I am grading the final papers of my final intro comp class for low-income, first generation college students—mostly immigrants and blacks and natives.
We read Ta Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, and the Declaration of Independence, Emma Lazarus’ The New Colossus, Langston Hughes’ Let America Be America Again, and as the unit unfolded, the South Poverty Law Center’s vigilantly updated reports of the rising wave of hate crimes against minorities and immigrants.
We considered Trump’s rhetoric and his promises to build a wall and create a Muslim registry, and we read the resumes of the confirmed racist who heads the DOJ and the white supremacist propagandist who is now chief strategist, and here at the University of Oregon, we read the rhetoric of UO President Schill responding to the blackface of a senior law professor on Halloween and the high schoolers who came to campus after the election in blackface to follow her lead. They analyzed, shared, reflected, unpacked, and I offered the option to write the final essay in the form of an address, as Coates does, to the person they needed to speak to about the American dream and the ideals of equality, freedom, and justice. When I received them, I wept a dozen times.
Here are excerpts from some of the essays I received:
Dear sister, you will have to be strong, so strong—stronger than me. You will never get to grow up believing you are safe, that the dream is real, like I did…
Dear brother, when you asked me whether Trump will hurt us and I said no, me and Mama will protect you, you are safe, you are old enough now to know why I lied…
Dear mama, you have always asked me to translate for you because you speak only Spanish, and I have never told you what racist things so many white people said…
Dear father, you have worked so hard with your hands all these years, believing that this country would reward you, and I do not know how to tell you that this is a lie…
Dear unborn child of mine, last week, the night of the election, a truck full of white men pulled up as I walked home through the dark and someone shouted “Ni**er!
Dear children of mine to come, I worked with a man this summer, Ignacio, 14 hours a day in the hot summer sun, and when work finished he had a second night job 7 pm to 3 am. I asked him why he worked so hard, and he told me, “I want my kids to know if it’s in my will to bring them out on top, I will.” Given what is happening now, I do not know if I will be around when you find this, but I hope I have worked hard enough that you are safe, and that you are also brave, and can do the right thing and speak up against racism…
Dear sister, you are growing up with a Native mama while living with a black body just like I did, and growing up on a reservation a mixed girl on a reservation can be hard, but you are truly beautiful.
Trump has appointed a white nationalist, someone who believes our nation should consist only of white people, but don’t forget that you don’t have to be afraid. Come to me for anything. I will try to explain this crazy world as best I can and protect you.
These voices, they have such strength, their experiences such force, their writing such moral clarity. When a generation begins to stand and speak, when the awoke will not be silenced by fear, because their courage springs from love, silvering their tongues with truth– therein lies hope. They have carried me, these last weeks, and they will only grow louder and more strident: These are our lives, our hearts. We are afraid, but we will not bow—not for our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, our unborn daughters and sons.
Our voices will rise—we shall resist.
Michael Copperman’s book TEACHER is available now at www.mikecopperman.com
Photo: Getty Images (additional image courtesy of author)