March 16, 2017 | Rabat, Morocco
“The premise for empathy has to be equal humanity; it is an injustice to demand that the maligned identify with those who question their humanity…Now is the time to counter lies with facts, repeatedly and unflaggingly, while also proclaiming the greater truths: of our equal humanity, of decency, of compassion. Every precious ideal must be reiterated, every obvious argument made, because an ugly idea left unchallenged begins to turn the color of normal. It does not have to be like this.” — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The New Yorker
On the heels of President Donald Trump’s budget proposal announcing substantial cuts to the State Department, among others, and increases in military spending. These cuts would impact programs like the State Department-funded Teachers for Global Classrooms Fellowship, which annually allows teachers, students and administrators to get to know each other beyond the markers of nationality and race, gender and place.
Yesterday, we spent time at two schools: Moulay Youssef, a science and tech magnet, and Abi Dar Alghiffari, an International Baccalaureate school, or IB school.
Here’s the quick and dirty of what I noticed.
The students were curious about what we thought of President Trump, many of them following up their questions with what we think about Muslims and Islam, hijab, and Morocco in light of the President Trump’s recent executive orders.
We journeyed first to Moulay Youssef.
“So, what do you think about President Trump,” a girl audaciously asked from the back of the room, her face tilted up to us, her lips pursed.
Her peers echoed her question, urging us to answer.
We were silent at first. At the training, the organizers at IREX asked us to prepare for this very question. I think we’d all mulled over our response and had exchanged Facebook posts about what to say, or not.
In an international context, this body I wear is not only black and female, but more an American body, a teacher body, and one that represents far more than what I sometimes realize, especially when I am understood as being from the United States.
I thought about what some people have noted: the need to unify, to be positive, to be happy.
Yet, something about that doesn’t quite ring true for me given what’s at stake for the country I love, the people I love, the people I teach, people of color and for the people who are most immediately affected by the executive orders and plans our president has handed down.
It is hard to feel joy, let alone happiness and positivity, if one lives in fear of deportation, violence, and the gradual loss of personhood; if your life is expendable; if your body is not believed to be a body because a person emboldened by rhetoric and hate believes that the brownness of your body, the tint of your faith is wrong.
In Morocco, though, her question is risky for her. She and others are not supposed to publicly discuss politics or religion. At all.
Travis broke the silence first, heralding our country’s diversity and our ability as Americans to exercise both the right to vote and to use the political process to produce change. I spoke about the need for us to discuss the ideas — it’s too easy to put Trump down to call him names. I’m more interested in some of the ideas he, and others hold. How can we combat those policies and ideas? How can we build people up with knowledge, allow ourselves spaces to create joy in order to continue the work of dismantling those very ideas in ourselves as much as outside of us?
The principal entered, gently shusshing the discussion, reminding the students that these were things that could not be discussed. And for us, it was a way to understand how sacred freedom of speech is in our the U.S. We can live in the full expression of our ideas — for better or for worse — but we can express our ideas.
Abi Dar Alghiffari | In the second school, Abi Dar Alghiffari, many more of us spoke with students, sharing a variety of perspectives, but still singing the same song.
One girl, Atika L., was full of questions and aspirations. Her call to action challenged me.
We could not say all that we might say in private to one another or share what our students might think, but we could still communicate a love for them and our students — in all of their varying beliefs — a love and need for justice, an embrace of our country’s diversity as the thing that makes America truly great, and the need for them to talk with our students, to work diligently and, if they desire, come to our country and be a part of the story.
They future is in good hands, ya’ll.
Those children started clapping and it was the first time I realized, and I mean truly realized, that in our current political climate, we need more of this with each other. More listening, more exchanges based on the premise that we all have an ecstatic body of love, of healing, of joy that can liberate ourselves as much as each other.
No one is free unless we are all free, thus we must help each other get there.