The #AfterSeptember11 hashtag tells the stories of those who faced hatred and prejudice after the 9/11 attacks
Three years ago, Jessica Talwar, a political science student at Loyola University, began the hashtag #AfterSeptember11 so people could share stories of being targeted for being Muslim or having brown skin after the terror attacks on 9/11. In the days following the tragedy, when so many citizens were uniting and taking comfort in their neighbors, there are some Americans who have much different and completely heartbreaking stories to tell.
Talwar’s hashtag took off in 2015 and resurfaces every year on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The stories people are sharing are difficult to read — even more so when you realize so many of them were only kids when the attacks happened.
“America needs to recognize that the trauma and repercussions of these attacks were not confined to the day of September 11, 2001 itself,” Talwar told the Los Angeles Times back in 2015. “Desis, Arabs, and Muslims have felt the impact of this day for 14 years.”
She explains that she created the hashtag so people could share their own stories about what post-9/11 life was like for them — and they aren’t easy to read.
There are stories of kids being bullied and targeted at school.
And even out in public, just going about their lives.
Talwar told the Times that in response to the hashtag, one woman tweeted at her to “give America our moment,” as in, let the #NeverForget stories be told and leave the uncomfortable reality of life for Muslims and people of Arab descent after the attacks for another day. Talwar says, “It was as if there was some rigid dichotomy between American society and the South Asian, Muslim, and Arab communities.”
Although she wants these stories told to remind America about the Islamophobia that still very much exists, Talwar says she also attends prayer services and observes moments of silence in honor of those who died on 9/11 — but “as innocent Americans who are equally disgusted by the trauma of these events,” she finds it “inexcusable” that people of color would have to be attacked or treated badly simply because of their religious beliefs.
Even Talwar’s father was worried she was making herself a target for harassment after he found out about the movement she started. He texted her after saying, “Be smart. Not loud.”
“Well, my response to him is, why not smart and loud?,” she says. The purpose of the hashtag is to make every voice heard, even if it carries some risk. “It’s exhausting, insulting, and dehumanizing trying to modify our cultures or religions to appease ignorance, fear, and prejudice,” she says.
“And our communities are going to use our God-given voices to announce that.”
Talwar tells Scary Mommy, “I’m not Muslim, but rather Sikh, and I think it’s illuminating for someone from my background to create this dialogue because it underscores how racialized ‘Muslim’ or the ‘Muslim-looking’ other is,” she explains. Since 2015, she’s graduated college and conducted a research project about the racialized nature of Islamophobia for her undergrad thesis, which was inspired in part by “this dialogue the communities affected have cultivated by way of this hashtag.”
Talwar emphasized that she started the hashtag during Barack Obama’s presidency and that the stories told brought to light things that happened during both the Bush and Obama presidencies — long before Trump was elected. “Islamophobia didn’t start under a Trump-led government, which is why it’s concerning for me to see a lot of folks after the 2016 Election say, ‘This isn’t my America,’ or ‘This Administration doesn’t align with our country’s history,'” she says. “I firmly disagree with this narrative that what we’ve seen post-2016 is unprecedented, and marginalized communities have been saying that for years.”
However, in the wake of Trump’s election, Talwar says she’s felt encouraged by the response to his hateful ideas. “It was invigorating for me to see the response to the travel ban executive orders, in particular the first one implemented in January 2017 and the subsequent airport protests,” she says. “I don’t want people to become complacent with this Administration’s tactics and chaos. I understand how exhausted politically-active folks and organizers must be at this point in time, and that’s why I encourage them to be mindful of self-care and their own well-being. I produce a podcast called Self Care Sundays, which is informed by Audre Lorde’s theory that ‘we can’t pour from an empty cup.'”
“Just as Islamophobia didn’t start under Trump, it’s not going to end with him either quite frankly,” she says. “It permeates every arena of life, in my opinion, from the media’s coverage of tragic events to daily micro-aggressions to public policy. Communities need to stay healthy and vigilant to continue combatting bigotry into 2020, 2024, and beyond.”
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