Blogbox | Democracy

Moving past the U.S. election numbness

By - 14.11.2016

For many Americans, Donald Trump's victory comes with a cry for action.

As a Muslim-American woman the 2016 election has been of particular interest to me. Everything I stand for has been challenged over the last year or so. But, while many of my friends, family and peers have done everything they can to stand up against what has been taking place, I’ve just felt numb to most of it.

I attended a somewhat conservative university in Texas — Southern Methodist University — the home of the George W. Bush Presidential Library. Despite the university having conservative ties, I never felt unwelcome on my campus. Yes, the situation was never perfect for minorities but I never felt threatened or unable to speak up for my beliefs.

I was actively involved in the Muslim Students’ Association on my campus and we saw support from various groups across my years there. No one ever wanted us to feel left out — so much so that even once when they wanted to bring pigs to the library as a stress-reliever during finals they asked us 15 times beforehand to make sure it wouldn’t offend us. I personally received constant backing from the administration to pursue anything I wanted. I was able to represent the university on many occasions and never once did I feel discriminated against.

Yes, I know this might not have been the experience for every Muslim on my campus, especially when you factor in discrimination off campus, but what can I say…? I’m an optimistic person.

For this reason, I never feared Donald Trump’s comments. I figured that most of the American population would see that bigotry and even expressing interest in kicking out a group of people based on their religion was completely ridiculous.

For example, I attended a bi-partisan policy program in Washington D.C. for two weeks in 2015. Most of the young conservatives in the program expressed a clear dislike towards Hillary Clinton but once Trump became the Republican nominee they each denounced him and stood up against his bigotry. They publically supported Clinton and that gave me hope. These were intelligent and successful individuals who I once couldn’t politically agree with on anything and here they were making it clear that party values meant nothing in the face of blatant injustice.

I set off to Kosovo in September, excited to spend election day in a country where the Clinton family was respected more than any other. I envisioned the day that America would elect its first-woman president to be a day where the streets of Prishtina were full of a very Albanian style celebration. Unfortunately, that day never came.

Many people here still respect what America stands for and I must do the same.

Instead, I stayed up all night last Tuesday in disbelief of what was happening back home. A small part of me had thought this might happen (mainly because of the amount of people I had heard considering a “protest vote”) but I didn’t really think it was on the table.

But, I guess I misinterpreted the sentiment in the United States. Maybe I was too sheltered in my “Muslim” bubble but I just don’t understand. Fiscal policy, international relations and domestic politics are one thing but to elect someone who makes a sizable portion of Americans feel unsafe is something I never would have expected.

Being so far away from all this has its perks and its hardships. I still feel numb to it because the protests and the emotions raging in the United States are so far away from me. But, I must come to terms with it because I’m currently representing the U.S. in Kosovar classrooms where I’ve been asked: “What is going to happen to us now that Trump is the President-Elect?” I have to be able to come up with a response.

While my friends back home struggle with the rise of discrimination in their cities and being told to “return back to [their] countries” when just going on with their normal days, I’m struggling to figure what I can do next.

What I’ve found extremely uplifting being in Kosovo is that many have approached me since Wednesday and have said: “Congratulations on your new president!” I was first so taken aback because the first people to say this to me were my colleagues at Medresaja Alauddin, the Islamic school I’m an English Teaching Assistant at. I thought: “What? You guys support Trump?” They didn’t, but they respected American democracy and they thought a fair election was something to celebrate.

Many people here still respect what America stands for and I must do the same. This was an election that showed me that I was being numb at all the wrong times. There is still much work to be done in the country that I am normally so proud to represent; I want to feel proud again.

I’m not sure what is next but I do know that this isn’t the end of anything. Americans who practice free speech, who protest and who make it a melting pot are those who make America a country held in such esteem by those around the world — one person, or the approximately 25 percent of Americans, who voted for that person cannot change that. What it can do is incite us to blur racial, religious and party lines and to come up with a way to make America a safe place for all again.

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