- NL Sena
Trump’s victory over Clinton is the victory of virulent sexism and racism over decency.
Last Sunday I attended a self-defense class held in a mosque as part of a story on the rise in hate crimes against Muslims in the United States following Donald Trump’s election victory. Nearly 30 hijab wearing women flocked to the Islamic Center in Queens, a New York City borough where more than half the population is non-white. From the young teen to the grandmother of two, the women there seemed aware that a two hour class held over 13 weeks would not be enough to counter to wave of xenophobia and sexism coming their way but they were determined. They had to be.
Moving to New York last September, I truly felt like a minority for the first time.
As an upper caste, English speaking North-Indian Hindu from Delhi I had led a comfortably privileged life– until I landed at JFK airport. I was prepared for the exotification that greeted me, even at one of the world’s most diverse and liberal universities and towards the end, most of it, including the typical ‘Oh your English is so good’, became amusing. I knew that America, like every other country, had its problems, but also promised a free and open society which was very different from the one I had left.
In the beginning America felt safe. Sure, there was the occasional cat-calling and the “so beautiful” muttered on the streets but it felt good to dress the way I wanted, drink freely and be loud, stay out late and not flinch at the accidental graze of a passerby. I was surrounded by like-minded liberal feminists and for someone who had lived in Delhi and worked in Mumbai, this was as utopian as it could get.
I was about to leave my office when Trump’s ‘locker room talk’ video, began playing on CNN. I remember gleefully telling my colleagues that this was the end of Trump and everyone on that subway stop at Midtown Manhattan echoed a similear sentiment. A week later, nearly 60-70 women gathered in front of Trump Tower for a ‘Pussy Fights Back’ protest. Surely, he was going to lose.
And then came November 8th. Our team was stationed at Hilton hotel, Trump’s election day headquarter, nearly two miles away from the Javits Center where people were lining up for what everyone was convinced would be Hillary Clinton’s victory party. We decided to interview foreign reporters on his racist, sexist campaign and perception of the election abroad. As the counting began we were redirected to Times Square to capture reactions from Americans and tourists whose eyes were fixed on a gigantic Fox News screen plastered across an entire block, which was slowly and steadily turning red.
“They still haven’t counted California,” we reasoned to make ourselves feel better. There was still hope. We interviewed a few people and while panelists, even the ones on the Republican leaning Fox News, were still skeptical in calling the election, there was an air of defeat and despair in the otherwise energetic and dazzling Times Square. “We are not paying for that wall!” a Mexican tourist told me in dismay, a reference to Trump’s campaign promise of building a giant wall between Mexico and the United States. “These people are just racist,” said a disgusted Canadian-American who voted for Justin Trudeau last year. But it was only when speaking to two second generation Indian-American women who were too scared to go on camera that it started to sink in. This was Donald Trump’s America.
By midnight it became clear that the press team designated to cover Trump would be covering the victor. It was too depressing to continue and at around 1.30 am I headed home, glad that I lived in New York City, which would never allow bigotry to threaten its cosmopolitan culture. As I crossed the Hilton I felt vulnerable for the first time since coming here. A crowd of men and women were screaming “USA, USA”, “Lock her up” and “Build that wall.” An hour later, someone on the train ride home announced “Guys, Trump won. This is the saddest day of my life.”
The silence was broken by a sobbing Scottish tourist who saw this as “worse than Brexit” which she voted against. A 20-something white male was scared that he might be mistaken for a Trump voter. An elderly black construction worker replied he didn’t care–his community was always going to be worse off.
I was numb. Perhaps in denial. I got off a stop early and decided to walk the rest of the way. America wasn’t my country. I loved the city and the people but, American exceptionalism had begun to grate. ‘Trump isn’t like Narendra Modi; my people would never allow such brazen xenophobia and sexism to thrive and win’, I repeatedly told myself. But it still felt like loss. Not the ‘my team lost’ kind but the giving up on humanity kind.
However privileged we may be, women have always had to work twice as hard to prove they’re half as good as their male counterparts. Our feminism is often ridiculed as misplaced aggression and aprons are tied around our hopes and dreams. True, many parts of the world, including India, had strong female leadership but there was despair that despite being flawed but capable and qualified, Clinton lost to the openly misogynistic Trump. I didn’t play a part in her victory – or loss – but the outcome played a part in my life.
Watching Trump waltz away despite, or worse, because of the campaign he ran not only legitimised the passions he stroked but also reinforced the idea of this being a ‘man’s world’ where women were minor players.
Just when I had finally come to believe that we had progressed as a society and as a people, I was trumped. I had witnessed many brazen chauvinist men getting away but had never dreamt that ‘the land of the brave and the free’ would ever elect one. That I actually knew some of those who voted for him citing economic or religious reasons, willing to overlook his racism and sexism. That despite the outcry against misleading polls and ‘liberal media bubble’ the fact remained that there are men and women in this country – and the world – who were ok with moral bankruptcy as long as they stayed great and rich again.
A part of me wanted to pack up my bags and leave. My fear had turned into anger and disgust. I ranted on Twitter, joined new Whatsapp groups and RSVPd to anti-Trump protests on Facebook. It felt surreal. Until I saw Clinton’s concession speech. That’s when I cried.