Rumana Ahmed had been working at the White House for around five years when Donald Trump took office. Being a hijab-wearing woman born to Muslim immigrants, she was torn between quitting her job and staying in the White House for the sake of the Muslim community.
She went with the latter. But, it took Trump's xenophobic and retrograde policies only eight days to drive her away.
In an op-ed published in The Atlantic on Thursday, the American-born Bengali shares her experience as a White House employee under Trump's presidency.
While initially deciding to give the new administration the benefit of the doubt, Ahmed quit her White House job eight days after Trump's inauguration, following his notorious immigration order.
Rumana was a senior adviser on the National Security Council
Ahmed was hired to work at the White House right after graduating from George Washington University in 2011. Since 2014, she had been working on the National Security Council (NSC), advising former U.S. President Barack Obama on Muslim affairs. She was also working on issues ranging from advancing relations with Cuba and Laos to promoting global entrepreneurship among women and youth.
Being a Muslim hijabi woman on the Obama administration and the only hijabi in the West Wing, Ahmed felt welcome and empowered. But, she foresaw a less satisfying work environment with Trump's presidency, considering the anti-Muslim rhetoric he spewed during his campaign.
She tagged along the Trump team for the greater good
Despite Trump's ongoing attempts to vilify the Muslim community, Ahmed decided to hold on to her job at the White House after Trump took office. Being hired by the security council, rather than being politically appointed, she had the choice to keep her job despite the transition.
From her position in the NSC, she hoped to give the Trump administration "a more nuanced view of Islam, and of America's Muslim citizens".
So, how did it feel working with the Trump team? "Strange, appalling and disturbing," she says. The White House transformed to a "monochromatic and male bastion," and the new staff looked at her "with a cold surprise".
Trump's Muslim ban was the tipping point
Last month, Trump signed an executive order banning immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.
Being a practicing Muslim and the daughter of immigrants hailing from a Muslim-majority country, Ahmed could no longer work for an administration that portrays people like her - hard-working Muslims striving to make ends meet - as a threat.
"I had to leave because it was an insult walking into this country’s most historic building every day under an administration that is working against and vilifying everything I stand for as an American and as a Muslim."
"Discrimination that has existed for years at airports was now legitimized, sparking mass protests, while the president railed against the courts for halting his ban."
Like many others, Rumana's parents had moved to the U.S. seeking a better future for their kids
Ahmed's parents immigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh in the seventies, hoping to give their children a shot at "The American Dream".
Her mother worked as a cashier and later started her own daycare business. Her father worked at Bank of America and pursued a Ph.D degree, but he passed away before completing it.
"The climate in 2016 felt like it did just after 9/11"
Ahmed first saw the face of Islamophobia after the Sept. 11 attacks, when she was just a middle-schooler. She was often called a terrorist and asked to go back to her country. She says that her schoolmates bullied her and treated her as a threat.
Ahmed states that the climate during the 2016 presidential campaigns mirrored that of the post 9/11 attacks. She believes that the hate targeted at Muslims has gotten worse, and is now being fueled by Americans in positions of power.
She would become the victim of more hate since Trump's nomination.
"I was almost hit by a car by a white man laughing as he drove by in a Costco parking lot, and on another occasion was followed out of the metro by a man screaming profanities.”