By Oyin Akande
It is easy to feel disappointed by the results of the 2016 US presidential election if you’re a woman, a person of colour, Muslim, disabled or if you’re the sort of person who has compassion or respects the progresses we’ve managed to make in human rights over the last 50 years- not that we are near any image of equality just yet. Trump’s antics are widely know but Vice-President Michael Pence offers no solace. He believes that gay rights lead to “societal collapse” and has opposed every law and amendment that affords the LGBT community equal rights. According to him, gay people can be treated and converted ‘back’ to heterosexuality. There is a real fear that he will overturn the gay right protections put in place during the Obama administration.
Trump has become a symbol of crumbling liberties for many Americans, an oranged augury of a regressing society. Sadly, his election has effaced some of the outstanding things happening in America: Minnesota has just elected a female migrant legislator, Ilhan Omar. Three women of colour, Tammy Duckworth, Kamala Harris and Catherine Cortez Masto have just been elected into the U.S. Senate, which currently has only one serving woman of colour. With a backdrop of a misogyny embodied by a political leader so intolerant of migrants, these accomplishments are not to be undermined.
Ilhan Omar was former migrant, who fled Somalia during the Civil War when she was 12. She spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya before migrating to the Arlington, Virginia and eventually settling in Minnesota. Trump attacked Somalians. She is also the first Muslim woman to be elected to the Minnesota state legislator and describes herself as “Muslim-American woman who proudly wears the hijab”. Trump singled out and demonised the Minnesota Somali migrant community, referencing a stabbing attack at a mall in Minneapolis, which was linked to ISIS. As an activist and a politician, Omar’s personhood directly opposes Trump’s position.
Democrat candidate Tammy Duckworth is disabled, a former army combat pilot who lost both her legs in Iraq (not her very patriotic prosthetics). She was born in Thailand and her family has a history of military service. She was the first disabled woman to be elected into the House of Representatives back in 2013. Last year, following the November Paris attacks, Duckworth crusaded for the Syrian refuges and called for Americans to ‘reject the cynics and fearmongers who question our country’s ability to conduct effective security screenings that balance safety and freedom”, adding that “even as we work to destroy Islamic State, we must feel compassion for its victims… “. Harris was born to an Indian-American mother and a Jamaican-American father and Masto will be the first Latino to be elected into the Senate.
It is so important that we tell the stories of the accomplishments of these women. We must not forget to commemorate what these moments mean for the perception of women, migrants and the disabled. It is too easy to loose focus, to feel disheartened. Yes, unfortunately, the future president of America may threaten the engine of civil rights in the country but the political structure which intended to support him constitutes of the very people his harmful rhetoric has targeted and alienated. These women are important symbols of the opportunities that are open to women, just as much as Hilary’s election could have been. So much in them is the American Dream. The recent social climate in America evidences that so many are tired of being pushed aside. Trump and Pence will serve to fuel their frustration and louden their voices. He may have been right to declare that he would bring back the American Dream but I believe even he will be surprised to see what form it will take.
It may look grim for the future of America when it has just a president and VP that represent racism, homophobia, sexism and gross intolerance but we have to remember that America has always been a sum of many voices and they are not without people to represented the “voice of the marginalised”.