Written by Safia Ansari.
In 2015, the year Donald Trump announced that he was going to run for president, hate crimes against Muslims surged at 78 percent and anti-Arab hate crimes doubled in number. To put this into perspective, hate crimes only rose 5 percent overall. This disparity is staggering. We live in a country where it is socially acceptable to equate Islam with terrorism and fear is so strong that it supersedes virtually all notions of human rights. And it is our president-elect who has normalized this.
America’s greatest fear is a terrorist attack from ISIS, but the likelihood of you, an arbitrary human, being affected by a violent act committed by a Muslim is far less than the likelihood that a Muslim being affected by a hate crime. Doesn’t that sound counterintuitive? That the thing we fear is the thing that we terrorize? Our society lives in an echo chamber and the media has made fools of us all. Muslims are being specifically targeted and harassed, attacked and murdered because of what they believe, and it’s not getting any better.
I have heard dozens of news sources citing various reasons why Trump was able to run away with the electorate. People have been pointing figures at the media, Bernie Sanders, the DNC, the Electoral College and even third party candidates. I don’t put the results of the election on any of these people’s shoulders.
Donald Trump won the 2016 election because 48 percent of American voters voted for him. 48 percent of voters are, at best, apathetic to racist rhetoric. It’s not that 60 million people are necessarily explicit and active bigots themselves–that’s not the issue. 60 million people were willing to overlook hate speech in a presidential candidate. 60 million people think that marginalizing minorities does not disqualify a candidate from running for the presidency. That is the issue. That is the divide in the country; the people who think his proposed policies, rhetoric and bigotry is unacceptable versus the people who don’t.
This I spent a week in Atlanta, Ga. My family suggested that we go see a local tourist attraction called Stone Mountain. It is essentially a beautiful, 800-ft chunk of a blueish gray rocky mountain that sits at an altitude in a way that can overlook the entire city. During the day, you can hike up or take a sky lift to admire the scenery. At night, this part of the park is closed and all the tourists sit in front, facing the mountain to watch a laser light show.
When we got to the park, I realized that it wasn’t just a natural attraction–Stone Mountain is a Confederate Memorial. It prides itself in a 400-ft relief (the largest carving of its kind) of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, three pivotal figures in what was once the Confederate States of America. The attraction is complete with a gift shop that sells a photo of these three men on refrigerator magnets and T-shirts. The laser light show consists of a cartoon animation that plays music and commemorates these men as if they were martyrs, mourning their loss. The narration does not condemn these men for what they believed or fought for. The narration does not even mention that their existence was wrong, hateful and against modern American values.
Stone Mountain isn’t simply a reminder of discrimination or racism. In 2016, one of the largest cities in America touts an attraction that celebrates slavery.
To me—and to many people in the Northeast—the concept of celebrating Robert E. Lee is bizarre and unheard of. But to Georgia residents, it isn’t anything noteworthy. In disbelief, I watched people take home trinkets from the gift shop and set up a picnic at the laser light show. I raised my concerns with my Pakistani family, and they responded, “It’s the South, what do you expect?” shrugging their shoulders.
This is not an isolated incident. Racist mindsets are in plain sight, we just choose to overlook them. Perhaps we’ll wince when we see a Confederate Flag bumper sticker, but we move on with our day and perpetuate the narrative that America has outgrown that stage of its life. What the Muslim community has failed to realize is that these problems are our problems. As minorities, struggles of discrimination ripple through all of our communities. The white man who puts a magnet of Jefferson Davis on his refrigerator sure isn’t thinking about how Islam isn’t a peaceful religion—he’s probably thinking about how soon that Wall is being built and how much longer he has to wait until Muslims are out of the country. Racism doesn’t discriminate, and the sooner we realize that, the easier it will be for us to create a force field against the oppression of any person, not just our people.
You don’t have to lynch a black man to have his blood on your hands. You don’t have to personally deport undocumented immigrants, you just have to vote for someone who is willing to do it. Racism doesn’t need a lot of people with strong opinions to survive—it’s fueled on an apathy of the majority.
The Muslim community is in desperate need of a wake-up call, and the phone is ringing. Donald Trump’s campaign was not okay. I am personally insulted by what he said about Muslims and by what he said about every other minority group. It makes me feel unsafe that he is my president. He does not represent me or my community. He does not deserve to be president of the United States.
Say it, out loud. Say it over and over again. Say it, no matter who is listening. Never stop saying it.
We cannot afford to be apathetic anymore. We need to be outraged by every incident of police brutality and every hate crime alike. When someone in victimized by racism, we need to know their names and memorize their stories, because if we fail to articulate what is wrong with the system, then the system will keep working in a way that favors the people who can defend their actions.
The second to last scene of so many movies is when everything goes horribly wrong. The Little Mermaid get swindled out of her voice and her legs. Voldemort announces that Harry Potter is dead. Sometimes the bad guy has to get into power for the good guys to band together and tear the system apart. It’s the oldest story in the world. How else would Neville Longbottom have the courage to slay Nagini in front of the entire wizarding world? We all need to be Nevilles. We all need to stand up in the face of bigotry.
Bernie Sanders has nominated Keith Ellison to be the chair of the DNC, and if you don’t know who he is or if you haven’t signed the petition to make this happen, then you’re part of the problem. There is no more room for ignorance. Stop being a bystander. Mobilize. Protest. Stand together. This is our chance to mold history into a narrative that will either take advantage of our disunity or that will never let us forget how strong we are. We can’t afford to be anything but fearless and passionate in our solidarity.