Reporter Asma Khalid covered the intersection of demographics and politics for NPR during the 2016 presidential campaign, a job that became increasingly difficult as an identifiably Muslim woman. "Through tears, I told [my editor] that if I had known my sheer existence — just the idea of being Muslim — would be a debatable issue in the 2016 election, I would never have signed up to do this job," Khalid writes in a powerful essay describing her experience on the campaign trail.
Khalid, who grew up in Indiana, goes on to explain that her ability "to [make] white folks feel comfortable" was one of the most valuable tools for her work:
So, for example, whenever the Pledge of Allegiance was recited at a GOP event, regardless of whether I was balancing a laptop on my knees, a notebook in one hand and a microphone in the other, I instinctively stood up.
I noticed — sometimes — my fellow journalists didn't stand; they would finish the email they were writing. But I also knew I couldn't afford to give the people in the room any more reason to doubt me.
Later, with some of these same voters, I would share stories about how the pledge was recited every week in my school. And they would trust me a little bit more than before. [NPR]
But while "I always tried to understand their fears," Khalid writes, "so many times, this empathy felt like a one-way street." Read her entire essay, including the incident that made her realize empathy isn't always reciprocated, at NPR.