Pin drop silence.
I cradled myself as I watched CNN Political Commentator Van Jones ask America: “How will we explain this to our children?”
In the cold of this November night, the only warmth I felt was from the tears rolling down my face. I thought, how did we get here? I closed my eyes and took in the stillness of that moment.
Pin drop silence.
That was my answer.
My parents immigrated to this country from Pakistan in the late ’80s, hoping to start a family with a bright future. They embraced my brown skin with love, looked into my dark eyes with hope, smiling into the nursery filled with children of all colors knowing that we would grow up to have the same opportunities.
I thought about my childhood. I am American. Born and raised. I played tag on our playgrounds, bench-warmed on our sports teams and looked around the classroom and thought, these are my friends.
But I was conditioned from a young age to conform.
“You’re a terrorist.”
“You can’t do that, you’re a girl.”
“Go back to your country.”
I always brushed off little comments like that. Growing up, I was never at a loss for words. I smiled and laughed, although each slur silently hit at the core of my identity, slowly dismantling my self-esteem, instilling fear into every fiber of my being.
My mind would run a million miles, but my mouth would stay shut. I thought, there is no point in sharing my opinion because no one will listen and no one will change their mind. Why should I fight back when everyone will look down on me?
This is my America, too, but I never felt welcomed in it. I convinced myself that if I never stated my discomfort, it wouldn’t be real. In my naive desire to fit in, I would spend years holding my tongue.
If I were a parent today, I would not be able to look into my child’s eyes the same way my parents did with hope. Instead, I would apologize. Apologize for bringing them into a nation where they will meet hatred for their identity. Apologize for passing on the feeling of isolation. Apologize for my years of silence that put them in this position.
To the people who once pointed their fingers at me for being different: I want to point back at you and say the state of our nation is your fault. I woke up disillusioned in President-elect Donald Trump’s America because of you. You, parading around with your misogyny, racism and xenophobia like a badge of honor. This is your fault.
But I can’t point at you.
It’s me too. I have always had a voice and I made the conscious decision to remain silent. I cannot resent you because it’s my fault you don’t understand. I never gave you the chance to understand how it feels to be a person of color in America. I never explained the subtle discrimination I face that makes my skin itch. I never told you what you said to me was wrong. How could you know?
I grew up with you, I went to school with you and I brushed off your comments, thinking you still saw me as an equal. But you support someone who wants to ban me. I have spent my whole life staying silent out of fear of becoming an outsider, but this election has shown that I have been one all along.
I have spent years being silent, but I will be silent no more.
I will be loud for Latinos, Muslims, Black people, disabled people, war veterans and others he demonized and attacked.
They want us to stay silent, but this is no time to concede. This election shows that the fight is far from over. Our nation needs us more than ever. We must stand up. We must persevere. We must speak out.