By Irtefa Binte-Farid
Donald Trump is the president-elect of the United States of America.
More than the election outcome, I have been surprised by the genuine shock of so many of my white and non-Black Muslim friends at Trump’s success. So I wanted to share this message with my friends and others who feel sucker-punched by the elections—please know that it comes from a place of love.
All these heartwarming posts about “this is not America” have to stop. I know you mean well, I know you mean that’s not your America or the America you believe in. But you know what? It is America.
Violence against brown/black/female/marginalized bodies is in the very DNA of our country, and I need you to acknowledge it. Our nation was built through the genocide of Native peoples and the enslavement and dehumanization of African Americans. Through its structural system, our nation continues to protect white patriarchy. I learned this lesson very quickly when my family immigrated to the U.S. in 2001. Some of my earliest experiences in America include being called “rag-head” and “Osama’s sister” and told to “go back to where you came from.” That is the America I know first hand.
And I need you to accept that this is and has always been America.
Because when you say this isn’t America, you really are showing your privilege.
And as painful as it is, we ALL need to acknowledge our privilege before we can combat systemic and structural racism. We can have the best of intentions and still be part of a racist system.
I’ve seen a lot of posts that have either hurled “hurtful” labels at Trump supporters, (i.e. racist, sexist, ignorant, etc.) and posts that have called us to “understand” why people who are otherwise not racist or ignorant voted for Trump.
Well, here’s the thing. Racism isn’t a personal choice; it is a structure of power that derives strength from silencing minority voices. So the fact that most white voters were able to ignore Trump’s hateful rhetoric to focus on his economic (non) plans is a reflection of how their whiteness protects them regardless of their class frustrations. The people who elected Donald Trump were able to deny the threat of violence against our communities because they considered their own anger and fear to be more legitimate. For them, one rape accusation here, one murder of an unarmed black man by a cop there, one suicide by a transgendered teen, one black church vandalized, one mosque burned—did not add up to a “real story” about systemic violence against marginalized bodies. “It’s the economy, stupid,” remember?
Did they have legitimate critiques of a government system that has left them behind? Given that Democrats and Republicans have ignored the plight of rural America as jobs are shipped overseas and a generation is lost to opioid addiction, they absolutely did.
But does it still make them part of a racist system? YES!
The Democratic party has not been a champion of poor people of color for a long time, but we did not have the luxury to “make a point” this election by voting for Trump (or third parties for that matter). We knew what was at stake.
So please, spare me the lecture about how Trump supporters had legitimate critiques of the government and are therefore not racist. They may have been rightfully angry AND voted to uphold white supremacy—but the two are not mutually exclusive.
They’re not the only ones who participate in a racist system. Take heed, non-Black Muslim friends—I’m singling us out here because I’m one of you. We, especially in Arab and South Asian communities, have always aspired to “whiteness” by distancing ourselves from our Black Muslim brothers and sisters and living the myth of “model minority.” In the last 10+ years, we have struggled against growing Islamophobia, but we nevertheless continue to perpetuate racism in our mosques. Every time we say things like “black people just need to work harder,” or we stand up for Ahmed Mohamed when he gets labeled a “terrorist” but not when his body is threatened because of his blackness—we participate in a racist system.
We all need to do better realizing that victims of oppression in one instance can be oppressors in another—even if we are passive bystanders. As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us, “We must learn that passively to accept an unjust system is to cooperate with that system, and thereby to become a participant in its evil.”
So as uncomfortable as it is, I call upon all of us to check our own privileges and recognize how we help perpetuate a racist system. Our goal should not be to fix a broken America—it has always been broken. All of us need to take a good look at the cracks in the system, break them down, and build a new world.
Irtefa Binte-Farid is a Muslim-American hijabi immigrant of Bangladeshi heritage, a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Virginia, and a firm believer in the power of intersectional solidarity. She is on Twitter @irtefabf.