While such discussions are often seen as politically charged and teachers like to steer clear of politics, these conversations are about fundamental American values, and age-appropriate ways of discussing hatred and tolerance in a diverse and vibrant democracy are as important as anything young people can learn in school. Civics education has taken a back seat to reading and math in recent years in “the era of accountability,” but it is past time for it to take center stage again in America’s schools.
What I learned when I got to Oregon, as I began to log untold hours trying to understand White nationalists and their ideas, was that antisemitism was the lynchpin of the White nationalist belief system. That within this ideological matrix, Jews—despite and indeed because of the fact that they often read as White—are a different, unassimilable, enemy race that must be exposed, defeated, and ultimately eliminated. Antisemitism, I discovered, is a particular and potent form of racism so central to White supremacy that Black people would not win our freedom without tearing it down.
I started begging people to say something, anything. When people responded at all it was to say something like, “I don’t think it’s my place,” or “I’m not really comfortable.” I was falling apart and my community was afraid of being uncomfortable….time and time again I ran into the wall of apathy that said, “this is where we stop. This is the limit of how much we can invest in your humanity.”
Amid this identity crisis, fears about cultural change and nostalgia for a lost era — bound together with the ties of partisan identity — combined to overwhelm the once confident logic of moral values. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore, an early and consistent critic of Trump, put it starkly. White evangelicals have, he argued, simply adopted “a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it.”
This Google Doc went around some time back. I’ll read and post some of the articles it references myself, but see the doc for more links and offline resources for white folks looking to get outside-their-own-heads perspectives on race issues.
We need to be thinking about how we are thinking about this election. This sense of comfort, of insulation from the horrors of America, is precisely what this syllabus is meant to disrupt. We, white people, clearly weren’t listening hard enough to people of color, to women, to queer people, to immigrants, to Muslims, to anyone who holds a marginalized identity. This did not come as a shock to many marginalized people. Instead, as a friend of mine put it: “I am hurt but my hurt comes mainly from having my fears proven. Not from surprise. I am so angry because there are so many people who needed this result to prove to them the divide of this country instead of listening to the voices of their token friends. Instead of hearing. Instead of trusting.” Now is the time to hear. Now is the time to educate and propel that education into action.
Jews, who do not fit neatly into American racial categories, challenge both sides’ visions for the country. Over time, Jews have become more integrated into American society—a process scholars sometimes refer to as “becoming white.” It wasn’t the skin color of Ashkenazi Jews of European descent that changed, though; it was their status. Trump’s election has convinced some Jews that they remain in the same position as they have throughout history: perpetually set apart from other groups through their Jewishness, and thus left vulnerable.
What you saw in many of these countries was a very different kind of population moving in and occupying social roles that had previously been reserved for white Christians. This was the ultimate change in social hierarchy. Nonwhites, who had historically been Europe and America’s colonial subjects and slaves, were now becoming its citizens. They weren’t just moving in; they were changing its society.
The question wasn’t whether there would be a massive electoral backlash. It was when.