Being made “not to belong”

A couple of years ago, one Saturday night I was called—as I often was—by the security company that monitors my former school. As an administrator, specifically an administrator that lives less than five minutes away, I was the one they called when the alarm went off. It was never anything serious but I responded every time.

  • 6:15 a.m.
  • “Hello sir, we are responding to an alarm and possible intrusion at your school; we have dispatched officers. Can you meet them there?”
  • “Yes, of course.”
  • “O.K., what will you be driving?”
  • “Silver Yaris, ‘08”

I jumped out of bed. I got dressed. I got in the car. I cursed my life. It’s probably one of my teachers, one who has insomnia and often shows up at 4 a.m. to work and forgets to turn off the alarm. Still, I have to take all of these calls serious; it’s part of my job. But I’m pissed.

I get to the school; I see his car. Before I unlock the back door I remind myself this guy is just here working? Why take my anger out on him? I will just remind him again about the alarm. I walk in and greet him; ask him if he’s O.K. I tell him I am going upstairs just to make sure “there really isn’t an intruder.”

The cops are probably upstairs at the front door waiting for me anyway. As I left his workspace and start to head up the stairs I stopped. Dead in my tracks. I looked down at what I was wearing, I reflect on how I look. I get scared. I try to discern—am I worried because I look like shit because I just woke up or because I look (am) black? I mean, its 6:30 in the morning and I jumped out of bed in a flash—my hair is all knotted, my beard is tamped down on one side, I’m pretty sure I still have some dried up drool lingering on the corners of my mouth. I don’t want to walk up the dark stairs into a dark room to meet the police who have no idea what I look like. I decide to turn around go out the back door and get back in my car and wait for the police out front. They know what my car looks like.

I was reminded of this episode as I was recently leaving a late school meeting in a predominantly white school district that I work with. At the end of the meeting it was just me and the superintendent. Everyone else on the floor had gone home. I needed to use the bathroom. I left him in his office, grabbed my bag, and walked across the hall to another office I knew had a bathroom. And then that old memory hit me. I walked downstairs, into my car, and drove to a gas station.

I remembered sitting In my car waiting for the police. I was angry again. But I was also relieved.

The feeling of not being welcomed is a terrible one. The sense that you do not belong is haunting. It sticks with you and you’re reminded of it on a consistent basis. The worst part about it is that most of the time you can little to remedy it—there is little you can say to someone who thinks you do not belong here. Especially not in the heat of the moment.

Make no mistake. The thought that you are where you do not belong is a threat to some.

While I understand that Trump is in fact threatened by the very existence of four women of color (“The Squad”) in what he perceives to be his world, I’m worried about the safety of these four congressional representatives recently attacked by our president—their president. Will they get killed just by showing up to work?

I worry that those who do not see anything wrong with what the president said also see nothing wrong with profiling, with stereotyping, with dehumanizing. But as much as I worry about them, I worry more about the people who are unaware they are being hurtful and violent—the ones who say they are acting out of “pride” and “love” and “safety.” I fear the outcome of weaponizing patriotism.

Ask yourself if you would have, even for one second, wondered about getting killed at your workplace because of how you look. And it’s not just at work that I worry. Being in predominantly white spaces I worry.

I worry when I get stopped by police. I’m one of the “good guys,” I contribute to my community, but does this cop give a shit or even consider those possibilities?

And it’s not just with the police. I worry when I am walking alone in Portland. I am a good husband, I do my best to stay positive, most people know me as a cheerful, shirt-off-my-back type of guy—but does that next white person whom I pass on the empty street give a shit really? I look out of place. I can feel it. I am not paranoid. I can be hurt at any moment because of the way I look. What’s crazy is that I know that in some bizarre twist of irony my presence also hurts those who feel I do not belong.

Telling someone to go back where they came from (whether they come from somewhere else or not) is not about patriotism, and it is not just racist. It’s also violent. It is meant to shock and meant to demean you. It is meant to take from you. Its aim is to amplify that painful sense that you are wrong for just existing. It’s also meant to deter you. It is a reminder that in the mind of those who believe they belong here, they have the right to oppress you.

Let us remember that it is the oppressed who will liberate the not just their fellow oppressed folk but also the oppressors themselves. We must continue to work on educating our communities, our neighbors, and if the chance presents itself even your fellow stranger. We must continue to correct the record and make space for each other. We must strive to create a sense that all who are here belong here. If we do this then we can ensure that our next generation of folks will walk with more confidence and less fear. Perhaps even that they or a generation soon after them will not have to worry when they show up to work. They will feel like they belong, they will contribute, and they will continue to make America free.


