First lady Melania Trump has been vocal about the dangers of online bullying. She has even chosen to highlight the issue at the State of the Union address by inviting Joshua Trump, an 11-year-old from Wilmington, Del., as her guest.
Joshua’s parents say their son has been bullied because of his last name.
“He said he hates himself, and he hates his last name, and he feels sad all the time, and he doesn’t want to live feeling like that anymore, and as a parent that’s scary,” his mother, Megan Trump Berto, told an ABC affiliate. Joshua’s parents now home-school him because of the attacks.
But Melania Trump’s campaign — and her decision to highlight Joshua’s plight — has done little to acknowledge the role that her husband has played in making the issue of bullying worse for children, especially kids of color.
Multiple media outlets have reported on the experiences of kids of color in the Trump era. Months after Donald Trump was inaugurated, BuzzFeed reported more than 50 accounts of school bullying.
On a school bus in San Antonio, Texas, a white eighth-grader said to a Filipino classmate, “You are going to be deported.” In a classroom in Brea, California, a white eighth-grader told a black classmate, “Now that Trump won, you’re going to have to go back to Africa, where you belong.” In the hallway of a high school in San Mateo County, California, a white student told two biracial girls to “go back home to whatever country you’re from.”
Studies show that school bullying has increased since Trump entered the national stage.
The authors of the study, called “School Teasing and Bullying After the Presidential Election,” found that school bullying increased after the election in communities where most adults voted for Trump.
“Trump is actually having an effect on America’s children,” Jonathan Cohen, an adjunct professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, told the Hechinger Report. “It’s not surprising. I’ve been hearing this in conversations I’ve been having with superintendents across America, an increase in students being mean and intentionally cruel, especially to immigrants.”
Researchers found that bullying was 18 percent higher at middle schools in Republican districts compared with those in Democratic districts. And teasing about race and ethnicity was 9 percent higher in Republican districts than in Democratic districts.
“It’s not that Trump alone is affecting how people think and feel and act,” Cohen said. “It’s Trump in partnership with the local community. If we have a large segment of the parent community who are connected to racist, anti-immigrant sentiment, then Trump is giving permission to these people to give voice to that sentiment.”
Others have found that Trump’s behavior — the president frequently calls his political opponents names and denigrates entire communities of people, sometimes with racial slurs — is affecting how children behave.
After the 2016 election, the Southern Poverty Law Center conducted a survey examining the effect of Trump’s language in schools. The nonprofit organization reported:
“Eight in 10 educators reported fears on the part of marginalized students including immigrants, Muslims, African Americans and LGBT people. Four in 10 heard derogatory language directed at minority students. More than 2,500 described instances of bigotry and harassment directly related to election rhetoric. Two out of 10 had heard derogatory comments about white students, although few of them were made directly to those students. Most were remarks about whites voting for Trump.”
Melania Trump’s decision drew sharp rebukes from liberal commentators.
School bullying is an issue that concerns those in politics on both sides of the aisle, but no one in Washington has a higher social media profile than the president. A deep concern about the effects of bullying would include not only altering the president’s political dialogue but also showing more sympathy to the kids who are disproportionately on the receiving end of taunts that mimic those coming out of the White House.