Reflections on the 2016 US Elections (including some thoughts on parenting in this context)

Note 1: As some of you may know, I am a Canadian Muslim, of Pakistani heritage, living with my family in California, USA at this time. 

Note 2: While this post is not explicitly about early childhood development, which is the general focus of my blog, there are very real implications for those who are parenting and teaching children in the earliest years of life (see point #2 below).

Note 3: On Nov 12 I edited this blog post to add in the fourth bullet under point #2 (regarding the ‘safety pin’ trend).

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I have spent the last 24 hours speechless and sick to my stomach. I cannot fathom that half of the people living around us in the U.S. accept and support racism, sexism and misogyny, xenophobia, and other forms of bigotry and hatred; and have voted for Donald Trump to be the president of the USA.

I am anxious and scared for my Muslim family – including my Muslim child, and for our Muslim friends (1), black friends, LGBTQ friends, Latinx friends, women friends, and many other groups of friends both in the USA and internationally – whose lives and rights were already at risk – but in this new political environment, the hatred and devaluing of them has become louder and more legitimized. It feels like we have stepped 150 years backward in terms of human rights, equality, and social justice.

I have been thinking, reflecting, grieving, processing, and trying to summon the strength to face this world that I don’t feel like I know anymore.

Here are a few things I have been thinking about today:

1/ People of colour, Muslims and other religious minorities, LGBTQ / queer people, other marginalized groups, and their allies, have formidable strength to fight this oppressive wave, and keep fighting, and keep fighting, and keep fighting. I have found it hard to take on the courageous optimism that I have seen in many others today, but I look at history, and I see that we have faced centuries of hatred, bigotry, and oppression, and still, we rise.

2/ White allies need to recognize their privilege. Express your solidarity and be an active part of the fight for social justice, being cognizant that:

  • Sexism and misogyny played a ridiculously major role in this election, and white women are right to be pissed off along with women of colour. But we need to fight for progress for all women, not just white women. And the fact that so many white women voted for Trump leads women of colour to reasonably feel even more alienated from the women’s movement led by white women.
  • When you say well-intentioned things like “You are always welcome in the USA” (or “Come to Canada, you are welcome here”) to Muslims and other people of colour, you are subconsciously reinforcing the notion that this country belongs to white people who have the power to welcome, or not welcome, ‘others’. Reconceptualize and rephrase it instead as, “How can I be an ally, act with conscience, and together we can stand up and fight for justice and human rights?” (2)
  • We understand how difficult it is to figure out how to explain Trump and his supporters to your children. Recognize however that, long before this election, many people of colour have had no choice but to discuss racism, hatred, and bigotry – not to mention self-preservation/protection, with their children at an age long before any child should have to worry about these things. Black families, Muslim families, Latinx families, and other families of minority backgrounds, are often forced to navigate these conversations with their children in the preschool years, because of the realities their children face at daycare/school, in the neighbourhood, etc. White families, and Christian families, to be true allies, also need to engage in these difficult conversations in the early years, when children are starting to form stereotypes and biases – and this happens very early in life even if you naively think your children don’t see colour.
  • While I appreciate the sentiment behind the ‘safety pin‘ symbol, it bothers me for a few reasons. First, it reinforces the notion of the white saviour who protects and offers ‘safety’ to people of colour who are ‘vulnerable’ and ‘in need of saving’. And while this symbolic action may make you feel like you are doing something to help, it is likely not going to make a significant impact on the policy and social environment that is actively harming marginalized people. Second, to truly be an ally, we need to SPEAK UP, not silently wear a discreet safety pin. It is your relatives, friends, and acquaintances whose white fragility led to this election – you can make a difference by holding them accountable for their beliefs, words, actions, and votes. And third, wearing a safety pin does not simply erase history and allow you to enter society as an innocent supporter of people of colour; you need to actively recognize  your privilege – how you and your family have benefitted from centuries of oppression, colonialism, slavery, and continued discrimination of people of colour. How your children continue to benefit from better schools, teachers and adult mentors who believe in and support their capacity, neighbourhoods where they are safe to play at the playground, police protection instead of police killing, being able to see people who look like them in positive roles on TV, having schools and neighbourhoods celebrate their religious occasions with them (like Christmas) rather than having to observe them quietly alone in a family home. You are in a unique place and have a unique responsibility to work towards dismantling white supremacy, and this is far more valuable in the long-term than wearing a symbolic safety pin. Again, I appreciate the sentiment, but the reality is way more complex and needs much more work than a safety pin.

