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Why Is Trump's Racism and Islamophobia So Appealing?

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 2/03/2016 Shenila Khoja-Moolji

Even as I see the racist and Islamophobic practices of Trump's supporters (at his rallies, for instance) day in and day out, as a brown, immigrant, Muslim woman, I refuse to believe that such behavior is inherent.
I see their practices as an effect of the social and economic marginalizations that they are faced with; a reaction to the precarities in their own lives. It manifests in them blaming immigrants for taking their jobs, demonizing muslims, resisting extending a helping hand to refugees, and perpetuating the racist policies that have kept blacks on the periphery for centuries.
However, these are precarities that all of us, and not just Trump's supporters, face today. They are an effect of the current global social and economic order, which is increasingly functioning on neoliberal principles.
Neoliberalism is an ideology that reduces all aspects of social life and individuals to economic logics and terms. As an economic theory, neoliberalism proposes that individuals are driven by self-interest and competitive spirit; that an unregulated capitalist system or the free market is the only efficient way to deliver on the promise of economic growth. The state is assigned a very limited role in this process.
In this context, the neoliberal citizen - you and I - have to develop an identity that can survive in this social and economic order. We are individualized; we have to become responsible for our own development with limited reliance on the state or even other units of belonging such as faith communities. We are seen primarily as economic actors, an untapped market, potential consumers, or small-scale entrepreneurs.
What is problematic, though, is that we are not on a level playing field. Histories of slavery, colonialism and imperialism, gender, racial, and sexual oppression, war and conflict position some of us at the periphery of this system.
Furthermore, there is a push to discard members of our society who do not fit the neoliberal criteria of "productive" labor - these often include the elderly, children, disabled, single parents, etc., all of whom require additional protection to survive.
As a human species, we have been thoroughly indoctrinated in the principles of neoliberalism, with its spirit of individualism and competition. We believe that if we only work hard, we shall be rewarded.
This is the myth of meritocracy - a promise that is not being fulfilled. Rising income inequality, downward pressure on wages, increasingly contingent and part-time work opportunities, decimation of the planet, etc. are all an effect of a very precarious social order.
It is this precarity that I believe fuels xenophobia, racism, and Islamophobia. We start to search for scapegoats. Instead of disrupting the system that is exploiting us, we blame other individuals. Individuals who, too, are being thrown out by the system.
No one leaves their home to set out on a dangerous journey across borders if they weren't compelled to do it. These illegal immigrants whom we are so eager to blame for "stealing our jobs" have been forced into figuring out alternate ways to survive.
So what can be done?
First, let us understand how this social and economic order works, and explore how a narcissistic capitalist drive - the primacy of the 'I' and self-interest - is unhealthy for most of us. That most of us will, and do, need support. That perhaps the only people who might win in this neoliberal capitalist system are the ones who are working off of prior privileged positions (hereditary wealth, being one of them).

Second, we need alternate philosophies of living and being in this world. Something that can move us away from Trump's zero-sum, 'I win, you lose' world.
Indeed, if we were to reflect for a bit, we will observe that we are not the free-floating, self-interested, autonomous individuals that neoliberalism posits us to be. We are embedded in networks - be it families, faith communities, or neighborhoods - and rely on them for our well-being. We experience dependencies every day.
Such a personal acknowledgement will hopefully replace our views of empowerment or happiness as something to be experienced individually with one that is embedded in relationships. We will then be unwilling to leave behind the hungry, the orphans, the disabled. They would form an integral part of how we see our humanity; just as we would be an essential part of how they experience theirs.
I don't blame Trump's supporters. I just urge them to explore why this blame-game will not solve our problems. To paraphrase Gandhi, a society is only as powerful as its weakest member.

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