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People participate in a protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban at Columbia University in January 2017.

Solidarity in the Shadow of the Muslim Ban


By Feb 07, 2017

Image credits: Reuters

Following Donald Trump’s ban on immigration and travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, there has been an overwhelming show of solidarity in opposition to this oppressive measure. Multi-day mass protests were launched across the United States and around the world to condemn the ban and to demand the release of those detained at American airports. Hundreds of thousands of people have come together in support of those affected, many of whom are U.S. citizens and Green Card holders. It is an uplifting demonstration of the power and importance of solidarity. The disorganization and lack of regulation in regards to detainment and deportation in the days immediately following the ban suggests that components of the executive branch are actively disregarding the Trump administration’s edict. In denying basic human rights to thousands of people, the U.S. government is openly violating the American constitution. It is precisely at this moment that solidarity is crucial in making a difference.

There is no question that this ban was created as means to satisfy Trump’s mostly white, Christian base. Islamophobia is omnipresent in the United States, and throughout the campaign, and in the first weeks of his presidency, Trump has consistently sought to take advantage of those fears. The ban is a manifestation of that desire and works to simultaneously please the electorate while also arousing more suspicion of Muslims. Islamophobic violence has been on the rise since the inauguration, including a terrorist attack by a Trump supporter in Quebec City which resulted in the death of six Muslims. These attacks, and Islamophobic hate crimes more generally, are a result of Donald Trump’s baseless claims about the dangers of Muslims.

If we delude ourselves into blaming only the white majority for the discrimination inherent in western society then we risk allowing the system to continue.

While white males make up most of Trump’s base, exit polls from the election showed that people of colour also cannot count on the support of white women, regardless of Trump’s record with sexual assault. Even among people of colour, many decided to vote for the  Republican candidate. Despite vows to build a wall on the Mexican border based on an abundance of racist assumptions, 28% of Hispanic voters voted for Trump. It is only Black women who almost unanimously united against Trump, with 95% of their votes going to Hillary Clinton. Ethnic minority groups ought to speak out against all forms of racism - we need to resolve our own issues of colourism to be politically cohesive. If we delude ourselves into blaming only the white majority for the discrimination inherent in western society then we risk allowing the system to continue.

The importance of solidarity between people of colour lies in the conflicting interests of the dominant and the marginalized. Regardless of how much our white friends support us and contest discrimination, their ally-ship is problematized by the preferential treatment discriminatory institutions provide to them. In building solidarity, the position of white allies is undermined by the fact that their privilege comes from our domination. While a genuine white ally is not a priori impossible, their allyship must be supplemental to bottom-up solidarity spearheaded by marginalized groups. It is only people of colour, who have continually been dehumanized, that can truly understand, and thus support, one another based on a shared experience of systemic oppression.

While a genuine white ally is not a priori impossible, their allyship must be supplemental to bottom-up solidarity spearheaded by marginalized groups.

The distinction made between white people and people of colour is not a tactic of division. It is a pre-existing condition of American society. Though not all white people advocate for policies and institutions that harm people of colour, all white people are the benefactors of America’s system of racial domination. Their place of privilege makes it impossible to truly empathize with the experience of a racialized person. Though white people are surely welcome in efforts to build solidarity against systemic racism, it is people of colour who must be the main catalysts of change.

People of colour cannot escape a past of persecution from the white majority. Nobody can forget the extensive history of slavery that continues to haunt Black Americans today. The promised wall that will keep Mexicans from entering the US is a reiteration of the current immigration ban. An executive order signed by President Roosevelt in 1942 ordered the forced displacement of Japanese-Americans into internment camps based on the Yellow Peril, a racist notion that Asians were a threat to the West. People of colour have always been treated as second class citizens and subject to racist laws under the false motivation of national security. The true strength of an anti-racist coalition led by people of colour will derive from their shared experience of this persecution.

Though white people are surely welcome in efforts to build solidarity against systemic racism, it is people of colour who must be the main catalysts of change.

Racism is not always in the form of hate crimes, hate speech or outright white supremacy. It is weaved into the fabric of North American society from European settlers who imposed it on people of colour. It presents itself in the standards of beauty we hold and the way schools teach history. It is the way Americans interact with one another and it is only people of colour who suffer from it. It is time for every American to confront their internalized prejudices about race. The fight against an immigration ban on our Muslim neighbours is, and will increasingly become, intertwined with the broader fight against systemic racism which can, and will, be destroyed by solidarity among people of colour. Indeed, the fight against this Islamophobic travel ban is the fight against each and every racist institution which exists in the United States - it can only be won if we unanimously combat every instance of institutionalized via defiant solidarity between all racialized groups.

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