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Voting Out Of Fear

It must be wonderful to have so much privilege that the results of this election truly don’t feel like they affect you

When I groggily opened my eyes in the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, November 9, I took one look at my television and, hoping I was still in the midst of a nightmare, immediately fell back asleep. When I woke up again around 6 a.m., I was too scared to ask my family who had won the presidential election. I did not want to hear the sound of the words spoken together, his name preceded by “president.” I dreaded looking at the election updates that flashed on my phone, but I knew I couldn’t ignore them for very long.

“President-Elect Donald Trump Celebrates Win.”

This sentence not only described my nightmare, but America’s new reality. My heart sank. A feeling of hopelessness coupled with depression flooded my body. It took every ounce of strength I had to get out of bed, make my way to class, and interact with others. I soon realized that many people on my campus felt the same as I did: Silence eerily clouded our environment.

The results of the election feel like proof that no matter how hard a woman works, no matter how qualified she becomes, she still is not considered good enough to lead this country. The gendered double standard still exists — a double standard I know well as a Muslim woman.

My parents and I have been targets of a lot of hate in post-9/11 America. People have walked into my family's business, a convenience store, just to tell us to go "back to our country" — which, let me be clear, is America. I was born here, and my parents have lived here for more than 25 years. Kids have written “terrorists” on notes and left them on my desk and, in middle school, I faced the pain of fake rumors that my family was funding terrorism in the Middle East. As I've gotten older, people have questioned my motivation to advance my career given their misconception that “Islam suppresses women and their rights.” I can only imagine what women who choose to wear the hijab are going through.

I wanted change so badly, wanted a president who would help prevent and diminish this hatred. Sadly, it's now more alive than ever, and soon after the election, I began to question myself: Is this the moment I stop trying? If Hillary Clinton could not break the glass ceiling, will it ever be broken? If she couldn't fight and win for minorities and Muslims, how can I?

Friends who posted on social media suggesting that people who were upset about the election results should “grow up” and “get a grip” didn’t help. What’s worse, many people who had stayed silent about their support for Trump came out of their shells after his win, newly emboldened to spread their opinions.

It must be wonderful to have so much privilege that the results of this election truly don’t feel like they affect you. I envy anyone who doesn’t feel like I do: that the man elected to be our president seeks to destroy everything that makes me the person I am today.

Many are celebrating because they acted on their fears and wanted to protect their rights. I certainly understand feeling afraid in this country! I have tried hiding who I am to avoid racial slurs and prejudiced attitudes. I know what it's like to say my dua (prayer) in my head rather than speak it out loud when I'm in the earshot of non-Muslims, out of fear that they may think I'm reciting something else. Even worse is when my parents are taunted by hatred and I feel helpless. Although I have not personally committed to wearing one, I have female friends who are afraid to wear their hijabs.

But while Trump supporters' fear may have felt as real to them as mine does to me, I still wish these Americans had thought about not just themselves and their own fear, but about others, too. I wish they had thought about friends who have been, and still are, continuously marginalized for doing nothing more than living and breathing — their friends who are Muslim, LGBTQ, female, disabled, undocumented, Latino, black, and so many other identities. I wish they could explain why our fear did not matter to them. I envy their privilege, but I am also embarrassed for them: It’s embarrassing to stand nonchalantly, silently, idly by, doing nothing when your country and your fellow Americans need you the most.

It took me some time to realize that I would not be able to wake up from this nightmare. The news has been full of stories about trans children and teens committing suicide, stories about the terror and violence that minorities are facing in their schools, places of work, and towns — all in just these few days since Donald Trump was elected. These stories made me truly step back and evaluate the bigger picture.

America is the greatest nation in the world. We are free to voice our opinions and choose the leader of our country. But we are also free to fight back — and we must do so now. This election should serve as a wake-up call to everybody. Now is the time to get involved: Volunteer with a nonprofit or intern for a politician, surround yourself with people who are doing good things and support them, and broaden your opinions through diversifying your news sources. What young people do now will shape our country's future, and the election results cannot and should not discourage us from going forward together.

As a woman who will graduate college in May, who will enter a specific industry and a general workforce in which I know I will be constantly underestimated and told I am not good enough, I know I have to stay strong and fight. As a Muslim-American who is now being told by my own president that I do not have the right to live in the country that has always been my home, and as someone who does not know if I’ll ever see my grandparents in Pakistan again, I know I have to stay strong and fight.

To the people struggling to get up in the morning, who don't know if they can truly call America home while being their full selves any longer — you are not alone. Remember how diverse this country still is. Now more than ever is the time to ignite the fire in our bellies and defeat the hate that surround us.

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VMAs 2017