Survival in the Age of Trump

Illustration by Mohammed Fayaz

Illustration by Mohammed Fayaz

Since he announced his presidency, many people have been living with the fear of life under a Trump administration. For some, fear of the state is not new. Others are experiencing for the first time the fear that marginalized people live with on a daily basis. Either way, our collective dystopian fears became a reality as Trump won the 2016 U.S. Election. Wasting no time, the Trump administration began to target marginalized communities in an emboldened way by taking racist actions such as issuing the Executive Order that created the Muslim Travel Ban. The original travel ban had a list of several countries whose citizens were not to be permitted entry into the United States. Somalia was on that list.

The administration demurred at the accusations that the Executive Order was racist, Islamophobic, and specifically targeted Muslims. Instead, the administration continued to state that the purpose of the Executive Order was to protect the U.S. from foreign “terrorist” entry. Despite Somalia specifically being named as one of 7 countries on the travel ban list, the targeting of Somali Americans and our homeland is not new. Somali Americans exist at the intersections of Blackness, our Muslim identity, and the experience of being Refugees. Despite what a bleak time it is to be a Somali in the United States, the reality is that our community has always been resilient. We spoke with several Somali-American Araweelos to see how they’re holding up and practicing resiliency and self-care in the face of the blatant xenophobic, islamophobic, and anti-black targeting of the Somali community.


1)     Hamda Yusuf, graduate student.

I was living in Austria when Donald Trump won the election. I remember I had made the decision of going to an election party, despite the fact that I was teaching in the morning. I had left the party around 3am, distraught but still hopeful. The time difference meant that we wouldn’t know anything final until the next day. After sleeping for a few hours, I woke to dozens of messages on my phone. The first was a BBC headline, nice and simple: “Donald Trump new President of the US”. I screamed. Like a real sitcom scream that only lasted a second until I quickly clamped my hand over my mouth. Being abroad meant that while everyone back in the States was reeling from this news, the people I was around couldn’t care less. My students, however, were outraged. In my lessons I was confronted with their demands to know how this could have possibly happened. They asked, “Are Americans really this stupid?” and perhaps more accusingly, “How could America have let this happen?” I wanted to tell them that America had always operated this way. That whiteness had the power to convince its people that everyone is trying to take something away from them, even if they’re the ones doing the taking. I wanted to explain that the United States had been built on this fear and that it would continue to build on this fear.

When I went home that day I found myself having to reassure my white friends. I had to hold their hands and tell them surely everything would be alright. This too made me want to scream. Not a sitcom scream but a deep down in your gut, ancestral scream. Here I was, a Somali Muslim woman who surely would be far more affected by this presidency than these people, and yet I had to be the one that reassured them.  I had to be the one who did the emotional labor for these white women who it seemed only yesterday discovered there was injustice in this world.

After the election I began burning frankincense more often. All I knew was that I wanted everything that I owned to smell like my mother. This was my first act of self-care. My second act was a larger undertaking, refusing to do emotional labor for others. I thought back on the countless conversations I had with people who eagerly played devil’s advocate. I thought about those who came to me with what they saw as innocent questions, but what I saw as their unwillingness to discover anything on their own. In the end, I knew two things to be true: 1. that my people were resilient, and 2. that I was a product of this resiliency. These things continue to be true with the addition of a final one, 3. I will fight back.


2)     R. Haji, graduate student.

I didn't start being fearful and anxious about Trump coming into power until the end of January. I remember sitting on a bench outside the library crying after hearing about the banned countries- how Somalia was on there. I don't have family in Somalia; most of them live in Kenya, the U.S. and other countries in Europe. A professor came up to me to joke as we usually do when we see each other. He saw me crying and hugged me. I explained my fears about members of my family, especially my dad cause he is a dual citizen, getting sent back regardless of being legalized citizens. I was sad for that whole day and isolated. 

That was it- I gave myself two days in that week to feel and to feel deeply. My friends and I, we all were trying to find ways of caring for one another and being present for our own selves. This looked like not talking about what was going on. Grief, to me, is a very easy and accessible state to be in... reminding myself of all the possibilities that lie in the world and to see my family members doing their everyday activities. We play, send memes, talk shit, send nudes to each- we are just girls together. And so, that's what I did and still do. Practicing aliveness. It's not utopic nor is it escape from feeling and confronting this reality. It's an acceptance of all the terror in the world but still recognize the beauty and aliveness in just living. Assata Shakur, in her poem "Affirmation," she writes, "I believe in living." That's how I practice intimacy and care for myself- and for all the people around me who are moving in the world– upset, hurt, happy, in love, sad, alone– all of this is our full recognition of living and of being. 

And then there is this poem. A remainder though there need not be a reminding of something that we all know- our aliveness. 



“We are pursuing an investigation here on the subject of crying as an expression of the emotions, and should like very much to learn about its peculiarities among the colored people. We have been referred to you as a person competent to give us information on the subject. We desire especially to know about the following salient aspects: 1. Whether the Negro sheds tears...”


           he do
           she do
           they live
           they love
           they try
           they tire
           they flee
           they fight
           they bleed
           they break
           they moan
           they mourn
           they weep
           they die
           they do
           they do
           they do


3)     Lula Dualeh, content marketing strategist & writer.

 If I had to choose which of the stages of grief I currently fall into, I would be somewhere in between denial and anger. I wake up some days panic-stricken with disbelief that Trump is our president but at the same time, he has awaken a new hunger for liberation within me. Trump is an everyday reminder of what white male privilege looks like in modern times. Although, at times it’s easier to forget about the systems that are constantly work against us, I'm no longer afforded that luxury especially as a first-generation Somali-American millennial Muslim woman. Every time I refresh my feed, I'm reminded that hate has not only been green-lighted but encouraged at the expense of people who look like me. 

More than anything else, I'm fearful for my mother. Every day we hear new stories of hate crimes against immigrants and undocumented individuals, especially women of color. The reality that one day I could get a call that my Somali-hijabi mother has been assaulted or worse is a heavy burden of worry I carry around with me every day. My greatest solace lies in prayer because Allah (swt) knows best. I try my hardest to leave my fears with him because I know, ultimately, I can't function in this world with it. I can't have any space for fear especially when dealing with this new evil that consumes our country. It's a work-in-progress but my faith in God and love for humanity gives me strength to resist another day. 


4)    Ugaso Sheik-Abdi, web developer.


On Trump’s Election: Fear. For myself, and for my people. We convince ourselves that the next generation will have an easier time, that the bigots will slowly kill themselves with their hate, that our progeny will not experience the same trauma’s we have. How terrible and short our memories are.

One example: I’m lucky to have a 9-5 job where I can afford to travel. I started going into panic mode: where was my passport? Oh shit, it’s expired! I spent a couple weeks getting my renewed passport and passport card, and looking into TSA Precheck. Who knows how long passports with my kind of name will take to process, in this new administration.

Right before the election, I had taken small steps to practice self-care and start my journey healing from childhood trauma. I was not prepared (who was?). My therapist recommended practicing harm-reduction. Here are some steps I’ve taken to stay sane in the age of Trump:

·      Limiting time on social media and the constant stream of information, outrage.

·      Doing tangible, actionable things: making art, cleaning, planting succulents.

·      Practicing mindfulness: I attended a mindfulness retreat for people of color recently, that taught me techniques to reduce stress and tension.