As I carefully pulled into the parking lot of my local grocery store in broad daylight, somebody began to honk their car horn at me repeatedly. I caught a glimpse of an elderly white man in a dusty red Chevrolet pickup, looking disgusted, in my rearview mirror. I ignored it.
But as I walked into the store, the same man sped up and spewed a tirade of hate-filled expletives at me while flipping his middle finger. My flowy blue and black cheetah-printed hijab covering every strand of my hair, along with my gray floor-length dress, apparently were threatening to him.
For a millisecond, my confidence shook and I tried not to lose my focus. I will not let this stranger perturb me, I told myself.
Still, part of me was fearful. The heightened awareness I must maintain these days has become an exhausting yet necessary part of life for so many Muslims in the United States.
This particularly chilling instance occurred just two days after President Trump ousted Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and nominated current CIA Director Mike Pompeo as his replacement, and it caused me to reflect on the dangerous potential Pompeo has to push Islamophobic state policies. Pompeo’s nomination, which requires confirmation from the Senate, could be taken up by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the coming week.
His anti-Muslim comments have been alarming, to say the very least. He has proclaimed that Muslims “abhor Christians … and will continue to press against us until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight.”
Given Pompeo’s record of alarmingly misleading statements about Muslims and his alliances with hatred, we can be sure he will further perpetuate bigotry and intolerance. His views are in line with those of the Trump administration at large. And just as Trump has called for a ban on Muslim immigrants, Pompeo favors halting refugee settlement.
We can no longer remain docile. Pompeo is likely to further entrench Trump’s xenophobic agenda if confirmed by the Senate to be secretary of state.
Though I was born in the United States and grew up in the Chicago area — a place I consider home — and am a U.S. citizen, I have felt an unneeded pressure to constantly prove my loyalty to this country. It isn’t just my attire that fuels bigots such as the old man in the Chevrolet. The color of my skin instantaneously adds to the fire. I wonder, if I had been paler, would that have allayed his fears? Given our current political climate, it may not have.
Racism is real and ubiquitous in our society, and it is intertwined with cultural intolerance. We are at a time when hate has unfettered access to the White House, and Pompeo’s ties to anti-Muslim hate groups further solidify Trump’s anti-Muslim agenda.
Inflammatory discourse by politicians like Pompeo and his boss are problematic for the fabric of our country. It divide us. It puts people at risk. Clearly, there is no surprise that Trump’s xenophobic vision of the U.S. continues to incite racist violence. Attacks against Muslim, South Asian, Hindu, Arab and Middle Eastern communities are up by 45 percent in 2017 alone.
Despite all this, we must rise above the ignorance and be a beacon of hope by signing petitions, sending letters and speaking out against the worst acts of politicians, locally and nationally.
I will not take off my hijab. I am not in this country to conform or be told by white supremacists how to lead my life. I will continue to engage in dialogue and encourage inclusion, in any space that I am — whether that is in school, my workplace or any public setting — to prevent echo chambers.
The core values of our country are shaped by immigrants from all parts of the world. Whether a melting pot or a salad bowl, the United States was founded on the values of freedom of speech and religion. Let us continue to uphold these values and promote diversity.
Tasmiha Khan is pursuing her master’s degree in Social Impact from Claremont Lincoln University. She serves as the associate campaign director for Maternal Justice & Healthcare for MomsRising.org. She also serves as a Net Impact Racial Equity Fellow and Germanacos Fellow for Interfaith Youth Core.
This piece was first published in the Chicago Sun-Times, and is republished here with permission. Thank you Chicago Sun-Times