Minority report

Only collective action can tackle bigotry of any form, writes Dhamini Ratnam


A graffiti in a suburban station in Mumbai. Photo: Dhamini Ratnam
A graffiti in a suburban station in Mumbai. Photo: Dhamini Ratnam

A college friend who lives in the US recently messaged on a WhatsApp group of batchmates—she was devastated by the recent US elections, in which Donald Trump won. Her concern was about what would happen in the future—she’s a mother of two young children, a person of colour living in a neighbourhood that supported Trump. How, she wondered, would she be able to take care of herself and her family if something happened? What would she tell her children about the president-elect, who during his campaign made several bigoted statements against immigrants like them? Nothing, she said, had prepared her for this. After a week of thinking anxiously about the future, she joined a group of women who had come together to support Hillary Clinton, the Democrats’ presidential candidate. They’re called the Pantsuit Nation, which started as a private Facebook group, and they’re just one example of how people have found safety and comfort in collective action. According to The New York Times, there are now close to two and a half million members already in PantSuit Nation. Elsewhere, other women are organizing a women’s march in Washington DC on 21 January. The organizers stated on their Facebook page that the intention of the march is not to protest against Trump or question the legitimacy of the election, but to shed light on women’s issues, including sexual assault—something which Trump has also been accused of.

Soon after the election, the American Civil Liberties Union, a legal organization, made a statement renewing its commitment towards protecting the civil rights of minority communities, protesting discrimination against Muslims and fighting for rights such as abortion. The last is important, particularly since Trump had pledged during his campaign to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn the landmark “Roe v. Wade” judgement of 1973, which affirmed this fundamental reproductive right of women.

“As president-elect Trump starts appointing his cabinet, which now includes Stephen Bannon, a known white supremacist, there are serious concerns about how they are going to cut back on the rights of immigrants, queer people and other marginalized communities. Vice-President-elect Mike Pence is also known for endorsing such things as ‘gay conversion therapy’,” Thanu Yakupitiyage, an immigrant rights organizer in New York, told me over email, when I asked her about the situation of queer persons of colour—like herself—after Trump’s election. “My main work right now is to ensure that immigrant communities, particularly undocumented people, are protected because Trump ran on an anti-immigrant campaign... Queer people of colour will also face backlash,” she said.

The night election results were declared, I spoke to Sabelo Narasimhan over Facebook messenger. The 41-year-old activist, who identifies as a queer trans, grew up in India and migrated to the US when he was a teenager. “I’m afraid because we can’t do this for four years,” he wrote. Between 8 and 11 November , over 200 instances of harassment and intimidation were reported—the most affected were African Americans, followed by immigrants, Muslims and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people. An atmosphere of impunity can only be countered when people collectively call out bigotry. As this instance in Baylor University, Texas, reveals, the power of collective support cannot be understated. According to a report in the Washington Post, 19-year-old black student Natasha Nkhama was pushed off the sidewalk by a white student, who also hurled a racial abuse at her, on 9 November. The next day, her story was shared widely on social media platforms. Then, on 11 November, hundreds of people gathered at the university to walk her to class.

The Sex Talk is a monthly column on gender, sexuality and blind spots. Dhamini Ratnam tweets at @dhamini.

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