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School Climate & Safety Opinion

When Is It Enough?: On Sh*thole Countries and the People Who Come From Them

By Christina Torres — January 12, 2018 3 min read

What is there to say about the nature of your country and your safety in it when its leader says that where you’re from is a shithole?

Teacher Nate Bowling put some of this in perspective yesterday:

What is there to say about trying to exist in a place where your existence in and of itself is considered a burden?

Or that the leader of our country assumes those wanting to come here—as nearly all our ancestors did, save for the Native peoples the U.S. killed and colonized—are “not their [countries] best,” as though there is something inherently wrong with them?

Or, beyond the “sources” and the “tough language” and “did-he-or-didn’t-he” debates, what does it mean to live in a world where we’re no longer shocked that this kind of language is used to discuss those who flee oppression (for very valid issues, some of which are historically U.S.-involved)?

In short, where is the compassion, kinship, or humanity in any of these discussions?

The thing is, when many of us heard about this, we weren’t surprised. I was going to write that there is a “tenor of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee” sentiment in the discussion of many U.S. cities until I realized that it wasn’t just anti-immigrant and anti-refugee—it’s that there’s still racism embedded into our country’s discussions.

It’s not “the tenor” of it. Racism is alive and well, and at the heart of these issues. It’s why we send freezing students to school in Baltimore (and housing segregation is a prevalent factor in who is affected) or refuse to support communities in Puerto Rico or allow a teacher who tells a Black student he may be lynched for not doing work to keep his job. It’s why we have accepted a country that allows our peers and colleagues to treat students this way.

I was reminded of James Baldwin’s words on “The American Dream":

It comes as a great shock around the age of 5, or 6, or 7, to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great shock to discover that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians when you were rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians were you. It comes as a great shock to discover that the country which is your birthplace and to which you owe your life and your identity, has not, in its whole system of reality, evolved any place for you.


If one has got to prove one’s title to the land, isn’t four hundred years enough? Four hundred years? At least three wars? The American soil is full of the corpses of my ancestors. Why is my freedom or my citizenship, or my right to live there, how is it conceivably a question now?

Teachers, we have to answer the question for our students: we must firmly confirm to them that they are, in fact, enough. Their culture and histories are enough. Far from being a burden, our students must know that their voices and stories matter in our classrooms.

When we cannot trust our country and its leadership to ensure the socio-emotional safety of our students, it is our job as educators to step up and answer the call. It is our work to imbue that sense of humanity and compassion into our classrooms. Our work is not just to dispense knowledge, but to create a space for our students to not only see the power within their own stories but to value and celebrate those who differ from them as well.

Some ideas:

Photo via EdWeek

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The opinions expressed in The Intersection: Culture and Race in Schools are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.