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Muslim girls in America
Seniors at Urban Assembly School for Criminal Justice fear Donald Trump’s election has made being openly racist more acceptable, but they have hope for the future. Credit: Meredith Kolodner

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – For a group of high school seniors in Brooklyn, all observant Muslim girls, the election of Donald Trump as president raised disturbing visions.

“I’m an immigrant and now I’m a citizen,” said one, “I came from a third world nation to here for safety, and all of a sudden I’m concerned about my safety again.”

But while expressing fears about a society that might make racism, sexism and homophobia more acceptable, these young women also spoke of wanting to stand up for their rights, and of being hopeful for the future.

Last year, The Hechinger Report sat down with a group of high school seniors from the same school, the Urban Assembly School for Criminal Justice, to talk about their hopes and dreams for the future. This year, a week after the day Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, we went back to that all-girls school, this time joined by Yasmeen Khan of WNYC, to hear the thoughts of another group of 17-year-old seniors.

Aisha Fareed, Ruba Tariq, and Humera Altaf were born in Pakistan and now live in Brooklyn. Hifza Shaukat, Orooba Ahmad and Anum Zafar were born in Brooklyn; their parents emigrated from Pakistan. Dhekra Alhanshali was born in Yemen and now lives in Brooklyn. Hifza is the class valedictorian.

The conversation was lively, with the girls eager to talk about many things, and the discussion jumped from topic to topic. We have edited the conversation for clarity and grouped their responses by issue.

“I came here for safety…and freedom”

Ruba: I was really shocked that Donald Trump won…I don’t like how he said ‘radical Islam’ all the time. Not everyone practices radical Islam, not everybody has those thoughts, not everybody’s a terrorist. And the way he said, ‘I don’t want any more Muslims coming in to America. We’re going to close the borders off to them.’ That kind of made me feel so insecure, because I came to America looking for freedom. I’m an immigrant and now I’m a citizen… I came from a third world nation to here for safety and all of sudden I’m concerned about my safety again.

“A lot of people are making comments like they want to leave America. Why are you leaving the problem when you should face the problem?”

Hifza: There will obviously probably be increased attacks, but this is my time to show the world that I am a Muslim, I’m proud of it, I’m not a terrorist … I think it’s a good time for us to unify and support other groups that are being targeted.

Humera: We might be targeted more but I feel like that shouldn’t scare us. I’m not going to cower into fear … I’m going to walk proudly with my head held high.

Orooba: I read this article that these eight LGBT youth committed suicide, and I cried. I was like, they’re kids, they’re youth – how scared are they that they took this horrible option and ended up taking their own lives? … I’m really scared for LGBT people because they’re being targeted and more people are hating on them, too.

Anum: A lot of people are making comments like they want to leave America. Why are you leaving the problem when you should face the problem? For real. Why are you running away from the problem when you should face the problem?

I think that people are coming together — it’s making a stronger movement, because, like, one person can’t make a change but if you look…all the cities that have been doing protests, that’s like thousands and thousands of people, and all of them are stronger than one person. It’s just so beautiful.

“It’s OK now to say outwardly racist [and sexist] things”

Muslim girls in America
Humera Altaf, Dhekra Alhanshali, and Anum Zafar believe that all the groups who have been targeted by Donald Trump should support one another. Credit: Meredith Kolodner

Orooba: People think that it’s OK now to say outwardly racist things and attack people, and I think that’s what I’m more scared of than Trump actually becoming president – the people who think it’s OK now to go around and create fear.

Ruba: I think before, people were not open about their thoughts, and all of a sudden there’s a presidential candidate who’s saying all of these things in front of millions of people. A person who’s supposed to be professional is saying hateful things openly. I think people in the public, ordinary people, are not going to be scared to say them, so now they’re open about it, too, and they’re going to be judging people and make hateful comments.

“There will obviously probably be increased attacks, but this is my time to show the world that I am a Muslim, I’m proud of it, I’m not a terrorist.”

Hifza: At first my heart really sank … He made such derogatory comments … We’ve been struggling so much in this country to uplift the status of women. Women are so sexualized in the media, and him saying that on top of it, it kind of makes things worse for us, because it’s like people think we’re an object, like we’re a toy, and I don’t like that.

Anum: My dad voted for Clinton, but a lot of my dad’s friends were like ‘Why are you voting for a woman?’ Culturally, a lot of people from my country think that men are superior…I think it all comes back to gender norms…But America’s like that too, like how you see women get paid less than men. I don’t get it.

“Racism was always here in America”

Aisha: Racism was always here in America; it just wasn’t as obvious as it is now…I think there will be some incidents in my life where I will be targeted by people, but I live in a community, my neighborhood, [where] there are a lot of people who support Muslims, and I’m really grateful for that, and I just think that if we can all stay together we can go through this.

Humera: I feel like we’ve always been targeted. I personally feel like it’s happening more, but it’s always there. When Trump was running his campaign, he tapped into the people he knew were going to support his racist, anti-Islamic ideas, and he tapped into those white uneducated people who never voted before and that’s also why he won. Because he started saying things that no other president wanted to say, even though they may have had those views.

Conservative Pakistani culture and conservative American culture?

Ruba: We try to be conservative, but there’s a liberal side that we’re drawn to, too…my parents, they’re conservative with religion, yet they’re letting me get educated, they’re let me go out alone…yet they have that cultural side to them, they want to keep us close. They don’t want to be too free. And I think it’s the same with Donald Trump, although it’s America and women are getting freedom and everything, but Trump still wants his culture there. He doesn’t want America to get too free…Although his ideas are different, because we are Muslim and our culture is different than Trump’s culture, I think the way we try to keep our culture in our house, is the same way Trump wants to keep a certain culture in America.

“I feel like we’ve always been targeted. I personally feel like it’s happening more, but it’s always been there.”

Hifza: Typically a woman is the only one who’s supposed to wash the dishes and clean the house, fix the bed sheets, cook, whatever. So now, I feel like at this point that I need to teach my brothers that they cannot continue in this cycle. Just because Trump is president does not mean that they have to have the same beliefs that he has. Because my culture is saying that these are the norms for women, doesn’t mean that boys have to follow through with that. I always make my brothers, like, wash the dishes… I’m always, like, we should not be thinking about women like this, women are not objects. I always bring that up to them and they’re like, yeah we know. I think I have to reinforce that more now … my mom’s supporting me in it, too … that they’re just as equal with us and that’s actually what Islam says.

“Coming here has changed [my dad’s] views a lot”

Humera: I’ve seen a lot of people in our culture degrade women and say negative things about women … I’m thankful that in my family, like my dad … I feel coming here has changed his views a lot. His family, they were poor and had very close-minded opinions, but when he came here he changed a lot. He doesn’t have the same views that a lot of men in Pakistan have. Like, he isn’t telling me to stay home and be married at the age of 16. He’s like ‘You’re going to go to college and graduate and you’re going to make a career for yourself.’

I told him … [she pauses, tears rush into her eyes] Two days ago we all came back from New Jersey, and we ate, and all the dishes were there, and I went into the kitchen to do the dishes – why am I crying? [she stops talking a moment] And I was washing my hands, and he thought I was doing the dishes and he was like, ‘Oh come back.’ [she pauses again] I’m laughing and crying at the same time…and I went into the living room and he’s like, ‘Go into the room and do your homework.’ He wasn’t like, ‘Do the dishes.’ [she breaks down again] I’m sorry. I didn’t think it would make me emotional.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about the 2016 Election

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