Commentator Shaheen Pasha says she’s been dreading the talk she needs to have with her kids. It’s one she thought
she’d never be having. But now that the presidential election is upon us, she can longer put it off.
I almost wish it was about sex. I can answer those inevitable questions.
But the U.S. election has taken center stage in the minds of my two older kids, and they have so many questions. Questions about society and of belonging. Questions about their own identity and how they are perceived as third-generation Pakistani-American Muslims.
At first, they simply had questions about the election itself. They watched the news coverage on television and tried to understand the policies and promises of the presidential candidates. My 13-year-old daughter ran around gleefully yelling, ‘Girl power!’ My 9-year-old son declared he was ‘feeling the Bern’ as he jumped from couch to couch.
And then it changed. Soon they came home puzzled over conversations about Mexicans being called rapists and walls being built. My son watched crowds cheering over plans to ban Muslims.
‘Are we going to have to leave?’ he asked me.
I tried to reassure him that it was just political blustering, that no one was coming for us. He didn’t believe me.
Recently, my daughter and I were trailing behind him in a toy store. She suddenly grabbed his hands as he swung a pirate sword.
‘Don’t play with that in public,’ she chided. ‘They’ll think we’re terrorists.’
He stopped smiling and put it back. That is what it feels like to be the other.
There’s no way I can make it better for them. I thought my biggest challenge would be trying to explain to my children that sadly some people support misogyny and xenophobia. Now I have to somehow assure them that, regardless of the outcome on Election Day, they are not pariahs in their own land.
I can’t believe I even need to have this conversation. The election has galvanized a movement that had long been building in the shadows. It suddenly seems more acceptable to publicly advocate bigotry and fear. It’s almost considered a sign of patriotism by some.
I fear those people won’t be silenced any time soon.
Like so many Muslim moms around the country, I’m trying to figure out how to help my kids navigate the culture of intolerance that has become their new normal. I’m not going to tell my kids that they are victims. Or that people in our country are generally racist. Or that we are doomed. I don’t believe any of that.
I hope, instead, I can teach them how to stand up for themselves when they’re faced with ugly behavior. I will tell them, ‘Don’t ever let yourself be silenced.’
I’m going to need all the help I can get.”
Commentator Shaheen Pasha teaches international journalism at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.