Why We Need To Talk About Trump’s Haiti Remarks

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President Trump speaks at the Conversations with the Women of America panel at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

It would be an understatement to say that President Trump has given educators some “teachable moments” during his first year in office, including his latest racist remarks.

The Washington Post reported that on Thursday, during talks in the White House with legislators about protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries, Trump said: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” He also said the United States should welcome more immigrants from Norway, a predominantly white country.

What should teachers do with such moments? How should they address these comments? This post tackles those questions. It was written by Andre Perry, who is a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., and whose research focuses on race and structural inequality, education, and economic inclusion. In 2013, he founded the College of Urban Education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Perry writes for the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education, where a version of this post first appeared. The Hechinger Report gave me permission to publish it.

[Trump derides protections for immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries]

 

By Andre Perry

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos may not have said anything publicly about President Trump’s racist remarks on Jan. 11 when he referred to Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as “shithole countries” —  but civics teachers can’t afford to ignore them.

Inertia in the face of this kind of vitriol reinforces the kind of schooling that fostered many presidents’ bigoted views, including Trump’s.

At a meeting last week in the White House with legislators about immigration reform, Trump made the comments and suggested that the United States should welcome people from Norway, a majority-white country.

After the remarks were reported, Michigan teacher Dan Morse tweeted this directly to me and a few other education experts: “Thinking about my immigrant students this morning and about the disgusting comments made by our president yesterday. I teach civics. How should we address?”

Thinking about my immigrant students this morning and about the disgusting comments made by our president yesterday. I teach civics. How should we address? Advice, @PrincipalKafele @PedroANoguera @andreperryedu @chrisemdin ?#UrbanEdChat #urbaned

— Dan Morse (@DJMorse) January 12, 2018

I initially replied that Morse should have all his students reflect on our national motto, E pluribus unum, which is Latin for “Out of many, one.” They could then write about what the motto that was established in 1782 means to them and the country today.

Teachers should also stay focused on how the current moment relates to a long history of U.S. policies that favored some and burdened others. They might discuss the nation’s immigration policy before 1965, which was based on a national-origins quota system. This restrictive policy argued for racial and national selectivity. They might specifically call out the Chinese Exclusion Act or “Operation Wetback,” and ask students to consider these policies in light of current events.

During a week when we remember Martin Luther King Jr., teachers might discuss slow-footed presidents who dragged their feet in enforcing integration mandated by the Supreme Court in the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954, or the mixed feelings that President Lyndon Johnson had about King, even as Johnson reacted to the Selma marches and “Bloody Sunday” with the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Civics teachers should avoid bombarding this teachable moment with stories of immigrant exceptionalism and model minorities. Columnist  Shamira Ibrahim noticed a wave of narratives about the wonderful contributions immigrants have made to America as a kind of wrongheaded appeal to racist sentimentalities.

“The social contract that we abide by comes with an expectation of respect for our basic humanity, an expectation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — not a degree audit,” wrote Ibrahim.

In the same vein, activist and educator Brittany Packnett shared on her Instagram feed that “people of color do not need to justify our existence to anyone. Our humanity — not our merit — make us worthy.”

Teachers can certainly uplift their students and their stories, but they shouldn’t encourage the narrative that immigrants must justify themselves to racist laws. Nor should immigrants and other groups be the bridges of knowledge for whites and native-born students. That’s what teachers are for.

It is important for teachers to help students understand that Trump’s comments hark back to America’s racist history. Abraham Lincoln, who is often revered for freeing the enslaved, did little to make them full citizens before he was assassinated. While Bill Clinton sang the black American national anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in black churches, he presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates.

We need all educators, including Betsy DeVos, our educator in chief, to tackle these lessons.

 

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Source : https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2018/01/16/how-civics-teachers-can-talk-to-students-about-trumps-racist-comments/

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