Originally Published in the Los Angeles Times
Lorraine Ali - November 7, 2020
“It’s easier to be a parent this morning ... to tell your kids character matters.”
CNN’s Van Jones sobbed those words Saturday morning in reaction to the historic news that the election of a lifetime had been called for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
It was a remarkable moment on a remarkable day for all Americans, particularly for those of us who’ve been targeted by President Trump, his policies and the bigotry he emboldened among many of his followers. Four years of state-sponsored intolerance had been defeated by a margin of more than 4 million votes.
The first female, Black and Indian American vice president-elect embodied that seismic triumph when she walked on stage Saturday night to the tune of Mary J. Blige’s “Work That.” Harris delivered her victory speech in an all-white suit — no doubt a nod to the women’s suffrage movement and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential run.
“When our very democracy was on the ballot in this election — with the very soul of America at stake and the world watching,” Harris said, “you ushered in a new day for America.”
The euphoric Wilmington, Del., crowd cheered the prospect of change.
“It’s easier ... for a whole lot of people,” said Jones earlier in the day when the race was called. The commentator, attorney, civil rights advocate and former Obama advisor, who is renowned for his exacting verbal dexterity, was overcome with emotion. He had to pause several times as he fought to speak through tears.
“If you’re Muslim, you don’t have to worry that the president doesn’t want you here. If you’re an immigrant, you don’t have to worry the president wants [your] babies snatched away or [that he’ll] send Dreamers back for no reason. It’s a vindication for a lot of people who have really suffered. You know, ‘I can’t breathe’? That’s wasn’t just George Floyd. That was a lot of people who felt they couldn’t breathe...”
Since 2016, we’ve been locked down in survival mode, hoping the country hadn’t lost its humanity and soul. Hoping that it hadn’t turned against us.
Dramatic as that may sound, I don’t think I even allowed myself to access all that hurt, stress and anxiety ... until now.
Breathe. Exhale. Unclench teeth. And yes, even sob like Jones.
His moving response laid bare what’s been so difficult, dangerous and heartbreaking for those in communities targeted by Trump.
Within weeks of his presidency, the Muslim ban nearly tore my Iraqi family apartwhen my nephew Abdullah was temporarily blocked from returning to the U.S. for school. And that was just the beginning.
Next came the attacks on journalists, and the uptick in hate mail and trolls. Many demanded that I, like Rep. Ilhan Omar, go back to my “shithole” country (the San Fernando Valley where I grew up isn’t Shangri-La, but a shithole?). As the president became more aggressive in his rhetoric, so did the comments. They ranged from fantasies of forcing me to eat ham, to hoping my children would be raped by Islamic State.
Trump stoked fear of Muslims, Mexicans and every shade in between, insulted Black communities and bragged about sexually assaulting women. His GOP showed a particular intolerance for LGBTQ citizens. He even took issue with tween environmental activist Greta Thunberg.
“People who’d been afraid to show their racism [were] getting nastier and nastier to you,” said Jones of what it’s meant to be singled out as the Other under the banner of Trumpism.
The vitriol went beyond red- or blue-state politics. It was personal. The message for anyone who isn’t white was clear: You do not belong here.
Millions were OK with, or even relished, the state-sponsored hate of their fellow Americans. And if it made them a tad queasy, they turned the other way. Apparently dehumanizing folks like me was worth getting whatever they wanted out of this presidency.
It was hard not to lose faith, and maybe I did give up believing in our better angels until this morning.
Jones conveyed the sense of relief many of us felt: “You spent so much of your life energy just trying to hold it together. And this is a big deal for us just to be able to get some peace.”
There’s a long road ahead and plenty of fires to extinguish along the way, but at least we’re pointed in the right direction.
President-elect Biden’s victory speech Saturday focused on the future. “Let’s give each other a chance. This is the time to heal in America,” he said. “Let this grim era of demonization end here and now.”
His supporters were already there, of course. Biden won when they rejected a movement that sought to divide us. These voters had relegated Trump to one of the ugliest chapters of modern U.S. history, rebuking the white nationalism he espoused. They were part of a majority who opted for goodness.
The country my father immigrated to from Baghdad more than 50 years ago redeemed itself for the mixed-race grandson he never had a chance to meet.
I’m the parent of that kid. Today it was easier to look into his chocolate-brown eyes and tell him that character matters.