Our Digital Bubbles, Our Lived Realities — and Trump

Fahmida Azad
Nov 11, 2016 · 7 min read

My mom is an exquisite gardener. My dad is a physician working at the VA hospital in Fayetteville, NC. My brother is in pharmacy school and my little sis is a vocal middle-schooler and a budding artist. And me, I work as a designer in New York City.

Last year, Donald Trump explicitly stated that he would require all Muslims in America to register in a national database — which means that he would require all members of my family, along with the 3.3 million Muslims in America, to be officially registered on a list, to be further monitored, surveilled than we already are despite being American citizens. When he was questioned about how his proposed policy differs from Nazi Germany — he simple dodged the question.

It was easy then to say “that can’t be real” or “that guy won’t be elected, that’s ridiculous”. He is now the President of the United States of America. He has also, repeatedly, called for a total ban on Muslims coming to the country, equating Muslims to terrorism to refugees to ISIS — successfully painting all of those things as the same person, as the same community; painting an image of a person for the masses to hate, profile and scapegoat — no matter how factually incorrect and nonsensical that image is. It’s actually really, really hard to paint a picture of “a muslim”. Muslims are one of the most racially diverse religious groups that exist on the planet. The hate rhetoric spewed by Trump naturally affects my family and the communities I belong to — in deadly ways. Donald Trump was publicly elected into the most powerful seat of power in the nation either because of what he has stated or despite it. It’s horrifying either way. One could not possibly be more clear in declaring and normalizing xenophobia. He told us exactly what he thought, exactly what he would do and he was elected into office, inspiring thousands upon thousands of people to openly vilify and attack those that are different from them. And that has been the most nauseatingly terrifying reality to come to terms with — that his open, explicit racism made more people relate to him rather than stand against him. More people are joyfully shouting out “He tells it like it is!” and supporting him than asking “What the fuck is he saying?” and denouncing his stance.

The first thing I did around 5:45 A.M. Wednesday morning, upon waking up to the news that the American public has chosen a new President, was send notes telling those close to me to stay safe. It was in a sleep deprived moment of shock and panic. Many folks I know were gravely disappointed and saddened by Trump’s victory. There is difference in being disappointed, and being worried about the physical safety of your family and community members. If you did not wake up on Wednesday morning, worried about the physical safety of your friends and family members, you have privilege that I simply do not know. It’s this mythical privilege that I can’t even imagine. And, you’re probably white. I’m not saying that to make you feel guilty about your whiteness but to highlight that whiteness in America protects you from experiencing things that others face daily. That protection is an incredible privilege.

I don’t immediately stand out as a Muslim-American, just like the many people who don’t immediately stand out as a member of the faith tradition that they were born into. Each member of my family stand on vastly different positions in how we feel about religious institutions, like thousands and thousands of families. Even within one family unit, we are not one brushstroke, like many of your families. My mom chooses to wear a headscarf. For her, and many women in the U.S. like her, that choice makes her a visible, vulnerable target of violence. The threat of violence is not a perception or a feeling — but a reality . Calling Muslims “ISIS” is a violent racial slur that has become normalized, often seen as a benign or perhaps understandable, or comical or harmless thing to say. When you have a man who equates Muslims to ISIS, and you say it enough times, people not only believe it and repeat it, but they act on that hate. Proudly. And they draw these parallels unflinchingly, thinking that being Muslim makes one inherently guilty of something. Unbeknownst to them that ISIS has slaughtered more Muslims than any other group of people; most of their victims are Muslims. During the last ten days, considered the holiest of days, of the holiest month of the Islamic calendar (Ramadan) this year, there were ISIS attacks in Dhaka, Istanbul, Medina, Baghdad — all Muslim majority nations. We did not see Prayers for Baghdad after scores of Muslims were killed in attacks like we saw Prayers for Paris. ISIS kills indiscriminately. If you can wrap your head around the fact that calling a Jewish person “cheap” is considered offensive, then it should be obvious that calling a Muslim person “ISIS” is offensive. Unfortunately we see very little of images, stories, reports of Muslims suffering and mourning. When we don’t show it in mass media, it’s as if it doesn’t exist.

