When she was nine years old, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh heard her first racial slur, from the mouth of one of her classmates. It was 2001, and 9/11 had just shocked and shattered the US’s sense of safety. “I grew up through the worst forms of bullying, through an extremely low self-esteem, and it was very difficult for me to formulate who I was and what my identity meant to me,” she says. So what was it like, 15 years later, being an American-Muslim woman in New York the day after President Trump was elected? Braced for the worst, Al-Khatahtbeh left her home and under the grey mood and matching skies of the day, was surprised by warm smiles and kind gestures from strangers in New York City. Even compliments on her headscarf. They were tiny exchanges that signified to her that there was a common understanding, and that hope was where it always has been — in other people.
This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh’s book is Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age.
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh: The day after the elections and a completely unforeseen outcome, I think for a lot of us in New York City we felt like we were walking under this pall of confusion and somberness and just trying to make sense of what had just happened. And for me as a Muslim woman I anticipated that I would have an exceptionally hard day.
And yet I was so surprised that the entire day was spent with me receiving the warmest smiles from my people, the kindest gestures, more people than normal amongst the rudest of people in the world, New Yorkers, holding doors open for me or making a nice comment to me like complementing me on my scarf or something like that. And to me it signified that we all have this common understanding, that there are people right now that are being targeted and that we are all responsible for one another and that we have to stand up for each other.
And to me I took those little moments, those tiny exchanges as these signifiers to me that I'm not alone and we understand, and we have your back, and you don't have to worry. And it actually gets me emotional thinking about it, but even though they seem like very inconsequential especially in comparison to what could potentially be happening on a much greater level right now, to me that's what hope is. It's in the people and it's in those interactions that we have with one another and the way that we just have that support for one another.
Especially for a person like me that might feel more vulnerable or is more susceptible to a lot of hate these days, those moments really are the only thing that is keeping me going. It's like, “I can face today; I can like get up in the morning and step out of my house, and it's going to be okay, and I'll make it back tonight.”
And I don't think that people are aware of just how much those little exchanges can really mean to people or how much they can completely turn around a person's day. And honestly even in the midst of everything that we're facing right now and what the next few years could potentially look like for us, I'm still optimistic based off of that alone just because I know I have other people that are standing alongside me and that are going to face this with me together.