Fair warning, y’all: I’m about to ask you a few uncomfortable questions.
Here we go.
First question: How did you feel when Donald Trump — media celebrity and the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for President of the United States — suggested a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on?”
Next question: How did you feel when you found out that one of the leading voices in the white supremacist movement is doubling down on Trump’s candidacy, recording a robocall in Iowa that ends with, ““We don’t need Muslims. We need smart, well-educated white people who will assimilate to our culture. Vote Trump.”
Final question: How did you feel when participants in a recent Trump rally screamed “You’ve got a bomb!” at a Muslim woman who had done nothing other than stand in silent protest as Trump repeated his argument that Syrian refugees are ISIS terrorists in disguise?
Did any of that make you angry? Were you shocked that such rhetoric could make its way into the national conversation on immigration in a nation full of immigrants? Are you troubled by the fact that a man peddling the notion that outsiders are threats to our communities and to our culture is drawing tens of thousands of people to rallies where hate is openly tolerated — even celebrated?
Now imagine how the Muslim students in your school population are feeling.
Imagine being eight or eleven or eighteen and being surrounded by such public demonstrations of doubt and skepticism. Imagine being eight or eleven or eighteen and hearing countless critics questioning your right to live alongside of everyone else. Imagine seeing a kid who looks a lot like you suspended because the adults in his life assumed that his homemade clock was a bomb, or seeing an entire school system shut down because of backlash against a single assignment centered on your faith, or seeing armed ‘activists’ pretending to be ‘patriots’ protesting outside of your community centers.
Wouldn’t you feel anxious on a good day and downright frightened on a bad day? Wouldn’t you worry — about the reactions of your peers or their parents, about the consequences of being open about your faith, about being misunderstood or judged or ostracized by people who just don’t understand? Wouldn’t you struggle to trust the important voices around you given that some of the loudest voices in our country have transparently aligned themselves against you?
Wouldn’t you hope to find vocal support from your teachers?
Wouldn’t you feel safer if the person standing in front of your classroom — in front of your peers and in front of their parents — spoke openly about your culture and customs and traditions? Wouldn’t you crave acknowledgement and acceptance from one of the most important public figures in your life? Wouldn’t you be more likely to believe in fairness and justice and equality if you saw your teacher push against such obvious examples of unfairness and injustice and inequality?
Are YOU ready to lend that vocal support to the Muslim students in your classroom and your community?
Don’t get me wrong: I totally get that — depending on where you live — lending vocal support to Muslims can be risky. There’s bound to be a parent who will call your decision to point out the wrongs in the world around you ‘proselytizing’ or ‘too political’ to belong in a classroom. They’ll call your intentions into question and accuse you of trying to brainwash their children with liberal ideology. They might even email your boss or blow you in to the local talk radio station as an example of all that is wrong with the public school system.
But sometimes modeling tolerance — a trait that matters more than most in today’s fractured world — requires speaking out against the intolerance that surrounds us.
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