Column: Trump’s America Stretches Empathy to its Limits

I’m in shock. This isn’t the America I believed in growing up as a Muslim woman of color. My dad’s immigration story from India was one of triumph. He taught me about an America that let him work hard and move up the social ladder, an America where it didn’t matter what you believed in or if your skin was brown. Because if it did matter, then how could he have ended up here?

My America has always been one that takes in people who are looking for something better. My America is a refuge from war zones and dictatorships. But now, it seems that our humanitarian values, everything I thought this country was about, are about to be tossed out the window. Trump has promised to repeal policies created under the Obama administration, policies that have kept undocumented families together and given hardworking people the chance that they deserve. He’s talked of severely limiting the number of refugees entering the country, of building a wall to keep Mexicans from crossing the border, of temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country. It seems that he wants to keep everyone he feels is a potential threat, out.

Most everyone I know is shocked that Trump’s words may become actions. But not everyone knows how it feels to have your entire community labeled as a “threat.” The shock coming from mostly white individuals whose families have lived in this country for generations is based on empathy. It’s based on worry about what could happen to others. They feel for their undocumented friends, their Muslim neighbors. But their empathy has limits, because they have never felt what it’s like to be on the other side.

The reactions of people of minority groups that Trump has attacked over the past few months are different. The result of this election will have tangible, real impacts on them. Trump’s xenophobic, homophobic, seemingly-everything-phobic ideas are not jokes to laugh at anymore, but real possibilities that keep me and many others up at night. I’m questioning whether or not I can visit India and be sure that I’ll be allowed to re-enter the United States. I’m glad that I never made the decision to wear the hijab, because if I had, what would my situation be right now?

My point is not to say that white citizens don’t have the right to react to this election, or that their reactions are invalid. My point is that part of empathy is recognizing that it has limits, that walking in someone’s shoes for a mile is not the same as being in their skin for a lifetime, and that a white person can never fully understand the full effect that Donald Trump’s plans have on people of color.