It happened during my first “Show and Tell” in grade one after everyone had returned from Christmas break. As I walked in, tales of spectacular new toys and recently acquired clothing circulated around the classroom. After roll call, my teacher instructed everyone to sit on the red carpet in our reading corner while the first presenter took their place in the rocking chair at the front of the class. I watched in awe as my classmates presented their brand new dolls, cars, trains and shoes. When I was asked to present, I hesitated because my item was nothing like the rest. Despite my sudden stage fright, I continued to cradle the item that I had been so excited to share just moments ago and took my place at the front of the class in the rocking chair. I remember introducing a special Nigerian artifact to my class. It was a hand carved wooden giraffe that my mom had just brought back from her most recent trip to Nigeria. It started with one snicker and before I knew it, the laughter rippled across the classroom. My teacher gently hushed them and encouraged me to go on, but the weight of their judgement cowed me, so I sat back down. Later on, I sat at my desk somberly staring at my “Show and Tell” item, because I did not understand why it was worth any less than their toys and clothes. As I remembered the cruel laughter and whispers, I felt as if I did not belong in that desk, in that small school, in that city.
As children, we do not know any better until we are taught otherwise. Our first instinct is to pull hair, tease our siblings, and talk back to our parents, but we soon learn that these actions are unacceptable. From a young age, we are given a set of norms to follow. We are taught to respect those around us no matter their differences. We are told to work hard because hard work gets rewarded, that ‘sharing is caring’ and that if you do not have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Ironically, the introduction of these norms makes breaking them all the more attractive, and there is strength in numbers. All it takes is one bully to create a domino effect of hatred among their peers. In our world today, the bully goes by the name of Donald Trump and bullies all over the world have followed suit. His election has made marginalized people feel as if they do not belong in their homes, in their cities, in their very own countries.
The election of Donald Trump as president of the ‘free world’ undermines the basic morals that are instilled in us as children. This is why I will never forget the day that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. I remember waking up in the morning already empowered by the fact that a woman had potential to become the leader of the free world. I envisioned Donald Trump’s shocked face as he realized his political aspirations had truly come to an end. When he took the lead I remained in denial for as long as I possibly could. I told myself that no decent person would vote for a racist. No person would want the leader of their free country to be an Islamophobe. No parent would want to have to explain to their child that sometimes hard work is not enough, that the leader of their country does not respect differences and continues to let him speak even when he has nothing nice to say. I truly believed that people would put aside whatever resentment they felt towards Hillary Clinton so that people of all races, religions, genders, and sexual orientations could wake up feeling as if they belonged in their beds, in their cities, in their own country. I was wrong.
The day after the election was a blur. It was as if I was back in that classroom because I did not feel as if I belonged. I was scared for my family. My Black, Nigerian, American family. I was scared for myself and I felt guilty because I am not American. I remember watching people laughing and smiling on their way to classes and I wondered if they knew. Did they know that the leader of the “free world” — not that the name is truly warranted — does not believe that all the citizens of his country should be free? When I explained to people my somber state, the common response was, “but you’re not American.” I expected this reply. However, it is ignorant to believe that this ripple effect of bigotry simply stops at the U.S. borders.
The impact of Donald Trump’s words, both pre and post-election, prove that “But you’re not an American” is not a valid statement. The same way that a Black president empowers Black people all over the world, the election of a bigot empower bigots all over the world. In attempting to “make America great again”, people forgot that America has never been great for all people. The election of President Obama made news all over the world, and his impact as president surpassed the U.S. borders. The same way that the arrival of the Obama family into the Whitehouse taught me to celebrate my Blackness, the election of Donald Trump allows racists, sexists, xenophobes, and homophobes to celebrate their prejudices.