THE BLOG
08/31/2015 12:30 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2016

What Trump Gets Wrong About America's "Silent Majority"

Jason Davis via Getty Images

Donald Trump scares me. Not because of the ridiculous insults he hurls at people (often so outrageous that they've become fodder for The Donald Trump Insult Generator). Not because of the misogynistic bombs he threw at Megyn Kelly, or because he told news anchor Jorge Ramos to "go back to Univision." Those examples are deplorable and disgusting. But what really scares me about Donald Trump is his claim that he represents the silent majority in America.

We could chock that claim up to another absurd Trump-ism. But in fact, what's so scary about his silent majority claim is that I think he might be right. You hear from voters who praise him specifically for his lack of political correctness. "'People are starting to see, I believe, that all this political correctness is garbage," a retired New York City police officers told the New York Times. "I think he's echoing what a lot of people feel and say.'"

Donald Trump doesn't have time for political correctness, he maintains. "And to be honest with you, this country doesn't have time, either," he insists.

You know when Trump talks about not having time for being PC and for wanting to "make America great again"? He means for white America. And the silent majority he refers to? And people being "afraid" to say things? White people. Afraid to say racist things out loud.

But where Mr. Trump is very wrong in assessing his following is deeming them a "silent" majority. Racism doesn't have to be hurled in the form of derogatory epithets to be racism. No. The way racism plays out around the country is loud, disgraceful, and sickening.

Loud--very loud-- racism manifests itself in the deaths of Tamir Rice. Sandra Bland. Mike Brown. Brandon Tate Brown.

And it plays out in every single day in Philadelphia's school buildings.

Recently, an exhibit opened highlighting the chilling, lasting, and heart-wrenching effects of school closures. Fairhill School, in the heart of a forgotten and marginalized section of the city, was shuttered in 2013. Located in a neighborhood of the same name, the community is referred to by some as "El Centro de Oro" (The Center of Gold) and by many as "The Badlands." It is a frequent stop for ethnographers, social workers, journalists, and photographers trying to document some of the fiercest drug activity in the nation.

Fairhill was one of 24 schools that closed that year. The School District of Philadelphia made it about the numbers. About the age of the building. About the percent of students not "achieving." About the educators' proficiency rates. About the money. About everything except what it was really about: human beings.

Numbers are important, don't get me wrong. But we've got to use the right numbers for the right reasons. There are numbers that one should know about Fairhill School's neighborhood.
  • 80 percent Latino, 15 percent black.
  • $17,666: Median family income in 2013.
  • 61 percent poverty rate.
Why do these numbers matter? Because they are the numbers that tell the story of a marginalized population. A forgotten land. The story of despair.

And the story of racism. In a neighborhood where more than 95 percent of the population is Latino or black, it's no accident that Fairhill School closed. It's no accident that students and educators are blamed for failure and that parents are criticized for their child rearing. Donald Trump talks about his desire to build a wall at the US-Mexico border. But maybe he doesn't realize that marginalized neighborhoods like Fairhill are tremendously walled-off already.

This, all of this, would never, ever happen in a predominantly white neighborhood. And yet, blame is thrown around in such a cavalier and nonchalant way that it's easy to think that the solutions are more simple than they are.

Maybe the teachers don't care. Maybe the school doesn't have high expectations. Maybe the union is inhibiting all forms of progress. Maybe those very nebulous "work rules" make it just impossible for students to learn. Maybe we need more charters! A portfolio model! Maybe we should just "dump the losers"! If only x, y, or z happened, "these kids" (a phrase I find racist in and of itself) would be successful. They would pick themselves up by their bootstraps and be that "minority student success story" America loves to hear about so much.

I've long believed that if people know what goes on inside the schools in Philadelphia, they will care. And they will work to fix it. But, what scares me so much is that in fact, not everyone will. Maybe not even most people. Certainly not Donald Trump and his "silent majority" wanting to "make America great again." Because Donald Trump does not want to make America great again for the children in Fairhill.

Too many people refuse to address root causes of poverty and "low-achieving" schools and actually talk about and confront racism. I do believe that we can make Philadelphia's schools great again. Truly. But it's going to take a much closer look behind the curtains of racism that have factored into the attempts at destroying an entire school system.

I'm thankful that there is a community of educators in Philadelphia and nation-wide that refuse to allow Mr. Trump's narrative to dominate our schools. There's a tremendous online forum of educators engaged with #educolor and so many writers connecting the dots between chronic disinvestment in communities of color. There are student organizations like Philadelphia Student Union and Youth United for Change building youth power and voice.

I have hope. I do. But thinking about how far we have to come is terrifying.