3/ While activism in the form of both online and in-person protest is important, there is also a need to invest time, intelligence, and resources into defending civil liberties through the constitution and other legal protections. One way to do this is to support groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Council on American-Islamic Relations who are fighting to protect constitutional rights under a Trump presidency over the next four years (as they have done in previous and will continue to do under future presidencies).

4/ Can the U.S. learn from other countries where pluralism is officially celebrated and considered a strength? In Canada, I grew up learning that we celebrate diversity of ethnicity, language, and religion; that different types of sexuality and gender identity are normal; and that every single person, rich or poor, citizen or immigrant or refugee, has a fundamental right to education, health care, and basic human dignity. Don’t get me wrong – Canada has a long way to go as well – there is a great deal of xenophobia, racism, homophobia, and other forms of hatred and bigotry in Canada too (3). But at least the official rhetoric – politically (4) and in the public education system – starts with the baseline assumption that people of all races, cultures, religions, backgrounds, sexualities, and identities have fundamental human rights, including life, education, health care, the right to express their gender identity, the right to practice one’s faith, the right to maintain and celebrate one’s cultural heritage, and the right to love and marry.

(How) can this baseline be established in the U.S.? (5) If this country, and the world, are to survive, it must be. This is “the central challenge of our time – learning to live peacefully and constructively in a highly diversified and rapidly shrinking world.” (His Highness the Aga Khan, 2013)

These are just some emerging thoughts and reflections. I know that I have not adequately addressed this issue, and I have not even touched on the environmental, health care, educational, economic, security, war, and other implications of the election results, but there are many others doing so, often in more articulate words than mine.

Please share your thoughts (respectfully) in the comments section.

Sadaf Shallwani

 

Footnotes:

1. I use the term ‘friends’ broadly here, including all groups of people  on this continent and around the world who we are in solidarity with, not just those who are in my inner social circle.

2. While we’re on this topic, recognizing that so many of us are descendants of immigrants, let’s be allies with and fight for the rights of indigenous (Native) peoples who have been on this land and caring for it long before any of us.

3. Canada’s Aboriginal and Indigenous populations have suffered and continue to suffer centuries of oppression, killing, and neglect. Black lives are subject to police brutality in Canada too. Islamophobia has been rising in recent years, especially in Quebec. And the national rhetoric of multiculturalism has been criticized for glossing over or even ignoring the very real issues of racism and oppression.

4. At a most basic level, look at the difference in official government language in each country – in Canada immigrants and new citizens are called ‘new Canadians’, while in the US they are referred to as ‘aliens’ and ‘naturalized citizens’.

5. Can we vehemently protect the fundamental human rights and civil liberties of all people living in this country? Can we commit to and effectively finance a public education system that enables high quality teaching and learning for all children? Can we fight for our children’s schools to protect the rights of transgender children? Can we advocate for our children’s daycares and preschools to celebrate Eid and Diwali along with Christmas? Can we commit to having difficult conversations about racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and difference with our children & families, friends, neighbours, coworkers, and acquaintances? Can we actively work to ensure reproductive rights are protected for all women? And no matter what your political views, how can we create such a pervasive culture of respect for each other, that racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and hate-mongering are not acceptable in any part of society, much less in the country’s leadership?

 

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