Footprints: Trump's America

Updated January 20, 2017


Fifteen-year-old Sophia Qureshi may be too young to vote, but she is already more politically active than many adults. The Democrat party supporter interned for the Hillary Clinton campaign. In the run-up to the US elections, she proudly displayed a large Clinton sign in the window of her home in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Living in a predominantly white neighbourhood, surrounded by supporters of Donald Trump and pro-Trump signs, her poster stood out.

One night she woke up to find her parents calling the police to report a break-in. She went back to her room and switched on the lights, only to see glass shards everywhere; the window had apparently been broken.

Pennsylvania state troopers ruled that the incident was “criminal mischief”, but Qureshi does not buy the explanation.

“I know how tense the election climate was and people often resort to things that are not exactly well thought-out,” she told this writer. “I do not think it was somebody throwing a rock just for the heck of it.”

While Qureshi does not know whether the property damage was racially motivated, she does believe it was politically motivated.

Soon enough it was election day and Qureshi’s candidate lost. Like so many others, the Clinton supporter was devastated, but the election results have not caused her to lose hope.

“I have to remain active in local politics especially and continue to support marginalised groups,” she says. “And [I have to] push for policies and efforts that work towards inclusion and support, rather than exclusion.”

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Darakshan Raja, an activist and co-director of the non-profit Washington Peace Center, stresses the need to organise after the election. But she adds that Trump’s Islamophobia, including the idea of Muslim registries, is not exactly novel.

“Registries against Muslims already exist, [such as the] no-fly list, surveillance, informants [have been in place],” she says.

The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERs), which was formed by George Bush after 9/11, is an example of a long-operating registry of Muslims, she adds.

Raja moved from Pakistan to Bronx, a borough in New York City, when she was eight years old. She grew up in a working-class Pakistani migrant community, where many people were undocumented or lacked citizenship. The now 28-year-old says she saw many disappear after 9/11 because of NSEERs.

“The community I knew no longer exists.”Raja was not surprised when Trump won, and finds his proposed policy against Muslims a “continuation” of the Obama presidency.

She adds that she’s optimistic about the mass outrage against the president-elect’s Islamophobia, but she thinks it’s necessary for people to educate themselves about state Islamophobia.

Class plays a significant role in how Pakistanis in America are affected by racism and Islamophobia, but even class security won’t protect upper class Pakistani-Americans from racism, Raja believes.

Khalid Kahloon, a 52-year-old Kentucky-based lawyer who first immigrated to the US in 1989, does not agree. He believes discrimination after Trump’s win will not affect his life.

“I’m educated, I’m a professional, I interact mostly with educated people,” he says. “I faced discrimination when I worked at a Dunkin’ Donuts about 27 years ago, and somebody yelled, ‘go back home’. It all depends where you are. Where I am, as an attorney, I do not see it.”

Being financially secure, however, does not always guarantee safety in America. In 2015, Kahloon represented the family and estate of Mukhtar Ahmed, a Pakistani-American business owner, who was killed by a white man in an act of road rage in Louisville, Kentucky.

Kahloon says he had known Ahmed in Louisville’s close-knit Pakistani community, and he was very upset about the murder.

“I found out he had been murdered in a case of what I would describe as road rage with overtones of perhaps — perhaps — racial motivation,” he says.

He adds that neither he nor the police found any evidence of racial motivation in Ahmed’s murder and it was not treated as a hate crime.

Ahmed left behind a widow and three children. Shamy Nabil, 35, is an ER nurse. Originally from Morocco, she immigrated to the US with Ahmed in 2003. She says she still does not know if her husband’s murder was a hate crime, even if other people speculated it was racially motivated at the time of his death.

Adesh Dasani, 21, an Indian-American student in political science, worked briefly for a civil rights lobby specialising in hate crime legislation. “It is really hard to prosecute hate crimes because unless the person explicitly says, ‘I’m doing this because you’re [a minority]’, you must present an adequate burden of proof around one’s motives,” he maintains.

Dasani and his family experienced hate crime when he was a child, which inspired him to become involved in hate crime prevention and advocacy for victims.

“Things are happening to people who do not have any sort of control over how to even react to [them]...I wanted to prevent that in any way I could,” he says.

Dasani saw how many wealthy Hindu Indian-Americans campaigned for Trump. Trump had reciprocated the love in the past, stating that if he was elected president, “the Indian and Hindu community will have a big friend in the White House”.

However, Dasani believes that being wealthy does not mean Indian-origin Americans will be safe from racism.

“We [Indian-Americans] need to stop seeing ourselves as powerful and so distanced from racism, so distanced from the issues of other people of colour in this country,” he says.

Even people in the Pakistani-American community who have never faced racial violence in the past find themselves aware of the threat following Trump’s win.

Lisa Khan, 47, is a white American woman who has been interacting with the Pakistani-American community for years. She first visited Pakistan with her friend’s family when she was 15 and married a Pakistani man when she was 24.

Khan said she felt like she was in mourning the day Donald Trump won.

“I honestly just have been praying that it is not as bad as we think it is going to be,” she said. “I do not know what else we can do, just wait and see.”

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2017