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Photo by Mario Purisic on Unsplash

Will we settle for Trump’s world or fight for a more wonderful one?

“If you can believe it, Abraham Lincoln was treated supposedly very badly. But nobody’s been treated badly like me.” – Donald Trump (ABC NEWS, 2019)

“Life doesn’t work that way.” – Donald Trump (ABC NEWS, 2019)

“These white folk have newspapers, magazines, radios, spokesmen to get their ideas across. If they want to tell the world a lie, they can tell it so well that it becomes the truth; and if I tell them that you’re lying, they’ll tell the world even if you prove you’re telling the truth. Because it’s the kind of lie they want to hear…” – Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Recently the president gave 30 hours of interview access to the mainstream media. The resulting interview was chock full of Trumpian quote gold. One section of drivel that the “drive-by-media” mined for rich clickbait was Trump’s indignant confession that he would in fact accept dirt, intel, opposition research from a foreign actor or country. This admission was followed, as is customary, by plenty of outrage and disgust from the usual suspects (I think that’s us). They all focused on the first half of Trump’s verbal diarrhea—very few, if any, dug into the last line of that exchange. When asked if he would inform the FBI, when pressed about following the law, when the interviewer pointed out that Al Gore did in fact call the FBI when he was presented with “the dirt,” Mr. Trump responded:

“Give me a break; life doesn’t work that way.”

Trump acts with impunity not because all of a sudden he can but because that is who he has always been and he is that way because that is how his world has always worked. His life works that way. It is not impunity when it’s the truth. And it is the truth if your world works that way. And for once I’d like to give him credit for telling the truth.

Trump can count on several truths: the nastier he is the more his base (originally the New York print media, and now White rubes with million dollar dreams) loves and follows him. Other politicians can’t touch him—the truth is none of them can or are even willing to get down in the dirt like he is, and the truth is they also love it when he is a dick. Lastly, there is the truth that he is constantly shoving in our face every chance he gets: He IS the president, you are not, and more importantly there is nothing at all we, the losers, can do to change that. He won, we lost. He is the one in charge.

In that same ABC interview he scolded his interviewer: “I’m in charge of a very, very special gift. It’s this incredible country.”

These truths, along with the other Trump truths, when taken together, form the Teflon shell protecting that this moronic goon which he flaunts in all of our faces (yes, even you MAGA zombies out there). Coated in this Teflon (think of it as spray tanner) Trump can force himself on any situation, and force people to act in ways they would normally not behave. Kind of like rape (read: exactly like rape).

Trump has taken much from us and he will continue to take. In the process, he is depleting our morale, our energy, our ability to envision the future—and, in the end, he will have us questioning our own morals, our own red lines. And when this happens we will begin to question what is “just” and what are people “entitled to” and then we will engage in this because he will convince us that WE (you!) are the only one that matters. But it’s never been about what works for people in red states, those supposedly forgotten patriots. It’s never been about US. It is not about nationalism. It has always been about what works for Trump in order to keep his life and world intact, and if some suckers in MAGA hats get a win here and there that’s OK too!

This garbage of a human, this plague on our emotional wellbeing, this idiot con man, has proven over and over again that nothing matters except for his truth. Tax fraud (as detailed in the New York Times) = nope. Rape (literally detailed in a fucking book and a court case featuring one of his immigrant ex-wives) = nada. Lying in the face of literal evidence (responding “I did not say that” after literally being played a tape of his own voice saying his own words) = zip. The list goes on and on and these are just examples of what he did BEFORE he was in office. While in office he has doubled down and turnt it up on all three of those examples—more fraud, more rape, and of course more lying.

Keep in mind I have chosen to highlight only those three “categories of crime” if you will. I could just as easily chosen ANY other three other categories and it would be the same: Trump’s life “doesn’t work that way”

In Trump world these crimes are not crimes. He reminded us of this several times during the debates with Hillary Clinton. His actions are not crimes; they are in fact the actions of a “stable genius!”

Over the course of his life he has convinced literally millions of people that it’s OK because it IS how the world works, and he promises if you stick with him, you too can live in this world. This is the “frustrated millionaires” quote on steroids.

But I want to bring it back to OUR world. And remind us that it is not Trump we are up against in the fight for our future. It is the zealots who internalize his messages. It’s the folks who are involved in a transactional relationships with our Nazi-in-chief. It is your next-door neighbor who is starting to believe what he is hearing from his Dear Leader.

