It is difficult to understand the metamorphosis that transformed the America that was once beloved by the world into one that is now perplexed by it. It was the country that promised so much to those who came here in the pursuit of their American dream. The America from days past placed its mission statement on the Statue of Liberty, the Mother of Exiles, who welcomed the world, stating proudly “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse…the homeless…”. The America of today, however, couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.
To this point, it was President Trump who asked, “why do we want all these people from shithole countries coming here?” He went even further by ordering the separation of asylum seeking and illegal immigrant families, detaining their babies and children in concentration camps while deporting them as a deterrent to any future attempts. He then trumped it up by banning immigration and travel from seven Islamic nations under the premise that they were posing a threat to America’s security. Prohibiting the entry of desperate people seeking safe haven and the possibility of a life in prosperity – that is not the America I had become a citizen of!
The American dream is evaporating, morphing into a national nightmare. The America I was drawn to was founded on truly high moral ideals respecting the essential humanity of those who are striving for a better life. Yet it seems to have forgotten that and replaced it with greed and predatory capitalism, exploiting and subjugating its own people.
What is happening in America now has happened many times before in history. However, we never seem to learn from any of it, no matter how many museums, monuments and memorials are built, books written, or movies made. We can introduce laws to protect us ‘so this may never happen again’ – a favorite phrase – while it is already happening somewhere else. There are so many parallels to events that occurred at the beginning of last century which should be guiding us to avoid making the same mistakes, yet they are being ignored or denied. Let me explain.
I was born in Tehran when the Shah of Iran ruled the country. Under his dictatorial governance, political freedom was restricted, and dissent was repressed. His secret police brutally suppressed any opposition by means of torture, imprisonment and death. The Shah’s ambitious reforms aimed at thrusting the country into the 20th Century by furthering western-oriented secular modernization whilst nurturing its Persian historical identity of glory and world domination. Towards the end of his reign, he became increasingly nationalistic, authoritarian and even more abusive of the power invested in him. He abolished the multiparty government in favor of his own party which, like the royal family, was plagued by corruption and lavish extravagances, while their brutal measures suppressed the people. Those who dared to speak in opposition would stand to lose everything – their income, social standing, freedom and even their lives. A state of fear and daily terror would subdue the nation. Barring external crisis or internal chaos, people can only be held down for so long until they revolt. And thus, the stage was set for the Islamic Revolution resulting in the Shah’s overthrow. There always comes a point where suppression and extreme inequality come to a head.
It usually happens when the gap in wealth disparity widens progressively, benefitting the few at the expense of the masses, the forgotten people.
When I moved to Munich in the early 60’s, Germany was still reeling from the effects of World War II. I remember the visible wounds of the hollowed buildings, the remaining skeletons that were silent witnesses to Germany’s both famed and infamous past. People were still traumatized by their memories and by their decisions – to either go along with the flow of rising nationalism, fascism, racism, and hatred or to choose the risk of standing up to the greater evil that was taking hold of people’s minds. Germany was already politically and economically unstable in dealing with the financial and economic crisis left by World War I, therefore it could not withstand the fallout from the Great Depression. With public discontent and unemployment, hunger and real poverty soaring, Hitler became its beneficiary. He was a charismatic speaker, who used simple language with strong slogans to sell his message of returning Germany to its former glory, prosperity and rank. He knew how to incite the masses by further enraging and agitating them with hateful messages, by directing their frustrations at a particular group, the Jews, and by promising them that he would bring back jobs and income, thus making Germany great again. He vilified the press calling them the “Luegenpresse”, much like today’s fake news. What was to follow was the submission of an entire nation, enticed into believing the propaganda and empty promises delivered through endless rallies, speeches, and state media as well as the real threats by the Gestapo and SS. Germans, so overwhelmed with their own survival and fear, gave silent consent to rising anti-Semitism, the persecution of their Jewish friends, neighbors and citizens leading to the “Final Solution” by means of deadly concentration camps. The confiscation of their possessions would finance the remilitarization, emboldening Hitler into expanding his threats to other countries and allowing him to initiate yet another world war.
The parallels between these previous events and the recent ones in America are irrefutable. The Great Recession, caused by unthrottled greed in the form of financialization and predatory capitalism, brought with it high unemployment, underemployment and stagnating wages for the majority of Americans, creating a new class of the nouveau poor. However, as the middle class became poorer, the rich got even richer. As a result of the bailout of the very institutions that had caused the recession, social programs and support would be diminished, the quality and availability of healthcare reduced as its cost increased, and lower educational curricula leaving behind an impoverished nation.
Naturally, a sense of hopelessness and despair developed having Americans look for a strong leader who would bring back jobs and help the industry to flourish. Donald Trump rose to the occasion, promising that he alone could fix it and that he would place America first to make it great again. He knew to zone in on the needs of the forgotten people, the ones who have been left behind by technological change, wealth inequality and the slow-down of the global economy. He addressed their real pain and anxieties, promising to drain the swamp, to return the by now defunct industries to their former standings and reverse perceived unfair global trade deals. Concurrently, he placed the blame for America’s woes on illegal immigration depicting
those people as rapists, murderers and thieves stealing jobs from taxpaying Americans. As his final solution, he proposed the building of a wall, as well as border restrictions and detentions, both of which he has implemented by now.
Like other authoritarians before him, President Trump loves his campaign-like rallies and speeches, where he uses simple but highly inflammatory language, laced with punch lines and easy to remember slogans. He bullies opponents and critics alike, denigrates the press as fake news and the spreader of lies. He shames, ridicules and disparages minorities, women and even the sick. His attacks on political rivals go so far as to demand them being locked up and looking to foreign aid, even by so-called enemies, to find incriminating material to do so. He thrives on a singular, nationalistic view painting America as the victim in need to take revenge on those who have abused it. He has already initiated one war, although only a trade war, but a war nonetheless. He is throwing the country into ever-greater isolation and separation from the rest of the world as he is breaking friendships and alliances alike which have been beneficial to all for seven decades. Instead, he is turning to rogue nations, ruled by autocrats, seeking questionable new ties and partnerships.
So far, his promises have fallen short - his tax cuts have been profitable for the rich with minimal trickle-down effects, his swamp draining turned into swam hiring, and his healthcare plans have evaporated into the ether. Hate and negativity are on the rise as are the number of mass shootings and clashes. Our government is polarized to the point that there is nothing they can work on in harmony by embracing their opposite views as alternate possibilities leading to better outcomes. Although an opioid drug epidemic has been declared, nothing much has been done. On the contrary, the pharmaceutical industry is still continuing to flood the market with its highly addictive opioid prescription pain-killers, poisoning Americans just to increase revenues and profits. Equally, the gun industry is stronger than ever as the need for real protection is only growing in these times of uncertainty. It also helps their bottom line.
It comes as no surprise that there is a silence and an apathy amongst Americans. That is usually the primary reaction, yet there are voices that are speaking up warning of what may befall us if we continue to sleep. America is experiencing a time of national challenge and as with all challenges, this is also the time of great opportunities for growth. This is the country that has been created as a response to what held people down in the old world. It believed in “E Pluribus Unum” – “Out of Many, One,” so much so that it put it on its official seal. It’s time to return to those values and introduce new thinking, embrace change and hence creating new industrial possibilities. It is time to invest in the people again, to invest in our environment and to treat them with respect and with the future in mind. America can only change the outcome of what is happening now by radically changing its collective thinking.
Our collective consciousness has to shift from what works best for the individual to what provides the greatest good for all. In the final analysis, we are and become what we think. Let us aim high and consider this our moment to bring forth great positive changes.
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.