I wrote this piece around this time last year when the Republican primaries were still underway, and the world was still reeling from the Paris attacks. Donald Trump had yet to receive his party’s nomination. My thoughts since then have remained the same, though my resolve to stay and fight has grown exponentially.
I have felt concerned ever since my husband told me a few years ago that police officers regularly photographed attendees at a mosque he frequented in Downtown Manhattan, just blocks away from where the Twin Towers fell. But in the weeks following the terrorist attacks in Paris, the Islamophobia that has long brewed under the surface in this country, only to occasionally manifest in spurts, revealed itself with an unabashed pride, transforming my concern into a panic. In the past month alone, which marks two years since my husband and I moved from New York to Virginia, a man left a fake bomb outside a local mosque, and another referred to Islam as an “evil cult” made up of “terrorists” at a town hall meeting in a nearby county. These are just two incidents in a growing number of acts of violence and intimidation toward Muslims in the United States.
Now whenever my husband mentions he will be attending Jumu’ah on Friday, a wave of fear and anxiety rushes over me. My cautioning him to “please be careful” whenever he left the house to go to the mosque was new to him. After all, he had grown up in a place where his identity was fully appreciated. And, even in the United States, unless he openly declared himself Muslim, few would look at him and see anything other than an olive-skinned white man with a penchant for plaid shirts and boat shoes. But, as a black woman from the South, I knew a thing or two about the familiar face of American terrorism, and my fear was well-placed.
Though I am not Muslim, the ever increasing hatred and hysteria toward a group of people deemed “threatening” and “uncivilized” amid countless examples to the contrary feels hauntingly familiar. Unlike many others, I did not have to go as far back as Nazi Germany to find parallels to our current socio-political climate. My memories were fresh, and my fears for my husband’s safety were based on experience.
Over the past month, stories of mosques receiving death threats, set ablaze, and surrounded by heavily armed bigots have triggered haunting memories of Alabama church bombings, burning crosses, and a day this June when a young white man gunned down nine black members of a South Carolina church. A presidential candidate raising the prospect of aggressive profiling, IDing, interning, and banning Muslims from this country, all the while echoed by a loud chorus of supporters, brought on flashbacks of footage of Bull Connor and George Wallace speeches against integration. I felt the same discomfort now that I did when I saw Confederate flags draped across the backs of pickup trucks in the parking lot of my high school dances. And with the disproportionate brutalization of black bodies at the hands of the police, I saw daily reminders of state-based terror met with public indifference on the television screen and flashing across my Facebook timeline. The attack on a young girl at a school in the Bronx for wearing hijab reminded me of the times in elementary school when I was called a “nigger” by my classmates.
The contemporary coupling of Islamophobia and anti-black prejudice and violence leaves me wondering whether or not this is the nation in which I want to stay. I found myself wondering aloud to my students whether my marriage to a Muslim immigrant would be rendered invalid if a certain presidential candidate won and got his way. I wondered if this country was a place where I wanted to raise our future children who, based on their phenotype or choice of religion, might be in physical danger simply for existing. And even if by the time they are old enough to understand they are not directly affected by these specific forms of prejudice, I wondered if the United States would ever be a place where the people frequently evoked in accounts of the nation’s diversity would be considered human beings. My mother, who lived through the Jim Crow era, has noted that things have gotten worse. I wonder every day if she is right and that perhaps we have reached our time to go.