Opinion: Trump’s Travel Ban Expansion is an Attack on Black Muslims — And We Demand to be Heard

by Iman Mohamed

While many celebrated the beginning of Black History Month a couple of weeks ago, our president and his administration celebrated by expanding the Muslim Ban to include seven more countries — five of which are African. In total, nine of the thirteen countries listed on the Muslim Ban are now African, causing many of the continent’s diaspora to refer to it as the #AfricanBan. With this recent expansion, the ban is estimated to affect more than a quarter of Africa’s population.

I remember the somber mood in my house after we learned about the initial Muslim Ban. It was January 2017 and my mother was abroad in East Africa, visiting her mother and was scheduled to return in February. Even as a privileged U.S. citizen traveling with her passport, we were unaware and anxious about how the ban would affect our mother’s return home. Fortunately, my mother returned home safe and our fears were alleviated.

Other families were not so lucky. I recall the hurtful stories of many Somalis who were denied entry as they prepared for their resettlement in the U.S. I remember the protests that took over SeaTac airport as six people were detained — two were allowed entry while the rest were sent back to their departure place. As a refugee myself, I can’t imagine the heartbreak of being so close to a new life, far away from the refugee camps, only to have my dreams shattered.

This is not the first time that Trump targeted the Black Diaspora. He seems to particularly pick on the Somali community. During his 2016 presidential campaign, he blamed the increase of crime in Lewiston, Maine (crime did not actually increase) on the large Somali refugee community there. Last October, during a campaign rally in Minnesota, President Trump signaled out Rep. Ilhan Omar, a naturalized U.S. citizen and the large Somali community that resides there.

In addition, Trump’s public hatred of Rep. Ilhan Omar, the first Somali Congresswoman, is an example of his white supremacist views. He scolded her district for voting for her and infamously told her and another Muslim Congresswoman to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.”

Being black and Muslim in the U.S. means to be in the crosshairs of white supremacy. We are the targets of both anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-blackness. We’re at the forefront of every protest, every rally, every fight that advocates for the fundamental understanding that all humans deserve equitable rights. Yet our stories are rarely heard.

In a 2018 Oval Office meeting about immigration reform, multiple sources reported that Trump referred to El Salvador, Haiti, and African countries as “shitholes.” According to them, he went on to say that the U.S. should instead increase immigration “from countries such as Norway.” While the media focused on the offensive and “crude” nature of the remarks, their inherent anti-blackness was largely ignored.

Since Trump became president, the disheartening and heartbreaking reality that we are the targets of his hate has been overwhelming. Getting used to the racist comments made by the President of the most powerful nation in the world is hard to do. There are already systems of oppression in place that, as a Somali immigrant and Black American, I consider it my duty to undo and correct. How can we do the necessary work when the president keeps hurling new insults and policies that harm my community and my family?

It is in moments like this that I look to my left and right, hoping to see someone standing beside us. Someone that understands the positionality of being a person that lives with an intersectional identity: Being Black and Muslim. Not one or the other. Living with both identities. Erasing one identity and advocating for the other is continuing the same erasure my community faced for many years.

The inherent anti-blackness and anti-Africanness of the Muslim Ban has been clear since its inception. If America needed more evidence, this latest expansion should make it clear: six of the thirteen countries are now African and over a quarter of the continent’s population will be impacted. Trump’s “travel ban” is both a Muslim Ban and an African Ban. It is time to address this reality and highlight the voices of those most impacted. And it is time to acknowledge the Black Muslim community here in the U.S.

Iman Mohamed is CAIR Washington’s Media Coordinator

Featured image courtesy of CAIR Washington