What It Means to be an Assyrian in a Trump America

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By Slewo Oshana It’s a tough time to be a minority in America currently. While in fairness, it’s always difficult to be a minority at any time, but you can take for granted that things can always be worse. Ever since the election of Donald Trump into the presidency, race relations in the United States have gone from being at best a pressure cooker, to boiling over in outright violence. It’s emboldened people to make strikes they otherwise wouldn’t: The Mar Shaleeta Ancient Church of the East in San Fernando was recently vandalized with graffiti that stated, “Jehovah Lives!”, an X, a passage from Gospel of Matthew 19:26, and “2 Kings 19:35” the last of which refers to a passage from the Old Testament where an angel of God struck down 185,000 Assyrians, which sends a fairly clear message as far as the intent was concerned.

The Assyrian community has more often than not been one to disconnect itself from the possible implications of demagoguery in the United States, unfortunately. While Donald Trump rode in on a wave of support from racists and sexists, despite having lost the popular vote: he won. Which is not to dismiss the support he got from ordinary people dissatisfied with the status quo, but it’s undeniable he’s courted support from the self-proclaimed “alt-right” as well as Neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan. The Assyrian community has disengaged largely from the idea that it could be affected by the same hate crimes that have plagued American minorities and women since the election’s conclusion. However, this past weekend, that assessment has irrevocably changed.

To be clear, while there’s no definitive evidence indicating who vandalized the church yet, there’s something that ought to be taken to heart from this incident: now more than ever, Assyrians need to bear in mind that they are a minority in the United States. While this isn’t some revelation, it tends to be forgotten for white-passing people of any stripe, and as a largely Christian community that tends to translate towards a feeling of being able to live freely. But make no mistake, while Donald Trump may not advocate for violence towards Christians, his supporters have no reason to distinguish Christians from non-Christians, in their eyes any person of Middle East descent is as good as the next. While we may not be on the top of someone’s list now, eventually we’ll be reached.

Assyrians tend to forget being so internally focused that there is a world out there, and that world has undergone an extreme paradigm shift. While we’re loath to admit it, the Obama administration has refrained from the kind of fear-mongering that’s characterized Trump’s rhetoric, thus far. Trump has made no bones of his lack of care for minorities in America, and his more zealous supporters have followed suit, heretofore. Hate crimes have continued at an unhealthy peak since last month, and it’s only going to continue. Now what this means for Assyrians, is that we cannot afford to ignore the next four years and stick our heads in the sand hoping it will go away.

Assyrians may feel locked out, we have to be willing to organize, and ally with people in situations similar to our own, and thanks to Trump there’s no shortage of people who are soon to be locked out. If we want to be on the right side of history, as well as to get help in surviving the pitfalls of a potentially dangerous government and its supporters whose views are aimed at pushing us out, we cannot sit on the sidelines. The reality is that no one will be interested in helping us unless we’re willing to speak up for ourselves. To look to the future, we also have to look to the past. Many minorities didn’t get where they were without some measure of work on their own, and that’s still the same today.

The thing that needs to be kept in mind is that historically, minority movements will be undermined if they’re not vocal. Hence why the Civil Rights movement back in the 60’s and Black Lives Matter were so successful in the last century in changing minds about the plight of the black community in America. In order to do that, Assyrians have to on some level replicate that effort, as well as ally with fellow minorities. Unless Assyrians do that, they’ll be swallowed into history.