The national tragedy in Charlottesville has left many people across the country scared, traumatized, depressed, angry and shocked.
I wish I could say I felt the same.
I wish I could say, “Yes, it’s scary that white supremacists stormed through a university, without hoods, without fear.”
I wish I could say “Yes, this is not something I’ve ever seen before.”
I wish I could say “Oh my gosh, this is so sad. I’m so sad and shocked that this is happening in 2017!”
But the truth is, I’m not shocked. I’m not flabbergasted that this is happening in 2017. I’m not traumatized, because this isn’t new for me.
A little background on myself: I’m an immigrant, Indian-Muslim-American woman who spent my pre-teen and teenage years in rural east Texas. The people marching in Charlottesville aren’t “white nationalists” or “white supremacists” to me. They’re the people I went to school with, the people I grew up around and the people that surrounded me for a huge portion of my childhood. They were my classmates, my teachers, my community for a number of years. This type of rhetoric isn’t new to me and while I certainly was horrified by the images, I knew that these are also the people that we all interact with on a daily basis.
The election of Donald Trump normalized white nationalism. It normalized white supremacy. The “alt-right” isn’t the “alt-right” anymore. It’s mainstream. It’s in the White House, it’s in the media, it’s everywhere around us. Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Sebastian Gorka are all known white supremacists and are in the White House. There’s an attorney general who doesn’t believe in civil rights. There’s an education secretary who doesn’t believe in public education and worst of all, there are people who think this is normal. There are people who are fine with this because we have a president who wages war on norms that are the bedrock of our democracy.
So no, what happened this weekend in Charlottesville isn’t shocking, it isn’t new. It’s ingrained in the system around us; a system that purports white nationalism. And if we want to defeat this system, then the burden isn’t on the oppressed. The burden isn’t on those who the system crushes. Women, people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, we’ve all been saying this for years and years. But our marginalized voices aren’t heard because we get interrupted every step of the way. “Not all white people”, “not all men”, “not all this/not all that” is the new “I’m not racist but…” and until the groups that benefit from the system start speaking up, nothing will change.
I’m not asking you to feel guilty. I know you didn’t enslave anyone. I know you didn’t march with Nazis. But these trying times, this is our civil rights movement. Ask yourself why you feel uncomfortable talking about race. Ask yourself why you think it’s important to be “colorblind”. Ask yourself why you moved out to the rural areas, the exurbs or the suburbs. And most importantly, ask yourself why you would rather be silent than say something. Because let me tell you, as an immigrant, Indian-Muslim-American, your silence is deafening and your indifference? It’s sickening.
And if you are uncomfortable, start the conversation by listening. Listen to people of color, to women, the LGBTQ+ community, to immigrants. Ask us about our lives, I promise you, we are happy to answer questions that are asked in a respectful way. Donate to groups that support us like Planned Parenthood, Black Lives Matter, or Democratic candidates who are working hard to change the system.
Here is a great article from Bustle that lists groups that directly work to fight the alt-right.
Sign the petition to bring charges of terrorism to those who killed Heather Heyer, the girl who was killed because she chose to stand on the right side of liberty, fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves. Attend a march to stand in solidarity with Charlottesville, but don’t just passively attend-be sure to follow up. But most of all, listen to marginalized communities. Listen to our stories, our experiences, our pain. Listening costs you nothing and I promise you, as someone who has felt invisible her whole life, it means everything to us. Truly, it means everything.