Column

How can education reform the minds of Trump voters?

America is no more racist, sexist and nationalist than it was a day before the GOP victory

Photo of Andre Perry

Degree of  Interest

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, accompanied by her husband former President Bill Clinton, concedes the presidential election at the New Yorker Hotel on November 9, 2016 in New York City. Republican candidate Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election in the early hours of the morning in a widely unforeseen upset.

Three hours after falling asleep to the realization that Donald Trump proved victorious in the 2016 presidential election over Hillary Clinton, I walked, surprisingly alert, through NOLA’s Armstrong International Airport toward my early morning flight that was scheduled to depart for Columbus, Ohio, a state Trump easily claimed.

There was a quiet that belied the typical morning haze. Conversations in our own heads distracted us from the cordiality of greeting passersby. As if we all caught rude stares, our eyes bounced from one person to the next.

We were busy figuring out who voted for whom. More so, white people tried to make sense of their teammates.

Related: Opinion After shocking election, New York history teacher tries to alleviate ‘despair, anxiety or indignation’

There were a few people wearing their “Make America Great Again” hats, but the white folk in the terminal looked for slight signals that they were either quiet as in somber or quiet as in trying not to gloat. With Trump having garnered less than 8 percent of the black vote, it’s safe to say people assumed whom I voted for. Nevertheless, I knew then as I did just a day before: I was in the minority.

President Obama said in speech after the polls closed, “No matter what happens, the sun will rise in the morning.” And while I was on my early flight, it eventually did.

The country is no more racist, sexist and nationalist than it was a day before. The margins of victory in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin were so thin that but for a few causes we could have easily seen Clinton elected.

Related: If the anger that propelled Trump’s win is economic, can higher education fix it?

I’ve been under no illusion that a Clinton victory would have made the bigoted people who voted for Trump any less racist, sexist or xenophobic. I’m also clear that disenfranchised racist, sexist and xenophobic people are a significant force in the United States, and they want “their country back.” They’ve been working towards those ends for some time now.

I live in the South, where access to women’s health care has been restricted for generations; mass incarceration is as central to the culture as gumbo; schools and elected representation are taken away from black school districts like parents take away children’s toys; and a former Klansman can not only run for office but run on the coattails of the eventual president-elect. I know too well what may be in store.

I’m also clear that many who voted for Hillary had little interest in racial justice. In education in particular, vicious attacks on labor unions, black civil rights organizations like the NAACP and the breaking up of school districts hurt the political strength of black and brown people for supposed gains of test scores. Clearly test scores can’t buy the protection black communities need right now.

Related: Educators ponder meaning of a Trump presidency: Plea for “the vulnerable and the bullied”

An aside, people have spoken. Georgia voters overwhelming rejected Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to create a recovery district, with more than 60 percent opposing the constitutional amendment. In Massachusetts, voters thwarted a measure to expand charter schools. For too many, the best choice is a quality neighborhood school. Are reformers going to shame entire states for “not knowing what’s good for them?” It’s time to change the focus to what educational justice is really about. Authentic education reform has more to do with changing the minds of white people than with improving the lives of blacks. Target the educations of the majority of those who voted for Trump.

We shouldn’t be surprised or shocked. Trump’s victory is fueled by the same global movement comprised of primarily disgruntled white men who been long since been abandoned by political elites who actually leave everyone in the cold. Members of this movement are racist and sexist or racist and sexist enough to vote for a known bigot over the establishment candidate.

Clearly, life will be harder for those of us in the minority who continue to push to make America just, not “Great Again.” I am extremely worried about the impending Supreme Court composition and its impact on women’s rights, health care, voting rights and affirmative action. I’m also more worried about the threat of war and domestic terrorism under a Trump presidency.

But make no mistake: I know what my team will have to do, and it’s what we should have done more effectively during the 2016 campaign and campaigns before.

Trump’s job isn’t to help heal the wounds of American politics. Those who are in the minority have no choice but to continue to work to  eradicate the racism, sexism and protectionism that elevated Trump.

The sun will rise again. And we must accept the realities that justice doesn’t come with a black or woman president, and it won’t end with a white one.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

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Andre Perry

Dr. Andre Perry, a contributing writer, is a David M. Rubenstein Fellow at The Brookings Institution. Perry was the founding dean of urban education at… See Archive

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