From the time we are little until we are fully grown, most of us are taught the basic saying “treat others the way you want to be treated.” It represents the action of being courteous and kind, to not disrespect or belittle another, because one wouldn’t want that to happen to oneself. But what happens when not everyone behaves that way, when there are those that would rather bring about entire ideologies that dehumanize and attack specific groups of people based upon an aspect of their identity?
White supremacy. Islamophobia. Xenophobia. All words synonymous with hatred and bigotry. And they form a rising epidemic in today’s world, as seen by the global shift towards supporting right-wing politicians, perhaps best exemplified here in the US by the election of Donald Trump as president. When people in power fail to denounce white supremacy for what it is, an ideology of hate, they allow nationalists the platform to continue to grow and spread their message.
The terrorist attack in Christchurch in March was not the first, nor will it be the last in a series of events perpetrated against innocent people because they choose to believe in Islam. Just one week after the New Zealand atrocity, 134 African Muslims were killed in a massacre in Mali and the international media was silent. There are as many as one million Uyghur Muslims in China interned in what have been called “re-education” camps by the Chinese government. “Re-education” is a term seeking to hide the atrocities being carried out in what has been portrayed as preventative measures against radicalization, including but not limited to “forced lessons in Communist propaganda, and region-wide bans on Uyghur culture and traditions.” This is not a case of white supremacy, but rather extreme nationalism to the point of erasure of a whole people that have been living in a region for centuries.
Closer to home, Ilhan Omar, a standing member of Congress, has been vilified and attacked ever since coming into the limelight by media as well as fellow members of the Democratic Party, not to mention the GOP. While we can dissect her supposed anti-Semitic comments, what is more telling is the fact that she, as a Black Muslim woman, has been repeatedly bashed for arguably less harmful statements than our current president’s derogatory remarks that have belittled the Jewish community at large, while he has been left unscathed.
This is a troubling trend that has become more prominent in recent years: whenever a person of color voices their opinion, it is normal to scrutinize said statement and find an aspect of it which is offensive, so as to divert the attention from the real issue at hand. A recent example was when Ms. Omar called out the obvious pro-Israel sentiment present in Congress and was vilified for being “anti-Semitic.” This diverted attention from the real problem of how US politics are undoubtedly influenced and directed by various lobbies with their own agendas.
When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, many were under the impression that we had attained a “post-racial America.” This was not the case. Despite having a Black president, African Americans are still consistently profiled, harassed, and oppressed by society. The hatred that once simmered has boiled over into the Charleston Church shooting and the Unite the Right rally, to name a couple of examples.
The struggle for Black freedom and liberation is one deeply interwoven into the fabric of American society, and the civil rights movement has paved the way for other minorities to claim their rights as Americans and human beings. One can draw parallels between the way African Americans have been continuously dehumanized and how Muslims, regardless of skin color, are now being “othered” in the media. The fight for equity scares those in power, as it threatens them with the possible destruction of elitist structures put in place to keep white men in power.
These are just some of the examples of the long and complicated history of racial and identity politics in America and throughout the globe. It is paramount that we recognize and address these complexities, as they are the root cause from which inequality, misunderstanding, and fear spread. Furthermore, it is time to realize that it is our responsibility as human beings to work to dismantle these systems of oppression and hatred which have led to the many hate crimes and injustices being carried out universally.
As we move forward with our lives and go through our daily motions, let us think about the ways we can use the privileges we hold—however small—to change the world around us and create a better future for the ones that will come after.
Marihah Muhsinah is a student at the University of Illinois studying Chemical Engineering. She has a passion for social justice and writing, and in her free time enjoys reading, baking, and talking to her cat.