Which leads me to question, what exactly are we seeing? And who is seeing it? I wonder how many of my white peers, friends, colleagues have heard of what happened last weekend in New York, where a Sikh marathon runner was told he was a “dirty Muslim” when reaching for a cup of water. This was in New York City. In a blue state. Last weekend. Before Trump won. Again in New York City — not in the Midwest where the poor, straight, white all-american man feels frustrated and left behind and sees Trump as his savior and friend. Or what happened Wednesday morning in NYU, where the word “Trump” was scrawled on the door of a Muslim prayer room, clearly as means of intimidation. Or the countless things that have happened in the last 48 hours. It begs a very serious question in my mind : are you seeing what I’m seeing? We can’t be seeing and hearing the same things. If we did, we could not possibly be existing in such different worlds where the victory of this man’s rise to power is joyful to some and apocalyptic to others.

Our digital footprints are carefully designed to lead us inside our digital bubbles. Those bubbles slowly form our digital ecosystem, and that ecosystem sometimes becomes completely soundproof from opinions and, most importantly, stories of the physical and lived experiences different from our own. Our own perspectives become larger and larger and become absolute truth — especially when it comes to political rhetoric. Ecosystems of content- writers, articles, videos, fake journalism, journalism, memes, blog posts, events, talks, recommendations and suggestions on things you should read and support- completely engulf us in our digital universe. The views that you hold becomes more pervasive within your digital experience and your physical world view becomes narrower and narrower. It’s Facebook’s algorithms that show me reflections of what I personally feel, and only show me one side of things, the side that I agree with, in a completely, completely skewed way. I am a critic of the two party system and I am not a Trump supporter. I see reflections of that stance — clearly this is the minority of folks in the United States of America in reality. White supremacists are the majority in this country — we can not pretend or act as if that fact is not true. Fact check: Trump is President. It is simply not possible that those folks that voted for him, or are indifferent to friends and family that have voted for him, see on their social media what I see — stories of the violence and fear that so many minorities face. Social media plays a critical, real role in how divided our world has become. Public opinions are skewed and manipulated by tech giants, and that should be a point of discussion because it affects us on very macro and micro levels. It impacts the future that we want craft for our children.

The average American has never encountered an ISIS member. Militant white supremacists, however, are a reality for those racially profiled as Muslims, whose presence, threats, harassment and intimidation terrorize us each and every day. Whether it’s arson, community members being gunned down inside of their homes, vandalism, stalking, bullying or harassment — I’ve never felt as traumatized and re-traumatized with the frequency of incidents that happen to those that share my faith identity. This content is surfaced to me all the time, and I refuse to believe that those who are not Muslim would be completely ok knowing that hate crimes are taking place at this rate, that they would move on with their days in ‘a business as usual’ kind of manner. I don’t think they could if the same content was surfaced to them.

To those who don’t see what I see, or live what I live, take my concern and fear seriously. Do not dismiss or downplay it. Do not placate it. Do not tell me that it’s an over-reaction. The KKK in North Carolina are holding victory parades, and to be anything but white & male in this country at this moment is terrifying.

If I am unable to escape my shock, it’s because the election has been an assault on my psyche, and the violence is reaching closer and closer to not my hometown (that has happened already), but literally my doors. You need one angry man with a weapon in the south (not that hard) who sees a woman in a headscarf who wants her ‘out of his country’. And that target could be my mom. This is what prevents me from sleep. This country is increasingly becoming deadly and unsafe for many of its citizens. Either we are choosing to be blind to that, or have become completely blind because of how narrow and blurred our physical and digital spaces have become.

Fahmida Azad

Written by

UX Designer / Teacher at Heart

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