Karachi vs. Kansas: The reality of identity politics

Faryal (F): When we wrote our last column, we were relatively optimistic about the results of the presidential election. All the polls were saying it was going to be a Clinton win, but all of those polls were wrong. To say I was shocked when I saw the results is an understatement. I genuinely thought I was having a bad dream, and I still wish it was just that. Hearing the results has been especially strange while being abroad. People obviously tuned in to the election, but the stakes weren’t quite as high for them. I remember listening to a pair of women discussing the election in a cafe the next day, saying, “Oh, those poor Americans!”

Natasha (N): What irked me most as I scrolled through my Facebook feed post-election in search of some sort of comfort in solidarity were the articles being shared by Trump supporters that said, “I voted for Trump, but I’m not racist.” I just want to give these people a good shake and yell, “It doesn’t matter if you personally are not racist, what matters is that you demonstrated through your vote that you are okay with racism.” For me, that’s the big issue. It’s walking down the street with people who care more about a hollow promise of “greatness” than the reality that Muslim or hispanic immigrant families may be forced apart and that sexual assaulters will not be held accountable. It’s knowing you went to high school with people who would rather you get told to “go back to where you came from” while minding your own business on a bus than permit women autonomy over their own bodies. That’s what unsettles me the most.

F: Facebook has really been my primary window into public opinion post-election. I’ve been reading people’s long posts telling me that they are in solidarity with me, but I don’t really know what that means. Okay, so you’re not a racist who voted for Trump, but what does your online post do for my future? In reality, this Facebook activism isn’t going to help my Muslim grandmother from the “problem-area” of Pakistan get the green card that she’s been working on getting for years. Your post isn’t going to prevent the skepticism I will face as a Muslim with Pakistani heritage when I’m applying for a job in national security. I’m trying to stay positive and strong, but it’s hard when the country you’ve called home for your entire life doesn’t really want you there. I’ve surrounded myself in a liberal bubble, but this election has been a reality check.  

N: Initially, I was conflicted when people attributed Trump’s win to the triumph of “practical concerns” over “identity politics.” But when it comes to the American presidency, I have always thought that the president’s primary role is a symbolic one to serve as the face of national identity. So then how can you keep identity politics out of it? The president is the image you see every time you enter a federal building, no matter where you are in the world, and it saddens me to know that that face will soon be someone who grimaces at who I am.

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