Lexicon and National Trauma

 

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This presidency will end, but “the election” remains in our lexicon as a national trauma. 

I took the photo above the day after the election. Even a year later, that’s still what it’s called – “the election.” You don’t have to say “the 2016 election” or “the election of Donald J. Trump.” People know what you’re talking about. Yes, we’ve been through controversial elections before, and only time will tell the staying power of this phrase. But today, a year later, the nation shoulders the singular weight of a presidency collectively marked, not by the day the administration took office, but by the election itself.

While we can’t discount the disasters of the actual Trump presidency, psychologists increasingly argue that the election itself produced lasting, impactful trauma. This week, health journalist Beth Skwarecki spoke with therapists across the country about the long-term psychological effects of the election. According to Karen Koenig, a clinical social worker,

“I can say with certainty that my clients who are trauma survivors are coming into sessions triggered by our new president… The election itself reached into [a memory] of being abused while others in their life told them everything was fine.”  Continue reading

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Shh – Don’t Say ‘Speak American’ (Out Loud)

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Image credit: Christian V.

There was justified outcry this week when a New Jersey teacher reprimanded students for speaking Spanish in class. She demanded the students speak “American,” arguing that U.S. troops are “not fighting for your right to speak Spanish.”

The students staged a walk-out. There have been calls for the teacher to be censured and dismissed. These outcomes are necessary, but we must also recognize that the teacher’s rant accurately named aloud what most U.S. schools impose on students every day.

The vast majority of students in the U.S. are spoken to, taught, and assessed exclusively in English, regardless of whether English is the language through which they learn best. Whether these English-Only restrictions are actual policy, or simply monolingual inertia, students across the country are forced to “speak American” every day without anyone having to name it out loud. Continue reading

Who Gets to be “Critical?”

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Image: Burning the “Book of Sports,” 1643

This year continues to demonstrate the importance of reading the world through a critical lens. But who gets to be “critical?” Who gets access to critical approaches to literacy versus who gets timed reading tests?

Educators who use literacy to challenge the status quo often ground their work in critical literacies. This approach goes beyond reading and writing as mechanical skills, using literacy to critique power and inequity–what Paulo Freire called “reading the word and the world.”

But what does this mean when we ask students to read the word and the world in another language?

I took up this question in a recent article for the Journal of Literacy Research. In the journal’s latest issue, Literacy Research and the Radical ImaginationI wrote alongside a phenomenal group of authors working to “radically reimagine the ways in which research can reposition people and ideas to create new and more inviting spaces for literacy.” (JLR, p. 319).

No small task. Continue reading

Inventing Illegality

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Image Credit: May Day March

A new week, a new round of policies that endanger more than than they assist.

Through the debates that will rightly follow Trump’s latest round of immigration directives, notice who chooses to employ the term illegal vs. undocumented. And if that distinction doesn’t yet set your ears aflame, here’s one of the many reasons it should.

Earlier this fall, Emmy Award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa explained that you can identify an individual as having broken a law, but “what you cannot do is to label the person illegal.” Hinojosa continued,

“The reason why I say this, is not because I learned it from some radical Latino or Latina studies professor when I was a college student. I learned it from Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust, who said, ‘You know what? The first thing they did was that they declared the Jews to be an illegal people.’ And that’s what we’re talking about at this point.” Continue reading

The But/And Politics of “Moving Forward”

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Image credit: Ben Wikler

I deeply admire you, Senator Elizabeth Warren, which is why I was looking to you for answers last week.

“Donald Trump ran a campaign that started with racial attacks and then rode the escalator down. Millions of Americans – African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, LGBT Americans, women – have every right to be deeply worried. But there are many millions of people who did not vote for Donald Trump because of the bigotry and hate that fueled his campaign rallies…. They voted for him out of frustration and anger—and also out of hope that he would bring change to an economy and a government that doesn’t work for them.”

What you said is true. We know all Trump supporters aren’t necessarily hateful. We also know that many other voters are rightfully afraid. However, it was your use of one word that makes this such a disappointment.

You said “but.”

Yes, Senator Warren, millions of Americans—particularly minoritized populations—do have every right to be deeply worried.

Full stop.

It’s just that you didn’t stop there. You didn’t legitimize that truth by letting it stand.

You said “but.”

The word “but” is used to pivot a sentence away from one idea and onto another. The word functions to contradict, qualify, or lessen the clause that precedes it. 

So your sentence took the focus off of the fear, worry, and physical danger that faces so many right now, and put it elsewhere.

That focus, Senator Warren, needed to stay right where it was.

Now is not the time for the word “but.” It’s time to realize we can hold two ideas in our head at the same time.

It’s a time for the word AND. Continue reading

‘Refugee’ Revisited: Rio 2016

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Image Credit: Kirilos via Flickr

The Olympics aspire to inspire. This year, nothing has captured that spirit more than the standing ovation received by the first Refugee Olympic team at the opening ceremonies in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

One team member in particular, 18-year-old swimmer Yusra Mardini, captured the world’s attention through her story of having pushed a sinking dinghy to shore, saving 20 lives as she and her family fled Syria.

Through all the (indisputably worthy) praise for Mardini and the rest of the team, less energy has been invested in exploring the conditions that engineered such a team into existence.

International policies are accountable for forcing these athletes, and countless others, into refugee status. These policies were enacted by many of the same countries whose athletes paraded alongside the refugee team. The same culpability resides with transnational bodies such as the International Olympic Committee: How do we, for example, reconcile the paradox of welcoming a refugee team during an event responsible for displacing 77,000 more?

A partial answer comes in recognizing that “refugee” is not a nationality, a flag by which to march under, but a status we as a global community have forced upon these individuals. Continue reading

Political Correctness and the “War on Free Speech”

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Image Credit: Rebecca Barray, via Flickr

Political Diatribe. Trigger warnings. Microaggressions. Victimhood culture.

Being politically correct, or “PC,” has been all over the media this year. Some say this is the mark of a more conscientious and inclusive society, while others say we’ve gotten “too sensitive.” According to one recent presidential candidate, political correctness is literally “killing people.”

But what does being PC even mean? Merriam-Webster will tell you it’s about avoiding language “perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against,” which all sounds well and good. So why the dramatic outcry over a basic politeness virtue we teach kindergarteners every day?

The backlash usually arises when someone is called out for not being PC. In general, no one likes to have their language corrected. If someone points out a mistake in grammar or pronunciation (cue Chris discovering there’s no “x” in espresso), we’re briefly embarrassed, but we move past it. But if someone gets called out for being “un-PC,” prepare for words to fly.

So what is it that makes this correction strike so much deeper? Clearly, it’s something that goes beyond the words or “corrections” themselves to tap into dynamics of language and power. Continue reading