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Embracing Our Identity in a Post 2016 Election World

Posted on November 24, 2016

Embracing Our Identity

Let’s face it, ever since the election, nothing has been the same.  In addition to the hustle and bustle of everyday life – the struggle to get out of bed, pack lunches, wake the kids up and out the door – clock in on time, try to make a difference in the lives of students and yet, we have another layer of anxiety to tackle – that of the Presidential Election of 2016.  Who can blame us?  It was a fierce presidential campaign; so much hate spewed from the Republican candidate, so much so that the animosity spilled into our lives.  Was the guy in the pick-up truck really glaring at me because of my hijab, or maybe he just happened to be checking out my car?  Did the woman just give me a dirty look because she’s having a bad day, or was it my hijab?  I hoped the tone of the country would settle down after the election.  I hoped the bigots would pocket their racist ideas, but after the results have come in, and the Electoral College making a promise to the Republican candidate, much of the anxiety has been exasperated.  This anxiety rests in the unknown, and as we begin to see the signs of the next four years unfold with the first appointees of the President-elect, the rise of racist slurs and actions, it looks like we are in for a very bumpy ride.

What is the first step to staying sane in post-presidential 2016 election era?

Understand your identity.
There is no way around it.
Let’s talk about identity for a bit, shall we?

 

In an environment of increased hostility, many of us cannot run away from it – even if we want to – but do we really want to?  Many of us are visibly brown, visibly Muslim; traces of our beautiful ancestry linger on our features, there’s no escaping our identity.  In a society that is openly divided, increasingly white, I choose to embrace my identity as an Arab-American Muslim woman.

Step one of staying sane: embrace identity - check.

Mini-History Lesson [Don’t sigh, it’s very relevant and super cool to understand]

When “new immigrants” from southern and eastern Europe began to arrive on the shores of America in the late 19th century, they were met with the Nativist ideology of the “old immigrants” (those who immigrated from the British Isles, Germany, Ireland).  They weren’t welcomed with open arms, to say the least.  In order to survive the times, these ‘new immigrants’ established shops, schools, and social clubs catering to their communities.  This is why we have areas such as “little Italy” and  “Chinatown” (before the Chinese Exclusion Act) and catholic schools. Ironically, American-Muslims of the 21st century find themselves in the same predicament.  We are establishing schools; spaces of worship and social circles that help us preserve our identity.  As the circle of history is encroaching upon us, and we find ourselves at the center of the nativist eye, these institutions are just as important now – as important as they were in the 19th century, for the new immigrant communities.

We find ourselves at a crossroads

The question now is do we hold on to our identity, our faith – or do we let go? Do we consider our respective cultures as additional baggage, or do we carry it with pride? Let’s take a look at both options. If we decide to allow fear to strip us of our identity, we can let go of our culture, our traditions and our faith.  We become the average Jane (or Joe).  In a time of hostility toward Muslims, that would be the easier thing to do – no doubt.  However, if we decide to hold tight to our identity, we establish our institutions and we ingrain our identities in the American fabric, as it was meant to be – we build an inclusive nation, a nation that recognizes the right of every community within the borders of the United States to live freely, under rights guaranteed by constitutional law, protected by a federal government.  Pretty utopian, huh? But we have to push for this country.  We have to push for acculturation, our ability to maintain our identity and live freely and comfortably in the country that many of us have called home since birth, or the country many of us have chosen to call home.

This is my home, and I am Muslim, I am an Arab and I am an American, and there is no conflict.

The beauty of our faith and our identity relies on our willingness to stand firm in this time of deep questioning.  Not only do we stand tall for our own community, but for all marginalized communities.  And I leave you with this: “Happy is the man who avoids hardship, but how fine is the man who is afflicted and shows endurance.” –Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) 

Ahlam Yassin is an educator, grad student, 24/7 on-call mom and writer. Visit her blog: www.ahlamyassin.com

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