forward. They’re pushing back.

It’s great to be in the midst of young people who are saying that they won’t be silent in this process.

Sometimes it takes something that lurked in the shadows being in your face to make you recognize your own power and the need to snatch it back.

Out of the Reagan era came some of the most astute social analysis from young people, through hip hop and rap. I expect the same to result from the Trump era.

A few months ago, Kendrick Lamar put out the song “We Gon’ Be Alright.” The song has been a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter protests. But it has so much more meaning to me today. In the midst of the challenges, the adversity, the pain, good folks have been saying, We gon’ be all right. We have to hold onto that as a mantra, as a beacon. We have to grieve but still believe: we gon’ be all right.

Christopher Emdin is Associate Professor of Science Education. This piece was adapted from a recent interview with him. 

Published Wednesday, Nov 16, 2016

By Christopher Emdin

Christopher Emdin, Associate Professor of Science Education
Christopher Emdin, Associate Professor of Science Education
We all have to collectively recognize that the election of Donald Trump is particularly painful for many of us. It’s not just that a candidate we didn’t like got elected – it’s that someone who looks at many of us and only sees worthlessness has been chosen to be a representative of all of us. We have to start with recognizing that pain. Understanding that it’s not going to get healed in one venting session or an email or two acknowledging that many are upset. This is real pain. Real heartache. Real trauma.

 [ Post-Election America: Read more commentary on the election from Teachers College ]

I’ve written about undiagnosed and very real traumas that folks of color experience in this country. I’ve highlighted undiagnosed “PTSD” in the forms of a Poor Teaching in Schools’ Disorder and a Post Trayvon (Martin) Stress Disorder – well, there surely has to be a President Trump Stress Disorder. People are traumatized. Our Muslim brothers and sisters feel attacked. Our immigrant colleagues are fearful. This is a real and ongoing trauma, and we must treat it as such by working together on it over time. Healing is going to take a community that is actively working together. It won’t happen by passively engaging or wearing of safety pins, but by the provision of safe spaces where people can be truly honest about how they feel.

I’ve seen the breakdown of who voted for Trump – people who immigrants and people of color thought were allies. It’s scary to have to acknowledge that many of those we think are working together with us have stronger binds to protecting whiteness than preserving any progress a black man has made in the oval office.

Of course, the wounds come from more than just Trump’s election. There’s the feeling of betrayal as well. I’ve seen the breakdown of who voted for Trump – people who immigrants and people of color thought were allies. It’s scary to have to acknowledge that many of those we think are working together with us have stronger binds to protecting whiteness than preserving any progress a black man has made in the oval office.

Why did people vote this way? Because of a fear of losing power and control. It’s the final grasp for age-old white supremacy, by hanging onto someone and something who represents that. Trump ran on a campaign of returning to a history in which there wasn’t equality. And people who voted for him are scared of what a more inclusive future looks like. But that future, in which we recognize a more diverse society where more voices are accepting and accepted, is inevitable.  Progress happens in pendulum swings. But it’s scary when the pendulum swings the wrong way – especially when you felt it was swinging in the right direction. If this had happened post-Bush, we would have shuddered and said, well, this is where we are. But post-Obama, it’s just so painful. People have to recognize that, with all the hurt around Hillary losing, the pain is intensified because of the election of Trump after an Obama presidency.

My strongest image of Trump is his post-Central Park Five identity. I can’t get past the way he demonized young men who didn’t commit a crime but were set up by the New York City police department. He put out an ad in the Times back then in which he said we should “Bring Back The Death penalty” for these young men. Years later, after these men have been exonerated, he has yet to say, I apologize, I was wrong.

As a man of color who grew up in New York City, my strongest image of Trump is his post-Central Park Five identity. I can’t get past the way he demonized young men who didn’t commit a crime but were set up by the New York City police department. He put out an ad in the Times back then in which he said we should “Bring Back The Death penalty” for these young men. Years later, after these men have been exonerated, he has yet to say, I apologize, I was wrong. There’s no sign of progress there. He’s the kind of person who looks at young people of color and sees a criminal before seeing who they are. He does not see their humanity. It’s very tough to handle the idea of someone like that being in charge of or representing our nation.

My daughter is three. She may not understand what’s happened, but she’s old enough to recognize that Mommy and Daddy are not happy. She’s old enough to ask why. The morning after the election she asked, Are you OK?  

It’s a physical sensation, a sadness, and while she may not understand all of the details, she’s old enough to recognize it. I had to explain where it comes from. I can only imagine what kids who are not provided the space to talk about any of this feel.

There are so many layers to this. There was the initial state of shock and sadness. Then there was optimism – maybe he’ll take a more conciliatory tone as President. And then you see who he’s choosing for his cabinet and his team – you see him putting a white supremacist in charge of strategy – and you feel it all over again. Because it’s not just him. It’s what he’s ushering in. There are kids in school cafeterias chanting, Build the Wall.

Every time a person is confirmed, every time someone who is a white supremacist is asked to take another position of power, it’s going to conjure up the trauma. Daily, weekly, monthly – it’s going to go on for the next few years. The wounds will not have the time they need to heal.

The most amazing and beautiful thing I’m seeing right now is the young people, who are more resilient than the adults. They’re fighting back. There have been walkouts in schools. They’re asking questions.

I know there are those who believe we must accept the half of the country who voted for Trump, but it’s tough to ask someone who’s been victimized to take the high road, particularly when those dealing with black people have taken the low road for so long. Obama was demonized for his relationship with Jeremiah Wright, the pastor who presided over his wedding, because of some notion that this person might have an ideology that did not align with what people could accept. Obama had to distance himself from Wright. But those rules don’t seem to apply to Trump. So it’s almost like re-victimizing someone when you ask a victim of oppression to take the high road.  To tell us we have to heal immediately – to be emotional superheroes – is to rob us of our humanity and to ignore our need to grieve. 

The most amazing and beautiful thing I’m seeing right now is the young people, who are more resilient than the adults. They’re fighting back. There have been walkouts in schools. They’re asking questions.

I use hip hop to teach kids, and they’re writing rhymes with emotion and purpose in carving out a way forward. They’re pushing back.

It’s great to be in the midst of young people who are saying that they won’t be silent in this process.

Sometimes it takes something that lurked in the shadows being in your face to make you recognize your own power and the need to snatch it back.

Out of the Reagan era came some of the most astute social analysis from young people, through hip hop and rap. I expect the same to result from the Trump era.

A few months ago, Kendrick Lamar put out the song “We Gon’ Be Alright.” The song has been a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter protests. But it has so much more meaning to me today. In the midst of the challenges, the adversity, the pain, good folks have been saying, We gon’ be all right. We have to hold onto that as a mantra, as a beacon. We have to grieve but still believe: we gon’ be all right.

Christopher Emdin is Associate Professor of Science Education. This piece was adapted from a recent interview with him. 

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