The day after the presidential election, my 14-year-old son left a message in the shower. With his little brother’s foam alphabet letters, he spelled out, ‘Haters gonna hate us.‘
It was the ‘us‘ that transformed the popular catchphrase into something troubling. I knew that the rhetoric of this election cycle had affected my children, but here it was spelled out so clearly. My son felt the vitriol towards Muslims directed at him.
When I was in the eighth grade, my teacher was an all-American, white male who played baseball and never failed to remind us that the United States was the greatest country in the world, the one place where anyone can become anything. “It doesn’t matter where you came from”, he’d say, “America is a melting pot”.
At the time, his words hardly impressed me. I didn’t need my teacher to tell me what I lived every day. My family home was overcrowded with immigrating relatives who had waited close to 10 years for green cards to come to the US, and I knew the lived experience of immigration was far more complicated than this story of America’s unbridled acceptance.
Melting pot or not, people were suspicious of my family’s accents and our religion. My grandparents struggled to learn English and lived a life of relative isolation.
My classmates’ curiosity, although mostly gentle and respectful, often made me feel like a foreign coin in their wallet, a token representation of all that was different. But I never doubted my right to be an American. Somewhere my teacher’s message of equality had taken root within me.
I can’t help but wonder if my children will grow up with a similar sense of security regarding their place in their country.
Last summer, our current president-elect claimed that Muslims don’t assimilate. I never thought I’d long for the most simplistic and contested views of immigration. I want they myth of our soupy integrated society to be an option once again, a goal. I want recognition for all the painful and inadvertent ways my family and I surrendered our heritage to our English-loving tongues and our western educations.
I tell my son about the melting pot myth I grew up with and ask him if he feels the US can still call itself that. “Maybe for some people”, he says, “but right now, it’s like there’s one ingredient that’s giving everyone a rash and everybody just wants to pluck it out”.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group has expressed its desire to eliminate the grey zone - the spaces inhabited by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and our president-elect is fully cooperating with their vision by suggesting Muslims in the US are a fifth column.
This is the scenario I feared most after 9/11. My mind went straight to the hate. I saw it rippling through generations, the way it had with so many minority groups that had been forced to carry the blame for world events. Exactly a year after 9/11, my oldest son was born. It pained me to think he’d never know a time in this country when Muslims were not the enemy.
It is this generation of Muslim-Americans that weighs heavily on my mind. How will these smart, talented, vibrant young people maintain a sense of pride in their faith when their soon-to-be president rose to power on the promise of registering them in a database?
Political rhetoric matters. It filters down through our televisions, computers, and smartphones and straight into our bodies, shaping our self-concept and our attitudes towards others.
It is just as dangerous and lethal as any weapon in a government’s arsenal. I hope, over the next four years, that Trump will choose his words more carefully.
The article has been excerpted from: ‘Can the Muslim American family survive Trump?’