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This Man

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This man is a husband, the father of two children, Latino, and a US citizen. For 18 years he taught high school, most recently in a rural area of a southern state—where he also resides among farmers, many of whom reject the notion of a generous earth that nourishes all people. Instead they stand their ground, soil fertile with roots that grow deep into the past. They wave Confederate flags, display the oppressive symbol on their vehicle’s bumper, long for a time when black men and women slaved in the fields. They believe Donald Trump will make America great again for many reasons. They want that wall built, migrants deported. They support Blue Lives Matter, the right to carry a gun, any gun, including assault rifles, would subjugate not only people of color but also anyone who is outside their definition of acceptable.

Last year, toward the end of the school year at the high school where he was employed, this man learned that a male student who wants to transition to female was being intimidated by student athletes. One of the bullies bragged during class that if he ever saw “it” or that “thing” in the boys’ bathroom, he could use his knife, threatening to facilitate the transition with castration, and then described how in detail.

This teacher reported the verbal abuse to the principal and contacted the parents of the transgender student, alerting them to the incident and providing information about local organizations that could be resources for the family. This year, the teacher decided to become an advocate for the LGBTQ students, reporting incidents he witnessed, especially those involving bullying. Subsequently, one of the athletes, backed by his mother and father, accused the teacher of sexual harassment.

The teacher was presented with two options. Resign, with licensure intact, or fight the accusation, possibly losing not only his position but also his license. He resigned.

But let’s back up. This man already had challenged the establishment—by advocating for Latino students. During faculty meetings, many teachers, especially those he calls “institutional figures” because of their seniority, had suggested a separate school for students in the English as a Second Language program. In other words, segregation. This man’s insistence on inclusion and implementation of the law wasn’t appreciated. Nor did the “institutional figures” like that he pushed for Latino students to be placed in Spanish honors classes, spots traditionally used to help athletes (mostly white kids) attain higher GPAs. Add to his advocacy for Latino students his LGBTQ advocacy. He was no longer tolerated. When charged with “use of inappropriate hand gestures,” his fate was sealed.

This man is not the first teacher at this particular high school who has either resigned or been fired under similar circumstances. One can assume that local attitudes, rather than policy, dictate consequences.

He knew when he left his country that his life wouldn’t be easy. He said he’s worked hard, played by the rules, has given his best to his students. He’s always faced prejudice—prejudice that now is exacerbated by the suffocating stigma of sexual allegations. His greatest fear is for his family, not only his ability to provide for them, but for their safety.

This man doesn’t believe Trump’s ascension has increased prejudice but that the victory has emboldened racists, giving them permission to be overt, more vocal, louder in expressing their hatred.

The distillate is that the Trump presidency hasn’t generated more racial hatred. It’s simply liberated it.

This man composed a message for his friends, asking why it is hard to call racism and hatred for what they are: wrong. He wants good people to take a stand for what is right. He finished his thoughts with this quote from Moral Blindness: The Loss of Sensitivity in Liquid Modernity by Zygmunt Bauman and Leonidas Donskis:

Evil is not confined to war or to circumstances in which people are acting under extreme duress. Today it more frequently reveals itself in the everyday insensitivity to the suffering of others, in the inability or refusal to understand them and in the casual turning away of one’s ethical gaze. Evil and moral blindness lurk in what we take as normality and in the triviality and banality of everyday life, and not just in the abnormal and exceptional cases.

In an email to me, this man wrote: “We are at the mercy of empowered racists, xenophobic and homophobic people. Their actions vary depending on how much they know they can get away with.” Then he said he hopes my article helps others in similar situations.

This man’s story is not unique. Is being lived by men and women daily. As Trump attempts to broaden the divide between love and hate, we must look, feel, remain attentive. This man. His family. Many. We can’t allow neo-Nazis any supremacy. I stare at that word, supremacy, think of its synonyms: hegemony, exceptionalism, and see the connection to this man and the culture of violence in which the USA steeps.

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Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

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