I think it’s important for us to keep in mind that many of the Trump zombies live in a world that does not value restorative practices and justice, human rights, protecting the weak, advocating for the abused—it’s about revenge and pain. Trump has somehow convinced these people that “owning the libs” is a better reward/return than having a not-boiling planet; it’s better to piss off a snowflake than having healthcare and social security.

“…He knows how to irritate people. He’s very intelligent. He knows how to get to them,” said Michelle Best, a Brandon, Fla., resident who traveled [to this] Trump rally, in a recent article. “Trump knows weaknesses, and he knows how to exploit them. Is he the nicest guy? Nice doesn’t get things done. I don’t want a nice president. I want a president that gets things done. And he’s getting things done.”

Best (oh the irony…) lives in a world where exploiting other’s weaknesses is a “good” thing. A world in which “nice” does not work.

That’s not the way my world works.

In my world people, are treated with dignity and respect. We fight for human rights. We stand up for those whose voice has been diminished. I am not interested in living in the world that Trump is trying to bring into focus. But I am worried that the onslaught is having a negative impact on my fellow social justice warriors. I am worried that the messages from Trump’s Upside Down are creeping into our normality.

Victor Small, Jr., a middle school administrator in Oakland, Calif., has been using restorative practices for several years and supports other teachers through his work with the Restorative Justice League chats. Victor says “Say you stole a car, Instead of you necessarily doing jail time, really what you would have to first do is make sure that you restore the situation to the person who you actually harmed, which would be the person whose car you stole, right? So you would have to restore that in some way. Either you’d have to get them their car back or get them a new car and apologize or something like that. Basically, the debt that you owe to society is to that person that you harmed.”

He also says “Everything that a kid does shouldn’t have to have a consequence … if a kid gets angry and says something to another kid, and that kid gets mad, do they need detention for that, or do they need to just fix the problem and not be mad at each other? Probably just fix the problem, not be mad at each other, and go on about their lives. If they didn’t do anything wrong to the class or the community and they just did something messed-up to another student, they can handle that between the two students. You could facilitate that. It teaches them, hey, you have to be accountable for your actions, because your actions do have impact on other students, without having them sit in detention, right?”

Most of the people in Trump’s Sunken Place believe that both of Small’s statements are ridiculous. In their life they have been taught that justice looks like payback and revenge. Both the student and the thief should be punished. They should be shown exactly how the world works.

I tend to work with mostly liberal folks, in what appear to be mostly liberal settings. I find that in these circles people have an easier time internalizing Small’s first statement than they do the second one. While I might get some pushback on the first statement, most people in my world will eventually agree we will get nowhere if we continue to just punish without restoring.

Here is where my worry comes into focus: when it comes to the second statement, I have heard teachers say “but something has to happen! How else will that student learn?” And then the inevitable “that’s not how the world works”

But what are we trying to teach about how the world works?

What are the connections we are trying to make? Which world do we want to live in? Either we reject the entirety of the Trumpian world view or not.

Opposing Trump is no longer the most important thing in my world. Fighting back the creeping advancing mentality that his actions are normal, while not losing our humanity, is what I am focused on. Maybe you’ve struggled with the idea of restorative justice, or immigration issues, or LGBQT rights in the past—it’s time to get yourself in order and figure out where you stand on these and the other issues that Trump is using to foment his worldview on our lives.

I hope that we can focus on maintaining a world that values truth, science, love, and redemption. I stand fast that our focus should be on solidarity, and that we invest in practices and structures that focus on raising and supporting empathetic youth.

If we do this we can change the way the world works for so many of our brothers and sisters. We can bring them out of Trump’s Sunken Place to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”


Moises “Mosart” Nunez is an educator, activist, and Ph.D. dropout with a master’s degree in education. Mo’s professional focus is on issues of teen violence, at-risk-youth intervention, the social-emotional education of teens, creating inclusive school environments for students with special needs, school redesign, community engagement, and dismantling racist practices in public education. Mo currently designs and leads community engagement based anti-racism and implicit bias workshops for district and school leadership across the country. Mo has taught English, social studies, and special education across the Northeast in public schools, alternative-education programs, private independent schools, and several universities. Mo has also designed and served as director for several successful at-risk-youth programs, most notably at New Beginnings in Rochester, N.Y.—an alternative education school that focuses on educating and reintegrating recently incarcerated youth. Mo has served as administrator, program director, and program manager for several alternative education, day treatment programs, and public schools in New England and the tri-state area. Mo recently won The Phoenix magazine’s Hip Hop DJ of the Year 2018, and released an album of original music under the name “mosart212.”


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.