Donald Trump has a problem with minorities, not just Muslims
New York - From racist rhetoric to down-and-dirty derogating, the 2016 US presidential race has been one of the ugliest elections in memory. Adults can mostly laugh off the political posturing but children may be having a tougher time.
According to teachers across the United States, the antics of Republican front runner Donald Trump and other presidential candidates are rubbing off on schoolchildren, with name-calling, bullying and playground racism on the rise.
“We’ve seen Donald Trump behave like a 12-year-old and now we’re seeing 12-year-olds behave like Donald Trump,” said Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a rights group that recently surveyed about 2,000 teachers.
According to the SPLC study, headscarf-wearing Muslim girls are being called terrorists, Latinos are warned of deportation and teased about wall-building along the US-Mexico border, the n-word is making a comeback and children younger than ever before are using it.
Researchers said the presidential “campaign is having a profoundly negative effect on children and classrooms”. Playground bullies are picking on classmates whose race or religion has been singled out by Trump and other candidates.
More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students — mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims — have expressed concern or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the November election.
“For young students, we’re seeing an atmosphere of fear that can be infectious pretty quickly. For older students, the fear tends to be much more real. And it’s not just out in the ether, but because there’s increased harassment at school,” said Maureen Costello, who leads the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project.
The SPLC report says there has been a spike in racist bullying. For Muslims — or even some non-Muslim brown-skinned children — the acronym “ISIS” has become a stock taunt, referencing the Islamic State.
One-third of teachers described an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment. According to the report, one student told a Muslim classmate “that he was supporting Donald Trump because he was going to kill all of the Muslims if he became president”.
Trump has made headlines and won votes, often among lower-class whites who lost jobs as US factories moved overseas, with a pledge to “make America great again” via economic growth and tough immigration rules.
The way Trump tells it, undocumented Mexicans are often “rapists” who should be kept out by a “beautiful wall” on the southern border. After ISIS-linked attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, he called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
He is more cautious on African- Americans. He has criticised demonstrators from the Black Lives Matter movement and was slow to reject support from David Duke, a former grand wizard of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan.
While Trump’s demagoguery is rejected by politicians from both main parties, he is not alone. Ted Cruz, a former rival for the Republican nomination, called for police patrols in Muslim areas to weed out terrorists.
There is no doubt that Trump has an effect on the young. In March, a group of mostly white teenagers attended an inter-school basketball game at a mostly Hispanic school in Indiana. They hoisted banners of Trump and ridiculed their Latino rivals by chanting, “Build a wall”.
When asked about this and similar events, Trump objected to being asked a “nasty” question.
Maher Kharma, a 44-year-old Palestinian-American father of three in Maryland, who migrated from Jordan in 1993, said he has been fearful of discrimination since one of his daughters was stopped from playing in a school sports team because she wore a headscarf.
Trump’s campaign signals that the “rules of the game are changing” in the United States, said Kharma, a physiotherapist.
“What we are dealing with today is a very fashionable, unfortunately distrustful and concerning rhetoric where people who could take leadership positions are stirring the pot and telling average Americans that they should not trust their Muslim neighbours,” Kharma said.