Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Trump's America: A Hostile Place For Huddled Masses

Chelsea Beck

I was in a Brooklyn coffee shop when a woman, an apparent regular, leaned over to the barista and relayed an unnerving scene she witnessed on the subway:

A Muslim man asked another passenger what stop to take for the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. The passenger, a white man, responded, "Why, so you can go bomb it?"

The Muslim man explained that he was on vacation and that he'd always dreamed of taking his family to see the landmark. Other passengers joined in with the first one, taunting the man and questioning his motives as his two young children and wife looked on.

"And this happened in New York City!" the woman at the coffee shop said. Then came a sentence that's been ringing in my head ever since: "Donald Trump has given people permission to be racist."

With Trump's election last week, that permission becomes encouragement. If you spew vitriol against minorities, you can rise to the highest office in the land. How could that be anything but a green light for hatred?

Just a day after enough Americans --even young men and college-educated women — gave Trump the presidency, the hateful acts began.

On election night, someone painteda swastikaalong with the words "MAKE AMERICA WHITE AGAIN" on the wall of a softball dugout in Wellsville, N.Y. Men invoking Trump robbed a Muslim womanon the San Diego State University campus the day after the election.

For many, it's no surprise that such racial animus has come with Trump's victory. After all, derision was an essential part of his campaign, which promised to "make America great again."

And that greatness evokes a time before the country had the racial diversity we see today. According to the nonprofit research organization PRRI, seven in 10 Trump supporters said America has changed for the worse since 1950. Back then, less than 1 percent of the country was any race other than white or black (compared to 24 percent today).

The election results make official a nostalgia for a whiter America.

The election results make official a nostalgia for a whiter America.

I'm a Muslim-American and the daughter of immigrants. It has not been easy for me to get out of bed in a country where such opinions were affirmed at the ballot box.

I woke up the morning after the election in a world I recognize, but hardly know. I woke up in Ohio, a battleground state awash in red. I woke up thinking about my neighbors — all the old white couples we send cookies to on Christmas. The new black family whose son asked for a cup of milk on Tuesday. (My mother gave him the whole gallon.) I thought this was what America meant.

Now, I can't help but feel that the 52 percent of my fellow Ohioans who voted for Trump want my family and me out. I look at my neighborhood and this is all I can think. Because it's predominantly white and upper-middle class, it likely leaned even more toward Trump.

This is what that "silent majority," which Trump named as his fan base, has been clamoring for: The right to screen and assess us. The right to deport us en masse. America has been yearning for a past that was as white as fresh snow before our muddy brown boots stomped through it.

The country has been telling us this all along. We just didn't want to hear it.

We didn't want to hear that Americans are uncomfortable with Muslims, even when half of all governors in the country said they oppose accepting the most desperate members of our faith group — those who have lived through the devastating war in Syria.

We ignored the refrain "they're taking our jobs" by telling ourselves we're productive members of this society. We turned the other cheek whenever someone said, "Go back to where you came from."

And so, here we are.

Trump has made it OK to shout at us loud enough for the message to come in clearly: We don't belong. In the final hours of election night, strangers filled my professionalFacebook page as never before with the sort of vitriol Trump's campaign used as fuel.

/ Beenish Ahmed
Beenish Ahmed

This is just what I can show you. The others are too vulgar.

For so many black and brown folks, this is the America we didn't want to believe we lived in. Now we know better.

The concern is no longer that fellow passengers on a subway will insult a Muslim family on their way to the Statue of Liberty. The concern is that insults will be the least of their worries.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Beenish Ahmed