One of the things I miss about my father are our conversations about humanity. When I was a little girl, I remember him telling me that all humans were created equal by God, but man will use multiple tricks to divide, discriminate and conquer. He also imparted that I am not a minority in the eyes of God, and to stand up and defend my human rights just as he did when he demanded his civil rights as a free black man and as a Muslim. My father and millions of others were well aware of the falsehoods—or as U.S. President Donald Trump’s counselor, Kellyanne Conway, now calls it, “alternative facts”—told about race issues.
When the immigration ban was implemented, I felt I had enough in my spiritual and mental arsenal to not allow it to discourage or depress me. I am proud that there has been a global stand to protest this unconstitutional travel ban. I understand why people are describing the behavior of our new president as being “unprecedented,” but Trump’s agenda is nothing new. We have been here many times before as a nation. So, I am finding myself pulling from an assortment of lessons I’ve learned during my formative years, in order to remain resilient, empowered and ready for what is to come.
Many people around the world know that normalizing inequality, racism and discrimination should not be tolerated. We also know the deceptive ploys that are used, such as spreading extreme fear and fallacies to accomplish sinister goals. One of the first lessons I’ve learned about normalization schemes was when I did a school report about slavery. The justification of slavery included the ideas that black people were scientifically inferior based on biology; slavery was divine from the Bible; ending slavery would destroy the economy; and freeing slaves would cause an uprising that would destroy the white race. Once slaves were legally free after the American Civil War, new laws were enacted to normalize and maintain discrimination and oppression such as the Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws.
Now, Muslims are the punchline of a horrifically bad joke, which goes like this: How many Muslims need to leave America to make it great again? Answer: All of them. I don’t say this to make light of the matter at hand, but these are the sentiments of some who support the irrational, discriminatory, and unconstitutional Muslim ban.
As I empathize with and pray for the Muslim community that watched their Victoria Islamic Center burst into flames on January 29 in Victoria, Texas, Muslim women wearing full hijab being viciously attacked and the victims of a shooting spree on a Québec City mosque in Canada by a pro-Trump student, I can state in all confidence that these atrocities and murders were not committed by people who cared about the effective and comprehensive vetting process that has already been established for refugees or about fair immigration policies. Despite facts and statistics pertaining to Islam and the impact of terrorism on our soil, hate and fear have returned to the White House, where there is an attempt to wind the clocks back to a time when the U.S. Constitution protected only the liberties of white men.
Another vital lesson from the past is how institutions and political leaders were able to divide the poor and working classes of all races to prevent them from uniting with a true understanding of how economic injustices have plagued them all. The power structure is still serving people platters garnished with appetizing alternative facts, to fill their bellies with intolerance for those people over there.
Michelle Alexander gives an historic example of this in her book, The New Jim Crow, where she writes: “In the 1960s and 1970s, two schools of thought were offered to the general public regarding race, poverty, and social order. Conservatives argued that poverty was caused not by structural factors related to race and class but rather by culture—particularly black culture.”
Sound familiar? These words still resonate today. But now, more folks have been added to the blacklist—Muslims, Latinos, the LGBT community and anyone else who might find themselves as targets.
One of the redeeming things that can potentially come out of this Trump mayhem is the sounding of a gigantic alarm clock in America that will finally wake up the apathetic masses who spend more time watching television and their computer screens than making their voices heard through our political system. Many of us have punched the snooze button so many times that the trumpeters caught us sleeping.
Despite the mess we are in, I still have hope in the decency of humanity my father and I used to talk about—and in our ability to uphold the constitution of the United States. We are already moving in the right direction. I am proud of the U.S. federal judges who ordered a stay on the Muslim ban as well as a U.S. district court’s ruling that blocked the president’s executive order. I was elated when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court rejected Trump’s attempt to reinstate the ban. These legal actions have sent a powerful message about constitutional due process of law.
All of us who are united in this political and legal fight together know what needs to be done in the next four years to get rid of Donald Trump, who is using a tyrannical playbook to delegitimize the co-equal judicial branch of government, the media, the national security agencies and anyone else he considers in opposition to his methods of mass destruction. This is not a sustainable political environment and, as history has taught us, it will be defeated.
So, in the quiet of the night, I whisper up to my father, who I pray is in a better place: “Don’t worry about us down here, Dad; Trump will go down in round four… at the latest!”
Maryum “May May” Ali is the daughter of American professional boxer and activist Muhammad Ali; she is a social worker and public speaker.