-By Kayla Stewart-
I had my lesson ready.
Using the “expressing future plans” lesson plan my counterpart discussed with me the week prior, I was going to talk to my students about how the first woman president in American would shift things for Muslims in America. For minorities. For LGBTQ people. For women. For people like me.
Instead, I walked to my class red-eyed. I’d just hung up the phone with my big sister, who is alone dealing with the aftermath of the election in New York. As the only person of color for thousands of miles, dealing with the entrenched anti-blackness across Indonesia, I felt broken. Unimportant. Destroyed. Isolated.
“Yesterday was Election Day in America. Like we discussed last week, we had two candidates: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Do you know who won?”
“Hillary!” my students exclaimed in glee. I work at a military boarding school, so unlike many other Indonesian schools, my students’ access to social media is limited.
“Donald Trump,” I replied solemnly.
I saw their faces drop. Curiosity and hopelessness set into their 16-year-old eyes. And I immediately fought back tears.
I have asked myself that same question for the past 48 hours. How do we go from the first African-American president, advances for LGBTQ equality, advocating for anti-Islamophobia, and legislation for climate change, to a man who not three weeks ago said that “grabbing her by the pussy” is just locker room talk.
88.1% of Indonesians are Muslim, making it the the largest Muslim majority country in the world. They are a collective society that are in the midst of their own political change. President Jokowi, often compared to Barack Obama, is synonymous with hard work and the idea that you don’t have to come from a wealthy, privileged family to be successful. My students and I have discussed a range of topics during my short time here. Racism, gender equality, and economics, just to name a few, have been topics of discussion during our meals and activities together.
Even still, my time as a minority here has been challenging, thanks to a worldwide phenomenon of white supremacy. I get stared at in warungs. I get photographed and videotaped without my permission. I get called “Africa” on my walks to the gym. I am virtually ignored when surrounded by white Americans who are considered “beautiful” by the beauty standards here.
Indonesia is a country I chose purposefully. Not because of the ease, but because of the challenges ahead. I knew that being a black woman here would be uncomfortable. I knew that I would get stares. I knew that some people wouldn’t want me here.
What I didn’t know is that my own country would largely end up feeling the same way.
Overall, I have been treated with kindness and graciousness at my site. This made having an open and honest dialogue with my students all the more possible and therapeutic. When one asked, “Miss, what will happen to the Muslims in America?” I felt my heart drop, similar to the feeling of someone you love telling you they don’t love you anymore.
“Rizqi, I don’t know. But I can assure you, I will fight whatever Trump’s America tries to suffocate America with.”
As many Americans said, this was no ordinary election. A qualified woman went up against a white, inexperienced, failed businessman. Despite political projections, early polling, and the idea that we were moving towards progress, the nation elected someone that defies many of our ideals.
We mourn for immigrants. We mourn for Muslims. We mourn for LGBTQ people. We mourn for Black Americans. We mourn for women who work twice as hard to get a sliver of the pie. We mourn for the physical limited community. We mourn for women who have literally been told that even sexual assault and rape sympathizers can be president. We mourn for democracy.
But we also mourn for the world around us. A world that – yes, exists outside of us – but also acknowledges the important place America has in the grand scheme of our globe.
Telling a classroom of Muslim students that “the land of the free” voted against their rights to live freely is demoralizing at best, terrifying at worst. But I had to do it with five classes of beginner to intermediate English 16-year-olds. And it was heartbreaking, but it also woke up a side of me that had been asleep.
We will fight, we will work, and we will not let this be the end of America’s story. We will grieve, we will think, we will mobilize, but most important, we will fight back.
Because our students deserve it.
Kayla Stewart is currently teaching at SMK Negeri Jawa Tengah in Semarang. She was inspired to teach English in Indonesia because she was interested in learning more about the role of media in the country and how diversity in the nation affects intercultural relationships. She studied journalism, Global International Studies, and African American Studies at the University of Houston. Kayla loves reading, running, watching basketball, traveling, fighting white supremacy, and checking out new coffee shops around the world.