Eighth-grader Gianna Salazar knows what to expect when she walks through the hallways of Grovetown Middle School in Georgia. If certain classmates aren't telling her that she should get deported, they're sometimes calling her names like "border jumper" -- or worse. It doesn't matter that she's a U.S. citizen. Up until this school year, she had never dealt with this kind of abuse. But, now, it happens every day, she told me in an interview over Instagram. You see, up until this school year, Donald Trump wasn't running for president.
Trump's words mean something. Now, I'm not particularly interested in diving into a debate about whether his words are amoral, sexist or racist. Because, first and foremost, I'm not your priest. I'm not Lena Dunham, and I'm not Al Sharpton - nor do I really care to be.
But I am interested in the implications of Trump's words. Do they create division? Are they making America less great? While some pundits and journalists try to play Pope Francis of politics -- describing Trump's rhetoric as the dregs of political discourse while encouraging congregants to rise above and turn the other cheek -- many of these questions about the effect of Trumpisms go unanswered. If anyone wanted to find the answer, all they'd have to do is look...in a middle school classroom.
In everyday conversation, some Hispanic students are assailed by their peers with unfounded claims of being an "illegal" or a "border jumper."
Also in Grovetown, at Columbia Middle School, where I'm an eighth-grade student, the hallways have become witnesses to xenophobia from the mouths of some kids. Before this year, I thought I'd seen a lot; random acts of public twerking, strange obsessions with Kylie Jenner's lips and, more recently, the "daaaamn Daniel" phenomenon which overtook the internet in an almost monstrous fashion. Now, though, the ridiculousness has taken on a different tone: My school has become the home of many young, enthusiastic supporters of Trump, and has, in the process, formed into an undeniable bastion of anti-immigrant rhetoric.
In everyday conversation, some Hispanic students are assailed by their peers with unfounded claims of being an "illegal" or a "border jumper." As a resident middle schooler, I've seen firsthand how Trump's words transcend the boundaries of age. It's impossible to miss the implications his language has for the hallways, classrooms and playgrounds of schools like mine across the country. In conversation after conversation with Hispanic classmates and peers outside my school, I've heard stories of racially-insensitive comments being hurled at them. It made Salazar feel "singled out" for ridicule. Another student deemed what she had to go through as "disgusting."
While my personal opinions about Trump may mean little, I do feel his the victims of it deserve a say from the man who ultimately is supposed to represent them should he become president of this union.
For their part, some Hispanic children feel ostracized because of Trump's rhetoric, arguably targeted for no reason other than their heritage. Sure, his supporters may see his words as the product of a candidate unbound by the strains of political correctness. But while he may have loosened those constraints in order to "give it to us straight," he's laid new chains at the feet of kids seeking an education in peace.
Bullying on the basis of race isn't cool -- even in middle school. And it's certainly not from a would-be commander in chief.